“The political philosopher Isaiah Berlin defined negative liberty as an answer to the question, “What is the area within which the subject—a person or group of persons—is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons?” It’s the freedom to be left alone, then, and allowed to proceed towards some personal goal. It’s a lot to ask, especially in disciplines like art and music, where everybody on earth has an opinion and where forward progress can depend on lots of obstructive others: labels, bookers, radio DJs, reviewers, Spotify execs and fans. Dan Melchior’s career to date has been a case study in the costs and possibilities of negative freedom. Alongside the clattery, dissonant, sarcastic garage rock he is best known for, he has made sound collages, free-improv records, electric blues, art-pop theater and visual art. He has done whatever the fuck he wanted, repeatedly, and his unquantifiable-ness makes him interesting, but also narrows his appeal.
“This latest album is not so far from Melchior’s best known work, an electrified blues rock pushed out so far into distortion that the forms become almost unrecognizable. Recorded with Adam Charles Cooper and Pat Ganley, two former members of Taiwan Housing Project, it submerges rock chants in corrosive baths of acid dissonance; it’s the corpse in the bathtub of Breaking Bad, breaking down to inchoate molecules and about to take out the tub, the floor beneath it and the floor beneath that. “I got a bad review in Mojo, and I bitched like a surly prince,” intones Melchior in “They Insulted Me in Mojo,” and the bitterness in the phrase, repeated and repeated, eats a hole in the storm and drone.
“The songs clank and moan, letting loose intermittent bursts of incendiary guitar solos. They sound like they were recorded in a dungeon, fuzz and turmoil echoing off dank, chilly concrete walls. And yet there’s a ruckus being kicked up here, an undeniable force. “Come out of the shower. You’ve been in there an hour. You’re as clean as you’re ever gonna get,” chants Melchior in slyly named “Days of Future Past” (and its Side Two reprise), against a slanted hurricane of rock noise.
“The disc closes with its title track, a firestorm of wah and scree and fuzz-crusted guitar pyrotechnics, powered up hard by a rupturing rhythm. “Negative freedom, baby, it’s the only real ideal,” sings Melchior, having a whack at all the folks who impinge on his. “Why don’t play acoustic guitar? Why don’t you sing your greatest hits?” But seriously Dan, why don’t you do exactly what you want? You know you will anyway, and it will be brilliant like always.“. — Jennifer Kelly