Albuquerque’s cerebral noise auteur TAHNZZ delivers a two-for-one whopper of ice-cold dark ambient noise, with thematic undertones that speak to a global crisis of the human condition.
Though more reminiscent of Arctic tundra-inspired soundscapes by the likes of Thomas Köner than the sun-drenched borderland evoked by the title Merchants of Labor, there’s nevertheless a frigid inhumanity poisoning the discourse of the Southwestern border where the North American imperial machine is stockpiling children in death camps. For what are borders but metaphors of the blood that carves up precious land, and what are migrants but merchants of what little they have to give?
Part 1 opener “Bracero Border Odyssey” is indeed a half-hour odyssey spanning nocturnal drones, cycles of buzz-saw static, and glitchy patterns of abandoned turntable skipping. There’s gentle scraping beneath the overpowering sonic smog, like footsteps trudging under the scalding heat of day. There’s a deep, unsettling tension of some primordial force running just to stay in place. Whether it’s wind, water, sand, or the thrashing of maquiladoras that we’re supposed to envision, the noise quickly drops any mimetic pretence and bores directly into your lizard brain. You can feel fear, despair, longing, thirst, but you will certainly not feel at home in these sounds.
I’ve thought often that the political power of noise music stems from its ability to rewire our emotional circuitry and evoke new associations between sound and substance, and likewise, seeing the absence of national borders from space, just like seeing the basic humanity of people born in an arbitrarily “different” place, can—I hope—rewrite some harmful social constructs.
So can a desert be cold? Can the sweat off one’s brow be sold, or is it merely bartered? As the industrial swirling and whirring of rhythmic status builds in the short title track, we’re left desperately searching for some hint of organic, flesh-and-blood humanity to this whole mess—and finding none.
“No Man’s Land” opens Part 2 up with some barely-perceptible walls of harsh noise reminiscent of Vomir or The Rita, but it builds with nuance and subtlety toward a poignant landscape with some hints of tonality. “Un Dia Mas” ups the ante with massive crashing waves of ocean static, swelling and receding with the cosmic momentum of moon-driven tides. There are some field recordings suggesting a theme somewhere, but we can’t give it away. All I can say is that the search for humanity turns up empty through this gruelling journey. All you’ll find are the churning cogs of the machine, without any sign of a prime mover flipping the switch one way or another.
I have listened to this over and over for days and cannot wrap my head around the overwhelming, thick miasma of bleakness in these albums. Had the titles not primed me to think of the cruelty inherent in modern nationalism, I have little doubt that these daily fears keeping me up at night would have been in heavy rotation anyway.