The Illegal Wiretaps are bar-none my favorite band in Houston because they are nuts. Completely left their cakes out in the rain. Less than two months since their last EP they're back with a new freakshow in the form of Cancer and the Princess Suite.
Technically, it's a single because it's only one song. On the other hand, it's nearly 12 minutes long, making it longer than several of the Wiretaps' previous multi-song releases. See? Everything they do is freakin' backwards anyway.
Cancer is another outing by Stephen Wyatt on his own, and that usually leads to the most personal if harder to understand work. Certainly this is a parade of strangeness is aimed at something internally, but what that is is beyond me.
Broken down into three distinct movements, the song paints a rich audio narrative. The first is an almost light-dance of marimba, beeps and boops. At times it feels somewhat Japanese, but there's still something wrong with it. The beat sounds not machine-made at all because at times it stumbles. Not enough to hurt the song, but enough to intentionally unsettle.
The second movement is where things get hurtful and more typically Wyatt. Like the rest of the song, it's largely a repetitive series of notes, but if the first movement was a dream state then this is the nightmare buried underneath. The notes sound made with the effect of a knife being sharpened, and the rhythm comes from deep in the mix so that you can feel rather than hear the boom.
Listening to it with your eyes closed in a comfortable chair -- which by the way is the only real way to listen to the Wiretaps -- you really get a feel for the voiceless vision that Wyatt is aiming for. There are no lyrics at all until the final movement, about eight minutes in. Before that it's like playing Journey, a quest you feel rather than understand.
One you come to the end of that quest, though, the album continues down through darkness. It's rare to be afraid of a song. A song can't hurt you, but after nine minutes of unease and strange pulses there's a sense of foreboding you can't shake as "Cancer" winds down. Something is hidden in the song, and you know it.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
And right there, at ten minutes, comes a jump-scare that knocks you over. It's the only words in the song, and they come from what sounds like a dead girl's throat. The words themselves are incomprehensible, which is maddening. All the distance through freakin' electronica hell and we don't even get to know why?
But that's the Illegal Wiretaps for you. 80 releases and they will still surprise you and leave you wanting more. Each one of these is a dark walk down weird streets, and the fact that they put so much black magic out for free is why they're my favorite band in the city.
Cancer and the Princess Suite is out now.