I Can’t Breathe is Big Hole’s reaction to the death of Eric Garner back in December 2014. By now, that video of Garner struggling for breath in the wake of a brutal police attack has circulated the Internet and media more than ever, but when I Can’t Breathe was released at the end of December, it was a scandal that helped push police brutality and racism into the public eye yet again. Regardless of one’s stance in politics – and I think it’s pretty clear where Big Hole leans – that video clip is haunting, so of course “I Can’t Breathe” begins with Garner saying just that before he dies.
Then the album launches into its one long wall, clocking in at just under the 20 minute mark. The idea behind walls in general is introspection, mesmerization, a choking sensation of a sound that just won’t back down. It surrounds and pummels, much like the police in that situation with Eric Garner, and here Big Hole provides a wavering higher-pitched static line that snakes and snarls.
All told, this is a pretty unchanging wall, the only thing really giving the listener any movement being the backwash of static as it ripples – and even that, it seems, is less changing than simply oscillating naturally. In the background is a slight bass rumble, and that’s where I would have liked to see I Can’t Breathe expand a bit more. This texture is listenable, it’s chaotic, but adding a heavy bass tone underneath it all – even just minimally – could have really created a suffocating listen to match the theme of this release.
While I Can’t Breathe is a solid wall, it feels a little too thin. I kept wanting more density to the textures; that’s partially my fault, anticipating something the artist had no interest in, but it also feels like a missed opportunity to match the horrible death of Eric Garner to make a stronger statement, especially in a form of noise that often lacks the ability to emote besides the titles the artist provides.