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Not Breathing: The Black Old Pueblo

Not Breathing's seventh full-length is an album whose gaudy, messy oversaturation is perhaps both its apparent weakness, and hidden strength.

Not Breathing

The Black Old Pueblo

Label: Sublight
US Release Date: 2007-02-06
UK Release Date: 2007-02-06

Wandering a dust-swept, nocturnal waste punctuated by the remains of decaying metallic monstrosities, somewhere between the crumbling ruins of the dark ambient, industrial, and glitch genres, Not Breathing's compositions bleed invention and atmosphere, unfortunately often to the point of fraying and falling completely into jagged, ichor-oozing debris. It's hard to fault the densely-mortared texturing and arcane experiments in sonic-vivisection, but the resulting entropy-laced creations can border on incoherence to the unfamiliar ear. Most of the album is a shambling mass (or mess) of enormous whirring rotors, oily squelches and slurps, unsteady percussive rattles, and harshly mechanical chugging, while the rest is engulfed by bleak, yawning soundfields, less claustrophobic if no less menacing. Okay, okay, so I realize that my prose here is getting ridiculously overwrought and cluttered. But then, perhaps that makes it a decent match for Not Breathing's seventh full-length, The Black Old Pueblo, an album whose gaudy, messy oversaturation is perhaps both its apparent weakness, and hidden strength.

Not Breathing is the brainchild of Arizona-resident David Wright and a rotating cast of collaborators, in this case including Jack Dangers (of Meat Beat Manifesto) and Mark Spybey (of Dead Voices on Air). Starting with various self-releases in the late '80s and early '90s, Wright has worked steadily to refine his strange, haphazard take on experimental industrial, spawning a motley assortment of vinyl, cassettes, and 8-tracks in addition to LPs for Invisible, KimoSciotic, and now the rapid-rising Sublight. Drawing from a large stable of self-built synthesizers, effects boxes, and noise generators, Wright assembles disconcerting experimental industrial music from a wide variety of equally disconcerting raw sounds. His technical skill in sound assembly is unquestionable; his overall vision perhaps harder to evaluate. At first, I found the disarray of his arrangements to be off-putting, but closer listens have led me to appreciate the unpredictability.

The album starts with several of the fastest, most suffocatingly dense, and most ridiculously titled tracks. "Rotorhator Blackrider" is mostly composed of a dizzying array of burbling, skipping digital noise and beats clinging to a threatening bass loop that serves to keep the song structure in check despite its frequent attempts to hit terminal velocity and break orbit. It's a track that takes a while to appreciate, but once the you do, there are endless eerie details, noise washes, and butchered samples to explore. Held together by strongly rhythmic drill & bass programming and a surprising level of melodic development (however buried in the mix), "Chain of Worlocks" manages to stay clear of self-parody despite prominent use of screaming/crying sampled voices in its mid-section transition point. By "Smell of Europa", the aforementioned disorder seems to be taking hold, but while these tracks don't always work, close listens prove that there's still no shortage of ideas, just less of a connecting thread, and less melody to hold the listener's hand through them. Later stabs at sparser percussion programming, such as the viscous acid of "Dead Voices on Acetone", also reveal themselves, upon investigation, to be thickly layered with excellent noise constructions. The exception is the subtlest work, "Monsoons with Kraid", a beatless plateau bathed in unearthly light and flickers of melody. Unfortunately, the lopsided death funk groove of closer "What's Your Mom Wearin", quickly overstays the welcome of its single gag.

Listening to these songs, driven as they are by lurches of heavy bass and processed voices and noise, I can't help being reminded somewhat of the proto-industrial of Throbbing Gristle. That outfit's sounds were combatively original, frequently over-the-top (their stage show belying a performance art background), and certainly often more than a little scattered and disheveled (arguably, at times near unlistenable). Were they still around, I can imagine them turning modern technology to all manner of excesses. Wright lacks their boundary-pushing audacity, but his focused production skills are evidence of how far we've progressed in sheer technical know-how since the genre pioneers. His work, though occasionally overworked and overloaded, sounds fresher than many contemporaries, though more initially off-putting. The constant undercurrent (or often, overcurrent) of digital generation and manipulation strains against the rigid industrial aspects, but the sloppiness is deceptive. Really, The Black Old Pueblo may be an experimental noise album disguised as industrial album, rather that the other way around, and enjoyment of it simply a function of willingness to pay attention to the details, and to allow its tendency towards barely-controlled chaos to become its greatest asset.


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