(Northern Spy, 2012)
At first glance, Kill the Self That Wants to Kill Yourself, Zs’ Sam Hillmer’s debut solo venture, is an uplifting message to the downtrodden, and a beacon of hope for those who have lost it. It’s a call to the teenage boy or girl in all of us, a reminder that even in the worst of times, we grow stronger and more resilient the deeper the pain hits. We’ve all been depressed or rejected – hey, it’s life. Hillmer knows the knotted feelings we all possess at one point or another, and he’s ready to wrap his sax around it all and squeeze out the bad vibes until every last drop of self-loathing is puddled at our feet in a steaming pond of shame. It’s tough love – to feel good you have to eradicate the bad with extreme prejudice! Right?
I don’t know – this is merely armchair philosophizing, and we all know I shouldn’t be doing any of that. What I do know is that Hillmer’s gnarly sax compositions – complimented here with ratty percussion, there with some guitar preset, as well as a few synthesizers – will certainly shift your focus from those disgraceful self-destructive thoughts. When you’re not lost in bizarre ambient/noise passages, you’re treated to almost melodic and tuneful compositions, and the brain power you have to expend making sense between the two certainly requires all your attention. It’s Advanced Music Theory as therapy, or at least Vick’s Vapo-Rub to the psychic gunk that’s built up in your frontal lobe.
So Kill the Self is kind of noise, kind of not, and it’s that dichotomy that makes it interesting. You will not be prepared by the opening title track, not by a long shot, for anything else that follows. It’s a song for wallflowers at the end of prom, when you realize the girl you wanted to go with is dancing with that fucking prick from the soccer team. A minor chord progression is the bed for Hillmer’s restrained sax work, and he injects a miniature passage that recalls the 5-note greeting from the Grays at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. So at least you get a little geek trivia out of it, and you’re thankful that Eddie Money isn’t singing, but it’s still a heartbreaking tune – however, it marks the last fleeting moment of bummed-out-edness you’re going to find on the record … until its reprise of course.
“Defile the Style” creeps by in an understated saxophone drone, but it’s “Transference Trance” that’s the fucking rebirth, and what an upbeat masterpiece. Looping a guitar line straight from your local Renaissance Faire’s lutist’s songbook, Diamond Terrifier has a field day atop it with his sax, joyfully bleating and skronking to a happier tomorrow. And as the least “trancey” track on the album, DT is clearly attuned to the sense of humor inherent in this style of music, his sense of playfulness at parts a necessary distraction from the weightier pieces.
And there are definitely heavier moments on Kill the Self – in fact, the middle third of the album (I guess it’s the middle “third” – there are eight tracks, and what am I, a math whiz?) is a study in righteous drone, an inverted R&B template for cave dwellers. The atonal sax squiggles of “Three Things” give way periodically to sustained euphonious chords, providing a payoff that you’d never expect. “Becoming a New Object” mimics the painful throes of personal transformation, and “Confusion Wisdom” (not “Confucian Wisdom,” quick reader) gets inside your head and cleans out any emotional conflicts left over from the full brain scrape Hillmer’s so readily providing.
To complete the transformation, to fully “kill the self that wants to kill yourself,” you get wrapped in “Adamantine,” you know, like Wolverine, dude! That’s not it? OK. The plodding rhythm mimics metalwork, and the sax intrusions are more distinct than the noisier passages. The rhythm remains a bit off, a bit “jazz” if you will, and it makes for a busily compelling listen.
And then you’re thrust back out into the world, and “Kill the Self That Wants to Kill Yourself (Reprise)” is your immediate introduction. Like some sort of Twin Peaks time shift, you’re back at the prom and that song is still playing, but it’s different, and you’re different. It’s a reminder that it’s important to view the norm of your shit life through a different prism, because once you do, you’re ready to wreak havoc upon it, instead of its effects demoralizing you further. That prism, of course, is the diamond in Diamond Terrifier, and you’re ready to punch that jock in the face. Or at least creatively warp and manipulate sound into an artistic expression of punching that jock in the face. Yeah, do that instead.
RIYL: Colin Stetson, Chris Corsano, Drainolith