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The Hospitals - Hairdryer Peace

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Artist: The Hospitals

Album: Hairdryer Peace

Label: self-released

Review date: Jul. 1, 2008

Whenever the underground coughs up an album that pushes the boundaries of how truly deranged rock music can actually be, the battle lines between "genius" and "unlistenable" are immediately drawn. White Light/White Heat, Half Machine Lips Move, Twin Infinitives, The Wigmaker In Eighteenth Century Williamsburg – they all have legions of haters among the handful of listeners that claim they can actually sit through the entire album. Sure, "noise rock" may have become a household term in the indie press and blogosphere of the aughties, and yes, industrial and harsh noise artists have regularly explored the extremities of music's dark side since the '70s. But there's still room in my record collection for a mindfuck, and San Francisco duo The Hospitals deliver it unapologetically with their third full-length, Hairdryer Peace.

In the three years since their last release, I've Visited the Island of Jocks and Jazz, drummer/vocalist Adam Stonehouse and guitarist Rod Meyer have dismantled what resemblance they had to a garage rock band, replacing somewhat stable riffs with cut-and-paste tape techniques and dumptruck noise aesthetics. The appearance of song structure was obscured by distortion and amplifier hiss before, but Stonehouse and Co. (expanded here to include contributions from Chris Gunn and Rob Enbom) have amped the disorientation levels to the max, leaving traces of bedroom tunes to gasp for air beneath a wash of static and squalor. The fidelity nosedives into nightmarish psychedelia at the hands of Stonehouse, who recorded and spliced the tracks with sadistic intent. It may sound like a trainwreck, but it's definitely premeditated.

Though the murky production renders the instrumentation downright unrecognizable at times, Stonehouse's lyrics emerge clearer than they've ever been. It's still a challenge to decipher a hefty portion of the vocals, which sound like a mix between Jennifer Herrerma's junkie drawl and Tom Smith's maniacal yelps, but Stonehouse's lines shine throughout. Hairdryer Peace's sentiments are best conveyed through the band's tribute to vertigo, "BPPV," as Stonehouse howls among the sweeping feedback, "I feel dizzy / I feel stoked." His confession is immediately followed by a woozy cymbal crash, abandoning the rhythm like the aural simulation of a faceplant.

"Animals Act Natural" is the record's rock anthem, building from Meyer's haphazard guitar riff that inevitably gets lost among the clutter. Stonehouse's voice emerges from the mess unaccompanied about halfway through to slur: "They make it look easy / animals act natural. / It's all been so hard (fun??) for me." The terror then descends like a shrieking tilt-a-whirl in a low-budget horror film; the potential soundtrack to a Rob Zombie remake of Cannibal Holocaust. Ceaselessly unsettling though it is, Hairdryer Peace is completely successful for moments like these, when the ever-present uneasiness suddenly collapses on itself in a fit of catharsis.

Along with fellow lo-fi demolitionists Sic Alps (of which Stonehouse was an original member), the San Fran scene is currently pumping out some of the most disorderly, analog-oriented psychedelia on the market; which makes sense, considering the city's lysergic history. These aren't your daddy's paisley-painted simulations though - the subterranean tape enthusiasts make no compromises for accessibility, and they sold their rose-colored glasses for smack a long time ago. Like-minded trash rockers in Columbus, like Times New Viking and Psychedelic Horseshit, may be making their own headway in no-frills overload, but if you want to talk sheer rock and roll deconstruction and hallucinatory innovation, the conversation stops with The Hospitals and their Bay Area contemporaries.

Underground classic, unlistenable mess - it all depends on whom you ask. But one thing's for sure: Hairdryer Peace has set the new benchmark for aural insanity, creating one of the most brilliantly demented records in some time.

By Cole Goins

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