North Valley Subconscious Orchestra: The Right Kind of Nothing

The Right Kind of Nothing, Ghostly's first digitally exclusive full-length, arrives courtesy of the unwieldy-named North Valley Subconscious Orchestra, a new collaborative venture from guitarists Brad Laner (Electric Company) and Christopher Willits (Flössin). One might have expected the duo to opt for something like extended drone duels; instead, the album's 14 songs weigh in at a sleek 42 minutes with nine pieces three minutes or less. But though they may be of pop duration, they're hardly pop songs. In fact, with only a few exceptions, the album's a howling noisefest and certainly the first of its kind Ghostly's issued to date.

In hindsight, it appears that the album's more accessible pieces were foreshadowed by “Colors Shifting,” Willits's contribution to Idol Tryouts Two, a lush shoegaze ballad of guitar flutter and hushed vocals that sounds kin to the new album's steely drone “Neutral Buoyancy.” At the album's poppiest, Gabriel Coan's rock drum shuffle underscores six-string psychedelia, summery vocal harmonies, and fuzzy guitar work in “Infantile Jargoning” while a plodding drum pulse also powers “Shimokitazawa Face” where a vocal vainly struggles to be heard over the dense haze.

Aside from “Himnos Suburbanos,” a brief interlude of delicate crystalline sounds, Laner and Willits devote the rest of the album to razor-edged axe-smithing that's clearly not designed for the faint of heart. “Ceiling Transition” distills roaring squalls of teeth-gnashing feedback into three minutes, and “Telefon Ear” presents four scalding minutes of blistered, wailing screams over a softly meandering bass pulse. In form, some pieces resemble ambient drones (“Moving Through Wood,” “Cardamom & Dad,” “Hotel Margarine”) but their crushing, even annihilating, volume renders them anything but aural wallpaper. Ultimately, Laner and Willits are to be commended for issuing such challenging and uncompromising music, even if The Right Kind of Nothing is a considerably less easy listen than either Electric Company's Creative Playthings or Willits's Pollen.

September 2006