Monday, September 7, 2009

September 7: Unrest, "Perfect Teeth"

Artist: Unrest
Album: Perfect Teeth
Year: 1993
Label: Teenbeat/4AD

The groups that are well ahead of their time, the pioneers of sound, the innovators of sound tend to simultaneously be the most amazing and most misunderstood bands. While their music is always wonderfully original, since it does not sound like whatever music is currently in style, it is often written off as "strange" or even "bad" music. Years later, these same judgments are flipped to "genius" and "trendsetting," and this marks the sign of a truly original and amazing band. Even before the style or genre of "indie rock" existed, there was one group that was laying the blueprint for how the genre would eventually sound, Unrest. The band began as a project between high school friends Mark Robinson and Phil Krauth, where their ethos was to never play the same song twice. This approach led the duo to some of the most diverse music ever recorded, as their early recordings run from funk to punk to highly experimental music that defies description. In 1990, the group added bassist Bridget Cross, and this is when the true magic began to happen for Unrest. The addition of Cross gave the group a completely new sound, and her ability to perform brilliant vocals took the band to a completely new level. Though it is quite rarely the case, Unrest's finest musical moment is undoubtedly their final album, their mindblowing 1993 release, Perfect Teeth.

First and foremost, when one reads the liner notes, you'll find Duran Duran frontman, Simon LeBon credited with production duties. This is, in fact, a complete joke, and this sums up the general tongue-in-cheek nature of the bands' music. Truth be told, the band themselves handled a majority of the production, though Brian Paulson, who worked with everyone from Babes In Toyland to Beck helped with the engineering of the album. The music on Unrest's final album still sticks to the bands' original mission, as none of the songs sound too much like one another, yet fit together as a perfectly cohesive unit. The music ranges from the eerie sound of "Food & Drink Synthesizer" to the upbeat, poppy "West Coast Love Affair," and there is truly not a bad song anywhere on the record. The band also shows incredible musical diversity in terms of the length and format of the songs found on Perfect Teeth. Rarely sticking to the "verse chorus verse" format, the band injects the vocals where they see them to fit best, and with songs ranging from under two minutes to well over seven minutes, they fully explore every song, and the results are like no other album ever made. This is largely due to the exceptional musicianship found in the trio that forms Unrest, and the chemistry between the three is truly uncanny.

Though there are only three musicians, the music is very full, and the way in which the trio interact with one another is truly amazing. With all of the songs attributed to the entire group, it is hard to pick out where the true writing strength is within the group, so one must assume that all three are responsible for the amazing songs on Perfect Teeth. Teenbeat Records founder and Unrest guitarist, Mark Robinson manages to find what can only be called "perfect" tone for his guitar, and the sound and style he deploys throughout the album has been copied by countless bands. Drumming in a light, almost acoustic manner on some songs, and then in the more traditional sense on others, Phil Krauth proves to be one of the most talented and dynamic drummers of his generation. Shifting easily through the various mid-song tempo changes, his playing is a bit more forward in the mix than usual, and this gives Unrest much of their signature sound. The other half of the rhythm section, and final third of the band, bassist Bridget Cross proves to be the element that the band was missing throughout their early years. The manner in which she is able to perfectly sync up with Robinson and Krauth is truly uncanny, and the way that the trio moves as a single unit on songs like "Breather X.O.X.O." is nothing short of stunning. This is the key to the brilliance of Perfect Teeth, as the band plays their truly unique brand of music, yet does so as a complete group, with no member giving any more or an less than another.

While the music on Perfect Teeth is absolutely phenomenal, the vocals throughout the album are equally as amazing, and this is another area where the addition of Cross pushes the music to another level. Mark Robinson handles a majority of the lead vocal duties on the album, and his soft, low voice are often nothing short of mesmerizing. It is the subtle manner with which Robinson approaches the vocals that make them so amazing, as he almost seems to dance over the music, making for a sound like none other ever heard. Robinson shows off his vocal range and diversity, as he often jumps into the upper registers, and his singing can clearly be seen as an influence on everyone from Sea And The Cake to more modern bands like The Killers. When Bridget Cross adds backing vocals or takes over the vocals completely, the songs are equally as amazing, as her voice perfectly matches the style and approach that Robinson presents. Her voice can become truly hypnotic, as is evident on Perfect Teeth's final song, "Stylized Ampersand," yet she is equally capable of more traditional sounding singing, such as her fantastic performance on "Light Command." This ability to seamlessly interchange lead vocalists who share the same style but have completely different sounds is one of the key aspects that makes the songs on Perfect Teeth so enjoyable and extraordinary.

Attempting to create a new musical style is, by far, one of the most difficult tasks, and the number of bands that fail in trying is immeasurable. However, the bands that do manage to succeed in creating a new sound, while usually misunderstood at the time, eventually become some of the most important and influential groups in history. Perfecting the "DIY" sound and making music that would eventually become known as "indie rock," there are few bands in history that play as brilliantly as the Washington, D.C. based trio, Unrest. After a handful of lineup changes, bassist Bridget Cross joined the band in 1990, and the final three albums of the band are all truly special musical experiences. Proving to be the final element that Mark Robinson and Phil Krauth needed, both her bass playing, as well as her fantastic vocal contributions helped to create one of the most influential and heavily copied sounds ever. This is also due to the exceptional and unique manner with which Krauth approaches the drums, as he plays soft, yet aggressively, and this proves to be one of the most amazing aspects of the bands' sound. Providing exceptional guitar playing, as well as handling a majority of the vocals, Mark Robinson remains one of the most dynamic and distinguished performers in music history, and it is almost impossible to cite all of the bands whom he influenced. Standing in opposition to nearly every musical norm, the bands' final defiance of tradition lies in the fact that their final album, 1993's Perfect Teeth, is by far their greatest musical achievement, and it remains one of the most original and sensational albums ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "Light Command," "Soon It Is Going To Rain," and "Make Out Club."

1 comment:

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To put across my opinion, I think the album wasn't bad. If we were based in the sounds Unrest always was a band with human and riot sense. This approach led the duo to some of the most diverse music ever recorded, as their early recordings run from funk to punk.