Thanks for the Headaches and Headbangs: 10 Personal Load Records Favorites

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Lightning Bolt Screengrab via YouTube

The love affair with Load Records began when a promo disc for Pink & Brown’s Shame Fantasy II materialized in my mailbox: flailing, furious duo punk in a daisy-chaining blatt. This was 2003; by then, Load founders and life partners Ben McOsker and Laura Mullen were already eight or nine years deep into an odyssey of violent, beautiful chaos. For 24 years — beginning in 1993 and concluding earlier this month — the Providence, R.I.-based label provided a megaphone for misfit underground voices from around the world. (Prominent alumni include Men's Recovery Project, White Mice, USAISAMONSTER, Tropical Trash, Burmese, Khanate, Six Finger Satellite, Vaz, White Suns, Timeghost and Clockcleaner.) Every voice was ugly in a different way. From Lightning Bolt’s crushing virtuosity and OvO’s growly, relentless metal to DJ Scotch Egg’s marital, maximalist electronics and Vampire Can't’s pummeling unfathomability, the Load ethos placed a premium on the extreme and the unpredictable. These albums were, for me, a gateway drug; suddenly, there were portals like Freedom From, Narnack, Helicopter and Tone Filth, to say nothing of the many labels — some still vividly in play, others now dearly departed — that emerged in Load’s influential wake.

For his part, McOsker said goodbye on April 10 via a Facebook post. “After 24 years of Load Records, it’s time to move on,” he wrote. “Will be contacting bands to arrange next steps. Thanks for a great ride.” We figured that the best way to say goodbye would be by highlighting a few favorite Load catalog entries.

10. Thee Hydrogen Terrors, Terror, Diplomacy & Public Relations (1996)
‎Providence’s Thee Hydrogen Terrors wound down a brief, impactful career with a boorish, boisterous second LP of semi-maniacal party-punk that remains great fun to drunkenly sing along to at neighbor-antagonizing volumes.

9. Diskaholics, Live in Japan, Vol. 1 (2006)
Synthesizer-manipulator Jim O'Rourke, saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and guitarist Thurston Moore gently and lovingly lay waste to a Tokyo stage in 2002. The trio dogpiles jabs, crackles, squeals and bleeps, swerving in and out of incidental grooves. Their massed, messy might can come on like a late-spring thunderstorm  the kind that appears to portend some sonic end of days.

8. Nautical Almanac, Rooting for the Microbes (2004)
Even if the phrase “no computers or electricity were employed in the music-making process” hadn’t surfaced in its liner notes, Rooting for the Microbes would still be a strange, immersive experience. Here, this now-disbanded Baltimore outfit mashed up facsimiles of shorting circuits, primal-yowl freewheeling, all manner of swollen aural miscellany and insistent mantras into something mind-bendingly stunning, something deeply and inimitably weird. The truth is out there.

7. Air Conditioning, Dead Rails (2007)
Distribution centers, Bandcamp pages, and our remaining brick and mortar record stores hardly lack for punishing, confrontational music; a running list of bands, artists, genres and subgenres would swiftly outstrip any phone book or Cerebus edition you’d care to throw at me. Yet, somehow, Dead Rails is (and remains) heavier and more unforgivingly impenetrable than any harsh wall noise cassette or High on Fire bootleg I’ve encountered. Certainly, there’s some swing to Air Conditioning, but that’s overshadowed by how turgid and thick the guitars feel, by the concussive force of guest drummer Sean McGuinness (of Pissed Jeans!), by the oppressiveness on display. Play Dead Rails on headphones, in your car, on a hi-fi, or through laptop speakers  it will hurt you while remaining eternally just shy of complete comprehension.

6. Metalux & John Wiese, Exoteric (2006)
Separately, Baltimore’s Metalux and California’s John Wiese have blessed the world with a plethora of fantastic noise forms. Collectively, these three prove absolutely extraordinary; Exoteric stands as a true collaboration, in which Metalux’s surging synths and Wiese’s bit-crushing electronics collide in delirious, kaleidoscopic conflagration.

5. Brainbombs, Singles Compilation (1999)
A psychedelic blues stomp verging on sludge-punk informs Sweden’s Brainbombs on Singles Compilation, even as the band’s singer favors a codeine-drenched black metal growl; this is music that lurches and lumbers as an ongoing act of self-sabotage, secure and assured in its own dazzling ugliness. During a brief gym-going phase last year, Compilations was among my treadmill companions — to the consternation of at least one total stranger.

4. Excepter, Throne (2005)
Throne found NYC’s Excepter in an early, gloriously amniotic incarnation: synthesizers, karimbas, and vocals droning and looped nearly into infinity. The result was mesmerizing, half-baked, New Age shamanic — as if they’d figured out how to freeze souls into dry-ice cubes, plunked those cubes into a nitrogen cocktail, then stirred that cocktail slooooooooooooowly.

3. Yellow Swans, Psychic Secession (2006)
While Psychic Secession marked the moment when Yellow Swans went political and sharpened their caustic din into something beautifully layered — the dense, churning “True Union”; the roaring, stuttered dub of “I Woke Up” — it also doubled as a subterranean-muso world colloquy of sorts. Mainstays Gabriel Mindel Saloman and Peter Swanson welcomed drone-drift alchemists (Christina Carter), lo-fi impressionists (Eva Inca Ore), idiosyncratic noise soloists (Axolotl, Gerritt Wittmer, the Cherry Point) and extreme music producers (Dan Voss) onto their singular ark. The result? Arguably Yellow Swans’ definitive statement.

2. Lightning Bolt, Wonderful Rainbow (2003)
For many, Wonderful Rainbow put Load on the map. Heaving somewhere between heavy metal’s crunch and hardcore punk’s velocity, the decimating third LP from this Providence-based duo is from those genres without being fully of either. A double B12 shot mistakenly mixed with jet fuel, Wonderful Rainbow crams a traditional back catalog’s worth of riffs and spasms into each of its 10 tracks. After pressing play, it’s hard — damn hard — to separate yourself from Brian Gibson’s furious basslines, Brian Chippendale’s inhuman drumming and exclamation mark cartoon vocals, or the irrepressible, shredding vortexes that form, here, the most celebrated crux of their creative union.

1. Sightings, Absolutes (2003)
Wire intriguingly reviewed Michigan Haters (Psych-O-Path) and Absolutes together; Absolutes was the album available for sale at Baltimore’s Sound Garden, so I started there. Sightings’ industrial-brutal third studio LP sounded like bloody gravel, broken bones, a practice space lost to flames. The NYC trio’s mein felt tribal and distorted. A caveman-like relentlessness — Mark Morgan’s sideswiped yelps, Jon Lockie’s choked beats, Richard Hoffman’s Jiffy Pop bass — pounded desperately, a core pulse perpetually at risk of annihilation: by whirling sheet metal, by strangled-guitar thunder, by helicopters screaming earthbound. I’d never, ever heard anything like Absolutes before. “Where can this music even lead?” I wondered. The answer, clearly, seemed to be “nowhere, motherfucker” — so, naturally, I followed.

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