Never Mind the Opened Minds Here's the U.S. Bombs EP
reviewed in issue #136, 6/9/97
Punk with a real pop sheen. The lyrics are completely silly, particularly the "Ballad of Sid". But, hell, it's not like the cover and the title were a hint of where the U.S. Bombs sympathies lie.
Sounds a lot like old Social D, though the energy level is lacking. Oh, it's all very presentable, and I think that's the problem. This is punk you could bring home to mom. And no one wants that.
Mildly entertaining, but not much more than that. More inane than annoying, the U.S. Bombs merely prove that you can be a punker until you die. It's only the quality of the music that suffers.
reviewed in issue #93, 12/4/95
The a-side is not on the CD. The flip, "When a Man Says OW!", is. As noted in the review for the full-length, this is one damned impressive band.
"Stuck" is a wonderfully loopy up-tempo piece that simply soars all over the place. Yeah, it's messy, convoluted pop, but then, if it sounded like Milli Vanilli, chances are I wouldn't like it.
Another good reason to dig this band. Go to the other review for full details. Collector's note: unlike most Skin Graft singles (like the Melt-Banana also reviewed in this issue), this one does not have a comic book in it. Bummer.
Long Hair in Three Stages
reviewed in issue #93, 12/4/95
The band is made up of former members of Shorty and the Mercury Players. The disc is produced by Jim O'Rourke, who the press sez has proclaimed this work "the best album since Spiderland." Them's big shoes, my friends.
And U.S. Maple does travel in the same discordant pop circles as Slint did (and much more so than the two bands the members played in before), though these guys seem to be a little more preoccupied with wicked, chaos-inducing guitar noodlings. Just a bit more, anyway.
Still, Long Hair in Three Stages is indeed one of the best albums of the year (hell, we're in December, I think I can say this now). Anyone who prefers melody or coherence can go elsewhere, but there's a big load of us random pop fans that will eat at this table any day. A masterpiece, perhaps.
Sang Phat Editor
reviewed in issue #139, 7/21/97
You really should know what to expect from these guys by now. If you can't handle mordant musical madness, then abandon ship before the whale thrashes you with his tail.
The most important thing about U.S. Maple is not the music itself, but what resides between the notes. Jim O'Rourke produces again, and he's left vast spaces in the sound, wherein the main thoughts seem to reside. This is not to say the music is nonsense, exactly, except that you're definitely missing half the picture if you only pay attention to the audible sound.
And even if you are able to wrap your brain around my strange concept, I'm not sure any of this will make all that much more sense. U.S. Maple makes demanding music, music that cries out for intense reckoning. Obviously, this isn't the sort of album that beckons out to the lost legion of Nelson fans, or even Sonic Youth fans, for that matter. This is hard music.
All I can say is that submitting to the music is very rewarding. Keep your mind tuned toward the abstract, and perhaps you'll return with your sanity.
reviewed in issue #183, 6/7/99
Moving from one of my favorite Chicago labels to another (though still in the T&G distribution network, mind you, so it's all in the family--sort of), U.S. Maple lurches on. Produced by Michael Gira, engineered by Martin Bisi, these boys have all the big names on their side.
And the same fucked-up sounds. Rock and roll stripped down to its bare nuts, boiled and regurgitated. If you know anything about this band, you know what to expect, and yet, the insanity which is issued forth from the disc is still so stirring that it's impossible to hit the stop button.
Music in its basest form (in all the ways that you can imagine). U.S. Maple is the only band which dares to make this music, and while there are those who might rejoice at that fact, I'm just happy to hear these albums whenever they arrive.
Continuation of the legend. Nothing particularly new or innovative from the boys, simply more great stuff (to paraphrase Chuck Barris). I'm gonna go get lost for a while. Thank you.
See also Shorty.
reviewed in issue #202, 7/17/00
A return to one of the "classic" lineups: Michael Schenker, Phil Mogg and Pete Way (with the well-traveled Aynsley Dunbar on drums). These guys know how to make melodic hard rock, and that's what they do here.
It is a sound that's somewhat dated these days. This album sounds like it could have been recorded in the late 70s, which is both great and problematic. Is it as good as the band's best stuff? Not quite, though it sure is solid. The problem is, this stuff sounded a lot better 20 years ago.
Much of the fare is workmanlike, and while that works when a style is in vogue, years down the line it just sounds weird. I thought the recent Mogg Way album had more fire than this. Maybe it is Schenker. The guy can play, but he's sorta gotten stuck in these steady rockin' tempos. A little more attitude, a little more ... something is needed.
Old line fans who just love this sound should enjoy the disc. But there are ways to update a classic sound without completely losing the feel. UFO instead traveled the nostalgia path. Hey, it's 1977 all over again! Except, of course, it's not.
UFO or Die
Shock Shoppers 7"
reviewed in issue #58, 7/15/94
Is it music or just random noises strung together?
Well, my answer has always been music, but then, I'm weird. And to be honest, the flip does contain a minute or so of stuff that might be considered real songwriting by people who think R.E.M. is alternative (but not to compare said moment to R.E.M. God forbid).
I've always been interested in sonic sculpture, and this definitely out there. U.O.D. is a side project of a couple of Boredoms members and a member of Leningrad Blues Experience. I'd list their names, but I would misspell them for sure.
Highly unusual; This and the Brise-Glace 7" makes my month (maybe year). My brain has been addled.
reviewed in issue #63, 9/30/94
Grunge riffs, some hard rock conventions and a touch of the Chicago industrial hardcore thing. Excellent guitar sound and production overall. This is alright.
But the songwriting isn't there to take things past "alright". The spark of genius hasn't been passed on yet. Perhaps with a little more work.
All Our Golden Tomorrows
reviewed in issue #270, November 2005
Remember all those shiny Britpop bands from the late 80s and early 90s? Before Oasis? You know, Blur, EMF, Jesus Jones, Happy Mondays...that sorta thing? UHF takes the party Madchester vibe of that stuff and then adds in a mature sensibility.
For some reason, I hear echoes of the last U2 album, but only fragments here and there. Maybe it's the abandon--one of the reasons I thought How to Dismantle... was that band's best effort in almost 20 years. A calculated abandon, perhaps, as these songs are exceptionally crafted, but there's a live wire spirit flowing through this entire album.
And even when the boys decide to get a little trippy and psychedelic (which fits some of those references just fine), the songs simply keep on rolling. The shiny production sound fits the pop views of these boys just fine. And it complements the more introspective moments as well. Like the songs themselves, this sound is exceptionally crafted.
All that work and very little sound of anything getting forced. This is a gorgeous album, one that seems to expand its grand vision song by song. Just sit back and let the music take over.
reviewed in issue #20, 9/15/92
For aficionados of instrumental guitar work, here is someone to watch. Uhrich jams in the fusion tradition of Steve Morse, and not the funk/classical ways of Vai and Satriani. So here is something your listeners may not be used to hearing.
Wandering all over the musical landscape, Uhrich proves his technical mettle, and also scores nicely in the songwriting department. This isn't just an exercise in fret melting, it's an adventure into sound.
I don't like the dumb sound effects some of the songs use, but they don't detract from the work, and probably lots of listeners will find them just as funny as the stuff on Steve Vai's last album.
reviewed in issue #155, 3/23/98
Melding electronic music with the sort of instrumental stuff bands like Pell Mell kicked out, Ui shows that a plethora of effects and studio gizmos can still manage to create a rootsy, laid-back sound.
Rootsy in the most experimental of worlds, of course. These songs are quiet, by almost any relative measure, but they are intense. The rhythm work is intricate and involved, and any line placed over that underlying bone is carefully constructed to contrast and compliment.
For all this planning, these songs sound loose. That's what I meant by rootsy, I guess. the sound is generally organic, though there are moments where a more sterile feel has been intentionally added. Again, highly crafted, but it sounds easy.
