Review Summary: As math rock as math rock gets.
NUITO was a three-piece math rock band based in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan, active during the late 2000’s (and recently reformed in 2016). During the band’s brief life, they only released one album, Unutella, which unfortunately never garnered much attention and passed quietly into relative obscurity. In hindsight, this is a bit strange since (albeit a little superficially) the most obvious comparison to be made is early Tera Melos. Opener “Intrjctn” sounds like it could have come straight off Drugs to the Dear Youth, what with its relaxed, jazzy guitar noodling and gentle drum flurries that devolve into heavily manipulated, stuttering nonsense. And while NUITO display their influences proudly throughout the album, Unutella never feels derivative or stale.
On the surface, Unutella is classic math rock: it is riddled with hectic drumming, two-hand tapping, disorienting time changes, odd meters, and abrupt modulations. But that's only half the album. Sure it's the louder and more in-your-face half, the half that one is more likely to identify and remember upon first listening, but to say that this is all NUITO can do is to do them a huge disservice. Over the course of Unutella’s criminally short 34-minute runtime, Keiichiro Hirai, Atsushi Tomofuji, and Sei Nagahata demonstrate mastery of their respective instruments. They show a command of tension and mood making, creating something that expands the genre conventions expected from math rock.
The transition from the mellow opener to the hammering hits at the beginning of “NeKoMaJiN Vs” is enough to give the listener whiplash. It is without a doubt a defining moment of the album, but the rest of the track shows that NUITO has a whole lot more up their sleeves. They never let things settle, constantly truncating phrases or adding in an extra note or two, or just burning it all to the ground and starting someplace completely new--often within the span of seconds. It’s stressful: finding the one can be maddening at times. But that’s the fun of it, what makes it so exciting. There are so many sections on Unutella that almost fry the listener’s brain, but somehow manage to never take things over the edge. The first movement of “Looo(No)Reque Protocol” is so syncopated that it feels like it’s going to tear apart at the seams, but then they as a unit stop on a dime and pick it right back up. Importantly, the band pulls in the reigns often enough that the music never becomes too oppressive.
But there are just so many moving parts on this album that it is incredible to think that it is created and held together by just three musicians, which is a huge testament to their skill as instrumenalists. NUITO cover so much ground over the course of the album. They expectedly incorporate elements of spaced-out prog, but also incorporate others that are more surprising like funky comping on “消ええらるる世界,” getting dancy on “弋,” and it even seems like they are going to break out into “Bennie and the Jets” at one point. Not to mention Unutella is littered with flat out fat grooves.
NUITO excels at letting things breathe, creating some space. They craft their mellow sections to be more than simply interludes to hold the listener over to the next loud part. And though they certainly are less immediate, they are no less complex or memorable. “TongPoo” is a perfect example of this. A simple pattern of bass harmonics and subdued drumming emerge from the chaotic end of “NeKoMaJiN Vs”, exemplary of aptitude with dynamic contrasts and admirable restraint. Airy guitar floats above the fragile backdrop, which, as the song slowly progresses, grows into a hearty roar and makes for one of the album’s most cathartic moments. But it’s the calm before the storm that makes the storm seem so incredible, and it’s the eye of the hurricane that’s the safest place to be.
The few gripes that I have with the album are a result of the production. At times it is a little too thin, which allows the bass to get lost in the mix, while at others it is a bit cluttered, which in such busy music causes bits and pieces to get muddied. There’s a moment in “TongPoo” when the guitar is wailing but is somehow buried and muffled, which is a bit puzzling. On the whole though, the production is mostly satisfactory, and the embellishments in post are tasteful and improve the music. The synths on “NeKoMaJiN Vs” and “弋” are beautiful additions that add an extra emotive layer, and the overdubs, oscillating delay trails, and general effects that permeate the album flesh out the instrumentals and help perfect the spacey and hectic mood.
Unutella, fractured and patchwork as it is, is still coherent. It’s disorienting yet so deliberate. More than a mish-mash of masturbatory shredding for the sake of it, there is a strong sense of melody and a consistent mood throughout. Without looking too far into it, the album has an undercurrent of something vague like melancholy, which elicits an emotional response, makes it approachable, gives it a personality, and prevents it from becoming a stale showcase of technical skill. There are countless pieces of ear candy throughout the album: one-second ditties that only appear once and fleshed-out passages work their way into your brain and are more difficult to get out than would be expected. Although it’s a bit of a taxing experience, the disparate bits and pieces that make up the album coalesce to make Unutella a very rewarding listen that stands as a cornerstone of math rock.