By Bill Adams
The complicated thing about instrumental albums is that they’re really easy to make (getting a band to just jam is never difficult), but making a great and memorable one is surprisingly difficult. The reason for that is simple; most rock bands operate within the pop songwriting paradigm which means a song should present an idea/story/moral to those listening but achieving that can be difficult without lyrics. As a result, instrumental albums have to take longer to build and that amount of time may not be of any interest to the pop patron who craves instant gratification. That obvious barrier may keep The Unsemble and their debut album from breaking through too – but those willing to take the time with the album and absorb the dark, introspective, moody sounds which manifest in its fifteen tracks will have their eyes opened to a vibrant aural world unlike any they’ve ever heard come from a rock record before.
The uneasy sense of darkness which dominates The Unsemble appears already set and solid in “Circles.” There, guitarist Duane Denison wastes no time in setting up a reoccurring, spidery and unsettling guitar riff under which multi-instrumentalist Alexander Hacke and drummer Brian Katzurbuild build a mood of foreboding and dramatic detestation. The results are equal parts dark and compelling; listeners will find that, because there are no words to accurately qualify the sense of dread that “Circles” instills in them, they’re compelled to dig deeper into the record to better understand it.
While they may not get substantive reasons why the music makes the hair on the backs of the necks stand erect, they won’t have to dig far to find more music able to do it. Songs including “Improv 1,” “Act 3,” “Chaingang” and “Waves” all see the group dig into a textural sound similar to that which Thurston Moore examined with Tom Surgal and William Winant on Piece For Jetsun Dolma and create an enormous and dramatic panorama but, unlike Dolma, Unsemble manages to build both its sounds and emotional presentations in a much more succinct manner. On “Neon,” for example, Denison’s syncopated guitars combined with a tightly closed hihat build a palpable impression of desperation which is undeniable while the layering of sinewy bass, snaky guitars and deeply set, bending keyboards is more vividly unsettling than any number of “regularly staffed” (guitar, bass, drums, vocals) metal bands currently on the circuit. When a perfectly eerie, whining sound (it might be a keyboard, it might be a theremin) cuts through both the mix of “Waves” as well as the minds of those who hear it, the hook will be set and there will be no turning back; those who enter The Unsemble’s debut album will know what they’re hearing is a success because they won’t be able to get enough. Here’s hoping there’s more to come from this band and this album wasn’t just a one-off dalliance.