Noise and dance music are not dissimilar. Dance musicians frequently push into the void of experimental creativity and noise artists build pulsing walls of emotion, each in an attempt to find new ways to transfix listeners. Industrial, hardcore electronics, and IDM are all examples of this. The pool of artists that sit at this convergence is enormous. Nero’s Day at Disneyland, Moon Pool & Dead Band, Pan Sonic, Hrvatski, and Iszoloscope each fit into a spectrum of dance potential. It’s not uncommon to see a musician switch sides or fluctuate throughout their career, either. The Japanese electronic musician Kouhei Matsunaga began his musical career in the rolling walls of noise of Upside Down, as well as the abstract ambient of his split with Merzbow in 2001. While vague hints of techno are present, it’s nothing like the catchy club tunes of 2013’s Dance Classics Vol. III. This sharing of ideas even in often disparate scenes has helped develop electronic music far beyond disco or Yellow Magic Orchestra.
Even in this context of noisy electro, it’s hard to imagine Wolf Eyes‘ member John Olson making a record in this vein. Albeit, his project Henry & Hazel Slaughter falls much more into the abstract side, it finds an outsider’s place amongst the American Tapes founder’s diverse repertoire. Olson has been behind dozens of projects and perhaps twice as many collaborations since the 1990s. Whereas Wolf Eyes carries a brutal legacy from songs such as “Stabbed in the Face” or “The Driller”, his other acts touch on different subjects. Dead Machines is a less aggressive, but possibly weirder duo between Olson and his wife. Waves (admittedly his favorite work) is harsher than anything else in his discography. Olson’s project Spykes and his collaboration with the free jazz band Graveyards show off his abstract chops. However, this just touches the massive catalog of work that the prominent noise contributor has produced in the past two decades.
With his project Henry & Hazel Slaughter, John Olson taps into Detroit techno. No, not the synths and Roland drum machines, but the crusty power-grid of dead factories and automotive plants. In Endless Power Cycle, ghostly beats and circuit-bent instruments pop in and out of this uncharacteristically thin record. While some songs exhibit layers of samples, much of the record remains a rather naked contraption. This aesthetic is potentially due to the way that Endless Power Cycle is burnished versus the demo or some earlier releases which exude lo-fi to the core. It still remains the home-recording style outsider noise of previous releases, but without the impatient fuzz of a receptive microphone. On this album, Olson pulls dry industrial soundscapes and studio-recordings from his suitcase of drum machines and homemade instruments. The record is, for the most part, marked by gaps and stops. Dub tracks are corroded and seized by splotches of noise: industrial crunches, scuffs, squelches, little glitches, and the sound of turntable ruts. Simple and mechanical industrial refrains face off with abstract noise pits where samples bounce off the walls or patter in the background. Endless Power Cycle is light, but not powerless.
Tracks from earlier releases make reappearances. Track 4 is a revisited song from Sideways Gas Washers extended and with a pulled-back bass kick. It seems that the treatment of this track is representative of the project’s maturity as a whole. Just as this is a more polished track, this LP is a more polished initiative for Henry & Hazel Slaughter. To mark this, the release has been pressed to vinyl: 250 copies of vile yellow-green vinyl marked only by three screws printed on the label and packaged in a cardboard sleeve. Fedora Corpse even admits how hideous the color is in an insert.
The disconcerting nature of the record’s physical appearance embodies the impressions that await the listener within the music. It definitely isn’t a comfortable dance record. While dance-ability is almost certainly not the focus of John Olson or almost any record reviewed on the Heathen Harvest Periodical, this album is a “primitive basement techno unit”, as stated on the insert. Although a correlation to mainstream techno was never claimed, Olson’s bizarre musical voice places this record well within the noise realm and only on the fringe of the world of techno. Even pieces like Track 3, Track 11, and Track 12, which yield the skeletal vibe of rhythm, are doused in a sea of noises and modifiers. Catchiness aside, the album is interesting and pretty easy to listen to — especially in comparison to Olson’s other work.
John Olson is a performer who loves to tinker with new ideas and sounds. The focused re-envisioning seen in this mastered record is apparent in the newest record from Wolf Eyes, which claims a basis in music theory. Even as fun as imagining a more proper techno album by Olson would be, it seems rather apparent that abstract noise is an inseparable element of this musician’s approach.
Out of all of the projects Olson has developed over the years, Henry & Hazel Slaughter is one of the more unique ones. Detroit techno isn’t revolutionized, but the thought of a noise artist playing with dub tunes is novel enough to warrant Endless Power Cycle at least a listen and build anticipation for the next big release.
15 Untitled Tracks