our years ago, Judith Butler lectured at CUNY Graduate Center, with a question and answer following her talk. While the details of the lecture were unremarkable, one question stood out among others that went to the heart of her scholarship. “Why is your writing utterly impenetrable?” was the gist of the question. Butler replied that her writing denied the possibility of her work being misappropriated out of context (Butler was theorizing a notion of “laser-guided discourse.”) A characteristic passage (taken from her essay “Passing, Queering”):
…Hence, the super-ego stands for the measure, the law, the norm, one which is embodied by a fabrication, a figure of a being whose sole feature it is to watch, to watch in order to judge, as a kind of persistent scrutiny, detection, effort to expose, that hounds the ego and reminds it of its failures.The preceding excerpt comes from a chapter on Nella Larsen’s experiences across the color line, retold in her novel Quicksand, in which the protagonist, a light-skinned black woman, prevaricates her race as it suits the social setting. Butler cannot help but be fascinated by such a performative approach to identity, and following from that, notes that the super-ego polices the ego as a function of internalizing the dominant culture’s “gaze,” that is to see the world through the master’s eyes, which in this case are white and male. Passing not only requires a corporeal risk, but a self-conscious attempt to subvert the master culture’s psychology of dominance, which for the protagonist ultimately proves a fatal errand.
Hair Police combine both the impenetrability of Butler’s prose, and to a certain extent pass as a legitimate act, accepted by their bona fides. Not everyone is fooled. Possessed of a child’s monastic solipsism, Hair Police’s Obedience Cuts redefines the incipient anomie in an otherwise flourishing noise culture. A churlish contrivance from the moment the record begins, Hair Police labor guilelessly in indentured servitude to their chosen aesthetic, each movement a menial task repeating that which precedes it. Absent any pretense of fun or irreverence, Obedience Cuts routinizes noise so willfully that it poisons the listener like a sociopathic nurse does so many elderly, incontinent patients. Unlike their cathartic predecessors The Fugs and the Godz, spiritual antecedents Captain Beefheart and Mothers of Invention, the studious disciplinarians Dead C or even former label mates Wolf Eyes, Hair Police conduct their Sisyphusean travails humorlessly, resulting in noise qua noise that is purposeless and boring. While one shouldn’t seek telos in absurdity, the deafening, oscillating inertia does nothing to belie the tautological worship of a carefully crafted mythology of esoterica, which insulates the performance from any meaningful critical, understanding outside the campaign of schlock and awe construct contained within.
As a gut-check, noise either gives voice to the ineffable within us and suffuses it in clamorous harmony with modern living, or short of that, it’s a pretext for blurting out spastic-colon reveries for the irredeemably perverse. As we’re left dangling like power drills from Blixa Bargeld’s tool belt, one can’t help but be reminded of Lou Reed’s insistence that Metal Machine Music deserved a place alongside the sublime, while Lester Bang’s recriminations evinced that Reed, in passing, defrauded his audience with an as yet unsurpassed witless sanctimony. But it was Reed’s ensuing lachrymosity that ensured being half in the bag would suffice, and his disingenuousness cashed out once Coney Island Baby marked his return to form as an ingenious author with an incisive pop sensibility. Certainly, past is prologue.
Hermetically sealed in a permanent present, Obedience Cuts comes equipped with standard noise conventions: superfluous screamed vocals, rendered indecipherable as a production mode; intestinally distressing feedback; guitars moaning like specters one moment, shrieking like banshees the next; and drums exploding like those satellites re-entering Earth’s atmosphere without parachutes, only to crash thoughtlessly in the desert. Add to these elements recent appearances with Sonic Youth (not mentioning their promising inclusion on the 2004 Lollapalooza line-up), the Wolf Eyes association and the Lexington, KY trio have an impressive résumé. However, despite their promise, Hair Police offer rote renditions of noise standards, as if following a check-list for daily chores.
The album opens with “Let’s See Who’s Here And Who’s Not”, as an aural litmus test. Multiply conflated, aggression, fear and vulnerability begin to sound identical. The same cannot be said of “Forged by a Wreck”, in which oscillators lunge and recede into the song’s clanging hull: the abyss is staring back indeed, but no one’s frightened. “Bee Scrape” continues in this vein, a haunted house soundtrack for children still frightened by their neighbor’s Dad dressed as the Werewolf, the same guy who’ll be vacuuming the spilled popcorn off the floor when the fun is over. And with that, the cacophonous noize-jock rock concludes, leaving Jürgen Prochnow as our tour guide through the murky depths of this distorted submarine. Only “Open Body” demonstrates Hair Police’s potential to perform like deranged toddlers refusing their afternoon naps, a song with beginning, middle and end that abides some internal coherence without conforming to treacly GY!BE crescendo/decrescendo/coda formula, “avant” rock’s variant of Nirvana’s verse/chorus/verse. Regrettably, too much of Obedience Cuts is enveloped in the mosquito netting adorning the Procrustean bed where Hair Police lie mummified.
Reviewed by: J T. Ramsay
Reviewed on: 2004-10-29