As Prurient, Dominick Fernow has broken plenty of speakers with abrasive noise. He’s also spent time with synth rock outfit Cold Cave and explored his own take on new wave as a solo artist. On 2011’s Bermuda Drain, he worked toward blending experimental noise with structured rock, but that effort felt disjointed, like a step toward something more elegantly tied to his expressive noisescapes. That something is Frozen Niagara Falls, a double album that cracks Fernow’s process and history apart, rebuilds it Frankenstein-like from the pieces, and lets it live and breathe in the world.
The darkness here doesn’t have the leathery sheen of 2013’s Through the Window, even when the synths pulse like a John Carpenter score, as on “Every Relationship Earthrise”. The synth figures refuse to fit into place, and the guttural vocals haunt the shadows. “Go towards the light,” Fernow says calmly as the track ends before returning to the animal howl and screeching feedback.
Noise musicians remember that cliché about how humans are animals too. The tarred and graveled vocals of “Traditional Snowfall” mix love, anger, admiration, violence, and sorrow, every emotion exploding at once: “I want to rip out your lower back … But I think of you constantly … I said I wanted children but not now.”
As might be expected of a bleak noise release, the album’s liner notes contain a picture of a mutilated body, but also reveal Prurient’s poetic lyrics of broken relationships, loss, pain, and suffering. There is the simple and tragic finality on “Falling Mask” (“What we do/ We invite pain”) and the complex, expressionist images of urban claustrophobia on the startling “Dragonflies to Sew You Up” (“Car horns blare outside/ Key twists inside the lock/ Are you going mad in there?”).
There’s a fragility to the lyrics — even if you’re not able to pick up every word, you can feel every ounce of Fernow’s pain. There’s a fragility to the music in places, too. “Jester in Agony” burns slowly, eyelids drooping. Centerpiece “Greenpoint” details suicide and the abandoned ashes of a long-dead mother, but it also builds from a chilled acoustic guitar and a wash of synth before it reaches Fernow’s spoken story. Whether you’re walking the streets with a broken heart or raging in a cramped studio apartment, whether you lean more toward dense, abrasive power electronics or dark, airy ambience, Fernow sees where you’re coming from.
Religious allusions are sprinkled throughout the album — Eucharist, frankincense, “carbon sons of God” — and closer “Christ Among the Broken Glass” finds hope in sacrifice, giving, and care: “Down snowy streets/ Among the broken glass/ You can find Christ/ Feeding the poor.” We all have our pain, and the only salvation comes in easing the burden of others. It’s a beautiful revelation from a man whose devotees will see Frozen Niagara Falls not for its heaviness or abrasion, but for its cathartic beauty.
Essential Tracks: “Dragonflies to Sew You Up”, “Traditional Snowfall”, and “Greenpoint”