Music Pounding in My Head: Unsane and Irreversible Entanglements

Southern Lord
Released: 9.29.17

Unsane has been mainlining stress, panic, fury, anxiety, and frustration since 1988, the grim layout of yesteryear NYC tapped, injected, and purged as the pen has scrawled line after line of lyrical catharsis, words to be later shouted over top an unrelenting mass of distorted, chugging uproar that’s been carried through eight studio albums. And #8 is Sterilize, which checks in on the band’s mid-90s output while opening new wounds, sludge-weighted hostility like “Factory,” the drum-n-bass muck of “No Reprieve,” and the seasick rhythmic lean of “Lung” still composed with intensity in mind.

As the proliferation of noise rock bands like KEN mode, Helms Alee, Spectres, Pissed Jeans, and METZ continues to garner attention during what’s been a renewed focus on guitar-generated aggression for the last 10 or so years, (which has interestingly coincided with rock n’ roll’s so-called mainstream demise), Sterilize could certainly reinstate for Unsane some level of ownership and credit with regard to this genre they had a hand in creating. And while I wouldn’t call Sterilize a progression for the band, there’s no denying how well it stands against the band’s past LPs. Age hasn’t really mellowed these guys out, almost as if they regard time itself as another adversary.   

Irreversible Entanglements
International Anthem Recording Co. / Don Giovanni
Released: Digital - 9.26.17; CD, LP - 12.1.17

If you’re one of the many who believes protest or social commentary doesn’t belong in art or music, then you should probably sit this one out.

In the tradition of We Insist! from Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite, Gil Scott-Heron’s Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, or Archie Shepp’s The Magic of Ju Ju, Irreversible Entanglements’ self-titled debut evokes the era of Civil Rights informed protest jazz, the often explosive, free flowing combination of sound and commentary a stinging, unapologetic, and impressionable musical statement. Led by poet Camae Ayewa (a.k.a., Moor Mother), Irreversible Entanglements’ mode of conveyance is handled with an appropriate and necessary amount of chaos, improvised storms of snare and hi-hat generating unease throughout “Chicago to Texas” and an Albert Ayler-sized pairing of brass announcing frantically the opening of “Enough.”

Ayewa’s presence is commanding, but the music speaks as well, given its own time to reflect and mutate. Following her verses in “Fireworks,” a fascinating bridge from saxophonist Keir Neuringer and trumpeter Aquiles Navarro almost perfectly channels the distinctive howls of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. The album ends with the near-16-minute “Projects,” drummer Tcheser Holmes administering varying degrees of intensity to his drum kit as swells of howling and barking brass either stay relatively quiet beneath his fills or attempt to gain all attention through volume, blaring as bassist Luke Stewart provides the track its only real anchor. “We live in a movie out here,” Ayewa says, a statement that stands out from the disorder beneath, an intense listen that ends in a maelstrom of arguing and tormented sounds, each piece struggling to be heard till the final seconds when all you can hear is a drum being pounded. 


Letters From A Tapehead


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