Listening to Pain is a lot like hearing a sampler of the major underground rock movements from the late-70’s to the early-90’s; over the course of ten tracks, Deaf Wish dabbles in gloomy post-punk, aggressive hardcore, and abrasive no-wave, all in a quest to overwhelm the listener with the power of noise. For most people, the band’s name is wonderfully apropos–the persistent onslaught of pure cacophony the group manages to generate would cause many to hope that their ears would cease functioning. However, for that certain audience that desires that sort of grating noise, Pain has what they crave in spades.
Though Pain lacks a consistent thematic trajectory, as Deaf Wish jumps between different styles from track to track, the album certainly improves as it goes along, making it a backloaded affair. Each member gets a stab at the mic, and the different vocal approaches help create a truly diverse record, even as they work within the narrow confines of this particular subgenre. One song will feature an aggressive bark, another a soft coo, and yet another will have a longing drone, all with walls of guitars and drums bashing around in the background.
As one might expect, it can be fairly easy to spot the band’s significant influences, especially that of Sonic Youth–Sarah Hardiman’s voice is such a dead ringer for Kim Gordon that when I listen to “Sex Witch” it prompts an instinctual response to chant along “spirit desire”. Deaf Wish does benefit from the fact that few other bands digging through those same records for inspiration, setting them apart from current trends, but the group also proves that there is enough room even within these narrow styles to create something original. There is subtlety to be found even amid all that noise.
Pain really hits its stride in its last three songs, beginning with the driving and catchy single “On”. In an album filled with noisy freakouts, the instrumental “Dead Air” is easily the best, with its Krautrock-like bass that pushes the beat underneath walls of feedback-drenched guitars. The real surprise is the closer “Calypso”, which manages to show a more delicate side of the band–even with its dissonant chords and melodies, the band nearly manages to make noise sound “pretty”.