by Quinn Myers (@rquinnmyers)
Have you ever been hypnotized?
It’s an important question to ask yourself before listening to Kill Alter’s No Self Helps, the band’s jarring and effusively creative new album that came out last month on experimental label Hausu Mountain.
With its flush of meticulous texture and kaleidoscopic energy, the record pulses with fluorescent color and sonic ambition, dragging listeners down the rabbit hole before ascending into a dizzying spin.
But that frenzy feels full of purpose. Indeed, hypnosis is also the weird pretext for the bizarre and uncomfortable therapy visit that takes place during “Wart Therapy,” the last of several audio recordings on the album that are interposed between the industrial electronics of the band’s more typical “songs”.
The hypnotic glare of the project comes through vividly on “Sensory” and “Ego Swim,” two early tracks that, using their strange array of vocal echoes and electronic spins, set up No Self Helps as a wholly original work of specific and intentional expression.
Kill Alters is the project of Bonnie Baxter (vocals, drum machines, electronica), Hisham Bharoocha (live drums, electronics), and Nicos Kennedy (laptop, electronics). Their self-titled album in 2015 was a brooding and dark experiment that captured a slow rupture of highly personal creation. Together on No Self Helps, the band builds off the spiritual energy of that first release while bringing new confidence to their compositional flow.
Perhaps the most digestible track on No Self Helps is “The Holder,” which feels like a genuine pop song that got stuck inside a broken escalator. Like much of the best work categorized under the expansive and lazy “noise rock” descriptor, the lyrics here matter and, on “The Holder” especially, Baxter’s stunted howls transcend the culminating peaks that are gathering behind her vocals. “There's no shift awakening revolution,” she sings, almost in list format. “It’s a self in waiting/an illusion/hardwired all embracing.”
If “The Holder” is Kill Alter’s most apparent push outward, it’s the last “music” track of the album, “Shrill Birdy.” where the group turns sonically inward. As the song progresses, the previously constant electronics and drums end up sitting like a tattered piece of cloth behind Baxter’s almost ghoulish moaning. Eschewing any kind of formal trappings, the song is a light beam of a really cool and rare blend of precision and raw imagination.
It’s in the interludes and “non-music” tracks of the album, what the label is calling “found sound collage pieces.” where Kill Alters manages to hold an effective balance between the grotesque and comic. Even throughout the truly disturbing “Wart Therapy,” Kill Alters strikes deeply into a mired past while striding elegantly forward. Every raw second of these songs seem to ask: is art a way for the creator to unearth fragments of their true self, or can it become a vehicle to push it away? No Self Helps ends up landing like a seismic affirmation to both questions. The album, as it progresses, becomes a complicated self-reflection, with the band looking at themselves through a dark room in a shattered house of mirrors.