Sub Contra, named for a Louise Bogan poem, layers supple volleys of abstract drumming over a wavering layer of distortion, a harsh buzz of sound that grows thicker and thinner like varying grades of sandpaper. Electronic auras fuzz to life then fade, bits of silvery space rock zoom forward then fade back into a power station hum. Signposts are few along the lonely roads these compositions travel, no words (except for a buried, indecipherable vocal in “Drama Class”), few melodic elements and not even much evidence of time signature.
This is the third album from Oneida offshoot People of the North – that’s Fat Bobby and Kid Millions mostly, but with guest appearances from Shahin Motia and Barry London. Oneida itself has been slipping deeper into a minimalist, hand-hold-free kind of composition lately. Sub Contra takes its members further into wild, woolly improvisations of the noisiest, least tethered kind. Opening volley “Drama Class” gets the mix of rock frenzy and cerebral experiment best, opening out into a full-pummeling, feedback howling vortex of unrefereed energy. “Coal Baron” is unexpectedly lovely, a Roedelius-toned exploration of blossoming electric sounds.
Still it’s the two “Sub Contra” pieces (1 and 2) that capture the duo’s intent. The Bogan poem closes, “Build there some thick chord of wonder/Then, for every passion’s sake/beat upon it till it break.” Honestly, that’s exactly what Bobby and Millions do in this two-part series, set down a baseline of striated, feedback bristling noise, then batter it to bits with Millions’ inventive, spiritually restless drumming. Listen to how he ventures a stilted conversation, at first, between two drums of varying tuning, making a sing-song call and response of out high-high-high low-low. Then the playing intensifies, grows more frenetic and scattershot, until the notes finally blur together in a supple web of tone and rhythm and angst. This is austerity and abstraction turning into color before our eyes (and ears), an argument in itself for People of the North’s continued experiment.
DOWNLOAD: “Drama Class” “Sub Contra (1&2)”