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Untied States: Instant Everything, Constant Nothing

By Neeharika Palaka | February 8, 2010

Split Magazine: Untied StatesHailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Untied States is a complex art-rock band with a name that’s a clever little play (words-wise and otherwise) on the United States. In their third full length album ‘Instant Everything, Constant Nothing’, the band takes the listener on a chaotic yet exhilarating roller coaster ride in the dark.

The entire album is characterised by unexpected pauses and equally unexpected spikes: like a quirkier and much heavier version of Caribou, the band effortlessly manages to convey through its music the feeling of not knowing exactly just what’s around the bend, and this is what makes this album so engaging and exciting. In all the songs, there is consistently a certain element of cacophony, sometimes subtle enough to pass by unnoticed. Occasionally, it feels as though the band makes fairly accessible indie rock but slips in elements of sheer rebellion against structured music for their — and ultimately our — enjoyment. They throw in what, on occasion, sounds like badly tuned guitars and untrained vocal cords at random; and the best part about the Untied States is the fact that they force this discordance to work, in a strange way. Not many artists can pull off the nonchalant randomness required for a sound like this.

In the music of Untied States, there is invariable variation from song to song, from note to note; and the explosions of energy create the impression of everything happening at once. The only thing for sure that you know about this band’s music is that nothing is constant. Clearly, the band has chosen an apt title for this intelligent offering of hectic and Byzantine indie rock.

The album draws you in instantly with the caveman-like beats of the opener “Gorilla the Bull”, which also showcases the reckless but strangely pining voice of Colin Arnstein. In “Unsilvered Mirrors”, wistful protracted vocals against a dreamy backdrop push through into an evocative song full of the authoritative drumming of Satchel Mallon, and the usual distinctively peculiar arrangements. Another enjoyable track is “Grey Tangerines”, which starts off almost unremarkably — that is, until the jarring, tinkling electronica kicks in. “These Dead Birds” is an unpredictable pendulum swinging from high note to low, from ambient chamber-pop to a detonation of agony — it creates the not wholly disagreeable feeling of tuning into a punk radio station and a pop station at the same time, which can perhaps be said for most of this album.

“Take Time for Always” is a barrage of pounding drums, reminiscent of a hyperactive rock version of “Flight of the Bumblebee”. It is when an extremely fast-paced section unexpectedly breaks into hesitant piano notes that sound like a MIDI soundtrack for a Hitchcock movie, that one truly understands the expanse of this band’s power. Electronica-tinged “Bye Bye Bi-polar” infuses a sense of paranoia, as if each of the band members are anxiously glancing over their shoulders while playing. Indeed, Untied States basically sounds like bipolar disorder converted into a musical format.

The best track on the album is “Delusions are Grander”: this impressive piece exhibits vocal mix-ups and shifts between styles and speeds. The atmospheric melancholy sprints into a guttural scream, and back, before you can absorb it.

For the most part, the Untied States lack identifiable riffs and choruses (but not always in a bad way): you may remember that you enjoyed a particular track from the album, but you most probably will not be able to remember how it went. The careening speeds, general dissonance, and overall great density of the music no doubt have something to do with this feeling.

However, the formation of a bond with the music is somewhat difficult. Maybe they’re better than their counterparts because of their greater adherence to the spirit of indie culture (and for that, they should surely be lauded) but theirs is not the most accessible music out there. At times, one requires a certain determination to just get through the album at a stretch: the experimentation occasionally veers into the dangerous territory of self-indulgence.

When it works, though, ‘Instant Everything, Constant Nothing’ is an album like none other. One thing’s for certain: when this album is playing, one can never feel too comfortable, nor can one do anything else. The album grabs your attention, and holds it too. Whether it deserves that attention, however, depends on your cup of tea.

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