Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing 
Music Disc Reviews Audio CD
Written by Matt Fink   
Thursday, 01 May 2008

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Though it’s generally true that music has lagged behind the other major forms of art in reaching its most abstract conclusions, the last 30 years of underground noise have gone a long way toward proving John Cage’s dictum that music is whatever we say it is. As a lover of melody and lyric, I was admittedly skeptical about such loose definitions and the sorts of deconstructions they encourage, but after several months of combing through the variants of the modern noise movement, I decided Cage was right. In as much as melody is only a succession of differing notes or pitches, and rhythm is a pattern of repeatable sound events, it becomes arbitrary to argue that music must fall within the narrow strictures of what we find pleasing to our ears. That’s preference, something that varies from culture to culture and changes over time, and I’ve found that no matter how outlandish, if you look hard enough, you will find someone who will claim to enjoy whatever sound you discover. And while I generally blush at suggestions that the Beatles and a lawnmower both make music, I know of no other definition that can account for all the different sounds that bring human beings pleasure. While they might not push on those definitions as much as, say, the folks who make music solely by amplifying the sound of power tools, Fuck Buttons continue the debate with Street Horrrsing.

FB is comprised of two men, Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power, from Bristol, England, the latest avant-garde sensation to continue a remarkable upsurge in the commercial viability of bands that play music with few hooks or traditional song structures. To be certain, Fuck Buttons reside on the more approachable end of that continuum, much closer to ambient sound sculptors Black Dice than horrorscape terrorists Wolf Eyes, but Top 40 ears are likely to be equally put off. Building their arrangements around simple melodic progressions, buzzing static and dazzling textural backdrops, their sound is both ambient and abrasive, soothing and startling in equal doses. But unlike most bands with a noise pedigree, Fuck Buttons don’t emphasize their always present abstract edges, instead easing listeners into their arrangements with subtle shifts in rhythm and texture and making sure that the ugly and the ethereal are roughly balanced. Street Horrrsing is a study in those contrasts.

Those textural disparities are apparent right from the start, with the tinkling synth tones and the vicious riptide of distortion that cuts through “Sweet Love for Our Planet.” Ugly and unkempt, that distortion rises in volume and intensity until the original ethereal synth tone is nearly completely drowned out, whereupon a soft organ rises through the hissing fray of three buzzing and oscillating guitar bass notes. Soon, the song fades into tribal pounding, like femurs being clacked together, with chimp-like yelps echoing and swirling into a cloud of guttural human shrieks. That track, “Ribs Out,” is soon pushed aside by a churning electronic groove, a prickly electronic mass that eventually becomes one sustained distorted tone. With evilly muffled (and completely unintelligible) vocals growling and snarling under the feedback, “Okay, Let’s Talk About Magic” soon picks up faintly pretty synth melodies that poke through the morass before the guitar noise returns sharper and thicker, sweeping aside all distinctions.

As the album is built as one large piece, with each track cross fading into the next one, it’s no surprise that the tracks fit so well with each other. Even so, by the fourth track the band is starting to repeat themselves on “Race You to My Bedroom – Spirit Rise,” a cut that repackages some of the early sonic tricks, this time pairing the chirping vocals with layers of distortion, sounding like a bird squawking in a construction zone. But “Bright Tomorrow” pushes further into new territory, introducing dance-pop synth tones and electronic kick drums that give way to a flitting, vaguely medieval keyboard melody. A sputtering rhythm soon gives way to what sounds like someone humming into a plastic tube, but the wall of feedback eventually returns, submerging the melody completely. Acting as a summary of everything that has come before, “Colours Move” layers everything together and provides a stunning closer, with multiple melodic lines woven around each other over tribally thumping rhythms. Just as it started, the album fades out with a cascade of dreamy synth notes.

Despite the visceral appeal of the album, there is nothing haphazard about the arrangements or performances. Where similarly experimental acts emphasize chaotic performances or textural sprawl, the duo plays with a sense of purpose and economy, building their arrangements layer upon layer and establishing a melodic and textural motif that becomes engrossing as each song ebbs and flows. Unlike most noise bands, these are songs built around a central hook or groove, and while it’s not exactly the same as traditional pop songcraft, there are patterns that function the same way. Taken on that level, Street Horrrsing is one of the few avant-garde albums that is more than just a spectacle for the ears and an exercise for the mind. It’s actually easy to listen to from start to finish.

Of course, for many noise and experimental music fans, being easy to listen to is the kiss of death and the true sign of compromise. But Street Horrrsing suffers none of the symptoms of an album that is designed to go halfway between confusion and commerciality. Somehow, they’ve done the impossible, making an album that is built on repetition but that features enough subtle shifts in texture that it never feels repetitive. What is clear is that Fuck Buttons are the rare band that can bridge the gap between noise, experimental pop, drone and avant-garde minimalism without adhering to the dogmas of any of them. What emerges is nothing short of stunning, an album that is both aurally adventurous and potently immediate, the perfect entry point for listeners who want to expand their definition of music.

There are very few albums that will push your sound system harder than this one, as the shift from dainty synth tones to punishing feedback could be lost on poor equipment. Both beautifully entrancing and viscerally bludgeoning, the album sounds magnificent, with every texture precisely positioned to elicit a certain response. Throughout, the textures are crisp and clear, even when drenched in fuzz and looped in feedback. You’re unlikely to hear a more texturally exacting album this year.
Artist Fuck Buttons
Album Street Horrrsing
Format 16-bit, Stereo CD
Release Year 2008
Label ATP
Genre Avant-Garde/Experiemental
Reviewer Matt Fink
Forum Link http://www.avrevforum.com

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