Google doesn’t like Untied States. At least not their name. The band’s play on words is confusing to the search engine giant, which invariably tries to correct any initial search entry back to “United States,” displaying colorful maps of the country and Wikipedia articles to match. It almost seems that Untied States don’t want to make it easy for you, and this idea is certainly in keeping with their music.
Based in Atlanta, Untied States is a maniacal quartet intent on destroying musical boundaries, broadening what a rock song can encompass. The musicianship is excellent, though it’s difficult to classify what sub-genre they fall into. They’re proggy, but not in the Dream Theater sense; they’re heavy but not metal. They’re too hard-rocking to be deemed pretentious but too smart, too eclectic to be just hard rock. Untied States’ third full-length studio release, Instant Everything, Constant Nothing is a complex masterpiece that warrants multiple listens. Indeed, to be fully appreciated, it needs multiple listens.
This is not an album for everyone. Instant Everything contains harsh tones, clashing notes, ugly chords and inaccessible vocals muddled by a barrage of thick, warped instrumentation. There isn’t a single hook on the entire album. This is anti-pop at its finest and fullest. In fact, it’s one of the most dissonant rock albums I’ve heard in a good while. But—and this is a big ‘but’—that’s a major reason why it’s such a damn good album.
The record is a grower, and I, for one, didn’t get it on the first listen. But each successive play through revealed lovable nuances, an onslaught of character. Instant Everything, Constant Nothing is a densely layered album that has the potential to pull them out of the depths of the melodic drudgery they’re competing with. It takes a lot of panache and willpower for a band to remain this unique within today’s consumer-based musical climate. But given the density of this strange album, it’s doubtful that Untied States will shake off the masses that will inevitably try to hold them down.
Therefore, I recommend, no, demand that you give this album at least five or six listens before making any final judgments. Admittedly, that is a tall order, but think of Wilco’s staggering, but difficult, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, an album I hated and resisted for years before finally falling in love with it.
Colin Arnstein’s ethereal harmonies and effects-drenched, theatric howls are reminiscent of a Bends-era Thom Yorke or of early Muse. He sometimes drifts into a terrified shriek, a ghost who finally discovers why his own house is haunted. Arnstein and his fellow string-slingers, Skip Engelbrecht and Darren Tablan, all claim multi-instrumental duties, assaulting each other’s riffs with varied and differing riffs of their own. The guitars are a mash of Deerhoof’s Milkman, Fugazi’s Red Medicine and perhaps even Sleepytime Gorilla Museum or Mew. The bass has a feel of Tool’s Ænima to it throughout, especially at the end of “Delusions Are Grander,” an epic that displays one of the only two vocal melodies on the entire album that come even close to being deemed ‘catchy’ (“Holding up Walls” contains the other). Drummer Satchel Mallon provides the essential backbone for this beast of a band, shaping the songs like a chisel on stone.
The album opens like a horror flick, a swelling hum that leads to the first of many pummeling guitars in opener “Gorilla the Bull,” an eerie song that charges headlong into the beat-heavy second track, “Not Fences, Mere Masks.” The Catholic-Church-tinged organ/choral intro of “Unsilvered Mirrors” fades like a funeral dirge to make way for the arresting guitars that burst through the stained glass façade Arnstein’s harmonies had molded. The album flows exceptionally well, each subsequent song leaving little time for the brain to process the intricacies of sound established in the previous track. “Grey Tangerines” flawlessly follows with triggered bass drum bumps and dissonant synth keys that offset the similarly dissonant guitar chords. If dissonance were gold, the founding fathers of Untied States would be swimming, Scrooge McDuck style, through their own currency.
“These Dead Birds” sounds like what you would find if Grizzly Bear’s “Cheerleader” got pregnant with an illegitimate child at her junior prom. Oh, and if the only dance allowed at that prom was a deranged waltz. And if all the attendants were coming down from a bad acid trip. It’s alternately psychotic and emotional and includes some of the most beautiful guitar arrangements on the album, as does “Bye Bye Bi-Polar,” which lives up to its title, switching from a finger-picked, depressive sentiment to a shrill, manic hysteria.
Instant Everything, Constant Nothing is altogether a bipolar production, a rollercoaster of highs and lows, often within seconds of one another. It is at times agitated and heart-pumping, like in “Take Time for Always,” with its highly distorted vocals yelping “Give me any any any any any any any any any any any any any any any any cause” over a drag race between guitars and drums, bouncing back and forth between speakers. At other times it is heartbreakingly, gut-wrenchingly sad and emotive, as it is in the middle of “Wrestling With Entropy in the Rehabbed Factory,” a song that evokes an industrial assembly line undergoing some fatal malfunction; in stark pain one moment as drums detonate the foreground, the song drops to a stark revelation, that “I’m the ghost of your demise,” cued by piano plinks and gorgeous, rolling bass tones.
You won’t hear Untied States on the radio anytime soon. They’ve created art for its own sake, for their own sake. Without yielding to marketability, they’ve done something that most bands only wish they could do—created an album that signifies the essence of artistic integrity. Don’t dismiss this record as a cacophonous, scatterbrained mess of noise, as many are sure to, even though on certain levels that’s exactly what it aims to be. Here is a great album that is sure to be overlooked.
1. Gorilla the Bull
2. Not Fences, Mere Masks
3. Unsilvered Mirrors
4. Grey Tangerines
5. These Dead Birds
6. Take Time for Always
7. Bye Bye Bi-Polar
8. Wrestling With Entropy in the Rehabbed Factory
9. Delusions Are Grander
10. Holding Up Walls
11. Kowtow Great Equalizer