City Paper is not for tourists
The new collaboration between noise-sculptor Twig Harper and Lungfish frontman veteran Dan Higgs, Clairaudience Fellowship, is not for the casual listener. It’s not going to get you on your feet and it doesn’t rock. It’s more like a 1960s sound collage or the word jazz of Ken Nordine shot through with spiritual resonance and thrown down some post-industrial cavern. It’s in a class of its own, about as far away from the mainstream as it gets, but heard on its own terms, it’s a tripped-out marvel. It’d be easy to parody this kind of album—lots of strange noises, endless echoes, and seemingly nonsensical lyrics delivered sincerely. Those familiar with Lungfish know Higgs draws pretty deeply from subconscious imagery, and this album takes his far out non-sequiturs even further, if that’s possible, with lines like “a fierce tugging at the imaginary mind bladder” and “every mouth an ovary of the apocalypse.” Higgs’ lyrics aim for universal statements, and they’re often constructed like a loose liturgy. Higgs regularly speaks of drawing near to God, and praises an unidentified “Thee,” but he consistently subverts that with his heretical, even grotesque descriptions of the divine—sometimes reverently referencing Jesus Christ yet denouncing him as insufficient. Higgs’ punk-rock mysticism has an irrational wisdom to it, his words offering a koan-like path to an intuitive higher truth (If Ralph Waldo Emerson ingested peyote with Sun Ra, they might come up with similar material). The weight of Higgs’ heavy lines doubles with Harper’s manipulations. Unlike the occasional sonic assaults of Harper’s solo material, this album finds him employing more space and twisting individual sounds into their own minor journeys. The pair is at its most hypnotic when Higgs repeats a single phrase, “like a gnashing tusk, stirring the universe,” dozens of times, while Harper slowly turns it different directions, obscuring it and revealing other layers in turn. Hearing Harper discuss in interviews the bizarre custom instruments he uses to make noise is like listening to an alchemist discuss chemistry—it’s part oddball science and part insanity, but the sonic textures he achieves on this album are foreign enough to suggest he has good reason to use such unusual tools in his work. The noise is distinctly organic—it’s not full of jarring juxtapositions like a John Weiss record—with the feedback, echoes, and unidentifiable metallic clatter following a sort of visceral logic. More importantly, the sounds seem inextricably tied to Higgs’ words. Both Higgs and Harper are shooting for a kind of interdimensional journey here, if not an explicity inviting one. There’s no room for baggage on this trip, but if you’re ready to travel the spaceways, it’s a damn good place to start.