Release Date: Oct 14, 2014
Record label: Sacred Bones
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
I last saw Margaret Chardiet, better known to the world as Pharmakon, perform live at Brixton Academy a little under a year ago. As support to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, she unsurprisingly faced an audience largely unprepared for the style of sonic assault that is her speciality. Most watched on with a mixture of bemusement and mild disgust, others fled to the bar, and some stood transfixed by the sight of a young American woman producing such a hideous barrage of noise.
“…And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”– Thomas Hobbes SOLITARY The germ of Bestial Burden had its genesis, like most human spawn, in a hospital bed. Recovering from a sudden surgery, Margaret Chardiet lay isolated on sterile sheets, grappling with the loss of an organ. It’s the sort of sensation that is totally closed to any being other than the body’s inhabitant, the same body that, in its failure to operate, nearly ejected its controller.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. An all too common, cynical take on culture is that there's nothing new going around, and there's no truer target for that statement than the stale conservatism it represents. Nevertheless, it's easy to feel frustrated with the musical landscape - the impression that there's little out there willing to push boundaries, or even maintain the pretense of doing so.
Around this time last year, Margaret Chardiet almost died. Days before the noise artist was supposed to go on her first European tour, doctors discovered a cyst so large it almost brought on organ failure. The subsequent surgery and healing process was long and intense. During the weeks of bed rest, a dying man lay next to her in the hospital, crying out for his daughter to join his side.
Margaret Chardiet's first album, the pulverizing Abandon, could be loosely described as power electronics—ruthless, heavy music that wielded distorted frequencies like blunt weapons. Bestial Burden, on the other hand, has a bodily focus and an earthier sound. Chardiet's second album as Pharmakon was inspired by the experience of having an organ removed, and explores the idea of the body turning against itself.
On the eve of her first European tour, Margaret "Pharmakon" Chardiet was admitted to hospital where she had a cyst removed that had collapsed one of her organs. This harrowing experience formed the mind-versus-body concept of her new record Bestial Burden. Given Pharmakon's bludgeoning noise aesthetic, had her inspiration been "the back of a Lucky Charms cereal packet" she'd have still produced something utterly terrifying, but Chardiet's brush with mortality seems to have added extra weight to her disturbing compositions.
On her Sacred Bones debut, Pharmakon's Margaret Chardiet seemed hell-bent on alienating listeners from the structures they held near and dear with an album of anguished, mechanized violence. Taking her sound in an altogether more visceral direction, the noise architect returns with Bestial Burden, an album that explores the tumultuous betrayal felt at having one's own body turn against them. Written while recovering from a major surgery that kept her from embarking on her first European tour, the album brilliantly exposes listeners to the feelings of rage and fear Chardiet experienced while doing battle with an internal saboteur she was powerless to escape.
On the eve of a European tour, Margaret Chardiet awoke stricken by agonising pains. It wasn’t nerves, but a cyst that required immediate surgery. It’s an experience that’s fed directly into the New Yorker’s second album, a bleak excursion in clanking noise loops, sculpted feedback and vocals that might be patched in from an operating theatre running low on anaesthetic.
There's always been an intense physicality to Margaret Chardiet's music as Pharmakon; the throat-shredding screams she pairs with throbbing slabs of noise are enough to make you want to reach for a warm mug of lemon-honey tea on her behalf. Pharmakon's second album, Bestial Burden, goes one step further in that. This time around, Chardiet's creative process is directly tied to her undergoing major surgery right before she was to begin work on the music.
Much of “noise” is given that title because its structures (or lack thereof) defy traditional expectations of music. You’ll never hear a Wolf Eyes “song” on the radio, and in fact, many, whether initiated in the genre or not, would struggle to use the word to define much of what many noise artists produce. But it’s clearer that the best of the genre unlocks something essentially visceral — much of life isn’t lived in digestible moments, but rather in large, chaotic sprawls that must be felt rather than parsed.
Pharmakon is the New York noise auteur Margaret Chardiet, a true connoisseur of screech. She likes to make her industrial-sounding gadgets scream and howl in agony, an electro-nightmare expression of her inner turmoil. And probably yours, too – if not, she'll make sure you taste the pain before you get a chance to lower the volume. Her second album, Bestial Burden, hits with the full impact of her hyperconfrontational live shows.
We all have days where we wake up on the wrong side of the bed. You know the kind of morning I am talking about. You swing your feet out of bed, yawn, and say to yourself: “Golly! My significant other sure is getting on my nerves! And those jokers down in tech support don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground! And these antidepressants are just not working very well anymore!” There are days in life where you just need to wallow in a seriously grumpy mood.
Bestial Burden, the second album by US noise artist Pharmakon, opens with the sound of Margaret Chardiet’s panicked breathing. It’s not soothing, hearing the sound of someone hyperventilating in the name of art. But what “Vacuum” represents is Chardiet’s realisation that her body is fragile, and could be about to betray her at any moment. That’s enough to make anyone breathe a little quicker.
On the cover of Bestial Burden, her second album as Pharmakon, the American noise musician Margaret Chardiet is shown with her body weighed down by various pieces of animal meat and offal. On one level this image is an arresting visual depiction of the album's title, with Chardiet's fingers clawing away at the ribs and flesh placed uncomfortably on top of her. On a deeper level, it sums up the album's themes of pity, terror and abjection.
It’s easy to imagine a Pharmakon record not living up to the raw, deeply physical experience of her live performances. When I saw her last month at Unsound Festival in Krakow, in the huge industrial space of Teatr ?a?nia Nowa ahead of a Swans show, the sheer massiveness of her performance belied the small figure she cut on stage. Even though the stage was set up for a much longer, louder show to be performed by a group of five, Margaret Chardiet took complete possession of the space as she stomped around, not so much screaming as hurling cries from somewhere deep inside, and thumping metal with abandon.