Digging: Merzbow

Merzbow: Merzbird
Important Records (2004)

Yet another kettle of fish from Merzbow. By listening to snippets of his records in the iTunes store, or hearing just one of his albums and no others, it would be easy to assume that MerzbirdMasami Akita has spent twenty years doing the same thing. To truly understand the many aspects of his ‘noise’ you have to devote time into exploring his extensive catalogue. That sort of dedication isn’t in every music nerd, and if this whole noise thing doesn’t tickle your fancy it probably won’t matter how many Merzbow records you hear. You won’t change your mind.

I’ve had Merzbird kicking around for a while now. In truth I don’t pull it out that often, I’m more attracted to his ‘wall of noise’ stuff like Merzbear and Zophorus (which I’ll review another time). Here, Akita is all about rhythm and that’s what sets it apart from so much of his other stuff. It’s very Industrial in nature; parts remind me of Nine Inch Nails circa The Downward Spiral, but overall Merzbird seems derivative of something like Einstürzende Neubauten.

Black Swan kicks things off with a clipped ¾ style beat that brings to mind early drum n’ bass. He holds onto that rhythm for almost ten minutes, occasionally morphing it into the buzz and scree that he has free-styling over the top. He does a similar thing with the next track, Mandarin Duck, which is hooked on a mutilated funk sample. Both tracks come across a little thoughtless; Akita masturbating with noise over a beat, almost the equivalent of a cock-rock guitar solo.

He has more success with this technique on the final track, Brown Pelican (noticing a theme here?), opening with a buzz and building upon THE famous ‘funky drummer’ sample. Across 6 minutes he slowly blows out the kick drum until all that’s left is a low-end, sci fi pulse. Brown Pelican has a direction that’s lacking on the opening tracks.

The remaining three compositions tread ground that’s slightly more familiar to my ear. He seems very interested in playing bass throbs off against high-pitched white noise and buzz, to varying degrees of success.

It’s not my favourite of his work, but what’s interesting about Merzbird overall is its fascination with taking ‘beats’ out of a dancing context and returning them to a machine-like existence. This entire album could almost be a field recording of some huge factory with contraptions clanging metal and iron into shape, occasionally letting off pressurised steam. Or a giant container ship filled with cogs, engines and pulleys smashing into each other as it takes us into some far off nature-less future.

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