New Zealand Clayton Noone's solo CJA project has produced some of the finest dingy, lo-fi folk to ever inhabit my ears. Noone?s earlier Last Visible Dog/Digitalis ?Ironclad? is another example, thankfully in wide circulation, of the CJA?s exhilarating, brittle folk sound. What?s most exciting about CJA solo work is the unsettling pairing of two contrasting musical styles, New Zealand drone-noise-rock with a softer singer-songwriter type folk. Released on the French noise, drone and rock label TanzProcesz, CJA?s unique lo-fi-noise-folk results in an album sounding like compositions from the exhumed and reanimated zombie-remains of Nick Drake or Elliot Smith. After feasting on the brains of their foolish and short-sighted scientific saviors, I imagine ?"Impact Wound"? is the album they would have recorded, had they still been interested in making music. If that?s too much of a stretch, imagine the music Drake or Smith might have composed if they?d been the sensitive serial killer type, receiving commands and clever song arrangements from the neighbor?s dog.
Title track and album opener ""Impact Wound"" gets the album off to a noisy start. This amphetamine fueled 11 second guitar blast, launched straight from the gut, sets an unsettling tone from the outset. "44" another miniscule 27 second song snippet follows, quickly revealing the album's unnerving shade of honest sensitivity. Together, these two tracks present a brief two song, 40 second glimpse at the album's offerings. From these rushed beginnings crawls the album's strongest track, the tragically brief "Buryheart." Again, a blast of noise opens the track, as though the recorder had begun spinning before the microphone could be retrieved from the pile of incoherent scribblings and nervous compositions covering the performer's desk. Finally, a clear, gorgeous electric guitar begins a lonely duet with the singer?s hauntingly gentle vocals, nips of feedback and performance missteps communicating the album's intimate, nervous urgency. "Last Touch" carries "Buryheart's" softer elements into a slightly longer track, drawn out into a focused electric melody. More methodical than the visceral preceding track, ?Last Touch? sounds like a calculated revision of his raw, unrehearsed first draft, "Buryheart." Vocals get never get quite close enough to completely decipher, staying just out of reach as barely recognizable croons. During these extended performances, we can even hear the musician?s hand sweeping across the metallic guitar strings, barely outpacing the instrument?s amplified notes. It?s this proximity to the musician, in part, that lends the album its intimacy, urgency and intensity.
Really stunning music tends to fill my mind with all sorts of visuals, helping me absorb and internalize the qualities of an album. Usually, the visuals are fairly abstract. I'll cleverly evoke visuals like fog, forests, conifers and static to articulate the character of a sound. Listening to ?"Impact Wound",? I find myself visualizing the songwriter, his surroundings, and tortured state of mind instead. Through a thin fog (see) of tape hiss, I can piece together a slouching performer, bent over his guitar, performing songs in a dimly lit basement studio. He?s wearing threadbare clothing, left tattered around the knees from crawling through the thick layer of cords covering his floor like undergrowth, connecting the rudimentary instruments, a yellowing reel to reel recorder and cheap Playskool microphone. At the risk of sounding even more pretentious, the atmospheric sound sounds straight from the mind of one of Dostoyevsky's troubled characters, like Raskolnikov's song journals from the depths of his self-inflicted torment, or the methodic, whispered self-loathing-anger of the Underground Man. I've listened to plenty of folk, home-recorded lo-fi folk and noisy rock, and only the most intense and genuine of records communicate this depth of personality. Pumice's recordings would be the closest comparison, and certainly a flattering one. Keeping in mind that CJA?s work is significantly rougher around the edges, it wouldn?t be a stretch to compare ?"Impact Wound"? to the legendary work of fellow lo-fi folksters Jeff Magnum and John Darnielle.
"Misty (remix)" brings a welcome change of pace to the front of the album, clocking in at over 10 minutes. A thick haze of tape hiss layers beautifully over a simple plucking guitar melody, water dripping from some leaky pipe onto the cement floor nearby. This epic track develops slowly, peaking in its closing moments to an intense electric pitch. The final salvo of tracks, "Demented," "rrrt" and "For James" most resemble the folksier side of the album. "Wharf" the sparsest of tracks, a bare, lo-fi acoustic drone tide, brings a fitting end to the completely solo portion of the album. Two collaborative tracks with Murder Bike follow, feeling strangely out of place beside the rest of the album. The two tracks, filled with walls of chilled, soft synth loops and distant soaring electric riffs, are pleasing on their own, but do seem tacked onto the album as an afterthought. The strangeness of the synthetics and lofty guitar riffs, compared to the album's earlier chilly drones and folk-journals, leaves the album feeling divided. Placing these final two tracks on a separate 3" release might have been wiser, allowing each separate, cohesive portion to shine on its own.
Despite the album's bizarre closing tangent, this TanzProcesz release is some of the finest music I've heard this from New Zealand, Noone, or anywhere else in the cdr and cassette culture for that matter. TanzProcesz put together some unique packaging for this release as well. A white slab of poster board, threaded through with red yard, pins in the label's characteristic black cdr. Splattered bloody paint and various clippings decorate the oddly shaped package. I really can?t heap enough praise on "Impact Wound". Any readers not already a fan of Pumice, Futurians, or other NZ noise-rock should just keep in mind that this music is certainly rough and raw and not immediately recognizable as folksy. Darnielle, Magnum, Drake and Smith are still fair comparisons, but only within the context of CJA?s other, noisier personas: Wolfskull, The Futurians and Armpit. With this caveat in mind, it should be easy to appreciate the brilliance hidden within "Impact Wound". 9/10 -- Sean Herman (19 June, 2007)