Lots of lines, crossing and dancing about each other. Ui manages to bring a human face to this endeavor, which is much harder than it sounds. One of the more intriguing albums I've heard this year Way too much here to even begin to properly describe. Quality, quality.
reviewed in issue #252, April 2004
More than a decade ago, a friend of mine played me Pisni Is the Smiths, a set of Smiths covers all done up Ukrainian style. This weird little EP was the latest effort from Wedding Present guitarist Peter Solowka's side project, and I was hooked. But you know, finding albums by the Ukrainians back then was as difficult as picking up something by the Weddoes themselves.
For those who aren't familiar with these boys, this "greatest hits" package contains something from all of the Ukrainians albums and a new cover of "Telstar" to boot. Twenty tracks in all, more than enough to paint a vivid picture of the band.
In short, the music has plenty of Ukrainian folk influences (many of the members play Ukrainian instruments), but at the core, this is rock and roll. Think the Pogues, though significantly more worldly. Yeah, it is that much fun.
And yes, the songs are sung in Ukrainian (the titles are given in both Roman transliteration and the original Cyrillic scripts. I find this stuff too infectious for words. This rich set is more than worthy of the band's continuing legacy.
reviewed in issue #210, 1/8/01
Ulan Bator is group of three Italians. Young God is, of course, M. Gira's record label. Draw your own conclusion. If you can't, let me mention the fact that the band has a penchant for avoiding the obvious. In other words, don't expect the folks to repeat themselves.
Except within the same song. Ulan Bator likes to construct its pieces around loops and repeated themes, particularly for its instrumentals. The ideas are intriguing and quickly addictive; once of them is in your head, you're done for.
The songs range in length from 1:40 to 16:10. The sounds run the gamut of music, with the caveat that the production has left an almost disturbingly clean sound. I could do with more than a hint of distortion, but the stuff here instead requires that attention be paid to the ideas.
Not a bad way to approach things. Ulan Bator doesn't make things easy on its listeners, but it does make the avant garde sound easy. In particular, fans of the abstract will just jizz. Zone out and let these guys clue you in.
This Will Be Laughing Week
reviewed in issue #179, 3/29/99
Yet another punk pop band from Lawrence (Kan.). You know, when I was in school, some wag at Rolling Stone (or was it Spin) called Lawrence "Little Seattle" because of all the grunge bands that sprung up in the east Kansas hills. Perhaps it should now be called the "east west coast" or something.
That's getting stupid. Anyway, I've liked most of the emo, pop, hardcore, whatever sorta punk bands I've heard from the town where I myself lived from 1976-1979 (the John Douglas-Darnell Valentine years, if anyone knows what I'm saying). Ultimate Fakebook is very, very power pop, with just a hint of punk rawness.
Three chords, wry lyrics, loose-swinging harmonies, just about everything you need, really. Yes, there are a ton of bands doing this sort of thing these days, but Ultimate Fakebook has a little something extra, soul perhaps, something which makes it stand out.
Most highly recommended from these here parts. One of my favorite pop albums of the year, and there's been more than a few of those. If you want a little crunch with yer hooks, come down this way.
Ultra Bide CD5
reviewed in issue #72, 3/15/95
Sounds like a slowed-down version of what K.K. Null has been doing for ages. Or maybe I'm completely off base.
Lots of odd noises centering around a mid-tempo pop rhythm section. Speed it up, you get Zeni Geva. Yeah, that's it.
Martin Bisi took the knobs, and he achieved a production sound not unlike the one he got for Alice Donut's "Nadine" single. Noisy, cluttered and really heavy.
A glorious mess worth wallowing in. You might even clear up that nasty eczema.
God Is God... Puke Is Puke
reviewed in issue #93, 12/4/95
Martin Bisi at the knobs again, and he really yanks a live sound out of the band. Lots of strange echoes and muffled noises for such a noise oriented band, but those bits are the crowning touch.
The lyrics are rather confrontational, but Bisi is careful to make sure the sound is just this side of hyper-aggressive, and with the pop sensibility the band shows with the songwriting here, that's good. Lots of guitars flying around, lots of stuff in the back. But the base rhythms are straight 4/4, with standard bass progressions.
With enough time and a little maturity, Ultra Bide could become the second pop wonder at AT, after Alice Donut. All the tools are there, and the band obviously knows its way around a tune. Dig in.
(Imperial Stab Chamber)
reviewed in issue #27, 1/31/93
Entirely Doug Carrion, former member of Dag Nasty and the Descendents. He is a one-man band, even live. And this is the first release from his label.
One might expect this to be self-indulgent; after all, when one person is in charge of the entire works things can get that way (I sure know that). But not here. After all, punk has usually been associated with brevity and tightness, and both are well-exhibited here.
But despite Carrion's roots, this is not a punk album. It wanders in territory acts like Malhavoc and Dead World have tread. Not entirely industrial, you can tell where he's been, but the trip into the future is even more exciting. This album exudes extreme hatred for most anything you can imagine. And it is one hell of a great statement.
reviewed in issue #72, 3/15/95
The first Ultrahead disc was just Doug Carrion. Now he's recruited a band, fleshing out his vision of industrial sludge hell.
Extra band mates give Carrion's songs new bite (two are carried over from Cementruck). As the songwriting was one of the best parts of that earlier effort, this makes Definition: Aggro a fine disc, indeed.
There are times I wish Carrion and Co. would pick up the pace a bit, because I think the band sounds best when the detritus gets moving. Nothing like a little laxative for the sludge.
Yes, we've heard this sort of thing before. But Ultrahead puts things together very nicely, and while this may not be the most original sound in the world, these folks do it well.
I, Destructor CD5
reviewed in issue #64, 10/15/94
Fast and heavy industrial stuff that would be sheer pleasure at a dance club. After all, it's easier to dance to 200bpm music. No one can tell you're fucking up or not. And if you do keep up, it's a hell of an aerobic workout.
Various distorted noises and those banging beats. Is there anything else? No, not really. Are you gonna complain? I didn't think so.
For truly one-dimensional music, Ultraviolence is fun and a real rush.
Life of Destructor (advance cassette)
reviewed in issue #64, 10/15/94
Ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga! Like Nintendo music on PCP, Ultraviolence just keeps cranking out insane beats and wild noise. Could be the music of the age.
reviewed in issue #97, 1/29/96
The thing I really liked about the last Ultraviolence was the ga-ga-ga sound. The lyrics were silly and pointless; hell, with the music speeding past 200 bpm, why notice lyrics anyway?
So this is supposed to be some sort of love letter to oblivion, Romeo and Juliet without the family ties and the suicide planned in advance.Well, the music is antiseptic enough to carry it off. The characters supposed to be devoid of emotion, and the hyper-driven keyboards and drum machine strip the music to an essence of pulsating speed.
But then, I just don't care. I don't care about the story (which the liners convery much better than the album itself; the song lyrics are clumsy and insipid). The main point of the album, indeed, is to listen to the lyrics and take this as some sort of techno opera.
Sorry, it just doesn't work. With all the layers of pretention, Ultraviolence simply doesn't have the musical acuity and skill to pull this idea off. While the story is about characters who cannot feel, there must be something that turns them (and the audience) around. And thta never happens. At times there are decent dance tracks, but because this is a serious work of art, even that gets fucked up to satisfy the needs of the plot. Like a bad broadway musical (and has there been a good one in years?), Psycho Drama misses the most important point: above all else, the music has to be good. And Ultraviolence dropped the ball there.
Umbra et Imago
reviewed in issue #206, 10/9/00
Unlike the other Oblivion releases I've reviewed in this issue, Umbra et Imago has its own sound. A snarling, gothic metal sound that stops a lot more than it starts.
When it gets going (which happens every once in a while), the result sounds a lot more like death metal (say, early Tiamat) than traditional goth rock. I'm not slagging; those are often the best moments.
