Tethered and running in circles, barking at anything and everything out of fear, the three albums deep neg from Minneapolis, Minnesota noise rock trio Buildings circa 2017 found new momentum beyond by way of placing themselves in the shoes of the absurd. The faux pas that categorical arrangement represents in the mind of the average ‘melting pot’ rock listener today defies any reasonably measured attempt to sustain the traditions of the ‘avant-garde’. A shit-smelling stew of device-specific chaos where the outsider, the outlier and the ‘norm’ are null cripples the impact of the truly and intrepidly weird within music today. There is some genius in this Midwest noise rock band slipping on your hanging face and mirroring the tone of the bored and entitled klepto-manic crew that’re so often staring back at them. ‘Negative Sound’ is an acerbic derailment of the tied-down and out blue collar desperation of early 90’s noise rock by way of a deliriously sarcastic pit of anxiety. In fact Buildings might’ve gone too far inciting such a nauseous consternation within me, driving me out of the room flipping off my sweaty cans for air more than once.
Bored at work, bored with the death of irony, and drowning in the algorithmic dispensary of illusory choice the internet’s four-walled sanitarium provides everything the actor needs, all of the right motivation. It is cruel what Buildings are doing in light of the raw mental health of our overpopulation, jamming on the anxiety button as if they were releasing a goo-puking Matrix podling with each hit. In this sense the Jesus Lizard brain is in full flight, even if the actual expression of those traditions is more Sardy than Yow at this point. You could split ’em down the middle with an axe, really, because a division between old and new Buildings exists in equal parts after they’d taken a meaningful break with smaller releases between their second (‘Melt Cry Sleep‘, 2011) and third (‘You Are Not One of Us‘, 2017) albums; There they’d ease up on the math rock/post-hardcore jaunting and focus on a harder-edged atmospherically terse sound not unlike Kowloon Walled City and Pigs. It kinda hurts. No, really, the production sound is lovely and top-notch for this Touch and Go feelin’ shout n’ thump hypnosis of a noise rock record but the full listen can still be painful despite its brief ~32 minute length. The pain in mind comes from an intentional lean into anxietous subjects and structures, it is the right groove for Buildings as they pull this heavier side out throughout ‘Negative Sound’, starting with the exasperated “A Good Hill to Die On”.
“Sit With It” is the second single but the right place to start examining the pulp of what strength training the songwriting senses within Buildings have undergone, pinning its nonplussed dirge-core cousinhood next to the Unwound by way of Unsane space rock’d guitar work of “Bear the Dog” to great effect. ‘Negative Sound’ ain’t all that weird beyond that darkly vibe though, it serves a dirge of twisted brood-rock and a howling mockery of the intensely serious mediocrity these Minnesotans would mirror back onto their victims, straight-faced. The grotesque romance expressed within “Felt Like A Perfume” kicks the use of dynamic repetition on the album into a biting ‘sweet spot’ that I’m not sure I’d heard on any of their previous work; From there it becomes more and more evident that the trio have put so much care into the simple readability of these diabolic mutant-rock songs that they’re almost too potently bitter. “Certain Women” is that delirium expounded with a wink and this felt all the more ironically charged as a certain verse riff tucks its head (unintentionally I’m sure) into the doomed buzz of Pentagram‘s “All Your Sins” along the way. Vision shrouded by thoughts of impending doom, anxiety, everyday absurdity and debilitating existential dread are all entirely appropriate responses to a full listen of ‘Negative Sounds’ and I’d understand if it became overwhelming as a connected/tuned-in listening experience on repeat. On that same note, those who’ve acquired a taste for noise rock’s tensile aches will find their language spoken clearly and exemplary from Buildings‘ mouths and hands.
The butt-end of the album is where the brain-scouring, ‘flip off your headphones and puke’ stuff starts to dribble out, though. “Sell Down the River” is compelling as it is maddening where all this talk of eating cancer and betrayal is beaten onto the forehead in bold letters (Impact font, probably) with a tattoo gun powered by the bass drum. Slippery harmonic noodling gives way to the down-swinging groove of “Human Filter”, a peak point of memorability-by-force on ‘Negative Sounds’ that is the least subversive presentation of the bunch, spelling things out for the prose-hungry while the guitar performances reach their psychedelic fever pitch. Repetition is a great asset to todays skronk rocker, Buildings included, but there is a fine line between the effective insane rant-a-holic style of a noise rock vocal and an annoying bout of idiocy and you cannot cross it without conviction. Though they’re not bringing the full range of a record like ‘Goat‘ the effect is much the same thanks to the additional context 2019 provides as a point in time for ‘Negative Sound’; I’d wonder if that context matters at all, though, as Buildings haven’t made an album ‘for the ages’ in terms of sound/style so much as they’ve written lyrics that should compel beyond the norm as history repeats itself. The personae non gratae vibe of the experience could be a bit more nakedly wry, but that is the charm of noise rock in a live setting compared to a quick spin during a commute towards a mind-numbing job.
High recommendation. 4.0/5.0
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