Music

Keiji Haino and SUMAC Join Forces for 'American Dollar Bill'

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

The Japanese rock insurrectionary Keiji Haino and Northwest art metal trio SUMAC improvise über-heavy body music.

American Dollar Bill - Keep Facing Sideways, You're Too Hideous To Look At Face On
Keiji Haino and SUMAC

Thrill Jockey

23 Feb 2018

Tenured rock 'n' roll demolition expert Keiji Haino and über-heavy trio SUMAC -- which features former ISIS frontman Aaron Turner and Russian Circles bassist Brian Cook, also formerly of Botch -- got together at the Gok Sound studio in Tokyo and recorded American Dollar Bill - Keep Facing Sideways, You're Too Hideous to Look at Face On, which effectively reimagines Jackson Pollock's "Summertime: Number 9A" in sonic barbed wire and concrete.

Across the violent bursts and languid breaks of the lengthy opening title track of this collaborative album, "American Dollar Bill…" manages, among other things, to starkly remind how artificially performative most rock music is. There isn't much about a steady 4/4 beat that is innate to the normal actions of a human body, and to keep one up for an extended period will begin to take its toll. Rock music, like all manual labor, gradually alters the shape and mechanics of its enactor through the process of repetition.

"American Dollar Bill…", and American Dollar Bill… as a whole, on the other hand, is the sound of the body reshaping rock music with its own impulsive, unpredictable desires and rhythms. There are surges of noise like blood rushing to the head, internal pressures released by Haino's unrestrained shouts and wails. Then there are listless passages of post-release and in-between stages of unsurety. The three extended compositions with fragile poems for titles that make up the album's five tracks -- the latter two are divided into two parts each -- capture not just the sprint, but also the runner stretching beforehand, and drained yet still on their feet afterward.

Haino has at one point in the past 20-or-so years joined forces with practically any and every other notable noise and art rock collaborator one could think of: Merzbow, John Zorn, Yamantaka Eye, Jim O'Rourke, Stephen O'Malley, Boris, Charles Hayward of This Heat, and on and on. Still, the 65-year-old's pairing with this particular post-post-metal behemoth comes across as remarkably natural. SUMAC have had to do surprisingly little to adjust the unstable sense of space established on their 2016 album What One Becomes to make room for Haino's forceful yet malleable presence. The trio here is even looser than usual, to be sure, but the most immediate difference is the swapping of Turner's sea-floor-scraping growl for Haino's wavering distress calls.

This improvisational collision is not a jam session made of freely flowing psychedelic guitars or endless steady Motorik beats. American Dollar Bill… continually anticipates shifts in speed and direction. The first tranquil four minutes of "I'm Over 137% a Love Junkie, and it's Still Not Enough, Part 1" is the album's regenerative center until Haino breaks the spell with antagonistic cries, goading SUMAC's beast from its slumber. Retribution comes in the opening onslaught of "...Part 2", but the duel winds down in much the same way as it winds up, breaking apart and drifting off. Surely as it must have been for its creators, American Dollar Bill… can be taxing, but it gives as much as it takes.

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