Outré Monde #2: Kromosom & Narrow Lands

Outre1Many moons ago, US music writer and musician Erik Highter asked me (Craig Hayes, barely literate hermit) if I’d like to co-write a column about the albums we’d both discovered via Bandcamp and enjoyed. I leapt at the chance, and our Outré Monde column ran for a short time on the much-loved website Last Rites before Erik and I got a little burned out by the music ‘biz’ and took a break from opinionated scribbling.

But now, Outré Monde is back. The format is the same as before: Erik and I just email back and forth to construct a post. Although, this time round we’re going to alternate publishing the column on each other’s blogs: see Outre Monde #1 on Erik’s The Speed of Things site right here.

So let’s dive in. I’m sure you’re desperate to know what two grey-bearded grinches think of the state of music in 2017.

Outré Monde #2: Kromosom & Narrow Lands

HAYES: Kia ora, mate. For the last Outré Monde I picked an album that was artfully (and some might say painfully) constructed to evoke a very specific time, place, and feel. This time round I thought I’d send something far more instinctual. Something that reflects my lifelong addiction to crusty, nasty and thoroughly nihilistic punk rock.

You know how much I love anti-fucking-everything noise, and I think Australian crust/d-beat crew Kromosom are a pretty great example of a band that delivers exactly that. I’m throwing their Live Forever album at you, but you’ve also thrown a brain-battering Australian band at me.

So what gives? Why’d you send Narrow Lands’ Popular Music That Will Live Forever to me?

HIGHTER: Kia ora. I chose Narrow Lands’ Popular Music That Will Live Forever for one of the saddest of reasons: I bought it on Bandcamp ages ago but had never listened to it. I don’t even know who recommended it or when I picked it up, only that aside from the opening cut I’d never listened further. This seemed like the perfect place to rectify that and see if the rest of the album lived up to the noise, whine, and thunder of “Triple J Drive Time Hit”.

But before we get into Narrow Lands, I would love for you to go deep on the crusty malevolence of Kromosom. Lather me in dirt.

HAYES: To be honest, going deep on Kromosom kind of negates the reason I like them — and all their vulgar and ear-splitting kin. Really, it’s the band’s complete disinterest in polish and technicality, and their absolute love of raw and feral filth, that’s the key attractor for me.

I’ve loved crusty punk and d-beat since I first heard Discharge’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing many years ago. That album was a crucial gateway for my eyes and ears. It opened up a whole new world of unhinged noise — from full-bore nihilistic punk to all sorts of avant-garde weirdness.

Kromosom are just one of a million bands that took inspiration from Discharge’s armory and combined that Japanese blizzard-blasted d-beat and Scandi kängpunk. There’s a whole bunch of Australian and New Zealand bands wrecking chords, strangling notes, and making a wonderfully horrible racket like that. But the key reason I sent you Kromosom’s Live Forever is because it so clearly represents a bunch of things I love: raw, lo-fi noise with a gigantic helping of “fuck you”.

I know that you’ve grown more and more interested in making noise yourself. So I simply wondered how receptive you were to the crusty mayhem I love?

HIGHTER: I was more receptive than I expected to be; maybe I’m getting soft on this sort of harshness as I age, or perhaps my tinnitus rounds off everything to blaring hiss so it doesn’t matter. I think you touched on some of its appeal to me with the callout to the Japanese take on the d-beat thing. While I appreciate Discharge, it was their Japanese descendants that clicked with me more; maybe it’s the melding of noise and crust that makes it align more with my sensibilities.

Regardless, I liked Kromosom’s gnarl and hiss. The incredibly piss-poor recording style works for them; compressed to shit with instruments bleeding across each other like the smear left on your arm after you slap crush a feeding mosquito. I feel weird saying a 20-minute album is too long, but this compilation would be stronger if it was 12 minutes instead. What they do is so relentless (and to these ears largely indistinguishable from track to track) that the thrill and blasting energy gets sapped before the end. I can’t imagine how amazing it was to hear these original singles. A series of short sharp shocks of scuzz.

Care to respond before we move on to Narrow Lands?

HAYES: I’m really glad you found something to enjoy! I know Kromosom’s tin-shack recordings and ultra-scuzzy shenanigans are a hard sell. But sometimes (read most of the time) I just need chaotic music that obliterates notes and chords in favour of sheer pandemonium. I’m happy with Live Forever being a 20-minute album. But I get why you think that’s a tad too long, when it all sounds like one elongated car crash.  

Now, tell me all about Narrow Lands.

HIGHTER: Narrow Lands’ Popular Music That Will Live Forever is hateful, trebly, uncomfortable, glorious noise rock. It’s also consistently good to great. Which kinda pisses me off. As I said, I bought it several years ago but never bothered to play it. I could have been listening to it for years! However, since first spinning it a few months ago it has stayed in constant rotation. There are hooks that lodge deep; there are riffs that rumble into my head at odd and often inopportune times. This is all well and good. But the real reason I keep listening is the beautiful noise. Several times they let entropy win out over tunefulness, and that devolution into wash and feedback and reverberating squeals is where I want to live. My only criticism is I wish they let things slide to madness more often. That’s what sets Narrow Lands apart from so much of the noise rock revival of the last decade. Glorious noise.

Craig, did you find any comfort in their madness?

HAYES: Well, I did find a measure of comfort. But perhaps not as much as you? When the band goes wholly off-piste on Popular Music That Will Live Forever, deep into the realms of brain-boiling feedback and actual noise noise, that’s where I’m happiest. That leaves me wondering if I’m really that interested in Narrow Lands’ more constructed riffs, in the end.

Credit where credit’s due, though, Narrow Lands are a great noise rock band. They’ve got the heft, the tone, and ten-tonne abrasiveness galore –– and I agree that they sling a hell of a hook. But I keep coming back to the fact that the band’s less structured moments are their best by far. Is that fair?

I fully admit to not being as big a noise rock fan as yourself. Or at least, I haven’t kept up to date with the happenings in the noise rock world. I’ll certainly be listening to Popular Music That Will Live Forever again, though, and I have a feeling it’ll grow on me. As it stands, I’m definitely glad you sent it my way.

Do you want to tell I’m crazy and I’ve missed something? Or do you want to wrap this double dose of noise rock ‘n’ punk up?

HIGHTER: I don’t have anything important to add, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to say something! I think the reason their noise works so well, and appeals so strongly to both of us, is because it appears in the context of a noise rock album. We’ve both heard plenty of noise albums that traffic in the sonics that Narrow Lands collapse into on Popular Music That Will Live Forever. They’re almost a dime a dozen. But the entropic collapse of the structure of noise rock into noise is much rarer. That’s where this album stands out and why I’m so enamored with it.

One last observation, which can serve as either a wrap-up or a spur to more blathering; these two albums, Live Forever and Popular Music That Will Live Forever, are united in treble. Kromosom’s shrill hiss and ringing, raging guitars pierce the ears like an ice pick. Narrow Lands overlay a good half the album with an incessant, barely modulated hum that does a great job simulating tinnitus (or at least the way my tinnitus expresses itself). The majority of people find high constant treble discomforting, and discomfort is surely a goal for both these acts.

HAYES: Oh, sure, agreed: 666%. Discomfort is a clear objective for both bands. I’m not sure what it says about us that we find so much comfort in that discomfort. But here’s to unsettling and ill-mannered noise! Long may it reign… and hiss and buzz.