The Mike Patton Corner: Maldoror’s She
Oh shit, I forgot about this one.
Ever get ahead of yourself? Ever get so excited you make careless mistakes? Well I have, and I want to apologize. Between releasing the spastic first FANTôMAS album and the masterful final Mr. Bungle album, Mike Patton put out a record called She, under the name Maldoror and in collaboration with arguably the most revered and legendary figure in the history of noise music, Tokyo’s own Masami Akita, better known as Merzbow. Now, Merzbow is known for a great many things, including but not limited to his expansive discography consisting of over 300 albums, the punishing textures and trippy album art for his seminal record Pulse Demon, and a video taken at one of his concerts of a random guy in the crowd aggressively brushing his teeth. Like Patton, Merzbow is a highly respected, hugely prolific, and widely influential figure who has amassed a long list of collaborators over his storied career. In 1997, Patton was in the middle of a huge Japanese noise music phase, and having found himself with a few days off while touring with Faith No More in Australia, he contacted Merzbow in the hopes of linking up to perform some improvised live shows. The Ipecac website describes the resulting album as “a mixture of boredom, circumstance, and destiny,” and notes that the project was named after a 19th century Lautrèamont poem that is “full of brutality and beauty — just like the music on this record.” Both Patton and Merzbow have a distinct musical voice; Patton with his penchant for unorthodox and eclectic compositions as well as his inimitably strange and intense vocal stylings, and Merzbow with his eardrum-exploding electronic harshness and free-form, often improvisational musical expressionism. It only makes sense that they’d want to collaborate, and the result was…well, this.
The album opens with a brief intro, Butterfly Kiss, consisting mainly of cartoon sound effects, which Patton added later when he was mixing the album. We then get the first proper song, Twitch Of The Death Nerve, which sounds like pretty much what you’d expect a collaboration between these two to be: blasts of harsh noise coming from both Merzbow’s electronics and Patton’s throat. Patton presumably told Merzbow, “Hey, you know how you do that thing where you’re like ‘PSHHHH BRRRRGSHHHHHH BSHHHH BWOAAAA’ and I do that thing where I’m like ‘AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH GAHHHHHHHHYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAAAA’? Well what if we do it at the same time?” If that idea enthuses you the way it does me, this two minute track should be enough to satisfy your curiosity, at least as much as it would to just play a regular Merzbow song at the same time as any given track from Adult Themes For Voice.
The next track, Homunculus, is slightly more subdued, maintaining the high pitched blasts of noise but with less vocal presence from Patton. The, uh, synths(?) warble fluidly, hiss like rattlesnakes, and whine like alien sirens as Patton’s whoops and shouts echo in the background. This leads into a brief interlude, Boutique Of 7 Taboos, where the electronics gurgle as though the track itself has food poisoning. This devolves into more noisy, wind-tunnel ambience, as well as distorted shrieks that could very well be either Patton or the electronics. The reverbed laughter at the end of this track, as well as other soundscapes on the album, remind me a bit of pre-Meddle, post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd, with its focus on ambiance and aimless experimentation.
The next track is Snuff, which consists entirely of an ear-piercing electronic screeching that lasts about 3-and-a-half minutes. There are some variations in the textures, but that’s the main musical concept. One thing about this album that struck me is that Patton’s presence can be felt much more in his production than his vocals, with some of these tracks containing no vocal contributions at all.
Next we get Baby Powder On Peach Fuzz, which begins with a bit of looped beatboxing that teases you with the idea that one of these songs might actually have a beat, but it was not to be. The track quickly turns into more tuneless electronic noise, with some hilariously short shrieks from Patton over top, and again into rumbling ambience and electronic chittering. This song does kind of transform a lot, but I hesitate to call it “dynamic” given how much greater of a sound palate Patton managed to make on an album featuring only his own voice.
After that comes the title track, an ambient song with swelling rushes of noise and feedback, along with some high, mysterious falsettos and distant screams from Patton. Towards the end a calmer section is ushered in by a sound resembling the New York subway, and there’s even some crying baby sound effects thrown in just for extra ear-fucking potential.
Next is another relatively short track, Cherry Blossom Inferno, which sounds a lot more like something from the mind of Mike Patton than most of the album. Something about the arrangement of the noise reminds me a lot of his solo stuff, and not to sound like a boomer, but another thing it’s made me realize is that I think I much prefer noise music made with real instruments rather than electronics.
Some chirping bird sound effects open the next song, The Conquering Worm, which features yet more electronic squeals, but also some pulsing bits of noise that become less and less distorted until they reveal themselves to be Patton’s rapid hyperventilation. The second half of the track is taken up by more high-pitched whines, like an electronic tea kettle, and after a minute it stops sort of abruptly.
Another interlude follows, titled Bubble Bath And A Valium. This track consists of nothing but muffled electronic noise and heavy breathing, as well as a little bit of aimless and wordless singing before some unidentifiable sound effects bring it to a close.
After that is The White Tears Of The Maggot, and at this point there’s not much left to say. There are some sorta exciting vocals, the energy of the track does transform, and there’s even a bit of whistling, but nothing really notable beyond that.
The penultimate track is Chiffon Lingerie, which alternates between a pretty catchy electronic melody and repeated blasts of laser beam noise, coupled with Patton’s screams. This turns into radio fuzz and more warbling, piercing electronic tones. I get the feeling that a lot of this type of music is not meant for the most active listening experience, and that a lot of people consume Merzbow’s noise music in the same way people consume ambient music by the likes of Brian Eno. It’s a passive, atmospheric experience, something to set a mood.
Speaking of which, the final track is an 8-minute dark ambient piece entitled Lullaby (She Who Must Be Obeyed), and there’s not much going on in this one. It’s a lot of low rumbles, with weird electronic noise every once in a while. If Brian Eno made Music For Airports, this is Airports As Music, and unlike every other track, this one is actually kind of relaxing. It does get quite a bit noisier after about the 6th minute, but nothing quite like the intentionally grating electronic blasts of the other tracks.
Obviously, I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one. Merzbow has made hundreds of albums of brain-smoothening experimental noise, and this album is…definitely one of them. Regrettably, Patton doesn’t bring anywhere near as much to the table as I’d hoped, and given his love of avant-garde composition and unique abilities as a vocalist, I expected a lot more. In a way, I was even less impressed with this than with Weird Little Boy, because at least the adventurous spirit of that album was a little bit more unpredictable. Fans of noise music will probably find this album perfectly serviceable, but to my ears, this is not one of Patton’s more interesting ventures into avant-garde.
I give Maldoror’s She a PSHHHHGSHHHH BWOAHBWOAHBWOAH AHHHHHHHHHH GSHHHHHH 2/10
Best Songs: Twitch Of The Death Nerve, Boutique Of 7 Taboos, Lullaby (She Who Must Be Obeyed)