REVIEW: Riotface – “Anemuls”

I appreciate it when an artist takes risks and does something that, while possibly not outside of their wheelhouse, is at least not something that they’ve come to be known for as a musician. I would argue that singer/instrumentalist Matt Haas is primarily known as the front person for Nixon, an especially loud and kinetic act that took the manic energy of The Dillinger Escape Plan and mixed it with the southern slink of The Jesus Lizard. In the time since Nixon ceased to be, Haas has plied his trade as an artist for his Animal Hair Museum project, which skews towards the absurd and definitely never looses it’s humor. As an artist, Haas has continued to build upon what came before, ever enhancing his ability to often pleasing results. With the release of “Anemuls,” Haas, working under the name Riotface, again creates something without any true analog or parallel, either in town or abroad.

Created entirely with his voice and various effects pedals, the closest approximation to what is happening here is perhaps the more abstract work from Mike Patton. The music here is not for everyone, but I submit this as neither a bad thing, or as anything that should come as a surprise, be they a listener or the musician. The more esoteric work I listen to can be divided by the sort of mood it may foster, with most ambient coming in as something very affable in the background, an accompaniment to reading or writing. Anemuls demands your attention, with beats that come in and out, and drones that rotate in and out, like some ominous factory in Hell. This is exactly the opposite of Eno’s adage to create music that is as ignorable as it is interesting; this is interesting, but I challenge you to passively listen.

This is not pop music, and there is no pretense to make it pop-like by even the broadest understandings of the word. To be fair, I tend to skew quite generous with my assessment of what is and isn’t accessible, and present that as something on a sliding scale usually predicated by both how noisy something is, and if there is a conventional structure to a song; hooks are just gravy in a pop format. That formula would posit Haas’ former work with Nixon as pop-like, only in that it has a steady beat, conventional instrumentation, and a recognizable structure, but with the same understanding that the intensity of the music may not lend itself to the broadest audience. The end result is an album that is largely devoid of the serenity or meditative qualities, but at the same time seldom lands a hook that you can relax too. This is an exercise in artistic appreciation, but one that pays off with repeat listens.

Haas has created something that like his artwork stands on its own and begs to be received. There are some truly remarkable moments on the album too. The opener “Bizz” suggests a sort of lo-fi pop-electronica vibe, an entry that gives way to the distorted and angular tension found for the majority of the remainder of the album. The track “It Comes” perhaps best represents this anxious tension, a repetitious and often vicious sounding song that does much to engender a nightmarish landscape; for my review I listened to this at work, and noted that this particular track seemed to disturb some passing students that heard it and were confused by the lack of vocoded saccharine. Closer “There Used To Be A Different Building There” is certainly the most ambient and meditative of the bunch, making it somewhat more disconcerting in a way, almost as if Anemuls is a narrative and this is the end, desolate, but seething with a quiet and perturbing fury.

You can listen to the album below and purchase it here.