Reviews: Country Gun, Lapse (Small Mercies, May)

One of those names unknown to most but ubiquitous among few, Small Mercies is a relatively new CD-R label operated by Justin Lakes (Shredded Nerve et. al) that sporadically surveys the best the US noise scene has to offer. Its stylistic focus is specific yet still eclectic, drawing from artists at both ends of the extremity spectrum—e.g., the first of several appearances by Roman Leyva’s Plague Mother was followed up by a comparatively tranquil full-length by black-metal-turned-industrial act Mistletoe. While the still-fledgling imprint has already doled out a sizeable share of quality noise, this newest batch might be my favorite so far.

Country Gun – Drunk & On Drugs

“Images drift on the drugstore window. The wind has blown the smell of cattle into town. Our eyes have been driven in like the eyes of the old men. And there’s no one to have mercy on us.”

—William Gass, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country

The abstract idea of “the country” means something different to everyone, but there’s not too much ambiguity with regard to what approach this new duo of Matt Boettke and Kyle Flanagan takes (hint: less Little House on the Prairie, more Calvaire). Drunk & On Drugs is a moody, smogged-over debut, the dual sludge of electronics and tape is psychedelic in a lethargic, delirious kind of way, like the final throes of exposure. “Angel Poke” is an odd but fitting choice for a centerpiece track; displaced drones and pinched synth pulses simmer in mud-pit stasis, languidly expanding and contracting rather than steadily building toward a climax. But then, unexpectedly, “Boys Gone Wild” is just that, a cathartic howl of junk metal screech that leaves the fields blackened and barren. And it gets better every time. Plus, I mean, just look at that cover.

Lapse – Powerline

The 27th entry in the Small Mercies catalog is also the fourth appearance of Lakes’ own Lapse project, and the first in nearly two years, since 2020’s Weaponization. The alias often delivers some of the label’s most abrasive material, and Powerline is no different, comprising four assaults of crunchy, dense harsh that’s both brutish and textural. Opener “Solvent” is loud in itself (surprising, I know), ripping torrents of crushing analog gunk across a low-end floor that’s so blown out it’s almost rhythmic, but “Glue Trap” is louder. Like, whatever machine this shit was recorded on is scrap now louder. It’s glorious. The entirety of the 18-minute scorcher is actually quite varied, with plenty of new layers and frequencies and volume levels (sort of) to keep things interesting, but it never loses the savagery of its initial blast. There’s no respite or cooldown or any of that nonsense to be had in the last two tracks, and “Veronica” especially is just incredible. I’ve listened to this every day since I got it and don’t plan on stopping… and if preferring routine to change makes me a rat, then I’m a fuckin’ rat.

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