I was 17 in 1998, and I vividly remember Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy being blasted in my neighbor’s ’85 Honda Civic. We were cruising some desolate part of the suburbs, and we were very stoned and I was very uncomfortable. I had the window cracked for air, and I was white-knuckling the door handle. I remember questioning if I actually knew who my neighbor really was. I started looking around for a knife or a little bottle of chloroform, thinking I was done for. It was the harshest thing I had ever heard at the time. I hated it and made him change it to Slint or something.
Many years later, I can’t help but think of that experience as a gateway. It helped me discern what it is I like in a good noise track: themes and pulses and a brutal amount of bitterness. And sometimes shame, sometimes discomfort. But always, always terror. For it to really grip me, it has to be a problem for me to hear it alone and in the dark.
For many people, noise music is an acquired taste. It’s a good thing that I lived in Washington, D.C., when this happened. There was an incredibly fertile music scene in the city at the time, a scene that had been comforting enough to allow me to branch out and explore without fear of ridicule.
It wasn’t until years later, when I saw Wolf Eyes on Halloween, that my quickly melting mind finally became unlocked to noise. I was terrified and I embraced it. Now, when it comes to noise music, on a spectrum from toothless piss-lovers all the way over to engorged elitists, I would put myself somewhere among the armchair-spectator crowd. I have a need for speed; I want minimal wankery with a strong dose of musical terror.
During the 50 or so times over the last five days that I’ve listened to Pharmakon’s new album Bestial Burden, I have struggled with how to articulate the many things that I really love about this album. What it boils down to is terror. This record is scary as hell. Scary good and scary simple, and I happily welcome this chill of despair. Pharmakon dialed in on all my fears with a few vocal loops, some harsh, techno-sounding drums and a production so loaded and expansive it makes me feel alone.
The focus of this album has not been masked or skewed. Margaret Chardiet has been very up-front about her recovery from surgery, drawing on her experiences to tap into the ever-looming disconnect between body and mind. She allows things to be as chaotic as they need to be. No instrument is safe from the contortions of this album. No phrase is safe or repeated more than once. No person is shielded from the pummel of this album. As a response to the sudden and total comprehension of one’s own mortality, Bestial Burden sounds therapeutic as hell.
The first time I heard the third track, “Body Betrays Itself,” I realized that this was gonna be a terrifying record. Having a cough and wet-sounding sputters and dry-heaving replace the more traditional bleeding screams over a thumping kick drum is a stroke of pure genius. When I make a noise record I’m gonna want it to sound exactly like this, but I’ll never ever be as good at it as Chardiet is.
After her proper debut album, 2013’s Abandon, what comes as no surprise is how terrifyingly well Chardiet translates the spasms of the universe around her into music. After being cut literally to pieces, this album sounds like recovery.
I sense that she took her time finding just the right places to lash out. I can imagine that the labored and almost painful-sounding panting at the beginning of this album was recorded into a high-fidelity tube microphone just after Chardiet sprinted around the block and in through an open door, down the hall, directly through the sliding door of the studio — I’m imagining — past the mixing board and into the live room and coming to a halt inches from the diffuser. Gasp after gasp after gasp of every fiber of sweaty breath until she catches it. By the time this one-minute-and-33-second track comes to a close, I am already on the floor struggling to regain my vision.
This shit moans and smashes and is raw as fuck.