Review Summary: Members of U.S. Maple continue to make thought provoking music.
The story of how I found this album is kind strange only for the reason of how eerily it syncs up with a description from a Pitchfork review for the bands next album:
“It's reminiscent of something you'd stumble across in the racks of a record store and take a chance on, perhaps because of the label or a familiar name credited on the back sleeve. Even the enigmatic covert art might be enough.”
This is exactly why I bought the album. It was in the clearance section for 99 cents and it was on Drag City. I usually wouldn’t buy an album based on the record label it was released on, but some labels rarely sign bad artists (I have yet to find a bad bargain album from Sub Pop for instance). For 99 cents and a solid label backing it the album was worth the risk.
Unhistories is a creepy math rock record. The vocals are in an odd falsetto and reminiscent of TV on the Radio. All four members share the vocals equally on each song, but this doesn’t matter all that much. Their voices are relatively similar and the dynamic fits the chaotic musical backdrop. The music is the focus of the album, but the vocals add a strange but helpful dimension to the album.
Two of the members of the band are from U.S. Maple and the influence from that band clearly shows. The angular guitars jut out and rip through the unsettling backdrop of bass and drums at strange times. It’s a record that makes more sense when thinking of it like a jazz album. If you look at it from the prospective of each individual musician showing off their skills and at the same time playing off one another then the album is a lot more sensible.
Deconstruction is a large part of the music. Each ADD addled off key musical shift is meant to take your brain in different directions. It tests the limits of what you would consider music. There are some exceptions to this like the soothing “Divining,” but for the most part this is a “challenging” record for lack of a better term. Think of the most interesting Zach Hill albums (the most interesting, not the best). Unhistories is an amazing math rock record if taken from that perspective, but even for that genre, it can easily wear on someone’s patience.
This record will annoy the hell out of most people, but it could potentially lead to conversation, which is what good art strives to do. If you were to put this album on in a room with a dozen people there would be many different perspectives. The room would be filled with everything from agony to appreciation (probably more agony depending on the people gathered). This is what Unhistories intends to do. It’s a record that is not content to be background music or rely on clichés. The Singer is the perfect successor to the weird legacy that U.S. Maple started in the mid-nineties.