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SUMAC & Keiji Haino - "American Dollar Bill - Keep Facing Sideways, You're Too Hideous To Look At Face On" | Album Review


by Will Johnson (@wmjohnson95)

American Dollar Bill - Keep Facing Sideways, You're Too Hideous To Look At Face On is the collaboration of Keiji Haino and SUMAC, completely improvised in Tokyo’s Goksound recording studio and released on Thrill Jockey Records. The first thing that comes to mind when I see Haino’s name is “veteran.” Haino has been improvising experimental music for over forty years, and during that time has played in dozens of collaborations and released hundreds of albums. He hardly needs an introduction. SUMAC, while they haven’t been active for forty years, are quickly accruing a catalog of notable releases: this is their fourth full-length release, and their third release on Thrill Jockey. They’re an American band formed in 2014 by Aaron Tuner (guitar/vocals) that basically takes the format of a metal band: guitar, bass (Brian Cook), and drums (Nick Yacyshyn). 

The record definitely lives in the dark spaces between the outer-stellar improvisation that Haino is known for and metal. The title track opens sparsely into an alien landscape of electric guitar, flute, and drum set. Over the course of twenty minutes the quartet builds into a metal-esque churning. Haino screams. It retreats back to a sparse soundscape and then builds again; towards rhythm and then away from it. 

Throughout the record Haino and Turner are recalibrating the dynamic between their guitar playing. At times one will clearly lie low to let the other come into the spotlight, and at other times their guitars coalesce to create a wall of sound greater than the sum of it’s parts. Their guitar sounds are constantly changing too: effects come and go to create and remove space for the other. This dynamic is particularly poignant in the third track: “I’m Over 137% A Love Junkie And Still It’s Not Enough Pt. 1”. One of them is playing mellow chords, the other playing erratically in a higher register, drenched in reverb. As the track progresses they move further and further away from this dichotomy and it becomes harder to distinguish the two guitarists as the both make dramatic gestures towards noise and away from pitch. 

American Dollar Bill - Keep Facing Sideways, You're Too Hideous To Look At Face On is a psychedelic journey that travels between metal, noise, and back again. It’s a long record (about 66 minutes), so be ready to embark on a trek when you put this album on, it’s worth the journey if you’re inclined to take it. The last track on the record is the most “metal” of all. Chugging, rhythmic electric guitar. Polyrhythms.