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Paik - The Orson Fader

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Artist: Paik

Album: The Orson Fader

Label: Clairecords

Review date: Mar. 17, 2003

Thunderous, Wondrous

Detroit space-rock trio Paik is ostensibly named for the Korean-born artist Nam June Paik, an early champion of video as a relevant artistic medium. Much of the Fluxus artist’s early work was generated by the Paik-Abe video synthesizer, a device that abstracted luminescent images into what Paik called “an electronic watercolor for everybody to see.” The band from Detroit generates an aural version of this electronic watercolor, but they pierce it with a jackhammer. The resulting sounds are among the most gigantic and pummeling of the crowded space-rock set, but they’re also among the most beautiful.

The Orson Fader is Paik’s third full-length, and it makes good on the promise of both their earlier records and their fantastic live show. Opening with a burst of feedback and a cymbal roll, “Detroit” quickly establishes just how enormous a guitar can sound. Each reverberating note is unfurled at languid intervals and matched beat for beat with bass kick and thunderous, echoing timpani. The texture is grim and grainy – like an orchestra of coughing, backfiring engines that feels rooted in the cold industrial skyline of its milieu – but the bottom layer of the song’s strata boasts a seductive trace of melody. It’s an alluring combination – a wispy haze of purple smoke tangled with the acrid, heavy exhaust of industrial machinery. One imagines stumbling around the Ford Motor plant high on fumes, the repetitive grind of machinery and irregular flash of sparks bouncing off corrugated aluminum siding, all things nightmarishly pleasant.

Fuss over Paik tends to center on how much noise they manage to generate with three sets of hands, but the fact that one guitar line is distinctly buried under all of the reverb and distortion is key to their sonic clarity. Similar to a band like Explosions in the Sky, Paik drive relentlessly forward, unwilling to bathe for long in their washes of sound. Much of their momentum is generated through churning, accumulating repetition, stretching The Orson Fader’s best tracks to the seven- or eight-minute mark, but no farther. “Ghost Ship” is among the finest, arising out of an unusually quiet opening of chiming guitar and bass-driven melody. When the drums kick in, they’re high in the mix, offsetting the rich bass end with high snare and cymbal before being drowning in the whirling guitar maelstrom. Even here – the closest Paik comes to a sound one could tag as pastoral – there is that harsh, metallic sourness to the guitars; Paik’s “Ghost Ship” feels less like a Spanish galleon than a naval tanker corroded with rust, yet is no less haunted.

The Orson Fader’s title track is probably the best of the lot. It opens enormously with a ringing, repetitive guitar note and aching bass line before exploding in intervals over the course of eight minutes. Its pixilated bursts of sound seem incapable of growing larger, but they swell and swell with a cathartic roar of combustion. Every machine in Detroit seems to grind, every gasket to belch steam, but the roar is strangely autumnal. Industry rarely sounds this sublime.

By Nathan Hogan

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