The New York-based duo Wetware thrive on disorientation. That’s immediately clear if you catch any of their live shows, which most often feature vocalist Roxy Farman stalking onstage-and-off, offering all sorts of barely human vocalizations—humming, murmuring, whispering, and bleating at alternate turns—as a swell of abstract crackles and broken down drum parts whirl around her like street garbage caught in an updraft. With the requisite accompaniment of strobes and fog, it becomes transportive in the most unsettling possible way—a portal to another realm, where you can’t really process the language, and everything is incredibly, unspeakably loud.
The music they’ve released over the last few years has been similarly snowblinding. Starting from 2016’s self-titled tape on Primitive Languages, they’ve endeavored upon a uniquely unsettled exploration of the oft-tread realms between noise music and the dancefloor. Matthew Morandi, the other half of the duo, draws on the lessons he learned in his records as Jahiliyya Fields and half of Inhalants and imbues these amorphous pieces with an otherworldly locomotion, distant from dance music, but still somehow tied to it. Together they make anthems for the gutter around the corner of the club, because rolling around in the muck is more fun anyway.
“I see the legacy of industrial music as a continuation of avant-garde sensibilities,” Morandi explains via email. ”In that sense Midwest techno-futurism is similar. They both break the mental image of hearing, say, a guitar, and thinking of a guitar being played. We've by now thrown a bunch of context on certain sounds, synths, drum machines, etc, but the pure forms of these genres is to me about hearing alien new sounds.”
This week, they’ll release their first proper LP on Dais Records, Automatic Drawing, which continues their predilection for bewilderment across nine tracks of grayscale electronics, submerged mumbles, and scratchy percussion. Some tracks delve into dizzying chaos (“Except All Presents”) or anxious ambience (“Ode to Joe”). But “Frequent Dreamlands,” the record’s single, illustrates just about everything that the record does well in microcosm, as jittery rhythmic contortions and screechy atonal electronics underpin Farman’s possessed murmurs, before breaking out into a cold-sweat of an acid riff.
It’s all fairly dark and confusing which Morandi says results from the circumstances of the record’s creation "There is an emphasis on each performance and being unable to recreate it exactly,” he says. “I like a lot of music, and things in general, that have some element of happenstance—an attempt to screenshot playing cards being thrown in the air, and trying to redo it.”
Sometimes though the cards fall just right, which, for Wetware, means a record that feels like the sort of unending nightmare world that its best song's title suggests. Farman’s vocals can be hard to understand, but that only adds to the bewilderment. Deep in the record it’s easy to feel lost in an alien land, with no easy way to find your way back to familiar ground. But that’s OK; spend enough time there and its grammars will start to make sense, you’ll start to find life in the dark corners, joy out there in the terror. And if you don’t, it’s not any more scary than the real world. As Morandi himself put it, “We live in confusing times, don't we?”
Automatic Drawing is out February 9 on Dais Records, but you can stream it here right now.
Colin Joyce is an editor at Noisey and is on Twitter.