Album Review: Pete Swanson – Punk Authority

[Software; 2013]

When people talk about the predominant narrative of noise dudes taking their drones to the dance-floor, they’re pretty much talking about Pete Swanson. Alongside Black Dice’s career long trajectory toward beat heavy pop-noise and Dominick Fernow’s wholehearted embrace of techno conventions with Vatican Shadow, Swanson has largely abandoned his amorphous beginnings as a member of the prominent drone duo Yellow Swans in favor of static-y, bass heavy bangers. But Swanson’s latest EP Punk Authority doesn’t exactly pick up right where last year’s Man With Potential left off. Rather than further delve into the realm of blown out electro beats, Swanson zeroes in on the liminal space between the two genres, warping high frequency tones around the skitter of drums that are never quite there.

It’s territory he’s explored to varying degrees on the deluge of records he’s released of late (Punk Authority marks seven in the past three years) but nowhere has his attack been so focused and well shaped. Centering on an insistent clack and kick drum beat, the EP opens relatively sparsely with its title track. Caustic high pitched blips work their way into the mix, elbowing each other out, trying to clear space. But the once staid kick takes on a bit of fuzz, rendering claustrophobic what might otherwise be a fairly standard bit of noisy techno. Rather than settle into the clangorous bodywork of Fernow’s tech-inspired efforts, Swanson opts for a total blowout. At about the four and a half minute mark, he sends it through the shredder, giving it one last burst of homogenizing distortion before allowing the beat’s constituent parts to stew a bit in the fading coda.

If the opener isn’t enough of an indication, the following three tracks serve to illustrate that Punk Authority is in no way an exercise in subtlety. Where tech producers might find themselves aiming for a variety of textures, Swanson goes for the throat. C.O.P.’s dagger-like synth lines are swallowed in a haze of shuffling in-the-red percussion, which eventually pauses for some otherworldly electronic squeals, equally harrowing and hypnotic.

But for all the successes of the first three tracks, “Life Ends At 30” is the real monster, and the pinnacle-in many ways-of Swanson’s recent obsession with dance music. At 13 unrelenting minutes “Life Ends At 30” is an endurance test as much as it is a captivating experiment in melted down dance music. From the opening moments, static and synth bursts fill every inch of available sonic space, kick drums crash through in between waves of bone-crushing maximalism. And it just. Doesn’t. Stop. “Life Ends at 30” might have a marathon-like runtime, but Swanson is sprinting the whole way. Even at its most restrained (around the 7-8 minute mark) Swanson buries the beat under gleefully fucked hi-hats and unidentifiable electronic noise. It’s pure cold-blooded, gleeful noise, daggers straight to the eardrums, but within the context of modern electronic conventions it feels like some asthmatic, claustrophobic club night straight from the epileptic excess of a Gaspar Noe film.

In interviews, Swanson has indicated that these dance music references that have shown up so clearly over the last couple of years may be nothing more than a passing fancy. But Punk Authority sounds too accomplished to be the product of mere caprice. Swanson’s buying into a tried-and-true noise musician storyline, but even so, no one’s really done it quite like this.