A litany of new musical movements, micro-genres, formats, full-album streams, gatefold 2xLP reissues, etc. etc. inundates the minds and attention spans of post-internet listeners with more content than could ever be reasonably processed in one waking life. Tastes overlap and genres congeal into freakish configurations, while oversaturated young musicians pose questions never before asked: how can Prince’s studio practices be applied to power electronics? Do rock songs have room for ambient drone? At the end of the century, what separates Wolf Eyes from The Grateful Dead? As a music writer, Mike Sugarman documents the infinite disparate branches spindling out from the tree of contemporary music; as a musician, he takes a grip and climbs those branches to more frightening heights than most would dare.
Pure Racket, Sugarman’s third tape release under the Sugarm moniker, showcases two distinct incarnations of his project, each offered as a complete statement to complement the other. The tape’s A side documents his notion of the “rock album,” insofar as it contains discrete songs constructed from voices, guitars, and programmed drums. In practice, however, churned through processes of digital disfiguration and sampling, Sugarman’s compositions explode from the speakers with the primal fury and static-blasted textures characteristic of the noise underground. “Anti-Life Equation” batters a grisly central motif between surges of feedback and sampled drum passages. “Lost in the City” and “Casual Town” careen through structural left turns, as warped synths and quivering drum patterns congeal into uneasy “verses” and “choruses” more often laced with sampled spoken-word polemics than legible vocals. Sugarman’s hallucinogenic conception of maximal “noise”-“rock” challenges listeners to reevaluate tenets of rhythm, tone, and structure that they hold dear, and compels them to loop back around to the beginning of the tape and start again.
But after the last gasps of mutant melody conclude “Aspic Nipple” and the A-Side, the hypnotic drift of Pure Racket’s second half slithers into effect. Unfolding in extended swathes of synth, low-end drone, and field recordings, the B-side airs its hushed tones across wide stereophonic spreads brimming with aural detail. Digital processes that Sugarman previously employed to skew samples into oblivion instead wrap them in cushions of lush abstraction, lulling the listener into a fugue state capable of disrupting the conventional flow of time. “No Place, No Thing” contrasts woozy electronic melodies with fingerpicked acoustic guitar. “Strange Rules” bends a bubbling arpeggio pattern through fragments of incidental grocery store bustle. “Cracked At The Castle” concludes Pure Racket’s diverse program with six minutes of low-end oscillation and organ-like synth pads deep enough to cement a developing pact with slumber. Sugarman rises to the challenge of making introspective ambient music at once engaging in a casual listen, and mind-altering in a concentrative session. Coupled with the A-side’s amalgam of transgressive styles and ideas, the B-side realizes Sugarman’s goal to open up a richer world through the transformative mental states sparked by noise and drone musics at their most “extreme” – on both sides of the spectrum.