Japan’s fearless multi-instrumentalist and cultural provocateur Keiji Haino has made a career out of his free-form musical improvisations and diverse collaborations. Whether deconstructing American blues to a few rogue notes hanging across chasms of empty space in his solo endeavors, sparring with the nebulous fringes of psychedelia in Fushitsusha, or teaming up with musicians like Faust, Boris, Jim O’Rourke, Stephen O’Malley, John Zorn, and Peter Brötzmann for fleeting aural experiments. Haino’s work is never pre-planned or structured, but rather a completely spontaneous exploration of chemistry, texture, and dynamics.
SUMAC’s tenure is much younger than Haino’s, though guitarist/vocalist Aaron Turner has covered a similarly large swath of musical territory across numerous projects and collaborations, from the sedated drones of recent projects with Daniel Menche and William Fowler Collins to the modern compositions of Mamiffer and all the way back to the restless evolutions of post-metal stalwarts ISIS. With his cohorts Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists, Erosion) on drums and Brian Cook (Russian Circles) on bass, Turner has dissolved the rigid forms of heavy music, searching for a balance between disciplined precision and unhinged musical barbarism, crafting music that vacillates between meticulously detailed instrumentation and uninhibited forays into oblique abstraction.
Following their first two incendiary collaborations, the group's third album Into this juvenile apocalypse our golden blood to pour let us never captures Haino and the three members of SUMAC live on stage, navigating a series of spontaneous compositions in front of an attentive audience, with no prior discussions or planning involving the direction of the music. While all four participants agree that the Even for just the briefest moment session documents a particularly circuitous journey from discord to synchronicity, they also agree that Into this juvenile apocalypse finds the quartet navigating the push-and-pull of creative interplay with bolder strides and stronger chemistry. Recorded on May 21, 2019, at the Astoria Hotel on Vancouver BC’s notorious East Hastings Street as a one-off performance during a short North American tour for Haino, the six compositions comprising Into this juvenile apocalypse showcase a musical unit bouncing unfiltered ideas off of one another, mining a trove of textures and timbres from their armory to buoy and bolster these living and breathing pieces. Like so many albums documenting free music, the thrill here is in the tight rope walk, the wavering moments of uncertainty, and the ecstatic moments of shared brilliance.
The album opens with “When logic rises morality falls Logic and morality in Japanese are but one character different,” a pensive exploration of melody spearheaded by Aaron Turner’s fractured arpeggiated guitar chords. It’s a song of harmonious tension, with Haino providing melodic counterpoints on his guitar while the rhythm section ebbs and flows in the background, occasionally hammering out a punctuation mark or shaking out a warning rattle. Drummer Nick Yacyshyn and bassist Brian Cook step to the forefront on track two, “A shredded coiled cable within this cable the sincerity could not be contained.” For the first two-and-a-half minutes, it sounds like Yacyshyn is beating some electric beast, with sporadic drum bombardments corresponding to the howls and groans of a square-wave throated animal. Blasts of guitar static join the fray until everything gravitates to a magmatic center. It’s a scorched earth principle heard on their debut studio collaboration American Dollar Bill – Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous to Look at Face On (Thrill Jockey Records, 2018), but the quartet has found a broader shared language since their first joint venture. Look no further than the title track of Into this juvenile apocalypse our golden blood to pour let us never to hear an ensemble who can wrangle a wide emotional bandwidth out of guitar squall. Like a sonic equivalent to a magic eye poster, the attentive listener who allows their focus to hover just above the roaring banks of distortion will see unexpected dimensions and vistas beneath the seemingly monochromatic patterns.
The tension reaches its apex with “Because the evidence of a fact is valued over the fact itself truth??? becomes fractured,” where the ensemble percolates around a hushed guitar drone. Ripples of drums, auxiliary guitar trills, and Haino’s spontaneous incantations and proclamations give the track a narrative arc. Tension yields to release on “That fuzz pedal you planted in your throat, its screw has started to come loose Your next effects pedal is up to you do you have it ready?” as the ensemble unleashes the kind of guitar mangling and rhythmic battery one would expect from the pairing of Keiji Haino and SUMAC. The album wraps up with the wounded dirge “That ‘regularity’ of yours, can you throw it further than me? And I don’t mean ‘discarding’ it,” where Haino’s gale force guitar blankets Turner’s lugubrious de-tuned bottom string bombardments and Yacyshyn’s drum lashings.
As with American Dollar Bill and Even for just the briefest moment, Into this juvenile apocalypse our golden blood to pour let us never is an unfiltered and undoctored document of a specific moment in time. There are equipment failures. There are ideas left dangling in the ether. There are the technical handicaps of recording in a dingy hotel dive bar in a bad neighborhood as opposed to the optimal acoustics of a proper recording studio. But there is also an electricity in the air, and a continuous sense of creative elation and goosebump-inducing inspiration. It’s an hour-long exercise in seeking out happy accidents and reveling in the wreckage.
Keiji Haino & SUMAC - "American Dollar Bill..." Unboxing
Keiji Haino & SUMAC - ‘American Dollar Bill..’ (Album trailer)