Pharmakon is the chosen stage name of New York native Margaret Chardiet, a young woman who is finally getting around to a widely released debut album (on Sacred Bones) after several years of ultra-limited edition releases off her own back. As far as context goes, that is all you’re going to get and all you’re going to need because the key to Abandon is in its title. Forget who Chardiet is or where she comes from. Forget everything you know about what constitutes music, and just focus on where it is this artist wants to take you.
If you have no tolerance for dissonance, noise, or music that will upset or terrify you, then stop reading now and thank you for your time. If, like me, you occasionally need to have your preconceptions challenged and be taken somewhere you won’t enjoy, then this 4-track, 27-minute opus is probably a good place to start.
The point of Abandon is not to comfort but to confront. My guess is that Chardiet doesn’t care whether you like it or not, and indeed the point is to repulse and enthrall at the same time. She dares the listener to make an emotional connection with this music and then forces you to ask yourself what that connection might say about you.
Opening with a scream that becomes an incessant, oscillating, high-pitched noise, “Milkweed / It Hangs Heavy” refuses to just pile on the mayhem, instead introducing its elements slowly and methodically: a heavily distorted voice whispering, the banging of lead pipe on lead pipe added high in the mix for added discomfort, and then eventually an ominous hum and a pulse that morphs the piece into something Hans Zimmer might compose for an extreme slasher movie. Chardiet’s raw and unaltered scream in the latter half of the track is fierce, pure, and truly blood-curdling.
“Ache” begins with an industrial throb that at least provides an early rhythm and proves Chardiet’s immense skill at going for the slow crush rather than the relentless assault. Her use of space is crucial and elevates her several levels above her contemporaries in the “noise art” scene. As the track dissolves into a haunting ambience that almost sounds pleasant, she displays a mastery of dynamics that shows that a deep level of thought went into the construction of this music. Call it industrial or power electronics or whatever else you want to, but labels are meaningless here: all that matters is the viscera and the mixture of the cerebral and the emotional.
The album’s second half is certainly less confrontational than the first, but not by much. “Pitted” opens with the sound of metal doors being repeatedly slammed, a low rumble eventually arriving underneath that sound. It feels closer to the dynamics of drone music, and Chardiet’s voice is closer to a spiritual wail than a tortured scream. The false sense of security proves to be just that as the song rises almost without warning into a cacophonous finale.
After that, “Crawling On Bruised Knees” is almost a reprieve, although it is one with the buzzing hum of a distorted bass, treated vocals, and a beat that sounds like the relentless march of a ruthless army. The song’s confrontational stance is more deliberate and incisive, proving once again that Pharmakon knows more than one way to peel the skin from your bones.
If Abandon sounds like it’s no fun and scary as hell, that’s because it is. Its lack of compromise is startling and refreshing. So why would you want to listen to it? The same reason you watch horror movies or read about the methodology of serial killers. Because the darker recesses of the soul are fascinating to us all even when we know they shouldn’t be. Abandon speaks to that side of humanity and forces us to glare at it with a blinding intensity. And if art doesn’t occasionally challenge us, unsettle us, and force us to acknowledge things we do not want to admit, then what’s the point at all?
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