Dominick Fernow doesn't expect, or even really want, people to enjoy his music. That sounds like aloof posturing, but it's a heartfelt sentiment that he's expressed repeatedly. Talking to AOL's Noisecreep blog a few months back, he articulated the overarching aims of his experimental noise project Prurient. "The purpose of Prurient is not entertainment. It may be ‘entertaining', but its goal is not comfort or enjoyment. Its only purpose is to make you feel something, to make you aware of your body. That is why I often choose sounds which I dislike and make me feel uncomfortable. With discomfort comes awareness..." There's been plenty of awareness doled out by Prurient to date; the awareness that human eardrums aren't cut out for the sadistically sustained squeal of 2005's "Roman Shower"; awareness that the sensation sketched out in "Cocaine Death" is fairly unpleasant; awareness that at the right volume you can feel the churn of industrial music directly through your face. Studied shunning of easy kicks has actually earned Fernow a rabid following among dark-minded music fans and aural masochists. So much so that his recent participation in friend Wes Eisold's dour and poppy Cold Cave records has been met with accusatory rancor. So how would it go over if that bleak pop sensibility started bleeding back into his uncompromising solo work? Bermuda Drain, Prurient's latest curious release, gives that theoretical a real-world test.
No piece of equipment, be it keyboard, pedal, or microphone, has been carried over from previous Prurient recordings to Bermuda Drain. A blood-percolating scream starts the album like a wounded signature, but from there it does feel new. Stark and catchy Blade Runner synth-scapes dominate—gloomy but inviting in a way that his brutal music hasn't been. He's buried pulsing neon in standouts like "Apple Tree Victim" before, but here they're upfront. He finishes these tracks with super-serious and often disturbing (yet darkly poetic) spoken word that often rises to a demented shout. Again and again, Fernow hits the kinetic pleasure center of minimal dance music but then he aggravates it, curdling it with his presence, denying easy enjoyment. Album centerpiece "Palm Tree Corpse" features a serene melody, only occasionally flaring towards the red. It's far prettier than "noise" has any right to be. But here comes Mr. Intensity, grim in stating, "If I could, I would take a tree branch and ram it inside you." Whoa. "But it's already been done," he continues, turning the full phrase into a mantra repeated as a possessed shriek. Beyond the queasiness of the image, it works as a meta-commentary on the futility of escalating abrasive musical shock. Fernow wants to affect his listeners physically, to fucking rip them apart, and yet, there's only so far you can go before the provocation feels empty. So, he wins you over with his lightly downcast instrumental and amps up the psychological distress as you're partly subdued. It's an intriguing strategy, reason to admire Bermuda Drain, if not actually enjoy it. Let's not get crazy.