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Wolf Eyes

Michigan's Wolf Eyes are an institution within the American experimental music underground, constantly exploring new paths and pushing the boundaries of music and sound art. While most commonly categorized as a noise band, their always uncompromising work has ranged from rhythmic bangers approximating mutated industrial and broken electro to free-form improvisation sessions rooted in avant-garde jazz and modern composition. The fiercely D.I.Y. unit has released countless handmade recordings on their own imprints, making it nearly impossible to keep track of their entire discography, particularly when one takes into account side projects and solo monikers. Constant touring in the early 2000s brought the group a strong cult fan base and opened the hermetic world of the noise underground to a new generation of curious indie rockers, punks, and experimentalists. Early releases like 2001's Dread and Slicer earned acclaim, leading to releases on Sub Pop, including 2004's Burned Mind, simultaneously one of their harshest and most accessible recordings. The group collaborated with major avant-garde figures like Anthony Braxton, Merzbow, and Richard Pinhas, and released one of their defining statements with 2013's No Answer: Lower Floors. I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces, a 2015 effort for Third Man, touched on psychedelic rock influences. 2023's Difficult Messages compiled tracks from the group's myriad collaborative projects, while Dreams in Splattered Lines (released the same year) found the core duo of the band collaging together layers of abstract electronics, freeform woodwinds, and miscelaneous ephermeral sounds. Initially, Wolf Eyes was the solo moniker for Nate Young, vocalist and chief instrument builder of the group. Young was previously a member of electronic absurdists Nautical Almanac, Neanderthal performance troupe the Beast People, and party noise duo Mini-Systems. The latter featured many of Young's artful instrument creations, including a pulsing orb that oozed fuzzy static and a glowing, three-tiered synthesizer cake, which were as visually dynamic as they were sonically curious. After a lone solo cassette in 1997, Young added guitarist and fellow Beast People member Aaron Dilloway to the Wolf Eyes fold in 1999. Dilloway had an equally storied past in the Michigan underground as a member of Galen, Couch, and the Universal Indians, and as owner of Hanson Records, which along with the more rock-aligned Bulb Records was the chief outlet for many of the groups mentioned above. As a duo, the sound of Wolf Eyes was rooted in rock riffs more than abstract electronic weirdness. However, even as their self-titled debut was released on Bulb, the band's sound was changing. Tiring of the rock side of their sound, the duo did a series of limited-edition collaborations with Universal Indians drummer John Olson as Wolf Eyes with Spykes. The Spykes name was one of many aliases for Olson, whose prolific noise and experimental output was constantly released on his influential underground American Tapes label. Olson meshed perfectly with Young and Dilloway, and from 2000 on, Wolf Eyes would be known as a trio. Their next proper release came with Dread in 2001 (reissued on CD in 2002), but along the way the group furiously documented their development, releasing 25 tapes and CD-Rs on both Hanson and American Tapes that year. The next year saw another spate of limited underground releases as well as the CD re-release of one of 2001's more experimental Wolf tapes, Slicer. Touring was still a big part of the group's schedule as well, putting the Midwestern trio in touch with many admiring fans, including East Coast label Troubleman, which signed the band up for 2002's Dead Hills EP. A tour with like-minded sonic arsenalists Black Dice led to a collaborative LP on Fusetron in 2003. The following year, Sub Pop joined the fan club, issuing the Stabbed in the Face 12"; Burned Mind arrived later that year. More singles, including 2005's Fuck the Old Miami and 2006's Equinox, Black Vomit, and Driller/Psychogeist anticipated the full-length Human Animal, which was released in fall 2006 and featured new member Mike Connelly of the like-minded Hair Police (by that time, Dilloway had ceased to tour with the band but mixed the album). The Troubleman Unlimited release Solo, which reissued some of the group's limited-edition cassettes, sold on tour, also arrived around this time. Limited-edition and lesser releases came at a near-dizzying rate, ranging from cassettes in editions of ten copies to collaborations with free music legend Anthony Braxton. Proper, deeply considered albums were slower to materialize, with Always Wrong appearing in 2009 in the wake of a constantly evolving and well-documented group. Splinter projects also stemmed from the core band, including Stare Case, Failing Lights, Birth Refusal, Hatred, Regression, and others, all different combinations or solo incarnations of various Wolf Eyes members. In 2012 Connelly stepped down as full-time guitarist, replaced by Detroit musician James Baljo in time to record 2013's brutal yet minimal No Answer: Lower Floors. The album included input from both ex-members Dilloway and Connelly and coincided with a cover story on the band's history for experimental music magazine The Wire. In 2015, Wolf Eyes found an unexpected patron when Jack White signed the band to his Third Man Records label; their first album for that label, I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces, was released in October 2015. In 2016, as Olson (aka Inzane Johnny) had become infamous for posting music memes online, the band helped organize Trip Metal Fest, a three-day event of films, panels, and free concerts, including performances by Morton Subotnick, Andrew W.K., and Hieroglyphic Being joined by members of the Sun Ra Arkestra. The festival took place in Detroit during Memorial Day weekend, and two more annual editions followed. Wolf Eyes debuted their Lower Floor Music label with the 2017 full-length Undertow. Baljo left the group, and Wolf Eyes returned to the core duo of Young and Olson, along with several collaborators. The two reunited with Universal Indians' Gretchen Gonzales and Dilloway, merging into Universal Eyes, and Four Variations on 'Artificial Society' was released in 2018. Wolf Eyes continued their endless flow of limited, self-issued artifacts, and Difficult Messages, released by Disciples in 2023, consisted of collaborative tracks which originally appeared on hand-painted 7" single box sets, including recordings with Pulitzer Prize winner Raven Chacon and Alexander Moskos (aka Drainolith). The group's next proper long player was informed by a residency they participated in at The New York Public Library For The Performing Arts in late 2021 and early 2022. During this residency, Wolf Eyes built original instruments that would become part of the library's permanent collection, and recorded a limited edition album with the instruments that was given away to the public for free. In their downtime in New York, Young and Olson took in museum exhibitions on surrealism, taking particular inspiration from learning about the Chicago Surrealists’ spoken-word poetry collaborations with musicians. They wove some of this inspiration into the short form collages they and other artists worked on for Difficult Messages, and continued this approach in duo form on Dreams in Splattered Lines. Released in May of 2023, Dreams in Splattered Lines collected multiple consise tracks of dense sound collage and collisions of Olson's homemade horns with Young's minimal electronics and bleakly poetic sung/spoke vocals.
© Wade Kergan & Paul Simpson /TiVo


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