Music Reviews

Pharmakon Devour

(Sacred Bones) Rating - 8/10

In an endless sea of amateur noise music releases, often distributed on obsolete mediums like cassettes, Margaret Chardiet’s records as Pharmakon are a treat. Other than Prurient or Merzbow, I can’t think of many noise musicians whose new albums feel like events in the world of independent music rather than churned-out ephemera written, recorded, and uploaded to Bandcamp over a brooding afternoon’s muse. I understand why many noise artists choose to handle their oeuvre like this, the same way I understand why it’s the norm for vaporwave artists’ output to become buried underneath hours of forgotten online recordings from other vaporwave artists; the same way I understand how, as Tim Hecker pointed out when discussing the inspiration for his 2011 album Ravedeath, 1972, the Kazakhstan government combats piracy by bulldozing millions of CDRs and DVDs into mountains of literal “digital garbage.” Noise is a genre whose mission statement of pointless chaos, traceable to the societal commentary and aesthetic theories of the Futurists and Dadaists during the early 1900s, is informed not just by the way it sounds, but by the ways its practitioners “create” it and their decisions (or lack thereof) in showcasing it to consumers. Take for instance Tristan Perich’s 2016 masterstroke Noise Patterns, which was released as a pitch-black circuit board inside a gutted CD jewel case, listenable via sideloaded headphone jack. Or, my personal favorite, Christian Marclay’s 1985 Record Without a Cover, which is just that: an LP of improvisational sound collage intentionally shipped without protective packaging so that any physical damage done to it would augment the recorded piece, which would ultimately make every copy a unique listening experience. But bridging together these angles of heady aesthetic theory, experimental music, and individual creativity to craft an album enjoyable on its own merits? That’s a different story.

Enter Devour, Chardiet’s latest effort on Sacred Bones Records, a label she’s called home since 2013 with the release of Abandon, her proper full-length debut. My introduction to Chardiet was that album’s lead single (if you can describe any track on it as having qualities of a single), Crawling on Bruised Knees. To this day, I remember sitting in the glow of my living room computer, clicking on the YouTube link I’d been shared, and being greeted by a nightmarish soundscape of assault helicopters and plodding, distorted bass hits. I suggest you hear it for yourself, because it remains a microcosm of everything Chardiet’s brand of noise does, and does damn well. Also, I implore you to look closely at Abandon’s front cover, because those ain’t grains of rice scattered around Chardiet’s thighs like you might’ve initially thought.

Since then, Chardiet has been releasing new material quite regularly. Just one year after Abandon came Bestial Burden, and in 2017 came Contact (both quality records), but Devour marks a moment in Pharmakon’s catalog where what I’m hearing—while undeniably Chardiet—from her is no longer just good industrial music or “good” noise music. She’s upped the ante even further than usual here, crafting abrasive, boundary-pushing music with such deft that you won’t understand why you’ll want to keep returning to it, in spite of its despicable design.

Unlike Prurient’s recent Garden of the Mutilated Paratroopers, which I covered for No Ripcord back in late July, Devour warrants re-listens—however challenging they may be. While the album is sectioned into five tracks, most of which break seven minutes with only one keeping under five minutes (opener Homeostasis), it’s remarkable just how well it works as a cohesive product. I highly recommend tracking down a vinyl copy of this thing if you can afford it and are interested, because Devour is best experienced from front to back. Shifting from Chardiet’s possessed screams (Spit It Out), to the dial-up-modem-from-Hell (Self-Regulating System), to grotesque static (Deprivation), Devour is shockingly sublime, like some warped, morally corrupt gradient. What’s equally mystifying is how textured and thematic these songs are, subtleties and surprises that are only revealed through brave, dedicated consumption. But Devour’s main attraction is its closing track, Pristine Panic / Cheek by Jowl, a ten-minute tour de force that leaves off in a sputtering, fizzled haze of Chardiet’s trademark shouts and wubby dubstep-esque blasts of gnarly low-end. In summation: you can’t play this album loud enough.