AMN Reviews: Merzbow / Mats Gustafsson / Balázs Pándi – Cuts Open (2020; RareNoiseRecords)

This trio first came together in 2013 for the album Cuts, a remarkable amalgam of free improv and noise. The group expanded to include Thurston Moore two years later for Cuts of Guilt, Cuts Deeper, which tied for Album of the Year in our annual list. Here, the original grouping returns for a followup double album.

At first blush, the four 18-24 minute tracks of Cuts Open head in a different direction than their predecessors. Still centered around unstructured improvisations, here Merzbow, Gustafsson, and Pándi also make delicate use of space. Merzbow and Pándi, for instance, provide loose, sculpted noise and a vast array of percussive materials all played at a deliberate pace. Gustafsson drones on flute in the background. While there is a sparseness at times to this approach, Pándi is relentlessly busy nonetheless. Thus, even when the focus is on atmospherics and an uncharacteristic quiet (for this group, at least), random percussion still floats around low-volume walled noise.

But as time goes on, these elements periodically grow to crescendos, often led by Merzbow and Pándi slowly breaking out. Gustafsson contributes angular soundings in such an unconventional fashion that it can be hard to tell whether some intonations are coming from him or from Merzbow. Particularly, these two lay down distorted pulses, patterns, vibrations, and squeaks while Pándi attacks his instruments as if he were playing a junkyard. The album culminates with a more consistently aggressive approach that harkens to the earlier albums. Merzbow controls lines of feedback and walled elements under which Pándi effectively solos. Gustafsson wails in full-on blowout mode.

Cuts Open is an exercise in opposites – load and soft, maximal and minimal, electric and acoustic. But throughout nearly 90 minutes of virtually indescribable noise, there is a persistent adherence to experimentation and adventure. The result is weird and full of surprises. Well done.