Black Needle Noise, the latest project from John Fryer, has put out a selection of tracks for downloading on Bandcamp. Featuring guest vocalists Jarboe, Antic Clay, Andreas Elvenes, Ledfoot, Attasalina and Zia, BNN follows Fryer’s pattern of generating foundations for singers to build upon. It’s an experimental approach that carries some risk, but all of the BNN pairings deliver material that is stylish, dark and on the right side of the edge.
The thread that ties all of the songs together is Fryer’s grindtronica sound, which lets guitars fizz and fuzz alongside atmospheric synths and reverb-heavy percussion. There are monumental tones, scored for Gothic cathedrals, and razor-sharp chord changes. Whereas This Mortal Coil, one of Fryer’s earliest projects, stretched notes into eternity, with BNN he is as likely to compress and distort them into moments that peak and fade like the light from collapsing stars.
Two of the songs are collaborations with Jarboe, the former Swans and Skin vocalist. Her time as a solo artist has only honed Jarboe’s ability to channel dark, bittersweet sounds, and on “Vexation” they are steered into magnificent choruses that flood over Fryer’s beats. The second Jarboe track, “Human,” pierces a different vein, injecting a feeling of melancholy that moves with each pulse further into your system.
The appearance of Antic Clay on “Queen of Dust” takes BNN into Tarantino territory, with a bass that is mining for gold and dirty, fuzzy guitars. Dark Americana is at its roots, and the feel is not a million Nordic miles from the path previously scorched by the Bad Seeds. You don’t have to sell your soul at a crossroad to enjoy the song, but you get the feeling that a few were pawned in the course of making it.
Andreas Elvenes of Norwegian outfit BC (aka Bitch Cassidy) crosses the Styx in “Mourning Morning” to the accompaniment of drones, mechanical clanking and filter sweeps that recall This Mortal Coil’s more atmospheric work.
The appearance of Ledfoot brings a Gothic Blues influence to “3 Steps Backwards.” Growls, mutterings, whispers and chirps sit beneath his haunting vocal line. The effect is chilling and disquieting, but the richness of Ledfoot’s voice keeps the song in balance.
From Oslo, Zia Land provides the vocals for “Wildstone.” If Portishead did burlesque soundtracks, they might approximate the sound on this track, which comes at you like a Clash sample slowed down and looped with delays, brass stabs and John Barry’s sense of drama. “I’ll take you all the way,” promises Zia, but the song ends without a final release – the plateau phase carrying on into oblivion. Such a tease, that BNN.
The final track in the set comes from American singer and sometime Daniel Ash-collaborator, Attasalina. “Messages by Dream” is soulful dreampop; a tangle of barbed wire and muslingauze that unwinds only by tearing into fibres.