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Drunk on noise

The relentless provocation of Taiwan Housing Project

Taiwan Housing Project never gives you a moment to catch your breath. Photo credit: Facebook

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Consuming music on a semi-professional basis - as I have done for the past eight years writing for this fine rag - has a way of distorting one's taste and inclinations. I grew up in a cocoon of air-tight pop songs from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. These three-minute modern marvels of melodic construction still provide the canvas on which all new music I encounter is painted. No matter how my horizons are expanded, I still find myself returning to whip-smart hooks and ruthlessly economical composition.

Still, in writing about hundreds of bands, it can become exhausting trying to articulate for the umpteenth time why a band is simply good. A pop culture writer tends to become attracted to the bizarre, to the difficult, to the confrontationally abstract, if only to have something to talk about. I've written about bands that have actively caused me discomfort, bands that hate publicity, bands that have seemingly given positively zero thought to anyone ever listening to them. I don't write about bands that I dislike, but I've written plenty about bands that I would never elect to listen to on my own time.

This is all to say that I've listened to Veblen Death Mask, a groggy stew of noise-rock, art-punk, experimentally jazzy asides, and far-flung political frustration, recently released on Kill Rock Stars. The band behind the LP, Taiwan Housing Project (even that name is a little poke in the chest that dares you to listen), is a supergroup of sorts, starting as a collaboration between Mark Freehan of Harry Pussy and Kilynn Lunsford of Little Claw. The band has now ballooned with members, including Kevin Boyer, Kevin Nickles, Donald Bruno, Gwen Rooker, and Cameron Healy. Everyone involved has done time in noise-drunk punk projects, and their wild bombardment of instrumentation frequently feels like jockeying for position.

While it's undeniable that my ears have felt more punishment from other bands, what's clear is that Taiwan Housing Project have no interest in hand-holding. From track one, "Salt Sugar Fire," the listener is met with squealing saxophone, walls of distortion, and frantic vocals from Lunsford. "Authentic Alien Perfume" may serve as their most direct statement of purpose, creating a genuinely compelling groove that is saturated in chaos, like if the B-52s had been dipped in a vat of corrosive chemicals. Scrape away the nerve-jangling layers in practically any Taiwan Housing Project song, and you're likely to find a perfectly satisfying punk number buried beneath the surface.

Noted art-rock iconoclast Ian Svenonius (of sonically diverse bands such as Chain and the Gang, the Nation of Ulysses, the Make-Up, and others) serves as Taiwan Housing Project's unofficial biographer and hype man in their promotional materials, playing up the band's uprising in the face of indie rock's artificially self-imposed mediocrity and conformity. Svenonius speaks to the popular culture's efforts to "tame any deviant impulse," and to how Taiwan Housing Project will spark a new age of "resisting the rules of the gulag."

Tongue-in-cheek rallying cries aside, Taiwan Housing Project do seem pathologically averse to blending in. Veblen Death Mask is a 10-song ode to provocation, with rarely a moment's peace or chance to catch one's breath. "What It's All About (inadvertent ode to the mind of Hellion)" captures this defiance well, with its lumbering rhythm and guitars that sound as if they're bing tortured serving as the bed on which to lay Lunsford's increasingly addled chants. This is not music meant to be passively absorbed. In fact, I'd put good money on Taiwan Housing Project utterly destroying in a live setting, where the audience has nowhere to hide.

Taiwan Housing Project, w/ Steal S--- Do Drugs, 8:30 p.m., Friday, July 28, suggested donation, The Valley, 1206 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, 253.248.4265,

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