Writing about music is a bit like being an anthropologist. The kind who immerses themselves in a culture to better understand it. Not the kind who comes up with whacked-out theories while staring blankly at the wall of the faculty lounge (or I guess now, their kitchen cupboards between Zoom classes). To really do a piece of art justice, you have to embrace the fact that you are entering an emotional and aesthetic space that may be foreign to you, which may impact you unexpectedly. You have to allow the sensation of the work to permeate you while you contemplate your reactions, without assigning judgment or value. After you reemerge, your experience with the work will need to be placed in the context of a larger narrative. This is the tricky part. You can't assume that your responses are universal or even intelligible to others. Therefore, it is good to write about your reactions with an eye towards the history that proceeded the work, in a broad sense, as well as the responses of others who have written about the artist. This is the only honest way to assess a work in my opinion. Dive in, allow it to affect you, catalog your responses, and then write about the merits of your reactions. I will never entirely know what an artist's intent was with a piece of music, but it's incumbent on me to make a meaningful statement about how it made me feel.
I mention my process in the introduction to this album review because I need to deviate from it somewhat when talking about Primitive Man's new LP, Immersion. There is a history to this band and context for their sound that I could unpack here, but I don't think either of these approaches lends themselves to a better understanding of the band or their work. Immersion, like all of Primitive Man's albums, is a highly emotional experience. They produce such a thick barrier of sensations that a more intellectual and historical approach will simply shatter like a vase thrown upon a marbel floor when matched against it. The overwhelming purgation of the album is where its merits lay, and that is where the substance of this review has to start. I'll merely describe my own reactions to its intensity and allow everything else to shift past me, like the water of a river running through my fingers.
Immersion begins with "The Lifer," a relatable title for a track that stomps and plods like a great woolen beast stuck in a tar pit, panicking in the oily drink, the intractability of its situation slowly seeps into its walnut-sized brain. Ropey arches of airborne polymer flying through the air and landing on its face and limbs as it is swallowed by the dyspeptic bile of the Earth. There is no getting out of life alive. This moment will beget another, and another, and so on until you run down the clock and there isn't anything left of you by slab of slowly spoiling meat. Sinking every moment further into the abyss of history. You may try to make a difference with the time you have, you may try to change your fate, but the end will always be the same. The world is a coffin that you suicide into, a place where you project your hopes and dreams only to have them ate up and returned to you as cold, stale air and stultifying indifference.
Eventually, everything that you are, all that you've built, dissolves into chaos. Entropy will claw its way up the side of your grand designs and wrap them in acidic saliva, corroding it, making every product of your hands, a twisted reflection of your failed ambitions. Betrayed by time, every "Entity" eventually falters. "Menacing" is this realization hitting home, a blustering, rolling storm of hooks that cease you under your skin and drag you to an inevitable destiny of decay and disenfranchisement. A place that you always knew you would go eventually, but worked your whole life to avoid thinking about. A lonely place you inhabit by your lonesome before you die. A place where you stand trial for your insufficiencies before the whole world. A stockade where death is your jailer. Where she alone holds power to commute your sentence. The menace of time, the menace of its dizzying intractability. You can not place an oar in its stream and about-face. You can not paddle against its current. It will take you where it will take you. A tyrant without reason. Without knowledge of restraint or yield. Even those who consider themselves the masters of this world, who believe that they can bend the laws of nature to suit their will, must eventually bow before the iron resolve of the infinite.
To contemplate infinity with the human mind is like attempting to hard boil an egg by shoving it up your ass. The mechanical requirement simply aren't there, my friend. "∞" embodies this reality with a wall of impenetrable static. A fortress of feedback that simply repels the conscious overtures of those who approach it, defying all attempts to encapsulate its meaning. "Foul" by contrast gives some foothold to the listener, allowing them to scale its incline of merciless, flogging grooves and skin sheering feedback. Once you reach the crest of these sonic battlements though, what you will encounter there is another incline. A precipice that reaches beyond the horizon. There is no sun here. No light to guide you. No indication of north or south. And it only grows hotter the higher you climb. If you are climbing, that is. Like a sailor dragged below the surf by a sinking ship in the dead of night, you may be lost without direction to the surface. You may think you are seeking your salvation, that you are ascending towards flat stable ground, when really you are only diving deeper into an awaiting chasm. A gulf that is all too eager to consume a wondering morsel such as yourself.
"Consumption" may be the only truly accessible moment on Immersion. You can clearly hear lead singer Ethan McCarthy's savage cry above the roiling tempest of sound that nothing can be trusted, nothing that you take into yourself, whether it be information or nourishment, is bereft of poison. Your body is riddled with disease and toxins as you mind is addled with lies. This state of carcinogenic torture you are locked in is to a degree there by design. But you were never meant to live forever. Your body and mind present clear and binding limitations to you everyday. You will never be able to separate your oppressions, from your own failings, from the cruel hand of fate you were dealt when your parents combined their flesh to make you. When confronted with the crushing typhoon of reality as the aperture of its eye narrows around your person, you may turn to food, or culture, or drugs, or the performance of virtues to avoid the devastating irrevocability of your tarnished state of being.
So you consume to escape, and in that escape, you find yourself consumed. A smaller cell inside of a smaller room inside of a prison with no doors or windows. A dark corner of the world where you can close your eyes and shut out the hurricane of horrors that confronts your waking mind. But what you will find is that once your eye has opened, even a sliver, it can never fully close again. What is now known cannot be unknown. Existence is something that you cannot unstick yourself from. It is something you are immersed in, and there is no escape up. No reprieve until there is no more life to be rung from the marrow of your being.
Mick is always writing about something he's heard. Possibly even something you'd like. You can read his stuff over at I Thought I Heard a Sound Blog.