a common confusion


Fossils - track from 'Common Confusion' by bugincision  


Growing up in the South Western United States, I spent a large portion of my youth just walking around hills and deserts in search of fossils. But the joy wasn't found in a shiny facsimile of an ancient piece of flora and/or fauna reassembled on a wire (until I was twelve, I was convinced that museum dinosaurs were plastic). I loved the thrill of grimy hands, the excitement of "I finally found something!" among the 50,000 dirt-clods, bottle caps, feces and otherwise crud examined during the previous eight hours. The sight of dust and earth clinging to this raw specimen, as I squinted and pondered from whence this chunk of bliss came, was the reward I cared about.

I am reminded of this as I listen to A Common Confusion. The aptly named, prolific (even with a miniscule font size, their discography spans six pages in a Word document) Ontario based Fossils (David Payne, Daniel Farr, Steve Smith) have similar feelings about their approach to field recordings and so-called Noise music: they do not care to sample decay then polish and enforce it with beats, tonal/non-tonal harmonic structures etc. (the non-musicality makes that of Wolf Eyes seem like a Gershwin arrangement, though Fossils is not nearly as rude and boisterous). And rather than neutering their recordings, cleaning and morphing them into a pristine object in the vein of, say, a recent Fennesz album, the group prefers aural detritus, rolling tape and relishing in the performance of gritty cassette players, contact microphones, failing batteries, crusty circuitry and a near-mono package.

Their campaign is physical and as much about the intended sound as the "wrong note". That is, the capture of dropped acoustic pickups, accidentally thumped microphones, fiddles with and fixing of dirty amplifier pots and Payne, Farr and Smith literally bumping into each other (photos show all their gear mashed together on the same card table) is as vital as the purposeful snippets of wheezing feedback, gravely evolving square waves, manipulated room tones, police scanner drive-bys, mangled guitars, rewinding Dictaphone messages and hands-on edits of looping, muddled voices; without warning, your neighbors might confuse it for the combination branch removal of trees near telephone wires, or leaf collection, or a hammering, sawing basement home remodel.

Is it a collage of the sound check, the studio session, the after-party and the drive home? Maybe — there are a lot of ideas going on here. But despite the opaque texture, ambiguous direction and sonic vagabonds, Fossils' work is a snug, inviting and almost pleasantly anesthetic 31-minute errand, the type that makes your eyes glaze over as you drink in what's coming out of your headphones (yes, those are recommended). Do not put this under glass or erect a fence to keep patrons away: this is palpable stuff you need to handle, pass around and drop a few times to enjoy.

Dave Madden