Category Archives: Prurient

Prurient: Cocaine Daughter

Prurient_Cocaine-Daughter

Prurient: Cocaine Daughter
Hospital Productions (2015)

I am in love with this old school Noise cassette right now.

Noise nerds will be familiar with Dominick Fernow and his Prurient project. Newbies should imagine a pale geeky kid in America’s midwest making ears bleed with only his voice, an amp and a microphone. He moves to NYC where he adds creepy synths and industrial drums to his mix, before settling in LA to produce a unique hybrid of goth, new wave and harsh noise. Dave and I talk about him a lot on the Antidote Podcast. Fernow has myriad fantastic side projects, too.

Cocaine Daughter was recorded back in 2011, in a Kansas City hotel. Its gritty textures paint a picture of Fernow alone in a dingy room at 3am still wearing his leather jacket, surrounded by pedals, wires and digital paraphernalia while paying tribute to Merzbow, Whitehouse and Cabaret Voltaire.

The emphasis is on dark waves of sound that swell towards synth driven miasma. Fernow expertly combines white hot static with sci-fi whirs, metallic clangour and walls of digital abrasion. It’s like your head inside a jet engine, immense layers of sound sucked through a gash in the hull and spat into your ears. Analogue tape and computers smash together and crumble into the void.

The overall vibe is gothic in nature, largely due to the damaged keyboards that constantly shift speeds and whine like klaxons in the murk. Occasionally some semblance of melody picks itself up out of the rubble to stop Cocaine Daughter from boiling over into aggression – this is no Harsh Wall Noise recording. Instead, the tension simmers in your speakers, thickening the air and hazing your vision. There’s none of Fernow’s spoken-word-slash-tortured vocals or industrial drumming on here, which is unusual for a Prurient release.

When this was recorded in 2011 the noise scene had peaked. The sun was setting on its entrails. Cocaine Daughter is a glorious reminder of how thrilling the sound was, and hopefully a reminder of what it could be again. I miss these sorts of Noise recordings, when things felt dangerous, anarchic and nihilistic. I’m having lots of fun listening to it.

The greatest thing about ‘Noise’ is that it’s void of meaning. Sure, much has been written about anti-capitalism and anti-authoritarian stances in relation to Noise, but the reality is you can project whatever you want to on it. Adolescent weirdos see it as aggressive; nerds try and force social politics on to it; but I’ve always appreciated the purity of its ‘nothingness’. It’s just white hot static that smudges all thought from your mind. If you’re willing to give in, you can have a transcendent experience.

Cocaine Daughter was released in a run of 150 copies. I hope for your sake Fernow reissues it sometime soon.

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Digging: Prurient – Bermuda Drain

Prurient: Bermuda Drain
Hydra Head (2011)

According to Bermuda Drain‘s liner notes you should “listen at night while driving through European tunnels”. I was in Japan over the new year and this record is also the perfect soundtrack for speeding around Tokyo’s freeways, winding through neon lit and smog stained skyscrapers like a scene from Bladerunner. Despite the hype leading up to this release things have gone quiet for Prurient. Critics praised Bermuda Drain for the most part, but his fans seem unsure about the goth-wave direction. This shift in sound shouldn’t come as a surprise really, given Dominick Fernow’s involvement in the synthetic emo project Cold Cave, and his increasing interest in keyboards and poetry over his last few records. And on a track like Watch Silently, where the percussive stomp sounds like a Wolf Eyes impersonation, he should be  keeping the noise Nazis satisfied, but it seems the moody synths found throughout the other eight tracks are too foreign for most.

The more I listen to Bermuda Drain the more I appreciate its stark landscapes and knack for manipulating noise and atmosphere into something that almost resembles a song. Rarely has someone been able to make synth lines sound so menacing without melting in cheese. The vibe is foreboding, Fernow’s spoken prose is sparse, clear and threatening. He sounds like a man on edge, and when he erupts into gut wrenching screams, their contrast against the emotive synthesisers is unsettling. Sure, Suicide were doing something similar in the 70s but their schtick was way more inspired by blues and rock. And Alan Vega thought he was Jim Morrison. Suicide didn’t sound menacing (even if their live show was), in fact at times they almost sounded funky.

