Monday, July 12, 2010

Ten from the '90s Part Five (1993): Unrest- PERFECT TEETH CD (Teen Beat/4AD)

























Unrest’s development from smart and arty ‘80s post-HC upstarts into arguably the best guitar-pop trio of the ‘90s was a fascinating thing to hear as it happened. I can’t brag that I was there from the very beginning mind you, but I wasn’t that far behind, doing mail-order from Mark E. Robinson’s Teen Beat label when a large portion of that imprint’s discography was homemade cassette releases. And in my opinion there is a plurality of approaches into the vast worthiness of the band’s legacy: maybe the easiest way is to engage with their existence in two parts. The first found Robinson and drummer Phil Krauth interacting with a progression of third members (Tim Moran, Chris Thomson, Dave Park, Justin Chearno) in a sustained attempt at romancing a mind-bogglingly diverse assemblage of influences into something roughly approximating a focused aesthetic. That they were so successful at this unruly endeavor gets more impressive as time slouches forward. UK prog, Kiss covers, Kenneth Anger, shards of DC-post hardcore, choppy acoustic wrangling, unusual but surefooted instrumental passages, sincere post-punk appropriation and flashes of unadulterated pop brilliance all combined to somehow sound downright logical. Any of the band’s early recordings showcase this sonic coup to fine effect, though MALCOLM X PARK is probably the best example. The culmination of this first part saw the band undergo a subtle refinement that avoided downplaying their wide ranging nature, with KUSTOM KARNAL BLAXPLOITATION evidencing this shift. And that was cool, but where do you go from there? In Unrest’s case, you move on to the second part of their lifespan, often called the “Bridget Cross-era”. Cross had already made some serious waves as a member of Velocity Girl, contributing in a very key manner to that DC-area group’s outstanding debut 7” before bailing and hooking up with Robinson and Krauth in 1990. Her contribution to Unrest was immediately felt as they kicked out a couple of classic short players, “Yes She Is My Skinhead Girl” and “Cherry Cherry”. Listening to both it was plainly clear that further refinement was taking place. Specifically, deep attention was now being paid to the post-punk and guitar pop elements in the band’s arsenal, and they quickly attained an overt yet non-slavish Anglo-ist minimalism that was equal parts arty and catchy. At times insanely catchy. IMPERIAL F.F.R.R. is often thought of as the go-to release for this era of the band, since it solidified them as a main attraction of the ‘90s indie heyday (Spin Magazine articles and all that). And it is a masterful record, but as much as I’m smitten with that one (and smitten I most assuredly am) I rank their final album PERFECT TEETH as both my sentimental favorite (by a nose) and this incarnation of Unrest’s qualitative high note. It’s the release that hits the perfect synthesis of their late fixations and is also a monument to how deep study of musical precedent can meld with imaginative inspiration to reward the listener with a profoundly personal collective voice. It opens with a nice passage of guitar and vocal fragility from Bridget and Mark (“Angel I’ll Walk You Home”) before exploding into the precise pop heaviness of “Cath Carroll”. You may recognize that name as belonging to a certain Factory Records artist of notable cult renown (she was in Miaow, one of the best late ‘80s Factory groups). Deliberate hommage was a major element in the Unrest (and Teen Beat) attack, often visually (that’s Cath’s striking image gracing PERFECT TEETH’s cover above). They titled another tune “Winona Ryder”, penned “Isabel” in tribute to painter Isabel Bishop and named an early cassette LISA CAROL FREMONT (identify the reference and make this middle-aged auteurist happy). This practice surely gives off a nice post-Godardian whiff, something they share with fellow DC resident Ian Svenonius. The song celebrating this particular Brit-pop muse is just brimming with elements that basically define late-period Unrest; guitars hyperactive and chiming (with occasional helpings of judicious distortion), vocals soaring and joyous (when they weren’t magnetically melancholic), drumming complex and forceful (yet wildly, indefatigably direct in a manner that’s kinda post-Motorik). The tune gallops, it freefalls, it explodes, it repeats. And repeats. Sweet and glorious. From there the record moves into Mark’s mid-tempo jangle comfort zone (“So Sick”), finds Bridget conjuring a very UK rainy day-ish spirited mopery (“Light Command”), lands on one of Mark’s alternate-universe karaoke belters (“Soon It Is Going To Rain”), and sees Phil sing (and drum) a pretty and picturesque love ditty, the kind of tune that’d sound flat-out euphoric on headphones from an airplane seat while traveling to reengage the warm embrace of a lover long missed (“West Coast Love Affair”). Yeah, there is also some Tommy Tutone if he recorded for Sarah Records tomfoolery from Mark (“Six Layer Cake”), and Bridget’s closer has the sort of bold bass playing and airy downtrodden vox that screams out Rough Trade circa 1980 (“Stylistic Ampersand”). The centerpiece of the whole disc though is “Make Out Club”, which sounds like some dastardly rouge cooked down the choppy jangle-rifics of the early Wedding Present, sucked it up in a big-assed cartoon syringe and shot it into a throbbing mainline that leads to a furiously beating heart muscle energized not by blood (no way) but by the myriad and eternal beauties of love (sorry Scientists). If you’ve ever passionately kissed someone in a field on a blanket in late spring until it felt like you had just exchanged tongues, you’ll understand the greatness of this song. If you haven’t, it’ll make you want to. Please proceed.

2 comments:

the horse and hare said...

I love Rear Window...

Joseph said...

Excellent! Indeed, it's my 2nd favorite Hitch, bested only by VERTIGO.

Lots of great stuff going on over at yr place, BTW. Photos and art, especially...

Best,

Joseph