Don’t let the addition of piano and violin on Sightings’ third album, Arrived in Gold, fool you: They have not gone soft. The New York noise purveyors’ arsenal of piercing guitars, clattering percussion and muffled vocals remains intact, and they still make some of the harshest music this side of Wolf Eyes. But Arrived does mark a minor but appreciable shift in style. The trio delivers a more elastic and open sound that augments their signature salvos of feedback.
What sets Sightings apart from their brethren in the noise scene is their music’s sneering, detached menace. Like their no-wave forebears, Mark Morgan, John Lockie and Richard Hoffman methodically scrape away at their instruments in a seemingly disinterested and offhand manner. And Morgan’s rambling vocals reinforce the impression of calculated indifference. Their compositions are not about cathartic crescendos or loud/soft dynamics. Instead, Sightings crafts single-minded aural assaults that are more about sheer force than progression.
Whereas 2003’s Absolutes opened with a squall of distortion and an avalanche of drums, Arrived begins on a relatively quiet note. “One in Ten” features desultory stabs of guitar and surprisingly funk-inflected bass over low-key clicking noises, as Morgan wearily states that he’s waiting “for someone to yell.” The song eventually incorporates piano and coalesces into a formidable wall of sound that is as shambolic as it is impressive. Stunner “Sugar Sediment” follows with martial drumming and a rolling, distorted piano riff that flutters delicately above the cacophony below. It may be Sightings’ best composition yet: caustic, energetic and irresistible.
On “Internal Compass,” the group further expands its sonic palette, flirting with mangled grooves. The song, with its bubbly bass and sluggish beat, would have fit nicely on Liars’ They Were Wrong So We Drowned. Even better is “Dudes,” a propulsive track that starts at full throttle and never lets up. Bassist Hoffman plays a more prominent role than on previous albums, providing the rhythmic thrust for the biting vocals. Closer “Arrived in Gold, Arrived in Smoke” is a ten-minute death march that sounds more like machinery than standard rock fare. Halfway through, the slicing, obstinate percussion comes to a halt, leaving in its wake nebulous clacks, moans and gusts of sound.
With Arrived in Gold, Sightings shows no signs of relinquishing its place at the forefront of the noise-rock community. Indeed, the band’s willingness to experiment and expand its sound hints at great things to come. The looser rhythms and more spacious compositions demonstrate that they understand the importance of tempering ferocity with ingenuity.