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Aaron Dilloway - Modern Jester

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Artist: Aaron Dilloway

Album: Modern Jester

Label: Hanson

Review date: Mar. 19, 2012

A vinyl update of a cassette first released in 2008, Modern Jester is ex-Wolf Eye Aaron Dilloway’s career- and genre-defining magnum opus (at least until the next one comes along). It collates and expands on just about every noise archetype and formula in ways that only the likes of Joe Colley, John Wiese, Merzbow and Kevin Drumm have been able to match. The breadth of imagination, experimentation and diversity on display across these four sides of vinyl is nearly unparalleled in modern non-compositional music.

At its essence, Modern Jester is an exploration of the possibilities of tape music, and from the off, Dilloway takes looped tapes of found sounds, field recordings and musical snippets, and mangles them in ways that surely pushed the magnetic tape to its breaking point. The most abrasive case in point is “Eight Cut Scars (For Robert Turman),” in which saturated loops of overloaded synthesizer or piano lines are accelerated, overdriven, repeated, multi-layered and distorted with insanely dogged determination, tumbling around the mix like jagged-edged metal confetti for 11 insane minutes. Imagine Keith Emerson, circa Tarkus, but armed with eight arms rather than two, and with his organ filtered through a thousand distortion pedals, and you might get an idea of the glorious miasma that is “Eight Cut Scars.” Shorter tracks (opener “Tremors” and “Labyrinth and Jokes”) feature more discrete and subtle tape manipulations, with ghostly vocal passages and creepy atmospherics and FX. They serve as interludes, breathing space between the album’s monolithic suites.

Apart from “Eight Cut Scars,” there are the two side-long pieces “Body Chaos” and “Look Over Your Shoulder,” both of them more than 18 minutes long. The former evolves gradually with muted percussion and tape hiss, making way for what sounds like a radio being run across every frequency at break-neck speed. “Body Chaos” shows Dilloway to be a patient experimentalist; he diligently builds up increasingly atonal sounds, with every detail compiled into a cohesive, yet abrasive whole. Explosions of sampled dog barks and harsh blocks of rugged noise race to the front of the mix and then recede, creating a sharp tension and sense of unease. Even when Dilloway truly unleashes the noise, all demented vocal moans and crunching distortion, the feeling is that he is building a sonic structure rather than some random freak-out. “Body Chaos” is one of the greatest noise pieces I’ve heard in years.

“Look Over Your Shoulder,” in comparison, starts off in more familiar rock/noise territory, with heavy bass drones and oscillating synth patterns. Think Mouthus or Black Dice, only less accessible. Slowly, Dilloway drops in different textures, muffling the rhythmic patterns in favor of stifling ambient atmosphere, where disembodied voices slide out of the ether to haunt and harass. It sounds like early Throbbing Gristle, with a similar overbearing sense of alienation and claustrophobia, as if Dilloway is channeling the ghosts of the Midwestern cities and country expanses where he lives. It’s the point where Modern Jester most closely connects with his ex-Wolf Eyes pals Mike Connelly (notably his Failing Lights projects) and Nate Young (Demons).

But, ultimately, Modern Jester isn’t about connecting; it’s about standing out from the madding crowd. With this record, Dilloway secures his place as one of the great solo figures of modern noise.

By Joseph Burnett

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