Phrases like “hard to pin down” and “defies easy categorization” get thrown around way too much, but PC Worship truly has a chameleonic presence. Northern Spy, which last week put out the band’s new album Buried Wish, describes it as a “dedication to categorical ambiguity.” Their free-flowing ways consist of improvisational live sets, an ever-rotating cast of musicians, homemade instruments (like frontman Justin Frye’s “Shitar”), and a hazy sort of eclecticism that brings tape loops, sludge rock, and free jazz together with so-called “Eastern” rhythms and avant-Americana.
— PC Worship would seem aggressively out-there on an indie rock bill, but far too rock n’ roll for a noise show.
So where do they dwell?
Apparently, in basements. In 2015’s Basement Hysteria, the band presented a noise-laden sounds ritual for devotees of the feedback-worship godhead. The record veers from mysterious to spooky, with feedback shred-outs in between— a whole lotta fuzz that recedes into the abyss when you click off the record.
But something’s different in Buried Wish. Northern Spy notes that Frye was living “in the basement of a condemned building throughout 2016 in Bushwick,” and halfway through writing and recording the album, the place was flooded. So it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the album hits somewhere between the drowned world and a real one. It’s like a blurry nostalgia trip, or an attempt to reenact material memories that were lost in some disaster. That disaster might be the flood itself, or something else altogether that the flood ironically mirrored– through reinterpretation and spirit-conjuring seances. At the same time, it feels like Frye is trying to move on and let go of all this loss (hence “buried wish”). In order to stay afloat amidst all the chaos, Frye is reaching for solid totems more than ever before, in need of something familiar and grounding.
And it’s not just a feeling that radiates from the album, it’s also lyrically packed with meditations on memory and loss. There’s even an opportunity for listeners to experience some deja vu of their own–Northern Spy says the track “Blank Touch” has been “a classic in the band’s set list for a few years.”
“Back of My $$$” is a sludgy grunge banger about a breakup, with ethereal female vocals chanting “I can’t go on.” Frye himself complains, “The things I need just don’t exist to you.” It’s just one of the tracks that ends with a few seconds of hard-to-place noise. In this case it sounds like a mic took a tumble into dark waters– the electronics sputter and burble as it descends.
There’s a whole lot of vanishing going on throughout the album. “Blank Touch” hints toward a ghostly lingering with phantasmagoric possibilities– another way of being haunted by someone’s departure. There’s “nothing inside the house of love,” Frye sings, except lots of pain of course. And yet, the void is much bigger than that, and maybe even an absence that was there before someone else’s departure. In “Perched on the Wall”– a track that feels utterly cold– he says that “I don’t know anything now, coz nothing makes sense. The way you feel after feeling burn out, this is never gonna end.” While at the same time in “Help” Frye stubbornly promises, “I won’t ask for help again.”
Maybe it’s taking it too far, but all of this hints toward the phenomenon of the vanishing man, a newfound obsolescence that comes with joblessness, underemployment, and looking at our new President and the people who put him in office, clearly something that white men are feeling right now. The phenomenon can spin out of control through things like scapegoating and hate-spewing, but in its mildest form, it might be something like immense guilt and paralyzing indecision.
Either that, or Frye is just really sad about a breakup.
It would be easy to say that Buried Wish is PC Worship’s most pop-oriented album, but a lot harder for some listeners to believe. A lot of reviews have lumped PC in with the rather vague and yet placeable genre of experimental music, but when we spoke back in 2015 Frye emphasized that PC Worship was a “rock band” that “errs on the side of convention.” Ok, so that might sound like Gavin McInnes saying he’s not part of the Alt Right, when he’s totally part of the Alt Right, because clearly PC Worship has experimental tendencies. But then again, Frye refuses to try and fit into what can feel like experimental music’s insufferable exclusivity and suffocating confines. (Sam Hillmer’s Practice series at Trans-Pecos made a real effort to rid Brooklyn’s experimental scene of that dismal reputation.)
Buried Wish demonstrates Frye’s pop affinity now more than ever. Though it’s kind of a mindfuck, especially since the album opens with “Lifeless Rain on an Empty Moon”– a doom-filled instrumental track that sounds a little bit like the bits of Wagner in Melancholia. But immediately that jazzy, sort of hoity-toityness is replaced by “Blank Touch”– the album’s first single and a snappy little anthem that is almost, almost in line with Ty Segall’s brand of neo bro-garage.
Frye doesn’t seem all that into subverting pop hooks and rock n’ roll structures for the sake of avant-gardedness, not does he exploit pop hooks for reaping riches. Instead he seems legitimately interested in how pop music works. My 13-year-old self would have immediately hit the panic button and AOL messaged all my friends, “OMG wtf f’ing poseur sellouts.” As usual, he’s not so much writing songs and he is making music — after taking a hammer to convention, he picks up the interesting, workable bits and artfully sews them together. In that way, Buried Wish is experimental that’s listenable, memorable, and above all, enjoyable. It’s just, you know, really weird pop music.