AIDS Wolf is not an easy band to listen to. The Montreal noise-rock quartet’s latest album, the brilliantly damaged Cities of Glass, plays like a brutal car crash. Grating guitar feedback, scraped steel strings, violently erratic drums, and singer Chloe Lum’s death wail collide head-on throughout the album. AIDS Wolf’s twisted heavy-metal-machine music is just as eerily captivating as a grisly traffic accident. Caught on her cellphone during its latest tour, Lum has, fittingly enough, just as much to say about car crashes as she does about the impact of AIDS Wolf’s crushing tunes.
“We got in a collision two days ago,” Lum says from a friend’s home in Washington, D.C. “We’re fine, but I don’t know what we’re going to do with our van. It’s kind of fucked. We’re travelling with the broken door; we just duct-taped it shut.”
The act’s new tunes also sound like they’re on the verge of falling apart. AIDS Wolf’s 2006 debut, The Lovvers LP, was a loud and abrasive affair, but its tracks were built around quirky guitar melodies and actual song structures. Cities of Glass, however, finds the group—Lum, drummer Yannick Desranleau, and guitarists Myles Broscoe and Alex Moskos—favouring a reckless blend of frightening hardcore fury and free jazz. Viciously down-tuned guitar kicks off “M.T.I.”, for example, before Desranleau’s intentionally clumsy drum fills turn things into an indecipherable ball of confusion.
“There was a definite plan to make our music more deconstructive,” the singer admits. “We’re always trying to play with form. If we were still making more straightforward punk songs like on Lovvers, it wouldn’t be very progressive.”
Though AIDS Wolf has never been in the running to be the next Simple Plan, the ear-splitting racket on Cities of Glass makes its past work seem positively mainstream. Riddled with awkward juxtapositions, like the mix of dizzying polka beats and molasses-slow guitar mashing on “Down, Holy Ground”, Cities of Glass will have even the most open-minded music fans scratching their heads.
Inspired by the Dadaist psych rock of Captain Beefheart and French avant-garde artist Albert Marcoeur, the combo found itself exploring the wild world of musical improv.
“We try to do a lot of stuff where all four of us are doing things independently from the rest of the band,” Lum says of the act’s free-form jams. “The only thing that is getting to be a bit problematic for us is that it’s becoming impossible to write down what we’re doing.”
The band spent months in its practice space trying to relearn songs they wrote on the fly during the recording sessions for Cities of Glass. Moskos, who just joined AIDS Wolf this fall, had the hardest job of all. Prior to hooking up with the ensemble, the guitarist sat down with a stack of instructional DVDs made by previous axe-grinder André Guerette, to learn his often-nonsensical parts. He learned that it’s amazing how much effort the band puts into sounding completely unrehearsed.
Mostly, AIDS Wolf seems determined to throw curve balls. While the muddied intro of “Relevant Issues” brings to mind the trashy swamp punk of the Cramps, it takes all of eight seconds for the Quebecers to destroy the toe-tapping vibe. Easily the disc’s most unnerving track, the tune quickly spirals into a mess of white noise and psychotic shrieks.
“We’re trying to screw with the boundaries of what a punk song could be,” Lum says of the cut.
Recorded last year in Oakland, California, just after AIDS Wolf wrapped up a five-week tour, the Cities of Glass sessions had the front woman pushing her pipes to the extreme. Trading in the bratty tone of her past work, Lum switched to a succession of screams and otherworldly grunts to deliver her lyrics as unintelligibly as she could.
“I like to slur my words as much as possible. I feel like singing is just so dorky,” she says with a sneer. “Jesus Christ, if you isolate most rock lyrics from the music it’s embarrassing. It’s often the most hackneyed, sentimental, hokey-ass poetry ever.”
Lum admits that both her mush-mouthed delivery and the group’s aggravating punk-improv are too much for most people to handle. However, after years of dealing with lobbed beer bottles and smart-ass hecklers, AIDS Wolf has learned to wear its boos as a badge of honour.
“Chances are when we’re out in the world we’ll get a lot of negativity,” Lum notes. “When people are bummed out by it, you have to be playful with it and not let it make you waver.”
AIDS Wolf plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Sunday (November 24).