Somewhere back in the early 2000s, I encountered Mouthus, duo of Brian Sullivan and Nate Nelson, in a tiny drop-ceiling storefront venue somewhere in California’s Central Valley. The burly Sullivan and less ectomorphic Nelson lugged a drum kit and a full-size Marshall stack into the tiny, 300-square-foot room, slammed a half dozen Red Bulls, and, after pacing wild-eyed for a few minutes, blasted off into a torn-up, arena-volume sonic catastrophe that drove basically everyone immediately out onto the sidewalk. From what I could tell, it was a typical night. As releases piled up, Mouthus ripped apart the rulebook of assumed “noise rock,” building disintegrating towers of sound just as easily as murmured acoustic mantras. As the twenty-naughts melted into the twenty-teens, Mouthus collapsed into oblivion.
Soon after, Sullivan re-emerged with a series of head-scratching, melodic and murky sets as Eskimo King that traced the gentler facets of Mouthus into pop oblivion. This quickly evolved into United Waters, a shattering and re-stitching of Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac-oid song craft that was as cracked and strangely woven as Mouthus’ previous deconstruction of excess wattage. In 2011, Arbitrary Signs released United Waters’ debut, Your First Ever River, showcasing Sullivan’s murmuring vocals in settings that strangely echo New Zealand perennial Peter Jefferies as much as they do sunny West Coast coke rock.
Swiftly following this release, Patrick Cole (KHF) joined his similarly off-axis guitar and skewed songwriting with Sullivan’s. Together, the two forged a new United Waters, a murky tangle of dueling guitars, hissy dissonance and skeletal forms. With its album Sunburner, United Waters added Chris Shields (Mr. Transylvania, Alien Trilogy) on drums, creating a sound that, while notably “rock”, maintained the dusty haze and muttered delivery of Sullivan’s uniquely personal vision. (Tom Carter, 2017)