But very few songs make it all the way through without giving way to some sort of break or narration or something else. I'm not about to rain on anyone's artistic parade, but incoherence for its own sake just doesn't do it for me.
Still, there's enough here to keep me interested. I truly had no idea what the album would sound like from song to song. Umbra et Imago didn't pull all the tricks off, mind you, but at least it's trying.
reviewed in issue #299, August 2008
Another stellar perversion of laptop rock, Umbrella Brigade merges the minimalist and playful tendencies of that sound with full-on goth attitude and melodies. And then there's the rest of the stuff.
The sort of album that continues to amaze as it rolls along. This is the sort of well-sequenced disc where each successive song builds on the previous one. Few bands are disciplined enough to even consider this, and of those even fewer are able to pull it off.
But these folks are masochistic. They do things to their songs that most guys wouldn't do to their jerk rags. Like, say, take a perfectly nice throb rhythm and then subvert it by leaving it accompanied by only the slightest hint of bass. Maybe this is a geeky thing, but leaving such beats naked is an inspired move, one that raises all the hair on my arms.
I am tingling all over. Umbrella Brigade is one of those acts that seems to have completely mastered its music. Or, perhaps more appropriately, dominates its music. I'd be a sub for these folks any day.
The Umbrella Sequence
reviewed in issue #289, September 2007
Doesn't matter if we're talking upper or lower midwest, there does seem to be a high percentage of kids in the middle of America who have discovered the joys of excessive art pop.
The Umbrella Sequence hails from Minneapolis, and there is a certain Semisonic feel to some of the song construction. These are traditionally-structured songs. They just take flight from the start and blast away at conventional notions of melody and harmony.
Oh, and then there's the line "Listening to Deicide..." It doesn't matter what comes next. Once you've said that, you're already miles outside the alt.pop universe. And, of course, you're making me laugh. I had to stop the disc for a couple minutes after I heard that one.
I know, I'm easily amused. But these songs are wonderfully trippy bashers, precisely the sort of thing that, you know, amuses me. The Umbrella Sequence makes me smile. And there's nothing wrong with that at all.
Unbelievable Jolly Machine
split 7" with Supermodel
reviewed in issue #186, 9/28/98
Supermodel does two, UJM one. I'll try this in alphabetical order.
The Supermodel style is something like a glam reworking of the AmRep sound. Bright guitars slashed about in a sludgy style. The recording itself is pretty meager (awful amounts of unintentional distortion. Maybe it isn't so much glam as bad recording, Hard to say. But in any case, certainly worth a spin or few.
UJM's tune is called "Vermillion". I associate that name with a tributary of the Kansas River (we always crossed the Vermillion on the way to Grandma's house...). Suffice it to say this song doesn't have much to do with my memories. UMJ tosses off some sloppily-played emo bits, though with enough verve and attitude to almost pull the trick off. Almost.
More interesting in musicological terms than for the music itself. Seven-inches are where the next trends in music arise from these days, and, well, this one seems to be right on the line. The music, well, it's okay.
reviewed in issue #194, 1/24/00
"Uncle Carl" would be Carl Vreeland, who wrote all the songs here and provides the guitar, vocals and more. The music falls into an unusual lounge/blues sorta style, with more than a few jazz flourishes.
The focus, as you might imagine, is on Vreeland's vocals and guitar work. The lyrics are wry and rather personal, with each song being presented as something of a short story or window on a life.
The playing, both Vreeland's and his mates', is exemplary. Not showy but expressive. That's where the blues tradition really seems to take over. While some of the songs are written in a fairly technical jazz style, the playing smooths out some of those tight corners, giving more entrances to the songs.
A nice album for simply chillin'. Nothing earth-shaking, just a few nice grooves and tasty lines. Gotte like that.
Uncle Joe's Big Ol' Driver
reviewed in issue #78, 6/15/95
Clever, sometimes snotty midwestern rock. Except that Kurt Bloch produced this San Diego/Seattle outfit. Why do they remind me so of mid-to-late eighties Replacements and Soul Asylum?
Because that's what they sound like. Minneapolis rock. And as that may be the quintessential American contribution to rock during the eighties, then no apologies are necessary.
Bloch keeps the sound clean, but the boys manage to fuzz things up now and again. And the little touches (an Axl imitation towards the end of "Chick Rock", for example) are wondrous.
A summer album if I ever heard one. While the kiddies will be jamming the new Soul(ed Out) Asylum, you can have the real deal: Uncle Joe's Big Ol' Driver.
Uncle Joe's Big Ol' Driver
reviewed in issue #77, 5/31/95
The power-punk split from Cargo. Uncle Joe's... brings us "Lip Gloss", a wondrously bouncy punk raver which promised great things for the upcoming album Chick Rock. The tongue is firmly placed, by the way.
Lustre's tune, "Junior", is a great pop anthem with heavy guitars that remind me somewhat of Fluf. In my book, that's not too bad. It's pretty hard to get away from this song without humming along. And FYI, Lustre used to go by the name of Shiner.
Men Who Smoke
reviewed in issue #166, 8/31/98
Clunky, jokey pop with lots of roots in the blues. The jokes are kind of broad, and they don't work all the time for me. They certainly aren't as profound as the band seems to think they are.
The music itself sounds a bit generic, like it was written in a rock-by-numbers format. It's not that bad, but the progressions are very easy to predict. As for the humor, well, it grates as the album moves along.
I gotta say, this one just didn't do anything for me. There are some decent tunes (I liked "Susan" best, but mostly because the band actually found a groove and stuck with it for once), but I simply can't get excited about the whole.
Sometimes it happens. Uncle Otto isn't terrible, but I don't like the music. Simple as that.
Will Work for Food
reviewed in issue #26, 1/15/93
Bored with recent Suicidal? Then dig this tasty bit from a couple of old members. Some of you may even know of this band, though it's been years since their only other album.
While still fairly commercial hard-core thrashing going on here, it does beat the hell out of post-Frontier ST. And as a reunion thing, it's a lot truer to the old than the Cro-Mags popular opus last summer.
Yes, life sucks and Uncle Slam is out to make sure we all know it. If not convinced, a trip or two through this disc should have you facing reality.
Pleistocene Moon 2xLP
Two songs per side, eight total. To say this rambles might be true, but that is beside the point. Unconscious Collective isn't in the business of rational song construction or linear thought. Rather, the pieces here are ruggedly handsome excursions into the beyond.
An easy shorthand would be improvisational stoner rock. The improvisational style is jazz--that is, the basic parameters are set up in advance and the members riff on a theme--but those basic parameters come more from Black Sabbath than John Coltrane.
There is nothing easy about this music, though. Not even the description. The grungy feel and rock-ish instrumentation do remind me of Iceburn (before it morphed into Iceburn Collective), but that goes back a couple of decades. I'm pretty sure about three people reading this will know what I'm talking about. And even then, the comparison is largely superficial.
Even when things got loud, Iceburn was always cerebral. Unconscious Collective is more than willing to allow noise and distortion take over at times. These folks have listened to a lot of Neil Young. It's possible they have transcribed "Weld" just for fun. But again, that's a reference from the way back.
And Unconscious Collective definitely has a foot in the now. There are plenty of elements from the 60s, 70s and 90s, but the often melancholy tone feels distinctly modern. Even when the noise is at fever pitch, there's a feeling that all good things must end.
These are long pieces, ranging from six to twelve minutes a pop. This is not background music for your next party, unless that party will be including pillows, black lights and a tab for each guest. This is great music for personal listening, something that is a serious indulgence in my house. If I get an hour of free time for myself, it's like vacation. And this album facilitates and enhances that sort of freedom.
Messy at times and occasionally incoherent, Unconscious Collective engages and challenges listeners. There are plenty of folks who wig out, but few are able to keep their excesses within the realm of "regular music." I'm not one who cares all that much about what is or is not "regular," but I think we all know what I mean. Unconscious Collective is out there, but its sounds are grounded in the basics. Even the peppiest popster will grant that this is "music."