The easiest and more accurate reference point for Bermuda Drain is Horror and Action movie soundtracks of the 80s, where keyboards and drum machines provided cheap backing tracks to schlock. John Carpenter and Dario Argento are all over this and that’s probably why I can appreciate Bermuda Drain. Despite its angst and claustrophobia there is a sentimental edge to the record; nostalgia about being both repulsed and attracted to the video nasties of yore, watching something forbidden. Rooting for the monster on-screen. I like Bermuda Drain, I like it a lot. And I think the noise nerds need to ease up on Fernow for pushing his own boundaries.

Digging: Prurient – Point and Void

Prurient: Point + Void
Ninth Circle Music (2006)

A great new record store opened up in Melbourne six months ago. Ritual Music is poised to be THE place for local music nerds now that Missing Link has merged with Collector’s Corner and become a bargain basement for Kiss and Elvis Costello records. When I took Point and Void up to the counter, Ritual Music’s owner told me it was his favourite Prurient release, ever.

Yowser! My hot little ears couldn’t wait to hear it after that. If you’re familiar with Prurient at all, I can tell you that sonically Point and Void sits somewhere between And Still Wanting and Black Vase. For everyone else, this is a good snapshot of his earlier work, combining Prurient’s fascination with painfully high frequencies and his mid-career interest in slabs of distorted noise and prose. The haunting keyboards that Prurient has been experimenting with more recently don’t exist here.

The latter half of Point and Void is fairly obsessed with field recordings and found sounds, layered into quiet drones and then punctuated with jabs of distorted voice and gut wrenching bass (best illustrated around eight minutes into I have Sinned Immeasurably). This sets it apart from everything else I’ve heard from Prurient so far and while I don’t always have the patience for this subtlety, when I’m in the mood it’s plenty engaging.

Lastly, Point and Void is inspired by, and its lyrics lifted directly from various biblical texts. Not that it’s any sort of religious celebration, it’s way too fuckin’ dark for that. No, the field recordings of (what I assume to be) New York streets complete with police sirens and distant conversations seem to suggest that Prurient thinks we as people will never live up to religious guidance and dogma. Whoa, that’s deep, man. What ever the case, if you’re a Prurient fan waiting for Mr Fenrow to finish playing around with Cold Cave and Ash Pool before putting out some new Prurient, then try some Point and Void to quell your appetite.

Digging: Prurient – The Baron’s Chamber

Prurient: The Baron’s Chamber
Nihilist (2005)

Somewhere between the white noise fuckery of Prurient’s junior years and the dark ambience of his more recent output, lies The Baron’s Chamber. A throbbing slab of low-slung static and burnt out vocals. A single thirty-minute track featuring distinct ‘movements’ weighed down in a sludgy and hopeless atmosphere that calls to mind Khanate, if they were channelled through a malfunctioning TV being beamed out to Mars.

What I love about The Baron’s Chamber are the washes of some classical Waltz that drift in and out of range at odd intervals, creating a sentimental and kind of creepy contrast to the relentless fuzz. I’m reminded of Jack Nicholson hearing the sounds of another era celebrating NYE in the bowels of the supposedly empty Overlook Hotel – this record would make a great soundtrack to The Shining.

Vocals take a back seat, and are well disguised within everything else that’s going on. Fuck knows what Dominick Fernow is saying but the guy sounds mighty pissed off about something. If he sounds angry on Black Vase in a schizophrenic kind of way, then on The Baron’s Chamber he sounds like he’s tearing chunks out of the walls and aching to destroy…well, anything, really. This is an emotionally nihilistic record (what else would you release on a label called Nihilist?) that you won’t find yourself listening to while sunning yourself on a white-sand beach. But the next time your boss pisses you off, or you get a parking ticket, throw yourself into The Baron’s Chamber and fantasise about smashing shit up.

Despite the vocals being consumed by everything else that’s happening here, I was surprised to learn that the lyrics come from the writings of a semi-obscure poet (are there poets who aren’t obscure?) named Jean Feraca, particularly her collection titled Crossing the Great Divide. According to this review of her work on Amazon, this isn’t the first time that Fernow has been inspired by Ms Feraca. And you know what? I really like that about Prurient, the way other creative practices inform Fernow’s own emotional outbursts. It makes me feel better about appreciating a record that is essentially just, well, noise.

Digging: Prurient

Prurient: Pleasure Ground
Load Records (2007)

prurient-pleasure-ground

There aren’t many artists out there whose music juggles violence and frailty so well. It’s almost a contradiction to think that something can be brutal enough to peel off your face but precariously positioned to shatter at any time, and yet Dominick Fernow’s harrowed screams and buckled electronics do exactly this.  Prurient exists somewhere entirely of his own; equal parts Black Metal ethos, soothing drone, Industrial clank and harsh fucking noise.

