Joe Casey (Protomartyr) on Approaching Wolf Eyes from Three Locations

On Dread, art and pleated Dockers.

The First Location

There is a secret that most people hold tightly to their chests. It is one they don’t pass down to their children or comment about in passing to their friends. That secret doesn’t have an official name or diagnosis; it drifts forever between one’s outward eye and the gross guts they tamp down when the rubber hits the road. It’s dread.

Some of us — those who perhaps won’t bother themselves with a piece by a man who lacks both credibility and male beauty — will reduce this grand secret of existence to “a vague sense of unease” or “not feeling my best.” But Dread (now capitalized) exists in every marrow of my bones, and it certainly exists in the new album by Wolf Eyes titled Undertow.

Dread is not the cloying jaws of eminent death that awaits us all.

Dread is not the cloying jaws of eminent death that awaits us all. Dread is not the fear of a shitty president or cancer or a murderer around the corner with a steely knife. Dread is a cousin to these fears. It’s the numbness one gets when an ambulance buzzes by. Or the moment in which a citizen of this world thinks, hunched over a fine porcelain toilet made with care in Chelsea or China or wherever a surprisingly affordable crapper is made, “I am but pulsing meat and for that I should feel…something.” Emotion with the strings removed. That’s Wolf Eyes, and they capture that particular feeling on their first release on their own label, Lower Floor Music.

Luckily, I was listening to Wolf Eyes when my basement flooded. In reality, it’s not my basement, but my family’s basement — my parents who are now either dead or gone to mental destruction. Dread. I feel like a custodian to this house, and I feel I have failed in the upkeep. Dread. I see cherished family items floating on a wave of scum. Dread. I realize if I lived and all of them died, those treasures would mean nothing. Dread. I curse myself for not elevating myself from this hole. Dread. I feel like this is my lot and I love it. Dread. The cause of the flood is nature. Roots growing through clay pipes. Vile water washing down stone to dust. Turning family photos to garbage. Remembering both bad and good in a second. Dread. Knowing I have failed and succeeded at living. Dread. Calling a stranger to fix my problem. Dread. Having him overcharge me. Dread. Laughing about it all. Dread. Dread. Dread.

The Second Location

Noise music is a scam perpetrated by idiots.

I remember witnessing Wolf Eyes live for the first time. I was young, fat and full of opinions. I had terrible taste and felt I had figured out life and the point of living. I had two friends, the Boyer Brothers, whom I allowed to show me around and introduce me to new things that I would invariably scoff at and trenchantly diss. In retrospect, I’m sure they felt sorry for me.

I was wearing Dockers, pleated.

I don’t remember which one took me, Kevin or Trevor. I know I was wearing Dockers, pleated. It was at an art space in Detroit that no longer exists, near a White Castle. It was a show full of interesting people, art people, real expressions of self. There were some overly kooky people there as well (whom I will still hold in pitying contempt to this day, even though I am an enlightened citizen).

Then Wolf Eyes came on.

“Damn you, either Trevor or Kevin!” I thought.

“This is but noise! And the bit with the boxes of hidden electronics is but a ruse! Take me posthaste to an agreeable ska-punk show where I might be surrounded by the men who in some future time will vote for white male supremacy!” I probably also thought at that moment.

But here’s the thing: I now realize from my education that Wolf Eyes, to me, represents the best of modern art. And as my balls dropped, I realized that what scared me about avant-garde was its clinical distance. It seemed like something rich people who dress in black in New York City or Copenhagen do out of sheer boredom. But here is an artistic expression not born of snobbery and anti-provincial gobbledegook. It is also embedded with respect for the vast history of musical forebears. It is sound and form that is of the moment, but not dippy about it. It is dumb slashes of everyday humdrum made museum piece. It is the shitty can beer and skate party as spectacle without the outside noise. Noise within. Michigan Midwest Avant-garde Core with no line at the door. No filter. Once “Trip Metal,” now “Psycho Jazz,” perhaps “Minimal Tri-ska-ballin Skifftrap” of the future. Wolf Eyes throws the best festival party in Detroit on Memorial/Techno Day weekend for free, and it’s both the best and most challenging show of the year. Also, I repeat, it is free. It is transformative art for the people. That is harder than grinding camel meat through a butthole, but Wolf Eyes do it repeatedly. I am lucky to know of them. Thank you, Boyer Brother A or B.

The Third Location

Undertow is the first release on Wolf Eyes’ own label, Lower Floor Music, as I said, and it follows hundreds of releases on other imprints, labels and conglomerates.

What do you need to know? This album rips like any other Wolf Eyes product. I’m partial to the last track, “Thirteen,” because it’s an epic, has the most of Nate Young’s vocals (which I am both an admirer and steady rip-off artist of), and closes the album on a perfect note after the variations of harsh beauty that came before. On this album, “Crazy” Jim Baljo lends a more impressionistic flavor, which is a nice change of pace from some previous releases. The boy can still shred when needed, but it’s nice to hear some echoes of his previous solo work. John Olsen, it should go without saying, slays on horn, and the electronics get stiff when they need to break through mental concrete and can go beautifully, frighteningly gossamer on tracks such as “Texas.”

So, yeah, buy this album. Follow their Instagram. Read Olsen’s book Life is a Ripoff from Third Man Publishing. Try to find local avant shit in your town if you can. Accept and embrace the Dread in your life and let Wolf Eyes soundtrack it. Wear pleated Dockers when you can.