Thing is, I don't think these folks are worried about that at all. They just have a knack for creating exciting sounds. That their music stimulates the mind as much as the heart is so much the better. I don't have any idea where this journey took me, but I've already bought another ticket.
Was Ever Being so Born to Calamity? 7"
reviewed in issue #143, 9/15/97
Yet another cool band from Kansas City. Makes me wonder why I moved away in the first place.
Imagine if the Replacements played an emo style of dirty punk. That pretty much describes this. The songs are enthusiastic and utterly messy, with vocals that couldn't possibly get hoarser.
The guys are fans of wordplay (the song titles are "The Moron the Merrier" and "There's a Roof in the Leak"), though the lyrics are pretty much straightforward angst.
I can only imagine what Uncrush sounds like live. Must be one hell of a show.
The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge
reviewed in issue #85, 9/4/95
Extremely lo-fi noodlings and odd sound bits. If there is a real song anywhere in here, I couldn't find it. As longtime readers know, this signifies a hit with Jon.
I can't imagine better music to freak out the kids at Halloween. This stuff is just wild and creepy all over. Most of the sound seems to be originating from a guitar, but it is sure hard to tell. There's a Sonic Youth cover, but it's so deconstructed all you get is one riff and truly mumbled vocals. Which is probably enough.
Talent? I don't know. But the vision is here, and I like it. Most of the civilized world will laugh. Let them.
Through Purple Silk and Yellowed Clothes, Speaks a Man of Grace to Those Who Know
reviewed in issue #194, 1/24/00
I reviewed a similar tape four and a half years ago. Good to know that Clinton Green hasn't been dissuaded in his vision.
I called this stuff lo-fi noodlings back then. That's not right. At least, for this tape it isn't. Noodlings, to be sure, but the reverb involved here is hardly lo-fi. These are long pieces (seven songs just about fill up a 90-minute tape), and they're utterly self-indulgent. No wonder I find them so interesting.
The lesson here is that is you've got an idea, and you like it, go with it. Someone (sometimes even me) will like it. You probably won't make any money, but it is always worth it if your art makes someone happy.
I guess this is more philosophy than review. Well, if you want to explore the outer reaches of reverb guitar songs, you can't do any better than Undecisive God. The price most certainly is right.
reviewed in issue #201, 6/26/00
A relatively short outing (probably about 10 minutes or so) from this, one of the more adventurous music minds around. The piece starts off with a chant, and then quickly mutates into modulated electronic disturbances.
Which sounds an awful lot like a chant, really. The noise slowly evolves out to almost white noise, and then slowly comes back in, finishing with the chant once again.
A simple idea executed extremely well. It may be short, but this tape sure is packed.
reviewed in issue #277, August 2006
Right. So "eccentric" has a different meaning for Clinton Green than just about anyone else on the planet. I've been digging this Australian's journeys into the outer voids of music for more than a decade, and this one is just as far out as the others. For true connoisseurs only...but jeez, it's awfully damned fine.
reviewed in issue #304, February 2009
The latest set of experimental fare from Clinton Green. As usual, these pieces don't necessarily fit together in any rational sense, but the album comes together in the end. Green has always pushed the envelope and managed to end up in good shape. That goes double for this set. I particularly liked "Non-Cricket," which takes the background sounds of a test match and turns them into something astonishing.
reviewed in issue #330, September 2011
If for nothing else than the wry liner notes ("The nail is put to good use at the end of the recording as it grinds into the metal on the edge of the turntable with the assistance of a screwdriver."), this disc is more than worth hearing. Clinton Green has been a stalwart in (and a chronicler of) the Australian electronic avant garde for decades now, and this album shows that he's got plenty of good ideas left.
Under the Gun
Nowhere to Run
reviewed in issue #186, 8/16/99
Vaguely tuneful, almost always upper-midtempo punk rawkers. Plenty of friends chip in (Civ, Dave Smalley--who also produced, Joe Naylor and more), which is almost enough to kick this puppy into the upper echelon.
Not quite, though. The songs are tightly penned, but they aren't always played with the requisite verve. This is merely pretty damned good. Much like a good amount of the Social D catalog, the songs are great for singalongs, even if they're ultimately forgettable.
Fun, though, and I can't get around that. The tunes are addictive, and that's always a good thing. The smoothed out sound (kind of dull roar) compliments the playing, though again, I wish there was just a touch more fire on the strings.
Nonetheless, a pleasant jaunt down the road. Indeed, mindless joy cannot be underestimated as a cause of general happiness. What, me worry? Under the Gun sure isn't.
Under the Sun
Under the Sun
reviewed in issue #197, 3/27/00
I was wondering how long into the first track ("This Golden Voyage") it would take for Under the Sun to start sounding like a Magna Carta band. At about the four-minute mark, the heavy prog artillery came out. Well, that's not right. Let's call it the light prog weaponry instead.
Because Under the Sun isn't about excessive technical prowess. These songs have a great coherence, and even as the jamming players spin and wheel through their solos, the overall vision of the song is not lost. In other words, the music (in a pure sense) comes first.
Don't get me wrong; these boys can play. It's just that they write even better, and the songs come together in ways that I couldn't anticipate. I like to be surprised, and Under the Sun consistently moves in unexpected ways.
Yeah, it's prog, and those with a severe aversion should probably stay away. But if you've been searching for a more accessible prog band, Under the Sun fits the bill perfectly. This is a fine album, well-crafted and smartly played. The heart, though, is what does most of the selling.
This Is Not a Film
reviewed in issue #210, 1/8/01
Minimalist rock meets trip-hop. Seductive electronic beats bound beneath simple guitar lines and vocals than trend toward the ethereal. The sound, shall we say, works very well.
Underwater is in the spell-weaving business. The songs unfurl slowly, unhurriedly. By the time they make their full presence known, the total has exceeded the parts exponentially.
There are gothic elements as well, mostly coming in the way that Melissa Mileski lofts her vocals into play. Still, she fully supports her voice, just dropping off enough to give a hint of that ethereal echo. A fine compliment to the rest of the sound.
Indeed, all of this works together exceptionally well. Underwater falls into a groove at the start of this album and never lets go. The ride is smooth, but that doesn't mean it's dull. Indeed, there plenty of sights to experience.
reviewed in issue #5, 1/15/92
I usually scan the press kit of bands I have never heard of in order to glean an idea of why they exist. Lots of raves on this one, mostly from Seattle publications.
But that makes sense. This is an Endino production, and the sound is another of the heavier-than-God kinda category. But, as another reviewer so aptly noted, the guitars are a wee bit psychedelic, making this a little different than your four guys torturing insects Seattle record. It's fucking loud, that's for sure.
Caught Up 7"
reviewed in issue #27, 1/31/93
With their first album on the way sometime this year, Unearth has managed to compile a rather awesome 7" track record (and following).
The single is a great pop-grunge piece that sounds a little different than the hyped Seattle sound. It may be short, but leaves a great aftertaste.
The Sab cover on the flip is awful straight, especially considering the current Seattle preoccupation with that band. Stick with the A-side.
reviewed in issue #239, March 2003
It's been quite a while since someone has sent me some really great goth. Unfinished Thought is the duo of Joe Kiser and Stacey Nelson. Kiser takes care of most of the music, and Nelson handles the wailing. Both do their jobs exceptionally well.
Kiser is enamored of many recent trends in electronic music. Imagine if William Orbit and Trent Reznor produced the Cure albums of the late 80s. Okay, add in female vocals (competent vocals, if you want to be picky) and maybe the picture is a little more complete. There are elements of techno, industrial hardcore, drum 'n' bass and big beat sounds among many more.
