Side-projects are a funny thing. They tend to symbolise a conduit for a deeper or alternative sound to the main band’s oeuvre. Yet Black Pus, the tasteful pseudonym for Brian Chippendale the drummer of the noise-rock duo Lightning Bolt, doesn’t fit this pattern. On one level it’s because Lightning Bolt sound like two decades worth of bass and a drum constantly on the cusp of exorcising the demon inside them. But more importantly it is these two instruments that are the band’s personality: though the kind that fills the room so thickly that your brain gets sluggish in trying to think. So does that mean that Black Pus is just the drummer? Nope, well technically yes. Black Pus started with free jazz sax on his early home recordings, which have crystallised into some kind of drum-mounted fuzzier substitute of bass on his latest album All My Relations.
On one level this gap allows Chippendale’s woollen gas-mask miked vocals to progress more to the forefront. And while I preferred the image of the Chippendale’s voice being detached from the band, like a zealot stumbling into a jam session, it actually functions well as the song’s core. The single-worthy tracks (and this term is used very loosely) are the predominantly vocal-lead: the perversely doo-wop ‘1000 Years,’ the Ian Curtis-esque ‘Fly on the Wall’ and the shamanistic ‘Hear No Evil’. Yet in true fidelity to his moniker, Chippendale then shoves the most listenable tracks through a blender and sees what gunk comes out the other side. This may often come in the form of loose keyboard riffs, a dying organ or looped shrieks; such that by the end each song it looks like Chippendale has broken this toy and moves on gluttonously to the next.
On the other hand, Chippendale’s bass substitute doesn’t match up to Lightning Bolt comrade Brian Gibson’s basslines. On All My Relations the bass sounds like revving chainsaws that are constantly fading, and Chippendale is trying desperately to keep them afloat. While on Lightning Bolt Gibson’s riffs help maintain a solidity that slowly bores into your skull. So it was slightly disappointing to see the pale remnants of the Lightning Bolt monolith ‘2 Towers’ on Black Pus’ opener ‘Marauder’. However it seems unfair to make this comparison. For this sense of decay seems to be a central theme to the album, best shown on the cover (Chippendale’s own work). It seems like quite an originally nice abstract piece that has been left to drip and formulate itself into a colourful mess. And that’s probably the best way to describe the album.
A good pH Test for Lightning Bolt’s work is to leave it going on in the background. A popular reaction would be to turn it down/off. The motive for this action will likely fall into two categories. You’re either just a fucking pussy (e.g. “Megaghost”), or the song is actually quite annoying (“I Wanna Get High But I Don’t Want Brain Damage” collab with Flaming Lips”). On All My Relations however there was no desire for this, and I managed to cook a spaghetti carbonara without wanting to rub my hand on the cheese grater out of catatonia/irritation. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, All My Relations sure gave me other feelings, and I still dripped some sweat and confusion into my carbonara. They just had the faint taste of something different: a new kind of abrasion.