Merzbow/Actuary – ‘Freak Hallucinations’ [Review]

Sick and tired of that flood of only children into Harsh Noise?  If you were ever looking for a bunch of guys who know how to share, consider Actuary: not only are they plural (on ‘Freak Hallucinations’ they are five), they seem unable to release a disc without splitting it in half for a friend.  Today’s friend is a friend of ours, Masami Akita, the Merzbow hisself.  What the two artists share here is four ample doses of good vibes, as the title implies.  Recently hit by a hurricane, my home and I are newly acquainted with actuaries, who read risk and compensation from some magical golden tablets of “value”.  Actuary, it turns out, is of similar spirits, appearing across their three tracks as methodical, turn-taking, business casual, and generous with the humor – like a Harsher version of To Live and Shave in L.A.  Their titles evoke surreal witticisms (“Only Ghosts Hate New Things”), illiterary tongue-in-cheek (“Inhuman Bondage”), and sheer absurdity (“Ritual Embrace”).  They skate across these three groove sets in escalation from playful home brew sampling with half-speed background feedback (think Throbbing Gristle, Amps for Christ, or younger projects like Scissor Death), to a rather vile power electronics delivery with strained vocals and oscillations (in the vein of Bastard Noise) – but with an editorial distance and the foregrounding of a rhythmic vibe which swells low and steady thru the piece, loping-off its edge like a scotch.  From five men sounding one thread to one man sounding the whole knotted mess: Merzbow’s side-long “Sugamo Flower Festival” sounds an optimistic thrash of watery highs and muted lows, well-suited to the separation of the vinyl’s mastering.  In many ways a more relaxed Akita, the piece strolls the festival, encountering a diversity of organic forms, but never straying from the rhythm of the garden promenade; brassy, horny shapes appear in solo against the wisp and white-static of the atmosphere, and pass with equal pacing.  In the closing moments, consumer electronics emerge from the electronic rabble to sing a chorus of their own, suggesting we’ve crossed a boundary in the exhibition area, or the flowers have pollenated the receptors with their heady charm.   Now, the average career artist could be said to experience three or four creative “eras”, allotted to as many albums in each; Merzbow is more like eight or ten albums, but in roughly the time it takes others to get a single disc out.  So though it is possible to speak of Merzbow “eras” without sounding totally insane, you’re really not supposed to, and even he would give up the joke if it meant dissuading one from doing so.  Instead, it’s simply worth noting that Akita’s ongoing studies of Japan’s pantheistic flora and fauna have brought the artist around to a new perspective on the world, perhaps officiating the next zeitgeist for Noise with friends like Actuary.  Heavy, marbled black LPs come in a thick sleeve with art by Actuary’s Kevin Fetus.

Obfuscated/Love Earth Music LP

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