And Kiser is smart enough to vary the feel of this album. At times the sound is lush and cushy. At other times it's more sterile than Tangerine Dream. He's happy to use keyboard washes of all sorts: some warm, some harsh and some almost indescribably beautiful. He refuses to follow the book, and so the sounds here are fresh and unexpected.
Calling this goth is probably silly on my part. That's what I heard at first, and I think it's as good a label as anything. Kiser and Nelson have put together an album of uncommon beauty and power. If you want to know where electronic music is going, this disc might give you a clue.
75 Cents 7"
reviewed in issue #143, 9/15/97
I sure like the tendency toward noise, but Uni-V gets a little more conscious of song construction once the vocals come in, and so drifts a bit back toward the pack.
Still, the guys have a knack for unusual rhythm styles, and when they use the messy guitar sound, the stuff really cooks. Like I said, though, the tunes get much more traditional when it's singing time.
There are some definite Kepone-esque moments (always a good thing), and both songs end very well, combining all of the ideas into a cool mishmash of styles and sounds.
There's something here. I can feel the heat coming on.
Unicycle Loves You
The Dead Age
(High Wheel/Mecca Lecca)
Quick but not fast, warped but not wacked-out, jaunty but not insouciant. And so on. Unicycle Loves You plays pop that might just make you mental. There's plenty of psych-y reverb and more than a few trippy interstitials. But the songs themselves are tightly-wound gems.
Interest never flags, even when the band heads out into tangent land. These songs are simply too well written and arranged. The sonic dressing applied to them can get a little heavy at times, but the skeleton is more than tough enough to handle the weight.
And even with all the swirly haze these songs never lose their souls. Unicycle Loves You isn't content to do anything simply, and that's all to the good. I often lament the lack of ambition in music. That's not a problem here.
More than previous efforts, I think that ambition is being realized on this album. The songs are more complete and crafted finer. I think the band has another gear in it, and those results could be truly astonishing.
This set can be heard as ear candy or a whole lot more. I prefer both. There's nothing wrong with enjoying your vegetables. It just takes a good chef to make them tasty. The kitchen did a fabulous job with this one.
Union Deposit Road
American Rock Classic
reviewed in issue #150, 12/29/97
Chunky rock that kinda fits the title of the tape. Not particularly risky or innovative, Union Deposit Road makes the most of its thick riffs and blue collar melodies.
About where you want a bar band to be. This is music that sounds great in a club. The songwriting limitations become obvious only when the tunes are committed to tape.
The band plays with spirit and panache, and the production is better than most demos. All instruments are clear, and the vocals are mixed in at a good level. The only thing missing is a more unique inspiration.
Solid, if somewhat unimaginative. Rock and roll for the everyman.
East Los Presents...
reviewed in issue #136, 6/9/97
The press notes that epitaph doesn't sign many unknown bands. Of course when Lance Frederiksen and Tim Armstrong produce, well, that makes such a decision easy.
Union 13 plays a version of catchy hardcore (breakneck verses and anthemic choruses) that is fairly intoxicating. And, of course, being from East L.A. they have to sing a few tunes in Spanish. Fine by me. It's about time all those pink-shirted suburban punk kids got a clue.
For such an accessible style, Armstrong and Frederiksen have kept a slightly rough edge on the sound. This makes everything just that much more palatable.
Some of the riffs do seem to crop up again and again, and I think Union 13's future lies in poppier material. But there's time for evolution (remember NOFX's early stuff?). This is a good start.
Youth, Betrayal and the Awakening
reviewed in issue #205, 9/18/00
Full-tilt hardcore, though produced with quite the metal edge. Union 13 has smoothed out some of the rough edges, but this well-honed attack is as vital as ever. No one can question the intensity here.
Unfortunately, that "smoothing out" I talked about has pushed the band toward the generic. Lyrically, the guys are still fighting the good fight (in English and Spanish), but too many of the songs share the same riffage.
Not an uncommon problem in the hardcore arena, and I think the guys are somewhat aware of the issue. I mean, the production here is really sharp, emphasizing the aggro whenever possible. Sure that keeps the levels pegged, but a little variety would help.
Solid, but not distinctive. I kinda liked the young Union 13 better. Yeah, they couldn't play as well, but that led to some interesting ideas. Here, the guys seem to have learned how to play the game. Too bad.
reviewed in issue #105, 4/8/96
Nicely experimental industrial stuff that doesn't mind mixing it up with the heaviest of elements. Plenty of death metal guitars and wild, screeching samples complement your basic electronic ideal.
Folk from Vancouver who obviously dug FLA's Millennium album. And hey, who didn't? Plenty of techno stuff bouncing around as well, and the best parts are when the pot gets thick with all of the pieces swirling around and attacking each other.
Sometimes it seems the band couldn't decide whether to go experimental or dancey in certain spots, and that indecision leaves such areas kinda dull. But most of the disc is nicely focused on whatever the band has deemed the proper direction. And like I said, when it all kicks in...
I've heard this sort of thing before, and Unit:187 does not really distinguish itself from the pack, but this album is nicely executed. The rippers really rip, and the more esoteric bits are quite stunning. I would like to hear a bit more of a definable "sound" from the band, but that's my only serious caveat.
reviewed in issue #137, 6/23/97
Another of the aggro industrial outfits that seem to plague (in a good way) Vancouver. This album seems a bit more calculated and somewhat less brutal than the debut. Much more techno in a traditional sense (I get a big FLA feel) and perhaps not quite so experimental.
But much more consistent. Once I got over the excesses and extremes of the first album, I was left with a somewhat middling impression. This album moves quickly to take care of that.
Change is good, and I think the pullback from the hardcore is the right one. There are still plenty of mean and loud moments, but now they have a context in which to work. And that makes moments like the intro to "Traces" even more effective. Incorporating the experimental sampled sounds into the entire song, making the whole coherent. This is the right idea.
I wasn't expecting quite this level of sophistication, but I'm happy to hear it. And for the name dropping fans, there are remixes by Rhys Fulber, 16 Volt and Tensor. Making this package as complete as any might want. no room for complaints.
Stillborn remix EP
reviewed in issue #149, 12/8/97
The only real problem here is that three of the nine tracks are radio edits, which basically shorten good songs into mindless (and less interesting) snippets. Siebold (Hate Dept.) remixes "Loaded" and Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad) does the nasty to a track.
And the rest of the stuff is remixed by Unit:187 itself, with varying results. The outside contributions are rather good, while the radio-friendly edits are not. The real shame is that Loaded was such a great album, and this set of remixes doesn't really do enough to show off that fact.
The Townsend track in particular is great, but this set is too inconsistent to get a real endorsement from me. Go back to the original, one of the best albums of the year.
The Marco Sessions 7"
reviewed in issue #155, 3/23/98
Sure sounds like a Brit-punk act from the early 80s. Anthemic choruses, spit-hurled vocals and a sounds that almost forgets there's a bassist in the band.
Nice and bouncy. Angry stuff that doesn't stop for any reason. All the hallmarks of the sound. There's really not much in the way of innovation, but hell, the vibe is cool enough.
A bit generic, probably due to the relatively punchless production, but a nice slice of anarchist angst nonetheless. A punk's punk, for better and worse.
split 7" with Pressure Point
reviewed in issue #163, 7/20/98
I'll be taking the sides one at a time. Pressure Point sounds a lot like a messier D.O.A. with a heart of oi. Two very sloppily played and produced songs. Decent, but nothing to get me terribly excited.
Another Bay-area band with its heart in London. Straight-ahead Brit-inflected pop punk. The songs are pretty good, but not quite to the great point. This is the second 7" I've heard from this band, and I don't detect any growth here. And the band definitely needs to work on some better material if it really wants to break out.
Young bands trying get along. Fair to middling fare, nothing more.
