You don’t have to read much into what I’ve written for the Listener since December to conclude that my condition during the past three months of the pandemic has been . . . let’s say “suboptimal.” I’ve reviewed a cosmic metal epic that predicts the fall of the human species, set up an ostensible music poll that was actually about the choice between default hopelessness and forced optimism, and speculated about a 1970s recording of a carousel band organ so spectacularly decrepit that I couldn’t help comparing it to my brain.
This week I’ve decided to embrace dysfunction—I’m gonna talk about a record that takes minimalist noise rock to such a maximalist extreme that listening to it at the appropriate volume makes organized conscious thought almost impossible.
USA/Mexico combines several veterans of the weirdo underground in Austin, Texas: drummer Jeffrey Coffey is better known as King Coffey of the Butthole Surfers, bassist Nate Cross has played in Expensive Shit and Marriage, and guitarist and vocalist Craig Clouse founded similarly obliterative collective Shit & Shine. Cross is also the founder of excellent avant-garde jazz label Astral Spirits, and he and Coffey have entered Clouse’s orbit in Shit & Shine—they both appear on last year’s Goat Yelling Like a Man.
Last month USA/Mexico released their third album, Del Rio, which is also their first to add vocals by Colby Brinkman, a blacksmith, welder, and artist who owns a fabricating business called Metal Mantis. (If he’s ever been in a band before, I couldn’t find any evidence of it.) Not that anybody’s vocals are especially important to this music: it’s driven by the numbing, bludgeoning repetition of simple riffs so comically blown-out and distorted that it sounds like the waveform itself is buckling under their weight.
Is that distant shrieking a human voice? OK, that’s definitely a meandering, dive-bombing lead guitar. Am I hearing something that’s on the record, or am I experiencing a kind of pareidolia of the ears, induced by oversaturation of my auditory system? Picking out any other element in the presence of these monumental riffs is like looking for your car keys on Olympus Mons.
Sometimes the sound seems to shudder, as though it’s shaking with fury or trembling with strain, and sometimes it crumples and flickers like a signal that’s clipping hard or not quite coming in. Listening to this isn’t . . . fun, exactly. It’s more like heading out for a walk in a blizzard, because you know the howling wind and scouring snow will drown out anything you might be carrying in your head. You don’t even need to be trying to go anywhere in particular. v
- The two songs that aren’t streaming are three or four times this long.
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