Naomi Punk’s sound is intriguing. It cuts short, in so many more ways than one. Aggressive tracks often feel collared and yanked every time it edges to the point of tempoed rage. You find yourself wanting to go full on into that volcanic landscape, only to find Naomi Punk trudging along at their own Frankensteinish pace when you expected them to be alongside you. It moves so slowly, in fact, that one wishes for a push towards doom metal instead, so as to stretch those yards of pollutive muck into a good pudding—but they settle on a grunge-level of fuzz and dour-ness instead. They’re a curious trio, accustomed to these sort of comments before, and accustomed to saying “Nah, it’s fast enough for our purposes.” Television Man is much of what I hope grunge will be, should it resurface.
Criticisms of their self-recorded 2012 debut The Feeling were leveled at the oppressive pacing bordering on pure monotony and a melody delivered at a molasses pace. What they attempted (successfully) with their sophomore album is laudable for its elegant tenacity: Naomi Punk stripped all minutiae of joy, stayed the course in terms of the pacing, but injected everything with a crackling new energy—and like a reanimated corpse, the formula of The Feeling shuddered to life and became Television Man.
The riffs are more interesting this time around, blending drudging strums with mercurial arpeggios, and changing rhythms even more jarringly than before. The extended pieces now become that much more ingestible; I certainly found myself trancing out to certain sections, like the beginning of “Eon of Pain.” It was sonic sunbathing. The quality of recording has left the garage, yet all that newfound cleanliness reveals is more grime, more inhospitability, and clarity, instilled with a hypnotic power that couldn’t come through on their debut because of the profoundly lo-fi aesthetic. Again, I have to applaud them for being able to say to their detractors “No thanks—our way will work itself out.”
Naomi Punk delivers vocals like a choir’s monotonous chant, and the consistency of it act as your sonic anchor. I imagine it’s a bit like hearing sailors belt out their own funeral dirge in the midst of an unpredictable storm they know will end their life; and all around that baseline sound, the riffs come rolling and pummeling, so ruthlessly in place, a military march to a demonically lopsided beat that feels designed to taunt intentionally. Certain phrases linger on for the sake of its own psychotic logic, daring you to break eye contact with its intensity. Against this, the human element is so small as to induce claustrophobia.
Not that I’m saying Television Man isn’t a worthwhile listen because it’s so restrained—tracks like “Eleven Inches” are absolutely explosive, a simmering and cindering first half with the hack-and-slash of a latter portion giving way to a gaudy end of times. Having an insane kinetic quality that reminds me of the drumming on Hendrix’s “Machine Gun,” delivered in spurts to mimic gunfire salvos.
Other highlights include: “Linoleum Trust #19,” in which the pace lends itself a story of a sun-allergenic trying to escape the light. “Song Factory,” punches on through the air at a garage-punk pace and seems several times faster than it really is.
The vocabulary of the album is decidedly industrial and synthetic this time around, with track titles like “Song Factory,” “Plastic World No. 6,” and “Linoleum Tryst #16”; and the filler tracks “Plastic World” and “California Truth” mess with the theme by clever contrast. These respite pieces take a melody found in another track but are presented in the skin of infomercial background music, complete with electronic drumbeats and synth leads/pads most commonly found in 80s closing credits. Along with their brother-tracks, they represent the two extremes of the uniform rural/industrial. One is overly commercial and palatable. Palatable for all and so relatable to none; the other is too personal for comfort, as though trapped in a mind that reminds itself of Mad Max movies and spewing with rage. I wouldn’t even call it filler at this point, since it performs an admirable role—providing contrast to a purposefully limited palette.
In my music library, I’ve filed Television Man away under ‘alienating space-out’. It occupies a nook below the freneticism of noise rock but, above ambient krautrock. It’s not a space I frequent, but when I do, Naomi Punk will satisfy a need that few artists can.