United Gang Members
United Gang Members advance cassette
reviewed in issue #52, 4/15/94
Featuring ex-Black Flag-er (not to mention SWA) Chuck Dukowski, with help from Paul Cutler (Dream Syndicate, 45 Grave) and Bill Stinson (nothing you've probably heard of). The result? Mostly muddy, deconstructed punk rock. Stupid or sublime, I suppose, depending on your point of view.
United States Three
reviewed in issue #180, 4/12/99
I always admit it when I'm stumped. United States Three meanders about the pop landscape, most often with muted and disjointed melodies and any number of unorthodox instruments.
It s a tribute to these folks that while none of the songs sound much like each other, taken as a whole, there is a distinctive band sound. It's a weird one, and the songs aren't sequenced in such a way as to create easy access (the title track is one of the stranger songs on the album, but it's sitting right there at the beginning). Perseverance is key.
The recording is not good, but the production is pretty sharp. In other words, whatever picked up the instruments also picked up a lot of outside noise (scratches, whatever), and a lot of the mikes pinned the levels. But the final mixdown is great. I'm thinking this is intentional, and it really does help create a coherent band sound.
A more mutant version of the Brian Jonestown Massacre (go to some early BJM albums for something of a taste), though with more generalized pop notions. It took a while, but eventually I came around. Most impressive.
reviewed in issue #188, 9/20/99
A vaguely bleak take on the whole pop thing, with a particularly midwestern touch. Don't know if the band is from there, but this sounds somewhat like folks were trying to do when I was in college at Missouri. Sorta depressing, even more so when you realize how ironic the lyrics really are.
Unlike those bands of my "youth," however, United States Three uses some seriously intricate arrangements. Highly crafted, though it sounds pretty loose. It's just that all of these pieces couldn't come together without plenty of care.
And while the songs spin their wheels stylistically (there's plenty of small adjustments), the flat sound for the bass and guitar really ties everything together. Just sort of a dull throbbing, lending a bit of accompaniment and occasionally kicking the songs when they're in need of a boost. So, in summation, perhaps we might call this a midwestern approximation of the Britpop form, with a nod to Beck. In any case, it sure is interesting to hear a pop band that doesn't rely heavily on the guitar.
Nope, there's plenty of piano, organ and lots of beats and pieces sounds swirling about. The United States Three wrapped its songs up into neat packages and has presented them wonderfully. The careful preening didn't stifle the emotion in the songs, however. If anything, it increased the intensity. Ooh, this one really hits all my spots just right.
reviewed in issue #139, 7/21/97
A few cheap Bowie licks, some white boy blues guitar licks and a serious dose of flower power sentimentality. Yeah, it's fairly pretentious and anthemic and all, but at times Universal works.
At times being the operative phrase. If this entire disc had been distilled down into a two-song single, most of the musical ideas would still be around, and the songs would be pretty damned good. But these guys seem to have one musical groove, and no matter how you spice that up, once the same riff has appeared in five straight songs it gets a bit tiring.
I still like the spirit, and some of the choruses here have some nice hooks. Oh, the music does not come close to the intent, but it's nice to hear someone reach for something, even if they don't make it.
A good start, really, but Universal needs to change up its songwriting routine and try to branch out a bit. The sound is good, the content needs to catch up.
Stomping of Jake
reviewed in issue #72, 3/15/95
When it smells like New York hardcore, well, the band must be from Michigan.
Not normally, but Universal Stomp has the sound of a Big Apple hardcore act on a testosterone overdose. Yipes.
Stomping of Jake is merciless and brutal. Universal Stomp has decided to be the heaviest and nastiest metalcore band around. That is a compliment, folks.
Four songs, all as fire-breathing and vicious as the others. It took me a song or two to get into this, but wow, what a conversion. I love this disc, and once you listen to it at full volume for full effect, you will, too.
reviewed in issue #80, 7/15/95
A full 10-song set from these Michigan boys (you do remember their recent EP). Tearing all-new assholes, Universal Stomp solidifies its aggro-hardcore sound.
Yeah, as I noted before, at times US is a little trendy, but the varying influences are still holding together, with the grind, the rap and the grunge complementing the boys' punk appeal. Once again, this merits a "wowsers".
If you do something right, you do it right, and Universal Stomp has a clear vision of where hardcore should be headed. Pick it up and play it loud. Scaring the neighbors has never been so fun.
Where No Life Dwells
reviewed in issue #1, 10/31/91
Rising from the ruins of the Swedish band Nihilist (along with Entombed, who will be releasing an album on Century Media soon-that should have said Earache), Unleashed deliver stylish death metal. Some very fine riffs find their way along with some real speed. But even when things get going, the band remains in control, something you don't always find in death metal.
Start off tracks: "Before the Creation of Time," "The Dark One," "Into Glory Ride" and "Dead Forever."
Across the Open Sea
reviewed in issue #46, 1/15/94
This moves Unleashed a little more toward the commercial side of death, although they will have to drop a little of the double-bass action to get serious MTV consideration.
I sure like the "tough" sounding production-the guitar sounds like it is jumping out of the stereo and mainlining into your brain. Would that more people figure out how to achieve such sonic nirvana.
But then there is the song that seems to be getting all the attention: their straight cover of "Breaking the Law". I'm sure recent live Priest renditions sound a lot like this, given the sad deterioration of Rob Halford's once-stunning pipes. Do we need to hear this?
No. Of course, this is not presented as an artistic statement. The band perceived a need to have a document of a song they do live, and so it was recorded. Why bitch, folks?
The songs may not completely match the great production here, but this is still first class all the way.
Live in Vienna '93
reviewed in issue #49, 2/28/94
I've always been amazed at how good death metal live albums sound. Perhaps all that studio nonsense takes something away from the vital lifeforce of the bands or some other such metaphysical bullshit.
Perhaps some forms of music weren't meant to have layer after layer of overdubs, just the meat and potatoes, thank you. Unleashed has always had a good live rep, and this certainly keeps that notion going in my head. Good songs, great sound. What else do you want from a live album?
reviewed in issue #76, 5/15/95
I suppose it's refreshing to hear a band stick to its guns, even when that sound is so dated you can determine fossil ages by it.
Unleashed is about the only band still cranking out that pure Swedish death metal sound album after album, and Victory keeps that streak intact.
Personally, I'm kinda tired of the whole thing, particularly when I know that these guys could actually do something creative if they wanted to. But instead, Unleashed stays put. I'm sure this satisfies the diehard fans, but those of us who really dig innovation are pretty well stuck.
The execution of this album (production, playing, songwriting) is as good as I've heard from Unleashed. But I'm afraid I'm so tired of the sound my critical ear is burnt out. Come on, guys. Just move a little bit. Please.
reviewed in issue #282, February 2007
There is no music scene in America like the one in Chicago. Probably nowhere else in the world could you find so many people doing so many different things. which leads to bands like Unlucky Atlas.
This quartet (made up of cello, guitar, autoharp and Andre Foisy, who plays mandolin, guitar and fiddle) wanders around so much musical territory I began to fear whether or not I could figure it out.
I'm not sure I did. There's the whole post-modern string quartet thing going on (complete with vocals), with the fiddle and autoharp putting a fine American (and to be more specific, Appalachian) spin on the sound, but these folks don't stop there. Many of the songs have that vaguely obtuse post-rock construction, which really adds to my confusion but also sends these songs into orbit.
It helps to be in the same world as Unlucky Atlas, but just about anyone can appreciate the delicate writing and muscular ideas spinning around here. I didn't quite get it the first (or second or third) time, but hey, I'll keep trying.
But of That, I Will Not Speak...
reviewed in issue #238, February 2003
Clinton Green and Andrew McIntosh decided to write some Lovecraftian music. Or, shall we say, some music heavily influenced by Lovecraft's writing. Something like that. And if you recognize the names of the players, well, you probably already know this is hardly ordinary fare.
Indeed, Green and McIntosh populate their songs with rumbles, dull thuds and somewhat irregularly-repeating whirrs. These pieces really inspire a mood of dread and ill-feeling. They're creepy, with a decided sense of impending doom about them.
