Hierarchy by Fear of Noise opens up to the sounds of a bird’s chirping being engulfed by an onslaught of droning guitar feedback and reverse tape effects. This is Fear of Noise’s modus operandi. One second they will lull you with relaxing, almost free-form jazz instrumentals, and the next they are abruptly barraging you with distorted punk noise. They are obviously competent musicians, but also have the spirit of nihilistic punk rockers in gleeful need of destruction. Their style is much like a small child watching an ant with a magnifying glass, capable of appreciating such beauty, but much preferring to burn it to the ground. Depending on your sense of humour and taste, you may also enjoy such collateral damage.
Right off the bat, I love how fun these guys are! Don’t get me wrong; this is serious music, but the choices they make are so left-field that it kind of feels like they are intentionally trying to alienate every casual music listener. You may call that a criticism, but I think that’s fucking cool. I mean, when you dub yourself Jazz-Punk, have no vocals in any of your songs, and make tracks with such startling contrasts in mood, you know you’re not packing any stadiums in the near future.
There’s also something so inherently creepy, crawly, and off-putting about some of their noisier tracks. The overly treble-heavy guitar and tumbling rhythm section, courtesy of Les, Jake, and Mars (their actual stage names) on “Flight of the Red Shoe” sound like a hoard of venomous arachnids crawling up the foot of someone with an intense fear of spiders. I can only suspect that is why anyone’s shoe would be flying in the first place. Hilariously though, when the boys are on their best behaviour, they can sound downright peaceful. On the instant classic “Smooth Talk Rough Planet,” there is an extended coda that is played like Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” being performed as a demented lullaby.
I personally find the whole thing pretty charming, but fuck, man, it is not easily accessible. What do you expect from a band who cites Captain Beefheart as an influence? I think I had to listen to it ten times in order to properly describe it. Even then I wouldn’t know what section of the record store you’d find this in! It’s both the highest praise and criticism I can give. Yes, it is utterly unique, and I respect the band’s desire to provoke, explore, and provide humor; but on the other hand, I wouldn’t call their songs easily enjoyable. If I started playing this at work, I think my co-workers would demand I take a sick leave. It almost seems to directly cater to weirdo music nerds (like me) with a taste for prog-jazz, David Lynch films, and The Stranglers, and thus should probably be played alone and far from human civilization.
In all, it’s not a perfect album. I could have used some actual, good old-fashioned hooks to some of these jams, though that shouldn’t belittle the truly hypnotic stuff that has been offered. “Lunacy on Horizon,” “Flight of the Red Shoe” and “Smooth Talk Rough Planet” are all worthy of your consideration, but perhaps like an actual spider, this music is doomed to be misunderstood. As long as it has the capacity to kill all those pesky flies (*insert bland pop-artist’s name here), then Fear of Noise must be doing something right.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Kate Erickson