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Poverty Line, 'Post Soviet Aggression (HT059)'

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Poverty Line, Post Soviet Aggression (HT059) - COURTESY
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  • Poverty Line, Post Soviet Aggression (HT059)

(Histamine Tapes, cassette, digital)

I was about 15 seconds into listening to experimental artist Poverty Line's latest release when I remembered how Manuel Noriega was captured in 1990. Anybody else recall that? It was weird.

The Panamanian military leader had taken refuge from invading American forces at the Apostolic Nunciature to the United States, a diplomatic mission of the Holy See. Since you can't exactly roll your tanks into one of the Pope's safe houses, U.S. forces resorted to some unorthodox tactics to dislodge Noriega. They bombarded the nunciature with music played at a deafening volume, including Van Halen's hit "Panama" from their record 1984. And after 10 days, Noriega surrendered.

Now, I doubt Noriega was a Van Halen fan — 10 days of David Lee Roth whoa-ohs would get to me, too. But next time, someone in U.S. Special Forces should make a call to Poverty Line.

The Burlington-based ambient/power electronics project is the work of Charles Garey. On his latest album, Post Soviet Aggression (HT059), Garey crafts a work so dissonant, so brutal on the ears that federal drug agents could have used it to coerce a cocaine trafficking admission from Nancy Reagan.

"Intro" starts with a piercing shot of static, pitched perfectly to access some sort of childhood trauma. The sound of power tools, ground up into a plate of sonic chuck, blares out like an alarm, while a distorted voice tells of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In the liner notes, Garey explains that his latest work is "an examination of the First Chechan War," using Russian media war footage from 1996. He manipulates the sounds through effects pedals, weaving them throughout the drone. A twist of noise like a searching radio dial bleeds into a human scream, transmuted into a horrific warble. Second track "Chechnya '96" is no less abrasive, featuring bursts of gunfire drenched in reverb.

For those not interested in experimental music, Poverty Line is a tough listen. Even for the initiated, this is the sharp end of the genre, the sort of drone that unbalances rather than invites meditation. It brings to mind something that American avant-garde composer John Cage said in a 1957 lecture. Cage called music "a purposeless play" that is "an affirmation of life — not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we're living."

Post Soviet Aggression is a brutal record. But as the artistic representation of what people lived during a brutal event, perhaps it should be. The album also fits nicely with the rest of the Histamine Tapes catalog. The East Montpelier label specializes in reclaiming used C30 cassette tapes and releasing carefully curated experimental music on them, complete with album art made from hand-cut photo collages. For Poverty Line, the label used photos from a church architecture book, as well as the safety brochure from a Southwest Airlines flight.

The overall effect is an artistically intriguing if not pleasant-sounding piece of work. If you have a cassette player, consider picking up the physical copy, just for the art alone. But relax, non-gear collectors: You can stream the record at histaminetapes.bandcamp.com and test your noise tolerance level.