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Unsane - Wreck

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Artist: Unsane

Album: Wreck

Label: Alternative Tentacles

Review date: Apr. 13, 2012

Survivors. All creative souls should hope to be considered survivors at some point in their respective arcs of progress. There was a time — the smart wager would be on the late 1990s and a few years after Y2K — when the pummel New York City’s Unsane more-or-less trademarked was met with historical indifference or even negative dismissal. Or at least it felt that way. (Full disclosure: this writer approached the idea of Unsane with a sociological curiosity at best.) But that was during far more shortsighted times, which promptly came to a halt when the sprawling career-retrospective Lambhouse provided moments of clarity like “there is no song with the distinct intensity and unreal power of ‘Vandal-X’ and that shall remain the case forever” and “Chris Spencer is a terrifyingly effective vocalist so who cares how he gets that sound?” Then this band reached a dignified maturation via believable anguish and a sonic integrity that personified a rugged and very human abstinence from fixing what wasn’t broke. That created cognitive dissonance such as “That guy has been doing this with a Telecaster the whole time?!? With single-coil pickups? No way. Wait…who’s trying to fool themselves into thinking they’re a gearhead now?”

Visqueen (2007) ended with an epic by Unsane standards, and that epic is titled “East Broadway.” Check it out if you want to hear what real pain sounds like when it sounds fantastic. What a promising dirge that one is. Then Unsane toured through the country a year or two back in a couple of Scion plastic boxes, all body-wrapped with Scion spew and all beneficial and free to the band so long as they drove them on tour. That particular Unsane live experience was unlike those one or two remembered from the ’90s. This was a markedly different band onstage, a happy Unsane: jokes between songs, a song dedicated to a sick or even recently dead pet, a workingman’s dedication to craft playing out across what felt like two hours of what seemed (and still seems) so incredibly LACKING in the live band patron-to-artist exchange these days.

And suddenly it all made perfect sense. Why was it hard to find older Unsane on vinyl without spending two weeks eating toothpaste on crackers for dinner after the expense? Because the Unsane, over the last four or five years (or since Visqueen especially), are getting exactly what they deserve for powering through the scene idiocy/indifference, drug overdoses, widespread sonic neutering of everything within earshot, one near-fatal ass-whooping and all of the other ugly soul-depleting and disrespectful life-garbage they’ve survived while holding up an all-important artistic end of the agreement: status as legends within their chosen field.

Wreck is the band’s seventh studio album. It’s on Alternative Tentacles, just in time for “label-fit” to be a wildly irrelevant topic in the world of music journalism. And it should be mentioned that the year 2012 is the band’s 24th (short Y2K-ish hiatus heretofore unimportant). As a cohesive statement, this very well could be their best in a very long time, if not ever. After opener “Rat,” a song that is practically dumbfounding in its Unsane-ishness, the trio gives listeners the first taste of what will forever distinguish this album from previous Unsane titles. “Decay” is an emotional catastrophe, a mood-dirge, and if ears are squinted just right, Unsane’s version of a ballad. The first of several songs that don’t mince words on the subject of a loved one’s battle with drug addiction, there is nothing keeping it from being considered beautiful. Then, two songs later, here comes the same lower-mid-tempo treatment but, get this — everything great about “Decay” is positively sublime on “Pigeon.” Yep, it’s also about the aforementioned issue, yet for what might be the first time in memory’s immediate grab, the potential to go wrong with such subject matter is totally avoided. It is hard to overstate the point of that last sentence.

Albums this strong from bands pushing volume and noise past the quarter-century point are a future fact of the cultural battlefield underground music has become. The 20 year olds just can’t cut it anymore. It’s actually time for the old dudes to serve the little shits precisely the lessons they need, and Wreck is the best example of this so far. It’s important that this record is heard, by everyone, from the diehards to the dabblers.

By Andrew Earles

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