Sonic Youth made walls of guitar noise a standalone form of rock. Now, after a quarter-century of evolution—and eventual incorporation into many mainstream styles—detuned distortion has become just another technique in the musical toolbox. Along the way, noise rock lost some of its raw aggression and audacity. On its aptly named sophomore album, Tempest, Olympia, Washington trio Broken Water hits the reset button on the genre, rewinding back to the late-’80s reverb revolution that took hold in its home state. Tempest is droning, it’s heavy, and it’s noisy: Broken Water isn’t trying to sneak in catchy pop riffs, enticing vocal harmonies, or anything else that might interest the casual listener.
With its indiscernible lyrics, psychedelic flourishes, and a preference for volume over melodies, Tempest mostly stays true to noise rock’s pre-grunge-era roots. Highlights like “Drown” and the crunchy jam “Underground” are buried in a landfill of sludge-fuzz, and it takes a little time to dig them out. Only the album’s closer, “When You Said,” sounds like a bridge to accessibility, though even that song eventually detonates with amplifier-exploding fury, obliterating all traces of a pop-friendly hook. While Broken Water’s disinterest in convention is commendable, there isn’t much else in the maelstrom of Tempest grab hold of. If the band isn’t going to pursue melody, it needs to have some other worthwhile destination in mind. Tempest brings the noise, but not much else.