And if you know Lovecraft, then that should come as no surprise. The boys have created their own little world--not unlike the creator of Cthulhu-- and it speaks to the demons that must have inhabited Lovecraft's mind (for more on this, check out the McIntosh's excellent deconstruction of the master in the liners).
Not for everyone, which is something I say just about every time I review one of Green's works. That's just fine with him, I'd wager. This sort of project appeals to people who want to truly troll the dark edges of the electronic underground. The sign says "beware" for a reason. Do not pass through these doors lightly.
Balance of Power
reviewed in issue #69, 1/31/95
An interesting combination of mid-eighties metal, early seventies Sabbath, late seventies AC/DC and a dash of grunge. Well, at least, that's what I hear.
The songs have a nice bluesy tinge, though the guitars are punched-up, metal-style. Of course, songs like "Peacemaker" do remind me of Iron Maiden. But Dale Flood's vocal style recalls both Ozzy and Bon Scott (he sounds generally like Ozzy, but he throws the words out in a drawl like Scott), which is a little unusual.
A cool album of varying sounds and feels. Much like their primary influences. Unorthodox doesn't steal anything; they mix and match too much for that. Plus all the riffs are certainly home-brew. Where was this album when I was in high school, when I could listen to one tape over and over until it was imprinted on my brain?
The Anger and the Truth
reviewed in issue #218, 6/25/01
Back the day, I remember great Boston hardcore like SSD and Poison Idea. The stuff that made Taang! famous, you know. The Unseen remember, too.
Yeah, these boys are from the Boston area (Hingham is a bit south and east, but still in the general vicinity), and they ply that great sludgy style of hardcore. Plenty of energy, too. These songs don't drag for a second.
The usual angst-riddled, anti-hate and anti-authority lyrics. Nothing exceptional, but nothing dumb, either. Everything's right where it should be.
Which is cool. The Unseen don't really break any new ground, but the boys sure do blister this sound. Plenty of the buzzsaw to keep me happy, that's for sure.
The Unseen Guest
reviewed in issue #286, June 2007
Recorded in India, mixed and mastered in Ireland and finished up in Hamburg. That kinda gets you ready for this sound.
To my ear, this is traditional pop construction combined with traditional Indian melodies--in the music, mostly--and proffered up as jaunty acoustic rockers. It's not at all showy or pretentious, just vaguely otherworldly.
The sound is full, but not overly lush. All of the instruments, from acoustic guitar to veena, come through nicely. Declan Murray and Amith Narayan have a wonderful touch on their harmonies, and the songs themselves sound seamless and complete.
This isn't "western music with Indian influence" or some other such thing. It's music, with musical influence. The pieces may seem disparate, but Unseen Guest makes them all fit together as if that were the most natural thing in the world. You know, maybe it is.
reviewed in issue #45, 11/30/93
Using the simple, buzzsaw approach that Metallica started years ago (Helmet? Pantera? Just imitators.), Unsound have a solidly produced that has much commercial potential. It seems every label is signing a band that sounds like this.
Which is good for the bands, I guess, but I look for more original content. This features good, solid playing and writing. But it just doesn't break away from the pack.
reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01
Free jazz freed up. Five players improvising freely, often without concern for what everyone else is doing. The stuff is always interesting (there are plenty of cool noises about), but I'm just not hearing much interplay.
That's always what I listen for with these improvised albums. If the members work together, no matter how far out they get the sound is still something great. If it's just a collection of people making noise (no matter how cool those noises are), well, I could do that. And I'm hardly a musical artist.
Sometimes, such as on "I Got 'Em for Ya," the band comes together somewhat, and the result is a vaguely coherent piece. But I'm not really looking for cohesive play. I'm just listening for the harmonics (I'm using that word figuratively) caused by two or more players working with each other. That's where the magic comes in.
It does happen here from time to time. But not often enough. I'm all in favor of an ensemble that uses a bari sax on the low end. I think that's one of the coolest instruments around. But intriguing noise isn't enough to make me love an album. I need just a little more.
The Liturgy of Ghosts
reviewed in issue #233, September 2002
Two saxes (bari and soprano), a guitar, some percussion and a little electronic work. Quite deliberate and thoughtful improvisations. Unstable Ensemble is in no hurry to get anywhere.
The lack of due haste can be a bit maddening, but after a few minutes I acclimated to the band's pace and began to get more in the mood. The spaces between the sounds speak almost as much as the music itself.
And that is a compliment, no matter what you might think. Music is all about using sound (and the lack thereof) to express ideas. And by that measure, these folks have a tight grasp on the secret to making good music.
There's nothing easy or simple about this album. The sounds presented challenge the listener with unabashed glee. You either want to get it, or you don't. I'll tell you, though, a little patience will be rewarded.
Don't Waste the Mystery EP
reviewed in issue #344, 1/28/13
Modestly shoegazey stuff that emotes nicely. Which is to say that these songs don't move particularly quickly, but they do pack a punch when they get to their destination.
Ineffable, by Design
reviewed in issue #258, October 2004
U.S. Maple is among the bands these boys have shared a stage with in the past year or so. And while that band is a fine touchpoint, I'd have to say that they run almost as close to Clair de Lune in their ambition and wild embrace of noise as a melodic instrument.
In other words, this is what Led Zeppelin would sound like if...oh, who the fuck am I kidding? The most obvious 60s reference is Syd Barrett, but even that doesn't really explain what's going on here. Try a mix of mid-70s Cheap Trick and the Jesus Lizard, with a generous dollop of Joe Jackson (you pick the era; it doesn't much matter) and Sonic Youth on the side.
It should be an unholy mess, but it isn't. This is the sort of album you'd expect to see Jim O'Rourke's name on, but these boys did it themselves. Oh, they got Kramer to mix one song (hey, I hadn't even thought about including Dogbowl in the influences...what was I thinking?), so there is that. Yet another clue to the brilliance that is Untied States.
I can't tell you exactly how it is that this album survives intact, but it does. Not only does it come through alive and well, but it has seared a spot in my memory. I loved the new Clair de Lune, and this album is just as good. Hard to believe, but true. Untied States just might be the future of music. And if not, well, the guys are merely brilliant.
reviewed in issue #272, March 2006
Quirkiness does not equal genius, but Untied States's excessive use of eccentricity just might. The songs themselves are relatively straightforward, but the instrumentation and arrangements get about as far out as is imaginable. Sometimes the kitchen sink is thrown into the kitchen sink, an Escherian conundrum that simply elevates the songs into the stratosphere.
I really like what these folks do, but then, I'm a big dirty pop fan. Anything you can do to a pop song that doesn't destroy its innate purity is a plus in my book. And while these folks do have their deconstructive moments, at the heart of each song is a solid hook. Often demented, of course, but a hook nonetheless.
And while things keep flying at the ears with dazzling fury, the sound itself is somewhat restrained. To wit, you can distinctly hear each of these aural missiles as they threaten not only your ears but your sanity. That level of detail is something to behold.
Thus a gawd-awful mess really isn't. I was anticipating greatness from the moment I opened the package containing this disc, but this album surpassed that. I remain blown away.
Bye Bye Bi-Polar/These Dead Birds 7"
reviewed in issue #290, October 2007
More ineffable work from these folks. The song titles (particularly the first) ought to clue you in even if you're unfamiliar with the bruising eclectic sound of Untied States. And, even more so than usual, "bruising" is the operative word.
"Bye Bye," in particular, is just throttling. The speed is merely mid-tempo, but the ideas and guitar work simply pound away relentlessly. The song is something of a low-motion blender, to tell the truth.
The flip is somewhat more reserved, although that's like saying Rudy Giuliani is somewhat less egotistical than Donald Trump. It's all relative. The intensity, quiet as it is through much of the song, ratchets even higher. By the climax of the piece, the tension is strong enough to hold up the Empire State Building.
