Music Reviews
American Dollar Bill – Keep Facing Sideways, You're Too Hideous to Look at Face On

Keiji Haino & SUMAC American Dollar Bill – Keep Facing Sideways, You're Too Hideous to Look at Face On

(Thrill Jockey Records) Rating - 7/10

There’s always some risk with improvised music, the pursuit of structural abandonment an endeavor that will either generate unfiltered nuggets of aural gold, document a singular creative moment or peek, or produce self-indulgent, unlistenable garbage.  A pioneering figure in musical experimentation and improv, Keiji Haino could be seen as having done all three, his prolific, creative spirit and penchant for collaboration granting him boundless opportunities to impress or alienate.  With that said, Haino’s name attached to a SUMAC project caught my attention. 

SUMAC is the post-ISIS work of Aaron Turner.  Enhancing his post-metal sensibilities with the progressive tilt afforded him by the band’s rhythm section, Baptists’ drummer Nick Yacyshyn and bassist Brian Cook of Russian Circles, Turner’s next step outlet (which includes his other projects, Old Man Gloom and Mamiffer) is an interesting choice for backing up Haino’s lawless vision.  American Dollar Bill – Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous to Look at Face On, from its mouthful of a title to its five lengthy and aggressive works, plays like an of-the-moment exorcism.  The title track’s near-20 minutes of jarring and chaotic introduction had left me unsure as to how the album’s remaining four tracks would play out, mostly because it sounded to me like the load had been shot.  The track is exploratory enough that I wasn’t sure how the improv could continue without sounding either monotonous or redundant. 

But, the kindred sonic mutations that squeal and writhe within the onslaught of What Have I Done? (I Was Reeling In Something White and I Became Able To Do Anything I Made a Hole Imprisoned Time Within It Created Friction Stopped Listening To Warnings Ceased Fixing My Errors Made the Impossible Possible? Turned Sadness Into Joy) Pt. I, (Yep, that’s the full title), are exactly the sort of thing I wanted to hear from a project like this.  It’s an unbridled statement.  I’ll concede that its level of intensity sort of permits whatever indulgences Haino and SUMAC enjoy as they wring guitar necks and erratically beat shit up, but What Have I Done? Pt. I is an unscripted, emotional purge. 

While the mission statement here is to be spontaneous, attention is paid to variation.  The album’s third track, I'm Over 137% A Love Junkie and Still It's Not Enough Pt. I, opens softly, adding some respite from the prior track’s relentlessness.  There’s still noise, though it's minimal and ethereally charged, with ghostly sounds filling every audible corner of expanse. Haino pushes every syllable he shouts from the base of his throat like he means to cough up blood by song’s end.  A very abrupt surge of noise and energy follows with I'm Over 137% A Love Junkie and Still It's Not Enough Pt. II, every element at points syncing up just enough to almost qualify as “jamming.”  The track softens up at around the 6-minute mark for the sake of continuity, circling back to Pt. I long enough to connect the two.

What Have I Done? Pt. II goes kind of Hawkwind, violating our earthly perimeter with whipping spirals of flute melody before degenerating into the familiar, shapeless mass of choked strings and frenzied percussion from Pt. I.  As the group eventually agree enough rhythmically, an inebriated march takes shape before disappearing beneath bass quakes and guitar drones, every sound exhausted slowly till the recording cuts off. 

As cumbersome as this album can be, its unapologetic excesses baked into its track length and Haino’s sometimes grating vocal, the zero-constraint approach at the core of this mutually beneficial creative merger is compelling.  Sure, it’s discordant overall, but there’s something genuine for your ears to distill.  At the very least, you can’t go wrong with an album this heavy.