Release Date: Oct 30, 2015
Record label: Third Man Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
There’s still an utter disdain for normalcy propelling Wolf Eyes’ latest disc, I am a Problem; Mind in Pieces, its first for Jack White’s Third Man Records imprint. And despite the squalid fervor that juts out in contrast to “Catching the Rich Train,” the surprisingly sedate opener, the trio is still working to arrange its raft of influences in some way that makes sense to its members. “Enemy Ladder” intimates skate-punk childhoods, with the song’s plodding beat shifting into something akin to a proper hardcore breakdown.
Some noise-rockers sound like they have simply got to the point of severely wigging out, whereas others (such as Wolf Eyes) often present blackened noise that thrashes around so viciously that it only seems to coincidentally take on rock’s form. For Jack White’s imprint however, the American mid- Westerners appear to be x-raying the style, or examining slides of its inner layers. Hazy vocals float on magic carpets woven from John Olson’s still-noxious horn figures on Catching The Rich Train.
The fact that Michigan's leading trip metal assault team, Wolf Eyes, ended up having their music used in an episode of The Office in 2011 was surprising enough to most observers, but that ultimately seemed pretty reasonable compared to the notion of the band being sponsored by leading roots music acolyte and vinyl champion Jack White. But anyone who feared that Wolf Eyes would have their creative vision knocked around after signing with White's Third Man Records label can breathe easy -- 2015's I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces is a typically uncompromised work from musicians who follow their own path and none other. It is true that Wolf Eyes are producing more song-oriented music that's less aggressively atonal than they have in the past, but I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces is no one's idea of a sellout; these six soundscapes are bereft of conventional melodic structures or rhythmic patterns any amateur could dance with, though the unrelenting pound of "Twister Nightfall" and the creepy-crawly pulse of "Asbestos Youth" are pieces you could certainly throb to at will.
Mind blank. Suave jazz side train leaves the station. Accidents happen in pairs. Armageddon slippers gone southwards. Backstabbing little punks. Which exit for the art gallery? Is there coffee available? I’m not sure I belong here. Trip metal meets lounge music. That’s my summary of the new ….
From sinister synths to demonic horns to dislocated guitars, melody has always been a factor in Wolf Eyes’ paranoid dystopia, but very rarely the Michigan-based trio’s true focus. Over scores of nightmarish cassettes, singles, and long players — some eternal, others cruelly limited-edition — cut since 1996, the core function of any hook up-chucked while plumbing a unique collective-unconscious was to act as a coat rack for wholesale, insectine cacophony. To recall a certified Wolf Eyes wraith (“Rotten Tropics” from 2002’s Dead Hills, “Stabbed in the Face” from 2004’s Burned Mind, “Cellar,” from 2009’s Always Wrong) was not so much to remember the specifics of a refrain or particular arrangement of tones as it was to vividly relive how the song crawled through speakers to flambé your soul.
Wolf Eyes have always had a B-movie aura. They’re like the Roger Corman of underground music, churning out releases, inspiring other low-budget noise-auteurs, galvanizing scenes both locally in Michigan and globally in festivals and collaborations. Many of their blunt album titles have a schlock-horror feel: Slicer, Dread, Burned Mind, Human Animal.
When stories go on long enough, certain plot points tend to recur. Think about a TV series like The Simpsons — how many “The Simpsons go to (BLANK)!” episodes can there possibly have been over the show’s 27 seasons? David Sackllah’s recent oral history of Michigan’s Wolf Eyes featured the clever and appropriate title “The Neverending Story.” Though The Simpsons have Nate Young and co. beat by seven years, the group’s nearly 20-year history has similarly echoed itself from time to time.
A quick perusal of the gargantuan Wolf Eyes catalog reveals that the Detroit three-piece aren’t complete strangers to mental problems. Aside from their breakout “hit”, 2004’s Burned Mind, the noise band have admitted to being “Half Animal, Half Insane”, have faced accusations that Y’all Must Be Really Mad at Something, have exposed themselves as Always Wrong, have done things Asylum Style (repeatedly), and have spun in their own Wheels of Confusion all the way to their newest record, I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces. Yet, even with the explicit confession of psychological disorder carried in its title, their first LP for Jack White’s Third Man Records is perhaps their least disturbed and fragmented work to date.
Finally an album title we all can relate to. You get the nerve, then you get that nerve frayed is what’s afoot. Something ordered crispy and served up cold, wet, and black with a sneertooth grin. Every fray has a strand, every strand’s a potential fuse, and every fuse is at the mercy of errant moisture.
Almost surreptitiously, Wolf Eyes have become something of a rock band. Of course, the gristly industrial messiness that has long defined their career through various line-ups means there's not much that your casual rock fan would identify with on I Am A Problem: Mind In Pieces, but equally the squalling atonality that peppered albums like Burned Mind and Human Animal around the midpoint of the last decade has receded somewhat in favour of a woozy, halting rhythmic thrust that the current line-up of Nate Young, John Olson and Crazy Jim Baljo use to sketch out diseased song forms that are closer to haunted atmospherics of ex-member Mike Connelly's Failing Lights project or even the tantric new weird Americana Of Sunburned Hand Of The Man than, say, Prurient or Richard Ramirez' harsh noise. Cynics will point to the album's release on Jack White's Third Man label as the reason behind this shift, but the signs were already evident on their last major release, No Answer: Lower Floors, in 2013.
There’s a certain strain of agitated music — whether stop-on-a-dime punk or expansive noise — that operates from the opinion of the world being, well, kind of a mess. The Detroit trio Wolf Eyes, freshly inked to Jack White’s Third Man label, states its place in the planet’s fractured firmament in the title of its latest album, and expands on that withered outlook with six tracks that slog through the planet’s muck. Vocalist Nathan Young serves as tour guide through a planet inevitably decaying, his seen-too-much snarl anchoring the music’s plumbing of the world’s murkiest pits.
No single Wolf Eyes record should be viewed as a complete representation of the band, whose discography sprawls across 17 years and dozens of vanity labels all over the world. It's tempting, however, to view I Am A Problem: Mind In Pieces, as a kind of circuit being closed, not in the least because it comes to us via Jack White's vanity-label-on-steroids Third Man Records. It's as though the years and years of searing, iconoclastic noise have slowly dissipated to reveal the band's brutalist proto-rock impulses, which are laid bare like never before.