Ugliness is underrated these days. At some point, when the underground gave way to poptimism, the freaks made their peace with the cheerleaders. But not Morgan Garrett. Raised in the small town of Portsmouth, Ohio, and now based in Philadelphia, Garrett is no stranger to the darker end of the human experience. His hometown is known as the epicenter of America’s opioid crisis. The collapse of the steel industry paved the way for swarms of pill mills that gradually devastated the region. Garrett’s deliberately isolated music feels inextricably linked to the ghosts of this upbringing; a restless swamp of atonal electronica, wavering vocals and jagged guitars, extreme fantasy openly explores the depths of loneliness and fear. Appalachian anthems are mutilated and wrapped in deafening commentary, while their electronic “tunes” arrive twisted beyond recognition. If Harmony Korine’s Trash bins could be expressed in sound, that would be all.
Although Americana has always loomed large in Garrett’s various musical endeavors, extreme fantasy it makes his popular fascinations that much clearer. like the royal trux twin infinitives or the smog sewn to heaven, extreme fantasy it’s technically a guitar album, but the instrument is less a vehicle for melodies or chords than a rickety can to be kicked and pounded across the pavement. On opening “Fall & Walk,” a circular guitar riff cuts mercilessly through Garrett’s haunting electronic soundscapes, initiating the listener into her hermetic, grotesque world. When Garrett’s acoustic guitar first appears on “Mercy & Grace,” it’s hopelessly out of tune, as if Garrett is twisting the tuners as he plays it. There isn’t much time to ponder this though, as the screeching and rumbling drums begin to gnaw at the track like termites. Each note feels precisely determined to cause maximum discomfort.
Jandek’s mutilated country is the clearest ancestor of Garrett’s sound, and the deranged exorcisms of Throbbing Gristle and Bill Orcutt also figure in his stew. Garrett fearlessly plunges into this legacy of confrontational music with a gripping conviction. On “In bed with angry,” his mangled strumming is wrapped in nightmarish noise, and his voice processed and duplicated sounds like he’s harmonizing over a hellish campfire singing. Between the dissonant yodeling and off-beat drums of “Life after life,” an iPhone notification plays in the background. Maybe extreme fantasyThe most striking quality of is the way damaged acoustic textures haunt contemporary electronic sensibilities, subsuming clean, sparkling digital tones into torturous darkness.
At 26 minutes, extreme fantasyThe relative brevity of ‘s comes as something of a relief. Even so, Garrett re-treads the same territory too often for him to remain completely fresh at all times. But his vision is undeniable. To say that this music is not meant for most people would be an understatement, but by the same token, accusing it of being unpleasant to listen to seems to miss the point. Whether it’s the explosion of doomsday commentary that begins with “Fall & Walk” or the haunting jumping noise that runs through the title track, extreme fantasy plays like a mysterious catharsis, plunging headlong into the unsettling depths to face demons few artists dare to acknowledge. It’s shocking to watch Garrett untangle these sickly forms, leaving their innards scattered across the floor for our jaws to drop. In his will to be so ugly, he strives for a different kind of beauty.