Music Pounding In My Head: Taiwan Housing Project

Taiwan Housing Project
Veblen Death Mask
Kill Rock Stars
Released: 5.7.17

I’ll admit that I was bombarded by an internalized slew of questions, all of which I had no answer for, that seemed to transpire all at once while I was listening to Taiwan Housing Project’s Veblen Death Mask. My brain, which was responding interestingly to much of what I was hearing, started off with, “What happened to the Butthole Surfers?” And it wasn’t asked as “Where did they go? Are they still alive?” It was more of a “ponder the void they’ve left and pity the generation now celebrating the 10 years since so-and-so bestowed upon us that forgettable soft rock/crying folk record that did little more than encourage beard growth: why are we content to have celebrated indie rock’s demise?”

We live in a strange time. And this isn’t an opportunity to inject political commentary and/or punditry into a record review, but instead offer a light assessment of what our current landscape looks like: our very public story of us is replete with celebrity worship, blind trust in non-experts who dispense their opinions from the armchair of every home located in Everywhere, USA, immediate distrust of every expert who speaks from any official building or laboratory in Everywhere, USA, and the abandonment of human decency because being an anonymous prick online is way too much fun. “Look at the lights! Looks at the cameras! Everything is an extravaganza!” vocalist Kilynn Lunsford exclaims as the faded folk and wiry free jazz of “d’Arc Eruptions” mutates with Velvet Underground ambition, her comment noted as confirmation of all this absurdity.

So, in the face of all that’s fit to mock, parody, and examine, what happened to the Butthole Surfers? Why don’t we seem to have that ridiculous subset of the independent rock avant-garde, especially in a time when rock music is considered dead to the mainstream and the youth of today seem okay with that?

I listened to Veblen Death Mask and I felt these feelings. And while I know that somewhere, perhaps everywhere, there are voices needing to be heard that revel in the alienation of it all, voices I’ve not yet heard or been made aware of, (an exception off the top of my head being Big Black Cloud and even the art rock mutations of Parlor Walls), right now I’m focused on what Taiwan Housing Project has to offer. Because it’s a sound I’ve missed. It’s a sound that’s violent and special. It’s a sound as genuinely fucked as a lot of us probably feel. In the song “Subterranean Pedigree,” the line “A right to life, but no life quality” stands out as relevant observation strangled by the anxiety-riddled and seasick grip of the music beneath, howling brass accents emphasizing the wavering highs and lows. Just the weight of the track says a lot on its own, its lyrics almost unnecessary or excessive.

Taiwan Housing Project is based in Philadelphia and comprised of former members of Little Claw, Harry Pussy, Tyvek, Rounding Squares—a collection of creatively kindred souls married together for this project, a shared love of noise, No Wave, and Pigfuck informing Veblen Death Mask’s lack of aural consideration. The music is frantic, abrasive, and strange. But rock and good sense are both dead, so there’s no real excuse to keep the art form relegated to nostalgia. Nor is there any excuse to settle for less than what this album has to offer.

The shouted and sinister air of “Salt Sugar Fire” provides a loose introduction to the album, but “Authentic Art Perfume” puts everything in motion, a perpetual shriek of dissonance running beneath what sounds like a bastardized take on “Switchblade,” sax honks peppering this excellent mess of rock energy and feedback. The aforementioned “d’Arc Eruptions” is followed by the more reserved “Multidemsional Spectrum,” an anthemic, singalong hook almost akin to X-Ray Spex leading into the dragging, psychedelic stride of “What It’s All About (Inadvertent Ode to the Mind of Hellion).” The immediate pit-inciting “Ideal Body Alignment” sets up the Captain Beefheart-meets-Lydia Lunch weirdness of “Eat to be Eat.,” Lunsford’s vocal slurred and desperate.

With the spoken-word “Luminous Oblong Blur,” free form brass and strings generate a discordant array of phrases that gather as Lunsford’s words fight for prominence. The droning “Subterranean Pedigree” is followed by the title track, a welcome and aggressive ending to the album with both speed and volume conspiring to tell so-called indie rock that it can go fuck itself.  At least, that's what I heard.  

Letters From A Tapehead


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