‘blunted fragments of a monumental whole’ – Ian Maleney on Prurient‘s Frozen Niagara Falls
In Camera Lucida, the French semiotician Roland Barthes describes the concept of the punctum. The punctum is an element in a photograph which holds our attention. Not necessarily the subject of the photograph, but a detail which sticks like a bone in the throat. Something uncanny in the background, out of focus maybe, the unintended which undermines or colours the rest of the photo. The punctum arrests our attention because it outside of the natural order of things – it is a “sting, speck, cut, little hole – and also a cast of the dice […] that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).”
Writing a review of a Vatican Shadow gig almost two years ago, Aran Kleebaur suggested the importance of the punctum to the performance of noise music in general. The bruising sense of unease, of disquiet, of a lack of sure-footing, amid a storm of noise, light and provocation can result in a strange feeling of ecstasy, or at least a heightened form of attention and openness to sensation. It comes as no surprise that such a state is easier achieved in a live environment – it’s louder, it’s more physical, it’s less controlled than your average headphone or home stereo listening experience.
Maintaining that sense of being overwhelmed is far more difficult on record. For 90-odd minutes, Frozen Niagara Falls tries in various ways to overpower the senses, but it never quite reaches that point of terrifying, utterly freeing confusion which marks the finest records of its kind. Perhaps its my millennial attention span at work, but making it through the whole record at once feels less like an immersion, and more like a chore, an obligation. I flit in and out of it, catching moments of particular beauty or aggression but failing to follow the paths downward into Fernow’s layers of raw emotion. It comes across in pieces, blunted fragments of a monumental whole.
There is too much happening, and yet not enough – the album could be cut in half with little of its effect being lost. Letting it all come pouring out is rarely the most effective way to communicate, and in trying to honour the process of – the waste, the overflow inherent in – making a record, the record itself is compromised. Perhaps its the very end which leaves the sourest taste in my mouth. While most of the album is essentially made by brushing classic cold-wave synth washes up against broken percussion and Fernow’s blackened howl (which, when it works – on ‘Dragonflies To Sew You Up’, say – can be really interesting,) ‘Christ Among The Broken Glass’ deals in plaintive, suggestive acoustic guitar. It sounds like Radiohead’s ‘Street Spirit’. It is overlong, under-developed and emotionally one-dimensional. It is an emblem of the album’s worst tendencies – there is no sting, no prick, and nothing poignant. There is no way in.