"The System Likes You and Wants to Be Your Friend" is a great album title. I laughed the first time I heard it. It has a Jhonen Vasquez quality to it. I think of Invader Zim when I hear it, and can just imagine Gir rubbing up against someone's leg like a dog, repeating that phrase over and over again. It's probably a weird image that doesn't really coincide with 1/3 Octave Band's music at all, but every time I see the title, that's what pops into my head.
Musically, however, I am reminded of sheet metal. Huge rolls of it. Slowly, they are rolled out and laid flat so they can be manipulated and twisted into a magnificent piece of art. Over these 55 minutes, three long drones unfold at the speed of sap. To say they are dense in texture would be an understatement. These pieces are black holes of sound. Everything around them gets sucked in and assimilated; every new sound is part of a massive, singular point in time.
When an album only has three tracks, the artist must carefully dictate the peaks and valleys of each piece. It's easy to get lost in such a quagmire of sound. Bill Wood (who is the main, and perhaps only, person involved) has talent dripping from his ears, and not only does he point these pieces in the right direction and keep them on course, he does it in such a way that you barely even notice he's doing anything at all. Each bubble, each scrape, each echo rises from the ground at the perfect time. As Wood pulls the puppet strings, we are privy to a beautiful dance of sound. These long, drawn-out pieces seem to follow the natural order of things. They are Darwinism in music: only the strongest sounds will survive.
"Coherer" feels like the aforementioned roll of sheet metal has been honed into a clumsy geodesic dome that emanates piercing rays of light. On the surface, it looks like a tangled mess of bent silver scraps. But each of those pieces is interwoven in such a way that they work together to create something much greater than themselves. The inside is hollow, and that's where all the power comes from. As "Coherer" plods along, each distorted web of feedback continually builds on itself until it feels like it can't take anymore pressure. It's intense. There's a very contemplative aspect to this album, and especially the opening track. Instead of focusing on the surface of that dome, where all the activity appears to happen, "Coherer" digs deep inside its rank metal bowels. Millions of tiny metal strips hang together in harmony, attached sometimes by nothing more than a single, rusted screw. So many sounds make up the 19 minutes of this track that it's sometimes overwhelming. It's like in horror movies when it?s eerily quiet and each strange, abrupt sound is met with a "What was that?!" This strange journey that starts as the track begins is a search for the outside world; it's full of that feeling that the ocean is just over one more sand dune. In the last minute, you finally find that hatch to freedom. When you open it, the cold air from outside sweeps across your face and into your lungs. I love how this piece comes full circle. This is impressive, to say the least.
Maybe even more impressive, though, is how "Coherer" seamlessly fits into the second track, "Speak Down the Wires." I feel like this entire album is telling a unique story, and the main character in that story is the listener. This is another one of the introspective parts of the record. By pressing play, the listener agrees to take this trip through worlds unknown, and during such an expedition, it is expected that he/she will learn much about him/herself. Numerous artists try this, and many succeed, but only a few do with results as stunning as "The System Likes You and Wants to Be Your Friend." "Speak Down the Wires" is the moment after you've finished that great project that has been tugging away at your every waking hour for years. After the sense of achievement wears off, you are strained. What now? What's next? There are few times in a person's life that are marked by such drastically different emotions. One minute, you're invincible. The next, you're naked and alone. Wood uses sparse metallic percussion and instrumentation to create the desolation that's currently taking place in your brain. It's excellent.
These two tracks are only a setup, however. Heading into the final track, "The System Likes You," it's impossible to know what to expect. This piece is a vice slowing squeezing your brain, until it finally releases some suppressed memory. After this, though, the brain fights back. Droning guitars and electronics pour a cement wall around the mushy interior. We're in foreign territory now as the probes keep launching new attacks, to no avail. This is every psychiatrist's worst nightmare. 1/3 Octave Band see no use in letting up at this point so they just keep pushing their wall of sound further and further out until, finally, the blitzkrieg comes to an end. Everyone knows there is a calm before the storm, but most people fail to mention the serenity that follows one as well. The final six minutes of this piece are looser and less intense. Now that the worst is over, it's time to let the light in. In the face of adversity, we found out what we're made of. But it's in the quiet moments, like those sprinkled amongst the wreckage of "The System Likes You and Wants to Be Your Friend," that we find out who we are. 8/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)