This latest LP from Wolf Eyes is something of a major release for the duo, as they are currently celebrating their 25th year with "their first widely-distributed non-compilation album in six years." Fittingly, Dreams In Splattered Lines is one of the project's most compelling and sophisticated albums to date, which is likely the result of some recent developments that would have seemed absolutely unimaginable when the project first began (collaborating with a Pulitzer Prize winner, a viral video for a fashion company, sharing stages with jazz titans, a residency at The New York Public Library, etc.). The library residency in particular played an especially large role in shaping this album, as the duo built a number of new instruments while they were there and also spent a lot of time absorbing the Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Of course, the truly interesting bit is how inventively Nate Young and John Olson assimilated all their new ideas, as well as the fact that their more high art/avant-garde influences amusingly collide with a newfound fascination with how "hit songs" work. While Wolf Eyes have sporadically dazzled me over the years as a cool noise band, Dreams In Splattered Lines feels like the album where they have arguably become the spiritual heirs to Throbbing Gristle in channeling the best ideas of the 20th century avant-garde into a zeitgeist-capturing mirror of the times (a post-hope world of crumbling institutions and widespread alienation).
The album is billed as "a surreal dreamscape of disorienting sound collages, where hit songs are transformed into terrariums of sonic flora and decimated fauna," which is a considerably more elegant description than my own "a masterfully choreographed ballet of shit." The album itself is not shit, of course, but the sounds themselves are quite a cavalcade of rotten, shambling, broken, strangled, and ugly sounds conjured from inventively misused gear. The opening "Car Wash Two" is an especially illustrative example of the latter, as it "includes a Short Hands track playing on the car radio while waves of white noise and contact microphones are plunging into water buckets." That trick was then coupled with an added "meta" twist: the recording was then "played in a car while going through an actual car wash" before it was ultimately layered and mixed in the studio. Notably, that piece is singled out as an example of the duo's new "hit single" mindset, but that trait is only evident in an oblique way that involves terrariums. More immediately graspable, however, is the fact that almost every song on the album is distilled to a punchy two- or three-minute running time. On the lesser pieces, it can sometimes feel like a song is over before it gets a chance to make a deep impression, but the stronger pieces tend to regularly attain "all killer, no filler" nirvana.