Brooklyn’s most brutal band rediscover their salad days with Improvised Munitions & Demo
Much like the movies Heavy Traffic, Taxi Driver and Bad Lieutenant, Unsane captures the seedy underbelly of 0the Big Apple in a way the tourism board would prefer no one knows about.
This band has been terrorizing the five boroughs as a trio since 1988, and just released their lost debut full-length Improvised Munitions along with their original demo this past April 9th, courtesy of their label, Lamb Unlimited.
Album: Improvised Munitions & Demo
Label: Lamb Unlimited
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
At the time Improvised Munitions was recorded, the group consisted of Chris Spencer, Pete Shore, and Charlie Ondras on drums. Originally recorded for Circuit Records, the album never actually saw the light of day as Circuit Records disintegrated without explanation. Even though a few tunes were used as singles, the album had not been released as a whole until now.
Though Chris Spencer has long been the only original member, Unsane’s sound has never strayed far from the blueprint laid down on these recordings. Opening tracks “Cracked Up”, “Cut” and “Bath”, construct the foundation for what is come, both on this album and for years to come. Each song is built primarily from the tightly-locked grooves of the drums and bass. They swing and jab like a nimble boxer, an angular but solid core that nevertheless is hard to pin down. These grooves seem primarily lifted from the sometimes jagged technicality of noise rock or the angular beats of post-punk.
Meanwhile, Spencer’s guitar walks a fine line between Industrial inspired noise and the punked-up rockabilly tactics employed by The Cramp’s Lux Interior and Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay Ray. Spencer’s tone is more texture than mass, a wash of filth over the top of the concrete and steel of the rhythm section underneath. Most tracks utilize a simple rock structure, mid-paced punk blasts at their grimiest and most dangerous.
“Slag” does pull back on the desperate violence just a bit but substitutes a lumbering throb instead, like the slow-moving agony of drug withdrawal. “Concrete Bed” on the other hand nods at Killing Joke’s relentless drive but drags it through the tunnels beneath the city. “My Right” closes the album out with a bit more of a melancholy feel, though it is still jagged and serrated around the edges.
The release also includes the group’s cassette demo from 1988. The songs from that release still have the raw pummeling power as those on the album, just with a different production. The noise is paired back some, and the guitar more prominent. In some ways, the demo is almost cleaner sounding, but for the Unsane, that doesn’t necessarily mean better. Yet, the demo proves effective. The songs are taut and plenty vicious. It’s an extra ten minutes to view the trio through a slightly different lens.
Taxi Driver utilized a slinky, Noir-ish soundtrack to evoke the mood of late-night New York City in the 1970s. It’s an iconic set of music, but Unsane seems to dive deep into Travis Bickle’s troubled mind, capturing the violence seething within. If the cinema somehow romanticizes this period in New York City’s history, Unsane is here to show us how ugly things really were, and perhaps how ugly things still are, even if it is hidden better.