Let’s just get the most obvious part of this post out of the way: That fucking cover is…insane!
In a time before nearly every kind of image was readily available on the internet, somehow the band Unsane scored a photo of a man in a members only jacket with a decapitated head strewn across a subway track. Apparently, bassist Pete Shore had a friend on the police department who passed him the image. It’s quite striking and gritty. It puts to shame any staged or imagined death metal cover in my opinion. This is a record I’ll have to keep in the stacks when the kids are around.
To be honest, I didn’t fully appreciate Unsane at the time. Similar to how I felt about Superchunk, I perceived that a lot of bands doing the Unsane aesthetic and it all sounded the same to me. Plus, I had only heard single tracks out of context on MTV’s 120 Minutes or on compilations. Loud, acerbic, post-hardcore was not my thing. However, with some age and experience, I can hear why Unsane was their own beast. I don’t know that I’ll become an Unsane completest, but this record certainly has me intrigued.
From what I understand and attempt to oversimplify, post-hardcore is really just hardcore played with a greater degree of skill and artistic expression. Unsane demonstrates this perfectly. The bass lines are heavy and brooding and the guitar work is dexterous and almost classic rock-esque. The drumming is powerful and relentless. The vocals are loaded with feedback and static. I’ve heard this aesthetic a million times and have typically ignored it, but there’s some fantastic playing on this record.
It’s hard to see how this record fits the “Matador sound” (whatever that is/was) unless you look for it. I hear elements I’ve heard in Sonic Youth and the Melvins. The Wharton Tiers’ production is apparent and that seems to fit the scene. It’s aggressive music but not without a sense of intellect. Unsane is a unique piece in the Matador catalog and I’m glad this little project forced me to check it out. It provides another perspective on the music of this particular scene that doesn’t necessarily involve college radio smart asses.
First thing’s first. I apologize for not monitoring these posts. It’s been so long since I’ve blogged or watched blog traffic that I didn’t expect the two-day stretch of ~1000 views. I feel really bad for missing a couple of comments (one possibly from a musician on one of the records discussed). Of course, I barely blog anymore and haven’t really had much traffic when I do. This is more of a fun thing to do and not really a serious blogging project. Still, I’ll try to stay tuned into your comments and such.
Now, moving on…
According to most internet searches, New York Eye & Ear Control was an experimental, free jazz compilation of improvisations from 1965, not a collection of arty, punkrock noise. There’s not a lot of information out there on this comp. It feels like a few singles (Dustdevils, Railroad Jerk, Unsane in particular) paired with a bunch of noise…sweet, sweet, beautiful noise. Had I ever been the kind of DJ who needed to clear a dance floor while appealing to a few nerds in the audience, this record would certainly come in handy.
I’m not sure all of the material is each band’s best efforts. Most feels like throwaways meant to fill out a side of a future release or some jam session that happened to land on tape. The opening track by Dustdevils is as good a song as I’ve heard from them so far in a Sonic Youth sort of way. I like the Railroad Jerk track as well, but the rest deserves several more listens before passing judgement. However, it’s hard to do that when you live with a spouse and children who don’t share your love for experimental noise rock.
This is Matador’s first compilation, something 90’s indies were so good at. I’m not sure if it was due to economics or just a culture of collaboration, but 90’s comps were the best way to get to know a label’s roster and related acts. At this point, Matador didn’t have a huge roster and a lot of what’s on here don’t make many appearances in the rest of the catalog (Timber, Cop Shoot Cop, OWT, Borbetomagus, Royal Trux, Rudolph Grey, Fitch). Basically, it’s a few bonus tracks from the actual roster and a lot of noisy contributions from some outsiders. This may have been an easier sell than a tri-split 7″ from Dustdevils, Railroad Jerk, and Unsane.
Without trying the little exercise in record collecting, I would have never considered this record. There’s not much known on the track list and the artwork is borderline atrocious. That said, it’s a cool footnote in the Matador 100 that will get a few more listens in the coming weeks…probably through headphones in order to keep everyone else in the house happy.