Pleasure Ground is made up of four 10-minute pieces; kicking off with stabbing dissonance and subtly mutating towards a finale of release.

Opener Military Road starts out with piercing feedback and then limps along on a hollowed out pulse that sounds like machine gun fire slowed down and drugged. Fernow’s lung tearing howls float around until a bowel loosening bass frequency swirls everything up into a thick gelatinous mess.

Earthworks/Buried in Secret picks up and massages this low end into a descending drone, distorted and repetitive like a mantra. As you begin to zone out the ‘tune’ shifts up numerous octaves into a cheesy Black Metal synth line. Fernow starts puking his guts up again as thumping kick drums reverberate in the background. Occasionally a snare drum snaps up your attention and eventually all the elements start bubbling away in unison, a wall of aching, beautiful but ugly sound. Possibly my favourite Prurient track yet.

Things take a detour from here. Outdoorsman/Indestructible is based on a barely audible bass sine (think menacing late seventies horror movie soundtrack) and a trickle of wobbly keys. Cymbals clang here and there, mutedly, and the vocals take on the guise of an apathetic spoken word performance.

Volume returns for the final number, Apple Tree Victim, where a distorted melody endlessly repeats while Fernow gets back to sandpapering his vocal cords. The effect is nowhere near as intense as the opening tracks; in fact it’s almost pretty. Without the screams you could be lulled into a daydream, albeit something that involves long-nailed creatures hiding under your bed.

What I love about this record (along with Rose Pillar) compared to what I’ve heard of his other work so far (which is all pretty fucking amazing) is that here Prurient manages to take you on a journey. Pleasure Ground has a strong character arc and when you reach the end of this record, you’re never the person you were when it started.

New Release: Prurient

Prurient: Rose Pillar
The Heartworm (2009)

Prurient Rose PillarHoly crap! I may have found my record of 2009.

It all starts innocently enough. The muffled keys and distant rumblings on the opening track, Custer Aims his Arrow are gently hypnotic, disguising a thick fog that hides wolves and other Transylvanian nasties while gently hooking its jaws around your throat. Blown-out and icy cold keyboard drones emerge from the mist; something stomps and crackles in the distance while Dominick Fernow squeals garbled incantations into your ears. Then more distant rumblings and those lifeless, frozen keyboards, like a Dario Argento soundtrack but scary and so goddamn lonely.

Prurient has followed his interest in Black Metal to its furthest and most ambient depths. Rose Pillar is grim, empty and hopeless stuff made from keyboards and distorted vocals. It’s also deceptively soothing. This is the sound of a man pouring his deepest emotions into his noise. This isn’t about testing the listener’s limits or questioning the definition of music.

Is it Emo Noise? Fuck knows, but whatever it is, it’s absolutely thrilling.

Rose Pillar hits its stride on the fourth and fifth tracks where Hammer with Forty Names merges a Merzbow-ian rhythm with an undercurrent of guitar static and vocals like shattering glass. Indeed, the windows in my house rattle when I play this at even half-full volume. This leads into the album’s crescendo, Spins the World’s Wheels Again where a dislocated voice like Frank the psycho bunny from Donnie Darko gives a ten-minute eulogy over a sparkling keyboard drone. His voice rises from next-dimension distortion to blood curdling scream, in homage to all things David Lynch. Fuck me if this track isn’t scarier than anything I’ve ever heard from any Black Metal/Doom/Noise act. Ever.

Smartly, Fernow doesn’t allow Rose Pillar to outstay its welcome. 34 minutes of aching beauty leaves you hankering for more. I’m listening to this on repeat.

Currently the record is only available on 11” vinyl, with a 180 page hardcover book of Fernow’s artwork, and text from his mother’s memoir detailing the death of an estranged relative. I don’t own a turntable so I’m listening to a copy kindly made for me by a friend, but so good is this record I’m on the edge of forking out the AU$150 for it regardless.

I can’t recommend this enough, people. For me, this is the future of noise. Rose Pillar has purpose and meaning; noise for the sake of noise has been done already. If you dig Burial Hex, or thought Wolf Eyes’ Human Animal was mind blowing, Rose Pillar is gonna’ change your whole perspective on shit.