Wolf Eyes' career to date provides one hell of a shaggy dog story: When Nate Young initiated the project in '96 as a one-man cassette creep, joined forces with Hanson Records' Aaron Dilloway soon thereafter, and later connected with American Tapes idol John Olson, nobody could've guessed the Ann Arbor terror trio would nail a Sub Pop record deal in 2004. Seriously, that's like waking up in the mid-'90s and finding Noggin on DGC. Every move's been intriguing. Case in point: I've written more about Wolf Eyes than any other active band, pulling out the stale Throbbing Gristle metaphors so many times, I forgot I'd reviewed their Sub Pop debut, Burned Mind, for Magnet until I glimpsed it in Human Animal's press release.
Wolf Eyes With Raven Strain and Sick Llama. Crocodile Cafe, 2200 Second Ave., 206- 441-5611, www.thecrocodile.com. $10. 9 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 9.
A fixation, sure, but not without its moments of doubt: After Dilloway shuffled off to Nepal and the band replaced him with Hair Police frontman/Gods of Tundra label head Mike Connelly, I was nervous. In a live review I wrote for The Village Voice last March, I got jumpy, positing that perhaps Dilloway welcomed "less rock, more empty fist- pumping." Nothing against Connelly, but Dilloway's puppet-master solo set in the Northsix basement in 2004 remains one of my favorite live experiences (rivaling—no shit—Liar-era Jesus Lizard at CBGB). So, when he took his gong and went home, I figured it was for the worse.
A few weeks ago, though, while I was chewing the fat at the Manhattan-based Hospital Productions record store, the Wolf Eyes guys stopped by to snag black-metal albums. From my position at the Burzum section, I noted Connelly was especially stoked, piling vinyl, CDs, and patches on the front desk. So, perhaps he should be rewarded with a tube of corpse paint for Human Animal's particularly blackened stench: "Leper War" swivels like the sopping shards of Blut Aus Nord, The Driller, and a lonesome, crowded Wrest.
In that aforementioned Voice piece, I slagged Olson's saxophone, saying "the set's breezy Bill Clinton–as–Squiggy jazz and plodding generalities transformed Wolf Eyes' usually taut black-magic vomit into meandering bitch's stew."
Again, time to eat bloody crow. Before Human Animal, whenever Olson went presidential-jazz, it was a signal to stretch your legs, smoke a cig. On Human Animal, though, his reed buttresses the burbling electronics, dizzyingly fried percussion, and vocal skree, guiding listeners like a soulfully fucked Virgil through a murky Inferno. Dude's playing is a fever dream of boggy, drip-filter Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
Compositionally, Human Animal is also the band's tightest biosphere to date, a skinny puppy suggesting the queasy feel of, yes, Throbbing Gristle's "Hamburger Lady" caught midburn. The album's three opening tracks melt together into a slab of kabuki dub. Screams bubble amid the muck-rat ambience but are saved, for the most part, for the slice 'n' dice horror haze one-two punch of "Human Animal" and "Rusted Mange."
A note to completists: This "Human Animal" is not the expanded drifter of the same name from The Warriors, the 2005 Prurient/Wolf Eyes split.
Imagine that spacier song compressed into a rancid, sick snarl of earth-smash percussion and still-born Negative Approach aches and pains. Similarly coiffed, its neighbor, "Rusted Mange," suggests nihilistic Whitehouse true crime penned by Hades and a blasted team of hyperactive wraiths. Dilloway isn't officially in the band, though he did assist in mixing the record (ditto Burned Mind) and cut, chopped, and reaffixed these two particularly urgent tracks.
People have spoken of Human Animal as Wolf Eyes' fourth album, but to offer a conservative estimate, the band has well over 100 releases of various sorts. While writing this piece, I received Equinox, the fruits of a July 2004 through December 2005 collaboration with John Wiese. It's Wolf Eyes' classic lineup of Dilloway, Olson, and Young who join Wiese for a 44-minute static storm followed by a shorter track, "Fireworks," more or less the boys (and some girls) setting off firecrackers, oohing, ogling, and laughing. It's an imageless outtake from Jackass: While they react to how the explosions look and feel, the listener's stuck reacting to how they sound, imagining the colors and scents and charred-finger fear.
Live, full sensory experience in place, the band's face-stabbing percussion winds itself around these sorts of backyard guffaws, creating rabid party dub. For instance, the band closes out Human Animal manifesto-style with "Noise Not Music," a cover of No Fucker's d-beat blister. John Olson spews buried banshee howls like he's being eaten by the rhythm section. It's fun. It's anthemic. It's silly. So hey, forget "Crazy" and Violent Femmes tunes performed by insects. These lupine motherfuckers have nailed the zeitgeist best, their duct-taped innards and pitch-shifted barks delivered with a shit-eating rockist smile.