Review by Sheldon Hubbard
What more could any sound ever made be considered other than “poetic noise?” Music could verily be described as a vast umbrella term associated with the harmonic and rhythmic maneuverability of any given sound. To quote Jeremy Montagu’s 2017 Oxford study, How Music and Instruments Began: A Brief Overview of the Origin and Entire Development of Music, from Its Earliest Stages: “the ability to produce something melodic, a murmuration of sound, something between humming and crooning to a baby, must have long preceded the ability to form the consonants and vowels that are the essential constituents of speech.” Jesse Draxler takes this idea and proves it further with his work on the conceptual audio/visual display that is Reigning Cement. Having collaborated with over 20 different artists, Draxler produces an ultimate juncture between erie and alluring.
Ominous, industrial, and surreal are simple adjectives to aptly describe the overall complex aesthetic that goes into Reigning Cement. The full effect of the audio cannot truly be felt without the complement of the accompanying visual, it simply wouldn’t make much sense otherwise. This collection of creative A/V is as beautifully bemusing as it is gothic and snarly. It drips with haunting imagery, and leaves traces of noise that help you fixate on the blackened aspects of both the audio and visual components. Starting off with such tracks as “Valerian,” “Time Reign Cement,” “Rubble,” and “Your Stoic Gaze Changes States of Matter,” we are thrusted into what seems to be Jesse’s version of The Upside Down. With awe striking collaborations from Chelsea Wolfe & Ben Chisholm, Dylan Walker (Full of Hell), Eric Ghoste (Ghostemane), and Exploited Body (multi-disciplinary artist Noah Kin) respectively, the first portion of this A/V journey seemingly throws you into a spook-fest of industrial shadows.
Rattling deeper into this sinister city of sounds, we stretch onward to the likes of “4,” “Everyone Dies and Nothing Goes On,” “Cordite,” and “I Saw You Digging,” which are packed with the creative efforts from Gendo Ikari (Glasgow Grindcore outfit), Greg Puciato (ex-Dillinger Escape Plan, of the Black Queen & Killer Be Killed), Intensive Care (Toronto industrial two-piece), and Jayle Jayle (neo-folk from Louisville, KY) that forge the album forward. With a mechanical sludge onward, we creep through a detailed collection of scrapping ripples and clanky screeches that really gnarl the teeth back a bit. By midway through the record, it’s hard to tell if what you’re listening to could really be considered music at all. It entertains the idea that music can be heard or shaped in anything, albeit sometimes deeply drab and shrouded in abstraction.
I can’t sit here and pretend like I would incorporate this album into my regular listening library, but I will say that it is something that left quite the aesthetic impression on me. One that carries further the inclination that life is merely its own weird musical. There is an immense artistic respect to be recognized in mulling over the soundscape in relation to the visual display. It sounds like a cesspool of madness at first, but the result is outstanding. Reigning Cement is something you certainly have to immerse yourself in to understand. It’s all about taking what was thought to be incomprehensible and giving it a sense of personification. Draxler and the collection of minds behind this project harness “poetic noise” to a mystifying degree. Once you start slinking toward tracks like “Impossible Cycle,” “Almanac Shimmer,” and “Key Fob,” the harmonics become audibly smoother. It becomes easier to hear the musicality through all the ripe distortion. By the time you reach the end of this industrial onslaught of sound, the closing track “Them” surges a chorus of wistful vocalization delivered by Aussie Death-Pop duo VOWWS. Paired with what seems like every noise used on the record thus far, packed into a swirling mass of sonic gargling, you don’t expect it to set you down so nicely as the record fades out.
In terms of urban living, the sights and sounds one is exposed to could very well be considered an acquired taste. Jesse and the artists he works with here garner a telling display of the mechanized world we live in today. He’s quoted with saying: “I grew up in rural Wisconsin, so when I moved to Los Angeles I started noticing all the textures and noises that are such a big part of this environment—the construction sounds, garbage trucks, jackhammers, alarms...” “Stuff that you would just consider noise—that you would hear and just hate. It’s so densely industrial over here that it became something that grated on my nerves but at the same time was super inspiring.” I can’t speak for living in Los Angeles, but having spent the first 11 years of life growing up on the cusp of one of the most populous parts on the Southside of Chicago, I’m no stranger to industrial sound. I feel like it allowed my ear more of an appreciation for the musings put together here. This is a collection that was taken care of and put together with intimate intricacy. If you’re looking for one of the rawest forms of “art noise,” look no further than the eclectic masterpiece that is Jesse Draxler’s, Reigning Cement.