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Review: Destruction Unit’s ‘Negative Feedback Resistor’ Is a Noise-Punk Endurance Test

7
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: September 18, 2015
Label: Sacred Bones/Adult Swim

As the brightest headlamps exploring the New American Heavy Underground, the Arizona punks in Destruction Unit have always been louder than the sum of their constituent parts. The project started at the turn of the century as a way for frontman Ryan Rousseau to cool down between sweaty shows in Jay Reatard’s early live bands. But even then, when he was making gnarled home recordings influenced by gothy synth-pop and the krautrock icons in Faust, there was an ascendant spirit untamed and unburdened by the sickly sonics.

Over the years, D-Unit’s undergone a rock’n’roll transformation, enlisting local hardcore kids, deep house DJs, power electronics performance artists, and Rousseau’s brother to bolster a newly weighty impulse. The dictum was loud, fast, and unhinged, and with each member that they’ve added, each of those descriptors has increased by a disproportionate magnitude as if each amp added to the stage was worth two in volume, each manic personality feeding back into the others. It’s an addled atmosphere that’s birthed gloriously psychedelic punk texts with a scorched rubber stench that could be from the reckless speed or the DMT.

Fueled on a cocktail of uppers (as guitarist Jes Aurelius gleefully relates) and help from some similarly experimental friends in Dirty Beaches, Croatian Amor, and the Germs, they’ve finally found the brickwalled limit to their ascension on the new Negative Feedback Resistor. And they seem to have decided to drive into it over and over again. The music contained herein is punk in its pacing and po’-faced-ness, but all the grips have been sandblasted away. While they once were content to slow down and space out, here they don’t relent.

Some of the details are lost in the delirious fog. It can be, for example, tough to pick out any of Rousseau’s lyrics or to distinguish a specific melody that Aurelius, Rousseau, or third guitarist/noisemaker Nick Nappa may be issuing at any given moment, but the delirious blurs of sunset oranges and sandy browns are compelling in their own right. Even “Chemical Reaction/Chemical Delight,” which is perhaps the most legible track on the record, has it’s share of soft impressionistic edges. You might imagine that if Monet had spent his time tripping in the desert, like these guys do, that he’d be drawing from a similar palette.
Rousseau’s throaty baritone is swallowed on “If Death Ever Slept” by the total maelstrom surrounding him, an almost indistinguishable smog of cracking snares and guitars that sputter and roar like exhaust from a 757. In the past, there was a bit of dynamism in the way they worked, but any empty space here, and elsewhere on the album, has been filled by their cast of collaborators’ bristling contributions. As such, Negative Feedback Resistor can be something of an endurance test, a marathon on a treadmill when all the air’s been sucked out of the room. It’s disorienting, upsetting, and edges toward unlistenable in its brutalist structures. But it’s a reminder that even if claustrophobia’s an unpleasant feeling, it’s always a powerful one.