The Pink Noise has been active in a very specific and unique part of recent music history – not to say Mark Sauner and buds are “elder statemen” per se but this Canadian project has been humming at a consistently low profile throughout, bombarding the market with wave after wave of product right as that activity became the thing to do, across a variety of labels (and sometimes in a variety of disguises). Somewhere down the line, someone is going to have a hell of a time cobbling all that information together in a diligent, accurate fashion; best that we get started now: this all very much seems like a tell for a generation of people born in the 1980s (or close enough to have missed some of it due to infancy) to actively participate in their own, revisionist, forever-incomplete retelling of the ‘80s. Like how people say “if you remember the ‘90s, you weren’t there” (people say that, right?); that can be extrapolated to “if you can re-tell the ‘80s, you probably weren’t old enough to have made an impact.” So many of these people tie that decade to the lossy, easily-damaged medium of the consumer-grade videocassette, haunting us from landfills and the dusty shelves of the preoccupied.
What would make Sauner want me to know that he thought this was the best Pink Noise release? I have been listening to this thing for months now, partly in challenge to the letter he sent along with this one, in which he placed it next to Alpha (a fine record, last I checked) as his “best work.” Gilded Flowers is a tough listen, one after a few spins I did not want to find anything to like about it. There was a casual quality to the Pink Noise’s best work, a front put up behind a 15-foot tall brocade of Betamax units, taunting the listener to prove him wrong behind a carapace of technological tombstones. Most found a way. You can find these records without a lot of issue; there are a lot of them, and they are a difficult listen in the same way that The Hospitals’ Hairdryer Peace (a record which at this point I actually “get”) is difficult. And it would take a seasoned listener to appreciate the ways in which Sauner manages to disintegrate elements of The Pink Noise’s atypical demeanor on Gilded Flowers. I mean, here is a guy who came onto it at almost the precise moment when Blank Dogs exploded and all those 7”s and 12”s and tapes leaked out like pus and stuck to the mirror. People bought the fuck out of his records, though, and The Pink Noise was certainly getting up there in terms of quantity of releases. Back then it seemed like if you could get stuck in and impress the right handful of people, you might, like, end up on Drag City or In The Red. The Pink Noise squandered this moment, compromising to no listener or arbiter of taste.
I recall reading some sort of newsletter-style update on The Pink Noise a while back where someone had listed all of their upcoming releases, at a time when they were about six records deep and the rest of the community was following suit. There was a confession in this update — that an upcoming album would be the first Pink Noise release to feature guitar, which until then Sauner and his crew had not yet learned how to play. Of course it wasn’t about that, but the candor shook up a lot of dudes (myself included) into writing this guy/these guys off. But I could never really commit to it, and though Birdland was pretty bad, this one shows a little more grounding, about an EP’s worth of material on an already short record. It sounds as if the extra instrumentation (guitar, pretty much) has fused The Pink Noise mess into more Fall-like patterns of repetition, but played in such a way that highlights the mistakes and lack of traditional rhythmic skill. The distance Sauner keeps from the listener is mitigated a bit by the space some of these tracks have, the ultimate in monotony hobbling along in a state of regression and sadness. You focus on the mistakes and parts of the song shift away from you, lopsiding your listening experience into a treatise on poorly-performed songs, while losing focus on the songs themselves, which are some of the most metaphysically murky Pink Noise tracks to date. It sounds like the weight of the project has finally caught up with the artist, in a way that’s both a win and a drawback. Maybe that’s why it’s best, Mark?