Sissy Spacek – Reslayer & Threshold (Helicopter, 2022)

Sissy Spacek is the long-running sound project centred around John Wiese and Charlie Mumma, but encompassing a rotating set of other members. It is more or less a conceptual act: ostensibly a “grindcore band,” it is really a study what happens when you take the grind genre and then shoot tangents off in various directions, often groping towards the outer limits of harsh noise.

These two 2022 releases are unalike, but this is par for the course for the band. As Wiese tells me via email, “Sissy Spacek has always been a project that likes to expand the perimeter of its output—not just putting out the same release over and over, but really create a dynamic in the overall.” He cites the band’s 2016 triumvirate of releases as an example: they encompassed grindcore proper (Disfathom), short blasts of chaos in the noisecore tradition (Reversed Normalization), and a single 36-minute free improv jam performed as a sextet (Duration Groups).

2022’s release bolus extends the band’s theme of creating records that are internally coherent but radically different from one another. Of these two CDs, Reslayer is more divorced from grindcore, sonically. It takes the genre’s manic energy but reduces it to flailing noise rubble. Yet, unlike most noise releases (but like many grind records), it is a concise affair, divided into short, threeish-minute spurts. Wiese tells me this was by design. “When Sissy Spacek first started it was a mix of blur-grindcore and noise, and I had a fantasy that we would only release 7-inches. Highly compact, dense, and extreme.” (Indeed, several years ago Wiese commemorated his hundredth 7-inch!) For Reslayer, the band sought to channel this 45-rpm aesthetic into “tight 3 minute tracks that move quickly and intensely from one sound to another in an engaging way,” Wiese says. “In a sense they sound similar, but I would liken it to a Ramones album or something like that. One track after another with a continuing energy.”

Though rooted in grindcore, Reslayer retains no recognizable extreme metal instruments — guitars, bass, drums, death growl vocals are all replaced by rapidly changing bursts of inorganic noise. Wiese himself describes the methodology as “the shedding of musical instruments while retaining the same energy as grindcore,” something of a reaction against avant music’s tendency towards expansiveness. “Experimental music in general has a legacy of often bloated, long, and self indulgent material, and I think this is in a sense a counter to that.”

On Threshold, we hear a very different Sissy Spacek. Instead of short fragments of abstract noise, this record’s compositions stretch out, patiently exploring the continuum between white noise and grindcore. Jagged, tuneless, and joyfully dissonant, it’s a bit like Pig Destroyer recorded through a microphone inside a turned-on blender. Though comprising a coherent whole, the release contains three tracks from 2013-2014, and two from 2022. The holdovers include a piece previously included on cassette compilation called Stray Dog, a leftover piece performed live on radio for Damion Romero’s Psychotechnics program on L.A’s KXLU, and a track originally intended to be played as a four-channel installation. The two new 2022 recordings have a similar feel, but add the talents of Agoraphobic Nosebleed vocalist Jay Randall. I find myself dumbly puzzled when Wiese tells me what makes Threshold different from Reslayer, from his perspective: “I’d say that Reslayer is more of a singular vision of dynamics, whereas threshold is a dynamic vision of singularity.”

The cover of Threshold (generally speaking, Wiese, a design artist, handles the art for all Sissy Spacek releases) was something I was curious about. Framed in black is an image of what could be a patio at a luxury resort, a far cry from traditionally graphic grindcore imagery. Drawing a distinction between their intentions versus the prototypical noisecore/grind milieu of punky gumption, he notes that the photo helps “align the sound as something ‘high’ rather than something ‘low.'” He also points out its relationship to Merzbow/Masami Akita’s “Lowest Music and Arts” concept, and its connection to the artwork on Hijokaidan’s noise landmark, Windom:

Of these two discs, Threshold is the one I prefer, and I believe this is because it more overtly captures the fringe between grindcore and noise, two genres on the extreme which differ greatly in terms of structure. Wiese tells me that he sees Sissy Spacek as “in a sense the reverse of the mid-90s Relapse boom that got people from metal/grindcore into noise. Spacek is more like grindcore FROM noise, and [Threshold] would be a good example.”

Reslayer and Threshold are both available through Helicopter.