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"Animal Magnetism"
by: Zero Sharp

With what is about his 250th release, Merzbow's back on Alien8, possibly the most popular experimental label to date, with a new album, "Animal Magnetism." As the cover art would suggest, he chose to arm himself with his laptop, his guitar, and sounds sampled from his pet chickens. Before moving on to reviewing the actual music, I would just like to review the chickens: these might actually be the ugliest chickens I've ever seen.

The standing argument among many electronica camps, noise included, is the idea of using laptops. This basically boils down between the argument of digital versus analog. Merzbow started using a laptop not too long ago, and now there is a large section of the noise camp who is proclaiming that the "King of Noise" dethroned himself. It also didn't really help that, to the present, his vintage work strongly outshone his laptop work. "Animal Magnitism," however, is a strong release and a reassurance that the mighty Merzbow hasn't lost his ear or skills. The main downside to the album is that it's easy to hear the stereotype digital cliches that happen from time to time during the 71 minutes of album. The album does flow well as a listen. However, this is not background music, and it's a little hard to not get drawn in by the hypnotic sounds of the album. The first two tracks, "Animal Magnetism" and "Quiet Men" are complete noise fests, and both are built well, drawing the listener into the landscape they make. Just as you start to hear where the chicken samples are, though, you start to wonder if those aren't really gituar sounds, and vice versa. Both tracks do take some amount of listening endurance; it's not really a album for rookie listeners, although there is quite a bit of variation to get and keep your attention. "Super Sheep" sounds like pretty standard digital hardcore, frankly, but is a nice let-up from the 20 minute noise ballads that got you there. "A Ptarmigan" is another noise soundscape, but this one mixes up the sounds more lightly, and there's not as much treble-based distortion/noise as the first of the album. The last track on the album, "Pier 39," is the highlight of the album; it's a simple rhythm and melody provided by a shimmering synth set across a steady baseline. Other pieces of sounds and noise then skitters across the top of the track making for a neat twist on the airy experimental pieces that are ever so common these days. This is a strong release, and I would recommend it for people wanting to hear more noise to see what it can be like. It's possibly not for first-time, "I've listened to ez listening all of my life" people, but for those who are familiar with the experiemental, it's a good listen. For those noise junkies, I don't really know what to tell you, except that this release sees Merzbow emerge as someone having control over his instruments, able to make good tracks Merzbow-style again. If he just brought his analog effects and processors along for the ride, it might complete this evolution into the digital.


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