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Aaron Dilloway, "The Gag File"

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cover imageSince releasing two stellar albums in 2012, Aaron Dilloway has been comparatively quiet, contenting himself with a steady stream of cassettes, collaborations, and reissues.  Apparently, he also spent a bit of that time slowly assembling The Gag File, the long-awaited follow-up opus to Modern Jester.  Given that Dilloway has long been one of the most influential figures in the American noise scene, it is no surprise that The Gag File is a bizarre, aberrant, and fine album.  That said, some aspects were still deliciously wrong-headed enough to catch me off-guard (though the cover art should have been a fair warning).  At its best, The Gag File transcends mere noise entirely and ventures into realms that feel like a vivid kitschy nightmare or the infernal horror of an endless bad party.

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The opening "Ghost" presents a somewhat muted introduction to Dilloway's haunted funhouse, as it is initially little more than a soundscape built from industrial-sounding drones and flanging washes of synthesizer.  There is certainly some low-level dissonance and menace right from the jump, but the bottom does not drop out until its drugged and lurching groove blossoms into a brief interlude of garbled and distorted vocals, like someone struggling (and failing) to be heard from the spirit world.  The following piece, "Karaoke With Cal," is where the album first catches fire.  Again, Dilloway returns to voices, this time using a pitch-shifted tape that sounds like an incoherent and upset elderly man delivering a halting monologue over a broken, locked-groove waltz (of sorts).  There is also a whistling interlude (also of sorts) that sometimes sounds more like a space-y Theremin solo.  All of the individual components are certainly great, but the genius of the piece lies in what Dilloway does with his warped palette, weaving a thoroughly disorienting spell with layering, obsessive repetition, shifts in tape speed, and a distorting patina of hiss and crackle.

In a blackly funny bit of sequencing magic, "Cal" segues into the sounds of sirens and a screaming, fleeing crowd in "Inhuman Form Reflected."  After the initial hysteria, "Inhuman Form" settles into a rhythm that sounds like a room full of wheezing, buzzing antique machines…before unexpectedly erupting into an amusing final act of gibbering monster howls…followed by yet another final act that sounds like a man having a complete psychotic breakdown in an empty room.  Dilloway is quite a wizard at riding the line between black humor and catharsis, seeming to delight in freezing the smile on listeners' faces, a trait I find very endearing.  The album's first side then winds to a close with a simmering and rumbling loop pile-up (“Born in a Maze”) that resembles an earthquake that gradually transforms into a distorted locked-groove snippet of a prog rock song.

The album's second half begins in sublimely creepy fashion with "It’s Not Alright," an obsessive and hallucinatory loop of soulful overlapping voices repeating the mantra of "It's Alright" over a simmering bed of hiss and a slowly swelling pulse that sounds like a macabre parade.  In yet another feat of sequencing brilliance, that piece seamlessly blurs into "No Eye Sockets (For Otto and Cindy)," which sounds like a gently tweaked field recording of a bunch of laughing office workers chatting inanely and enjoying happy hour as funky blues rock plays in the background.   Near the end, the music seems to start again from the beginning and the laughter becomes a bit more sinister and echoing.  I definitely expected the existentialist hell to pointedly and mischievously continue for much longer, but Dilloway abruptly bulldozes the whole scene with the manic, blown-out Latin-dance-party-meets-industrial-machinery-and-an-erratic-tape-player confusion of "Switch."  Eventually that nerve-jangling cacophony grinds to a halt, but Dilloway replaces it with the similarly discordant "Shot Nerves," which drags the momentum down to a sickly crawl.  Initially, it is one of the weaker pieces on the album, as it just sounds like someone playing a meandering one-finger non-melody on a sizzling and overdriven synth in hopes of making the ugliest possible harmonies.  Heroically, however, Dilloway rouses himself for one final (if brief) fanfare of chopped, jabbering voices and annoying buzzes and the album ends on a solid note.

Willfully annoying bits aside, The Gag File is quite a wonderfully disorienting, bleakly amusing, and ambitiously experimental album.  In fact, it feels a lot like I am experiencing the final flickering impressions in the mind of a dying vaudeville comedian or birthday party magician in the thrall of acid psychosis.  Admittedly, not every song achieves such a transcendent illusion (in fact, only a handful do), but it is remarkable that any do at all.  Granted, Dilloway's former bandmates in Wolf Eyes share a similar passion for celebrating the sickly and the broken, but Dilloway is on much darker, stranger trip all his own.  In fact, I never get the feeling that Dilloway shares the same concerns as other noise/experimental musicians at all, nor that he is particularly interested in making cool sounds (though they sometimes happen anyway).  Rather, Dilloway seems like an artist that has ingeniously found a way to use ravaged tapes and cultural detritus as a means of burrowing deep into his subconconscious to exhume a rotting mound of buried dread and anxiety.  Certainly other artists have had similar ambitions over the years, but rarely are the fruits this undiluted by artifice.  More significantly, it is even rarer still for that horror to be transformed into the darkest and most perverse of comedies.

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Last Updated on Monday, 15 May 2017 06:15  


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