Why all the New York references? I dunno. But the stuff is good, as usual. No, that's not quite right. It's brilliant, as usual.
Instant Everything, Constant Nothing
reviewed in issue #318, June 2010
I've loved this band since the first time I heard it, and this album does not disappoint. The usual discord and rhyme, with a bit more melody and rhythmic coherence thrown in with the dissonance.
Which is to say that the songs sound a bit more like songs. At a certain point, that had to be expected. What I do like is that the band hasn't changed its take-no-prisoners approach to songwriting. The more ideas, the better. And, as often happens when bands mature, the ideas are incorporated into the whole just a bit better.
Thus the seeming new emphasis on assimilation. But not to fear. These folks are as cheerfully on the edge as ever. Songs start with one thought and then trip through four or five others. The resolution, as always, is impeccable.
I know, it's just me and a couple thousand of my friends who dig this sort of musical odyssey. I do feel a bit guilty encouraging folks who (I believe) will never make a living making music. But I love the music. And I think Untied States does as well. If the ends are good music, then I suppose I must endorse the means.
Uranium 9 Volt
Wild Seven EP
reviewed in issue #144 (9/29/97)
Nicely chunky and somewhat anthemic punk stuff. Reminds me more than a little of Ruth Ruth or Jawbox (in all the nice ways). It's a bit pretentious (as this stuff has to be), but Uranium 9 Volt proves it is worth the intellectual arrogance.
A punk band that actually does a little musical exploration along the way as well. This isn't everyday stuff by any stretch of the imagination. Enough melody to keep the head bobbing and enough power to feed the machine.
And it's all in proportion. These six songs are highly impressive. Uranium 9 Volt mixes its sounds up with aplomb, and every tune is a winner. Punk music that sound almost grown up (again, in a good way).
A nice, fresh surprise. All hail.
reviewed in issue #197, 3/27/00
You know that whole cold wave/industrial/metal thing that Clay People does so well? Uranium 235 is horning in on the territory. These songs are almost criminally catchy, and they're awful crunchy as well. At times, the production is a bit glitzy (the third or fourth overdub on the choruses grates at times), but it generally doesn't get in the way.
And since this is a major label-distributed project, it does have to have a few commercial bones thrown into the mix. There is the tres-KMFDM feel to a song like "Stimulation," and a cover of "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)."
KMFDM commercial? Yeah. When sports talk radio is using your stuff as intro music for national shows, you've backed into the mainstream. U235 is commercial, but don't let some little kiddie at the Sam Goody scare you away from this disc. That wouldn't be fair.
Because these guys do this music extremely well. Clay People well? Almost, though U235 does wallow in the disco beats a bit more than thus moves itself into a slightly different category. This is simply crunchy music that's equally useful as dance music and adrenaline riding. Nothing wrong with that at all.
(Alley Cat Music)
reviewed in issue #79, 6/30/95
Swirly pop music with alto female vocals. This is not an uncommon sound these days, in case you hadn't noticed.
But Urchins tries like Hell to break from the pack. The songs are alternately sweet and punchy, with some odd lyrical bents. Certainly worth an afternoon of listening.
Urchins needs a little more work and time to really define its own sound, but the foundation has been laid with songs like "The Man With the Golden Tongue", "Tru Luv" and a wondrously mutant cover of "I Woke Up In Love". I think this band sounds more convincing in its darker and heavier moments, and there are plenty of those here.
(Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #16, 6/30/92
Somewhere deep in all of our hearts there lies something that loves Neil Diamond. And Neil was instrumental in ridding my house from an infestation of drunken fratboys at one of my parties last year. But enough of that...
As you probably know by now, this ep opens with the lesser-known Diamond track "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon." And well done, boys. And if you missed their Sub Pop single (I don't have the cash for that stuff, either), don't worry, they're here.
For some unknown reason, Newsweek used U.O.'s name in the deck on its story "Looking for Nirvana II." If you want to read a completely musically naive piece of work, find it. After all, didn't you know Nirvana was a punk band?
Enough yapping; this is a fine ep from a band which is only now getting the recognition it deserves. Six great songs on marbled vinyl. Who could ask for more?
reviewed in issue #202, 7/17/00
Just another side of the Richmond scene. Used Carlotta plays that new fangled-old fashioned country music. Kinda like Neko Case and her Boyfriends or Lyle Lovett or Johnny Cash in the 60s. A little boom-chicka-boom, a little fiddle (for some reason here, that's credited as "violin") and songs about Jesus and redemption.
The lyrics are wry and knowing, but not smarmy. Used Carlotta likes this music, see, and is merely pushing a few of the themes to the extreme. The music itself rides that rock/country divide, but the fiddle and steel guitar keep it on the country side.
Screw labels. This is just good music. Dark, but with a nice sense of fun (who knew klezmer could be played with a cowboy hat?). Each song here is a revelation.
The writing and playing are fearless, and the result is an utterly unique and impressive album. The end of the album simply means you have to start all over again.
reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98
So I'm sitting here listening to these thick guitar rock tunes and wondering "How the hell do these songs last for five to ten minutes?" That's what I get for sneaking a look at the track times, I guess.
The main answer would seem to be that these folks follow the Neil Young approach to writing songs. Because the solos don't sound overly long, and there's always a chorus, verse or bridge right around the corner. It's just that sometimes the corner is further away than I thought.
And apart from structure, the Users don't sound much like Neil Young. More like the Doors playing Deep Purple. Of course, that would also explain the length of the songs. In any case, there's very much that seventies excess trying to get back to the sixties vibe going on. And I can't say I don't like it.
Because I do. For no particular good reason, really, but when I throw the songs against the wall, they stick. It's as good a test as any, you know.
reviewed in issue #284, April 2007
What I said about Chicago in the first review of the month goes double for here. It's hard to tell exactly what Grant Birkenbeuel and JinJa Davis are going for, exactly, but I can say that it works astonishingly well.
There's a definite nod to 70s soft rock, but always tied to rootsy underpinnings. But this isn't Poco by any stretch of the imagination. Think more Bacharachian pop with a bit more oopmh. Very mannered stuff, though with a looseness and hint of twang--especially in the guitar.
The production is almost jazzy, very smooth and lush. Which is why I can't say exactly where I think these folks are headed. Not that I'm particularly worried, of course. These songs sound great.
Wonderful stuff, the sort of vaguely genre-bending fare that tends to land lightly on my ears. Let the joy infuse your soul.
(Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #87, 9/18/95
All the way from Sicily, the Uzeda attack follows DC and Chicago hardcore noise conventions fairly closely, except that Giovanna Cacciola has a pretty weird accent for that sort of sound.
Albini produced the four tracks included (thus the name), and his guitar expertise shows. As usual, the vocals were completely ignored, but Cacciola still managed a decent job.
I'm not sure exactly how this expands the whole idea of this sound, but it is a solid effort in the genre. Love to see how this band would play in the U.S.
Different Section Wires
(Touch and Go)
reviewed in issue #155, 3/23/98
Hell, it's only been 2 1/2 years since the Uzeda 4 EP crashed out. The album is right on time. Ahem.
This Sicilian foursome has been through all sorts of trials from the beginning. Different Section Wires came out as fast as it could. The Albini man lent his hands to the knobs, which probably lent to the harshly cold environment. The songs struggle mightily to escape the silence, and when they finally break through, pandemonium.
And since Uzeda specializes in tightly-controlled explorations of noise pop, the restraint shown on this disc is amazing. Each part, drums, bass, guitar and vocals, operated within its own little sphere. Sometimes the pieces work together, and sometimes they don't. Wonderful happy pain.
Faint constitutions may walk away now. Do not attempt this ride. Uzeda demands complete immersion, and the ride may damage your very soul. Don't say I didn't warn you.
return to A&A archives index page
return to A&A home page