Noise music may never be easy to listen to, but at least it's more accessible when it has a beat. Still, lazy rhythms can drag down the densest walls of sound. The trick? To make a beat as challenging as the din that surrounds it.
Two current noise duos, Brooklyn's Mouthus and Oakland's Yellow Swans, know the difference between monotonous pulse and intriguing rhythm. Their music crosses from ambient to aggressive, but it always follows an interesting beat, be it a pounding lurch, a jazzy splatter or an undulating background.
The Mouthus beat comes from Nate Nelson, who routes acoustic and electronic drums through a mixer. Sometimes his mechanistic pulse pierces Brian Sullivan's thick guitar like sunbeams shining through a storm cloud. Alternately, his busy rhythms drench Sullivan's processed vocals in thunder.
Mouthus began three years ago, when Nelson and Sullivan met through mutual friend Karl Bauer of noise group Axolotl. Their self-titled 2004 debut hit the ground running, Nelson's spilling drums and Sullivan's slicing riffs creating imploded rock songs comparable to the deconstructions of Dead C and early Sonic Youth.
Since, Mouthus has released three albums on three different labels, as well as four EPs and collaborations on the band's own CD-R imprint, Our Mouth. But their latest, The Long Salt, was released on Massachusetts' Important Records, and it's the duo's darkest so far, heavy distortion wrapped around crashing rhythms and spooky moans. But even at its gloomiest, as in the grinding "What Knife Say" or the sputtering "Ghetto Stairs," the album always offers the crucial beat.
Yellow Swans' beat is more mechanical, usually provided by the drum machines of Pete Swanson or the electronics of Gabriel Mindel Saloman. At times, it's even bombastic: On 2004's Bring the Neon War Home, beats dropped like bombs, evocative of the industrial pound of Laibach or Skinny Puppy.
But most of Yellow Swans' music is less blunt, and impressively wide-ranging. Since forming in 2001, the duo has appeared on over 50 releases, many on their own Collective Jyrk imprint. Two recent albums--Psychic Secession and Global Clone on PACRec--are their most challenging to date: Secession presents four lengthy chunks of heated fuzz, machine-gun beats and gently hummed vocals, while Global Clone offers liquid drones, electric clatter and--surprisingly--no drum machines. Still, each moment throbs with an insistent rhythm, even when there's no obvious beat pounding.
The same is true of both Yellow Swans and Mouthus when witnessed live. Even if Swanson isn't attacking his drum machine or Nelson isn't rattling his kit, both bands generate big waves of sound that crest and fall to the beat of an internal clock. You may not nod your head or pump your fist, but you'll likely be moved by a magnetic, unseen rhythm.
Yellow Swans and Mouthus play at Nightlight on Monday, Oct. 9 ($6) and at Duke Coffeehouse on Wednesday, Oct. 11 ($5). Clang Quartet and Secret Boyfriend open at Nightlight at 10 p.m. The Hem of His Garment opens at Duke at 9:30 p.m.