Exciting sounds squandered by predictable structures
It can seem unfair to malign a band for doing what is expected of them. As critics, we can often place an unreasonable expectation of constant innovation on artists that they can never truly achieve. Even still, when a band features members of Swans, UXO, Cop Shoot Cop and Xiu Xiu, it’s hard to temper expectations. But when the final result ends up being as pedestrian as Human Impact, it’s difficult not to be disappointed.
Let’s start with the positives. The entire album is full of truly exciting sounds. Both the guitars and bass frequently explode into sonic chaos that keeps this record from drifting into something completely banal. “November,” the record’s opening track is particularly notable in the guitar department for its unhinged finish. Guitars flare and ripple through the closing moments of the track, which pull you away from the fairly standard hard rock vocals and into a world of forward-thinking rock experimentation.
“Protester,” while not as experimental as “November,” kicks off with a filthy bass groove, and features some of the more engaging vocals on the record. The guitar tones on that particular track are also among the more exciting ones we receive on the record and force the track into a standout category that almost nothing else on the album comes close to reaching. “Unstable” also has its moments that push it above the waves of this record. Instead of being barked, the vocals are closer to a whine or a plea, which blends in nicely with the screaming, static guitars that form the backbone of this excellent track.
Unfortunately, now that we’ve covered the good we must turn to the bad, or rather the dull. When you see a band with members like Chris Spencer and Chris Pravdica, the expectation is that you’re going to be pushed to a space that is as adventurous as it is uncomfortable. What you receive with Human Impact is neither. There isn’t a single space this album explores that hasn’t already been explored. When looking at it as something like a no-wave record, it treads on no ground that Swans hasn’t already touched, and when viewed as a noise rock record it doesn’t even come close to the visceral intensity of something like Big Black.
Of course, there are interesting and fun sounds on this album, but there is rarely a structure that feels like it earns such great sounds. By all accounts, this is a slightly better than average hard rock album that plays with enough experimental sounds to stay interesting but never pushes itself anywhere uncomfortable or even all that fun.