Noise, as it is most often conceived, relies on dark imagery to tell its tale. Its most famous exporters lean on the squeals and death rattles of fractured electronics to casually prod listeners toward the limits of their patience. It’s pain (or you know maybe masochism) that so often drives the consumption thereof, but ex-Parts and Labor electronics man Dan Friel is of a different breed. Here on Total Folklore his first effort for Thrill Jockey, Friel goes full technicolor, embracing the saccharine as well as the head-splitting, gleefully (and sacrilegiously) disregarding the rulebook that accompanies most standard issue noise.
Lest you think, based on that opening description, that Friel has gone soft in his failure to pay tribute to the casual tumescence of noise conventions, Total Folklore‘s mammoth opener, “Ulysses” comes booming right out of the gate. But despite that Goliath kick it’s not all hamfisted noise tropes throughout. Mountainous kick drums give way to a delirious blur of blown-out synthesizers jostling at one another, pausing to regroup and then launching back into the next passage of soaring chorus. Extraterrestrial boom bap melts into a sea of acidic synth patches and is ripped to shreds by an array of distortion pedals. It’s Black Dice done in wide screen and all primary colors, heavy on euphoric, kaleidoscopic delirium with few dalliances into the dark recesses of the human psyche. At just shy of 13 minutes, its a bold opener, but at no moment does it overstay its welcome.
The rest of the record fares just as well in its subversion of noise standards and dedication to absolute ecstasy in a genre so often concerned with existential terror, but rarely does it retain the same sense of purpose that marks the entirety of “Ulysses.” Tracks like “Valedictorian” veer into familiar noise pop territory, substituting drum machine motorik and keyboard whimsy for crash cymbals and in-the-red guitar work. It’s pleasant, joyous even, but it ultimately pales in comparison to the honeyed brilliance of that totemic opener.
But that the rest of the record doesn’t entirely stand up to its initial masterwork isn’t entirely a criticism. Every moment of “Ulysses” is so consistent, packed with the technicolor brilliance of the best psychedelia and the sense of danger and cracked headspace that draws so many people to the noise genre to begin with. “Scavengers,” notably, teeters upon that same balance and throughout Total Folklore, Friel is able to conjure a truly ecstatic brand of post-noise electronic tinkering that manages to captivate more often than not. When taken as a whole, and as an effervescent thumbing of the nose at the noise establishment, Total Folklore goes by like a breeze, even if the last 11 tracks (three of those ambient interludes) feel a bit overshadowed in the wake of “Ulysses”‘s monolithic, alien bliss.