Imagine an orgy scored by rusty industrial equipment blasting New York City noise-rock, something like Unsane, Cop Shoot Cop, or Swans in their wicked primes. It would be a gritty, menacing spectacle — sweaty, filthy, angry sex — and set in some cold-water flat on the Lower East Side or along the Gowanus in a pre-Giuliani urban landscape. Unidentified limbs would flail with abandon. Each thrust would be punctuated with the creeping slither of a leathery bass, the firecracker-lit pop-pop-pop of Puleo percussion.
Well, the sound you have in your head is an eerily spot-on descriptor of Human Impact, the noise-rock super-group culled from members of those aforementioned bands. The group’s self-titled debut, out in March via Mike Patton’s Ipecac, is a kind of reprisal and reflection of each member’s roots and resume. While the record’s ten songs often border on the invigorating, will these bands’ considerable fan-bases decide the LP lives up to the Rushmore of past work? It’s a tough row to hoe. That said, the new LP is a welcome addition to the canon – and a bitter and powerful counterbalance to the doe-eyed dream-pop that seems to be saturating some American indie scenes these days.
Chris Spencer (he of Unsane infamy) is a hell of a frontman and lets loose venomous bursts on his six-string and snarl-toothed spit-takes. The thing that sticks in the cement, though, is the quartet’s incredible rhythm section, which pounds with nearly mechanical precision and strength. Drummer Phil Puleo has all the kickback of a shotgun blast in his inventive, sometimes off-kilter rhythmic patterns and he is admirably joined in battle by Christopher Pravdica, whose bass offers the kind of urban grime at which Bob Weston only hints in his dirgier moments in Shellac.
Their little dances are often the things that keep verses sounding unplanned and fresh and stop songs like “Respirator” from being slightly monochromatic 4/4 death marches – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Though he has his moments – the sparkled sound-forms that open “Cause” definitely hints at a violent sense of doom – Jim Coleman, on electronics, is occasionally underutilized.
There are sounds here that remind why fitting to the themes of the record, it’s a good idea not to opt for asphyxiation when faced with the corrupt knots of the human condition. “Consequences” features a pristine punk bottom-end and back-bone, as well as scorching barrages of distorted guitar. The noises Spencer makes with his guitar during verses, a kind of electrified and frazzled birdsong, are spot-on bits of rage for the post-impeachment moment. For the record, the lyrics are bleak but don’t take allegiances along any party lines. “Respirator” makes incredible use of a haunting piano melody. “E605”, one of the singles, is not the record’s finest moment on its first half, that mantle instead going to opener “November”, which would cause the jaw of Release-era Tod A. to fall to the floor. This thing opens with a statement of intent; there’s no doubt about that.
Then, there’s the enrapturing material, and for that, you don’t have to look much further than “Relax”. Contrary to its name, the song opens with Karam-like menace and sneering before launching into a punchy post-hardcore jilt. It’s one of the few times on the LP that Spencer sounds genuinely unhinged, his screams meshing well with the jittery guitar harmonics. Closer “This Dead Sea” is just what the doctor ordered, another bottom-heavy funeral dirge full of venom. In the song’s last minute, there’s a descent into madness as Spencer roars, a real Heart of Darkness reckoning, that is perhaps the finest moment on the album.
Savin’ the good stuff ’til the end? Not quite. This thing’s good all along. And, well, well, well, it turns out these guys know how to close the deal the same way they opened it – with beautiful invectives of noise.