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Unsane - Lambhouse: The Collection 1991-1998

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Artist: Unsane

Album: Lambhouse: The Collection 1991-1998

Label: Relapse

Review date: Jan. 15, 2004

Unsane's music may best be personified by the title of an old Thelonious Monk tune, "Ugly Beauty". Originating in 1989 out of the same rancorous grime that birthed Pussy Galore and Swans a few years prior, Unsane was the sound of the New York City before Giuliani moved the sex shops, drugs and other "undesirable elements" out of Time Square.

Much like their former labelmates on AmRep, Halo of Flies, Unsane have seen fit to release their own career encompassing "collection" in reverse chronological order. Starting with work from the band's latest home, Relapse and regressing backwards to the band's early Matador, PCP, Treehouse and Subpop work. With the ultra-violence and splatter gore of their early single and album photos, Unsane tried to give the listener a visual accompaniment of the effervescent maelstrom and seething emotions that almost engulfed the band. Unsane's music was like a ritual fire that cleansed the soul while burning the flesh. It was dangerous in the same intangible way as Funhouse, Damaged or White Light/White Heat. That might sound a tad facetious or grandiose, but I swear to you, brothers and sisters, after traveling from the album's opening "Over Me" through the closing salvo of "Exterminator,” you'll feel like you’ve witnessed a bunch of guys exercise every demon from their collective psyches.

Save for Joy Division's Closer or maybe Flipper's Generic, few band's have been able to join desperation, hate and hope with such unrelenting power in such an original and iconoclastic way as Unsane. For instance the often overlooked, "My Right" might be the closest thing to a primal scream mantra done on supersonic proportions. Original drummer Charlie Ondras starts of with a lose swinging hip-hop inspired beat before a massed choir of echoed-laced, feedback-saturated guitars take over like a malevolent character from a Richard Kern flick.

Though the band has undergone some personal changes and suffered through the death of Ondras and the near fatal beating of guitarist/vocalist Chris Spencer, Unsane has always seemed to stay true to their original vision. Even as their recordings went from the lo-fi claustrophobia of the Wharton Tiers productions toward the cleaner, more ominous output of later years, the band's changes seemed born more out natural evolution then in a desire for gratuitous change. It's safe to say they don't build them like Unsane anymore.

By Paul Burress

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