Jim Haynes – When The Sky Burned

Posted: 25 June 2021 in Albums
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SIGE Records – SIGE103 – 25th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

It was The Decline Effect, a full decade ago, which provided my introduction to the work of Jim Haynes. It was an album I described as ‘bleak’, commenting on the way it reminded me of ‘Robert Burton’s 17th Century text The Anatomy of Melancholy, which detailed in the richest language the terrible physical symptoms of melancholy and its effects on the humours of the body. It still stands as a fitting description of a work by an artist whose career is devoted to ‘compositions of corrosion, shortwave radio, and tactile noise’.

Haynes’ inspiration for this latest offering was environmental, circumstantial, situational, as he recounts: “I completed this record in the fall of 2020. Much of the western states of the US was ablaze for months. The anxiety of the collective American psyche was ubiquitous, also due to the Presidential elections in November of that year. And When The Sky Burned became an appropriate title given the environmental and political climate of that particular time.”

But what’s also fascinating is the more subtle use of reference, of intertext: Haynes explains that When The Sky Burned When The Sky Burned is ‘also a reference to Zbigniew Karkowski’ – before going on to explain his ‘complicated, if distant relationship’ and subsequent hostility from both Karkowski and Andrew McKenzie, aka The Hafler Trio, for what appear to be the most disproportionate of reasons.

Haynes dedicates the album to both McKenzie and Karkowski ‘whether they like it or not’, writing on the latter, ‘After his death, I most certainly felt a sorrow that the world has lost this artist, but I was also very conflicted as I wish there could have been a conversation about what happened. I don’t think he was capable of remorse or reconciliation, but I wonder if I was wrong in that analysis. So this album is a tenuous homage to Karkowki’s early works – with the chest, cavity rattling lows and the shrill sustained high frequencies. The title in fact is a direct translation of the opening piece to that aforementioned Silent CD – "Als der Himmel brannte." But of course, I can never leave anything so static alone, and the heaps of noise, junk, and dissonance were required."

Haynes is an absolute master when it comes to noise, junk, and dissonance, and When The Sky Burned is abrim with all three.

As album openings go, the first few seconds of ‘Multiple Gunshots’, are striking, shocking, even, as blasts of percussion – which slam like gunshots – hit the listener without warning. They arrive a succession of hard blasts – some warping backwards, and Haynes manipulates them to forge an erratic but devastatingly heavy beat. I’m reminded of how Swans sampled a nailgun and pitched it up and down for the punishing rhythm on ‘Time is Money (Bastard)’, and this builds a grind of rapidly oscillating drones that flicker and shudder. Seven minutes in, the drones rise to a shriek, before obliterative distortion decimates any semblance of musicality. Everything combines to forge an intense and oppressive eleven minutes where little happens other than the listener suffering a brutal sonic punishment.

Between this, and the ten-minute ‘Appropriate to a Sad, Frightened Time’, Haynes presents a series of compositions that really test the listener’s capacity for noise and overall endurance. ‘Abruptly Scattered’ sounds like an enormous generator’s throb, occasionally rent with blasts of explosive treble noise as if said generator is bursting into flames. The tonal separation is well-defined: the bass sends the most uncomfortable vibrations through the pit of your gut, while the shrill, harsh treble smash makes you clench your teeth and fear for your hearing. You swallow hard, feeling uncomfortable, wondering if you’re going to suffer tinnitus or diarrhoea first, and pray it’s not both simultaneously.

Haynes’ explorations are brutal and harsh, and the set as a whole is truly relentless. Heavy crunches and grinding, gut-churning growls are suddenly ruptured by unexpected thacks and cracks, detonations, and the kind of heavy impact that makes the car-door slams used for punches in films sound like friendly pats on the shoulder. Swirling vortices of noise on noise howl and shriek, violent sonic tornadoes that inflict devastating levels of damage tear from the speakers, and even the moments of calm are unsettling, uneasy.

When The Sky Burned is not a nice album, but it’s a remarkable one, one that quite literally crackles with intensity, and genuinely hurts in places. But while it is relentlessly abrasive and often excruciating, Haynes’ attention to tone and texture, and the way the utilises these elements to forge a work of immense range isn’t only admirable on the technical, sonic, and compositional levels, but also results in an album that has massive impact, and is an outstanding example of well-crafted and intuitive electronic noise.

AA

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