o hear every song that’s ever been written: the unattainable, universe-is-infinite wet dream of impassioned music fans. We’ll still listen to our favorite albums on repeat for weeks, but not without a remorseful glance at the territory we’re leaving unexplored. Unfortunately, albums of a particular genre I will call Bonodrone ask for the level of care and dedication ordinarily given to an album you love. But you don’t love these—and you have a sinking feeling that you never will. And because life appears to be measured in measures, the more you listen to the endless preludes that comprise 120 Days, waiting for them to birth something worthwhile, the more it seems the musical equivalent of four months has elapsed.
Bonodrone occupies a corner of the market that is growing to a rate of tsunami-like saturation—forgive the crude reference. The messy, asphyxiating noises of Bonodroners are so disconcerting as to beg another listen. Not because they’re shining with the radiance of unwitting musical genius. And not because they’re drawing us nearer an anomalous twinkling at the bottom of the proverbial sea. But because their creeping, unfinished wall of sound is appealing to our impressionable, primordial desire for all music to be good. All we want is synonym-free, fleeting, ineluctable, highly subjective goodness.
And so many of us will try and try again with an album like 120 Days, hoping to find some nuggets underneath layers of elemental synthesizer squeals and vertiginous guitar wails. Fan A will find an element of virtuosity in Mr. Meisfjord’s tar-lunged, melodically vapid concept of the verb ‘to sing.’ Perhaps they find the imprecision, the lack of direction, riveting. As Pitchfork’s Brian Howe puts it, Fan A may be able to,
discern it all…the heat of the band's desire, the special urgency common to young people pursuing lofty ideals, and the conviction that all this technology has the potential to amplify, not suppress, the transmission of human emotion.Heartless old Fan B, however, will find Meisfjord’s rangy, mangy, illiterate approach to vocals comparable to the formerly sensible complaints of a drunken park inhabitant on a soapbox. Alright, I detected an element of melody in that yelp—should I give this a chance? And that’s where one argument forks into two. Forget your Rooseveltian ideals when it comes to music—just shuffle on.
The first track, “Be Mine,” like every other, is momentarily the best on the album. It leads us through an opening-act-caliber fog of screechy reverbs and other oversold computations. This is mimicked with a plush comedown on the other side of the song’s meatless center, which is made up of a one-two bass-drum thump borrowed and re-borrowed to the point that attribution can’t get more precise than Thatcher and lycra tights. A group of haggard post-post-punk billionaires are to blame, but then so are infantile bands like I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, Kasabian, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. 120 Days have caught the tail end of a fad, and they haven’t, to quote the lexical Mr. Gunn, “made it work.” They haven’t owned it.
To Fan A, the crux of “C-Musik,” an Underworld ecstasy-comedown chorus hinged on one note, is enough to make the track stand out. But here, and throughout the album, there are too many ill-placed bleeps and overly indulgent pedals smothering the tiny, inventive gasps of automaton musicians. I actually like “Sleepwalking,” for here Meisfjord’s gasps are expanded into discernible thoughts. But the foolish amplified sonar pulses competing with him are more meaningful than the lyrics themselves: “In a trance, in a trance, I could dance this night away.” As an impressionable music fan, one is quite put off dancing. But as a hopeful music fan, one must try to remember the fake flutes approaching from Row Z of the empty stadium; or the pretty, high-pitched guitars navigating the ceiling like a Chris Martin plagiarism. The album is chock half-empty of such instantly gratifying minutiae. But the dragging moments in between only communicate the “special urgency” of turning our ears elsewhere.