Review: Jim Haynes, “Sever”

Helen Scarsdale founder, sound installation artist, and mega-collaborator extraordinaire Jim Haynes claims that his work involves the process of rusting. More specifically, the sounds he makes connote the suffocating grip of decay and the passage of time. On Sever Haynes marries that focus to the creation of dystopian worlds and crippled environments, creating a convincing and uncomfortable environment of his own as he proceeds.

In the case of Sever, the elegance of Haynes’ noise can be traced to its deceptive simplicity. On the surface this record is a grinding, crunchy, and faded environmental recording rescued from brittle tapes discovered by Haynes. Each of the four pieces that compose Sever appear to reveal the natural world reclaiming what it had lost with the advent of science and industry. It’s as though someone took a small microphone and tape recorder into the guts of industrial factories and abandoned machine shops and captured their internal breakdown. Beneath this veneer, however, is a cinematic and carefully constructed experience. The convincing nature of Haynes’ noise belies the fact that Sever is a patient and incredibly well-structured record. More than just a collection of unnerving ambience, it is a psychologically heavy record with plenty of gloom and despair to go around.

Haynes’ compositional style has the power to convince; he creates a believable world and then populates it with familiar events. Upon hearing objects move in the stereo field, the sense that objects should also be moving in the room is accomplished. Similarly, the crunch of leaves, the tumbling of dust and rock on pavement, and the sound of wind through trees is manifested by Haynes’ various techniques. Whether or not he actually used samples of such events is ultimately unimportant. Haynes is adept at making his noise seem very real, very organic, and very familiar. All the while Haynes siguides his army of samples and loops with a near-invisible hand. He utilizes a broad range of dynamics to create verses and crescendos of noise. Using erratic rhythms, fractured hiss, and the whir of electricity, Haynes weaves together a stage upon which the rest of the album sits. The rustle of industrial and organic detritus is sometimes contrasted against this background, along with radio static, thundering metal, and even the melodic ring of bells. They all provide a measure of unpredictability and dynamic variety, and they also amplify the record’s uneasy creepiness.

And that brings me to the psychological power of Sever. While the narrative of decay and time run a red thread through this record, there’s also a feeling of dread and expectancy coursing through it. Haynes’ environments have an emptiness attached to them, as though they are waiting for something or someone to come along and fill them up. As a result, a great deal of anticipation and tense nervousness finds its way onto this record. Perhaps Sever’s focus on decay is the source of this discomfort. Or perhaps the music renders the void of decomposition and death too effectively; either way, a loneliness and an increasing sense of helplessness builds up over the record’s 52 minutes. After realizing it was there, I expected Haynes to somehow eradicate or cure it. Instead, he leaves it to hover over the room in silence after the record ends. Nothing is fulfilled and there’s no sense of completion; only a bleak heaviness remains when the music stops. It is neither pleasant nor comfortable, but it is powerful and unique and entirely worth experiencing.

The first 100 copies of Sever come with a bonus CDr titled Severed. This CDr contains a recording of a sound installation that was used, in part, to develop the record.

Sever is available on Intransitive Records
Samples available at


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