The Cuts franchise is snowballing. In 2009 Japanese noisemeister Masami ‘Merzbow’ Akita recruited Hungarian drummer Balázs Pándi as his live drummer. In 2011 they recorded a duo album, Ducks: Live In NYC. Then came Cuts (Rare Noise, 2013), which added the electronics and saxophone of Mats Gustafsson to the mix. Then, in April 2014, the Cuts trio got together in London with ex-Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore to record Cuts of Guilt, Cuts Deeper. (The Merzbow/Pándi/Gustafsson trio played a celebratory concert the following night, which you can watch on YouTube.)
The album comprises four long cuts, each running to around twenty minutes, over two CDs.
“Replaced by Shame – Only Two Left” begins with Gustafsson rasping vocally through his mouthpiece, Pándi scraping cymbals, and Moore throwing curveballs of waywardly pitched guitar. The addition of Merzbow’s swirls of noise pushes everyone to their most abrasive, but they take a while to lock tight, so at first there’s some space. Then Gustafsson’s deep, hoarse blowing locks insistently with Pándi’s rapidly cohering beats, and the drummer locks into a roll of pounding polyrhythms. Everything else then seems to detonate off the drummer’s bone-crushing momentum, continuing to flare even when he pulls to a halt. Ten minutes in, and Gustafsson, now on grindhouse electronics, coheres with Moore to half-suggest a distorted riff, and Pándi latches onto this with punchy roilings and all hell breaks loose. This track’s playout is brutally volatile. Merzbow’s always in the mix, paring and grinding to shape the noise, but that’s Moore on power-saw guitar, then all over his fx array, having a wild time it seems, and there’s Gustafsson too, blowing anguished on reeds again (clarinet this time, at a guess).
“Divided by Steel, Falling Gracefully” is, as Gustafsson would typically say, more of the same: a wave a lacerative electric noise on an unrelenting, rolling tide of prodigious Pándi beats that brook no opposition. It’s a tsunami of noise-rock that breaks only after minute nine, everyone except Merzbow then dialling back a few notches. The Merz-noise keeps thrumming away, threatening to suck everything—including Pándi’s cymbal wash, ‘live’ but sounding back-masked, and Moore’s feedbacking guitar—straight back into its maw. But it’s Pándi who proves most implacable, and soon all electronic inputs are cleaving once more to the flow and final ebb of the drummer’s rolling barrage.
Adding another instrument to the mix has served to muddy the already turbid Cuts waters, making it harder to discern individual inputs. And anyone expecting avant-rock stylings from Thurston Moore will be disappointed; his involvement only serves to push the music in the direction of blanket noise, albeit a coarsely electro-acoustic variant of noise that will surely appeal to alt-rockers, industrialists and metalheads who wouldn’t normally go there.
That said, the second disc brings a welcome change of pace.
“Too Late, too Sharp – It is Over” starts gently, with low phooms of feedback, light soundings of detuned guitar, a busy, irregular patter of drums, and sundry workshop fx. But even at low levels, the quality of the group’s sound is abrasive, and Pándi has heavy, heavy hands. When Merzbow introduces leakages of raw noise, then volume levels rise slowly but inexorably alongside the drummer’s increasingly emphatic emphases. Surprisingly, however, restraint wins out, and the piece slides back into a retreating tide of pulse and abrasion.
Moore grinds jarring contact sounds out of his pickups at the start of “All His Teeth in Hand, Asking Her Once More”, prompting Pándi to lay into his skins with some abandon, though he soon finds a rolling rhythm that eventually becomes thunderously locomotive. Merzbow initially does little more than add broad-brush strokes of electronic coloration, while Gustafsson mines a grimier detrital strata of the noise spectrum, but he eventually becomes the glue that binds everything together.
For a long stretch the three electric musicians trail in the slipstream of Pándi’s pounding batterie, but a slight dip in tempo with ten minutes to go has Moore briefly toying with a melodic notion, a signal for Gustafsson to pick up his saxophone. He’s pitted straight back into a renewed flood of energy drummed up by Pándi, plays along for a while, but ultimately resists with a sequence of slow, measured brays, slowing things right down. Moore plays sustained feedback guitar while Merzbow concentrates on tinnitus-high-pitch sound, ensuing that the performance loses none of its accumulated tension, and Pándi keeps those bass beats rolling right to the end.
I wouldn’t say Cuts of Guilt, Cuts Deeper cuts any deeper than the Cuts album, which is more varied, detailed and quixotic, harder to second-guess. But Cuts of Guilt is an irresistible force, its power more concentrated, not least in the phenomenal impetus of Balazs Pándi, and Thurston Moore is in his element.
Merzbow noise, electronics; Mats Gustafsson saxophones, g clarinet, electronics; Balazs Pándi drums; Thurston Moore guitar.
Buy Cuts Of Guilt, Cuts Deeper direct from Rare Noise.