Unknown Instructors CD review [Smog Veil]

Music Reviews
Unknown Instructors CD review [Smog Veil]
May 1, 2007, 05:41



Setting poetry to music is a tricky thing. Steven Jesse Bernstein and John Giorno (when they were accompanied), along with V. Majestic, did it well, creating engaging and dynamic landscapes of words and sound. And Also The Trees and Rat At Rat R did it badly, in both instances coming off nothing so much as square college professors trying to break free of their repetitively dull lives while ultimately remaining both clueless and pretentious.

Leaning much more to the former than to the latter are Unknown Instructors, a super-group of sorts formed around poet Dan McGuire. Featuring the shit hot Minutemen/fIREHOSE rhythm section of Mike Watt and George Hurley, plus Saccharine Trust main man and sometime Watt Band man Joe Baiza on guitar with guest wordings from Pere Ubu/Rocket From the Tombs' David Thomas and artist Raymond Pettibon (who also happens to be Greg Ginn's brother, strengthening the SST ties surrounding this group, along with the production assistance credit for SST compadre, Joe Carducci). Watt and Hurley do their still incredible telepathic interplay throughout, weaving around the extraordinary guitar work of Baiza, and whose inventiveness and multi-textured abilities left me wanting to check out some Saccharine Trust and Universal Congress Of records to see what I may have missed way back when. In fact, the music made by these three is so awesome that I wish there had been a second disc including just instrumental mixes of the record, as at times I desperately tried to filter out the vocals so I could hear the music better.

Alas, though, that is the toss-up with The Master's Voice. The one and only Watt spiel ("In Your Town Without You") is cool in that he comes off as a more hip and street credible Ken Nordine, and once you get used to the High School English teacher-like vocals of Dan McGuire, his stuff becomes quite enjoyable and fun. Especially worth noting of McGuire's contributions are "Machine Language,” in which Baiza's guitar goes into adding machine overload, and "Maggot Sludge" (which also features Baiza on "vocal interlude"), which sounds like early Black Sabbath as fronted by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The one Pettibon track ("Twing-Twang") is silly and probably not meant to be taken 100% seriously, though it's a listen worth a smile.

The only real bummer here is David Thomas, not the least of which is his need to filter and distort his screeching voice the exact same way on each and every track he appears on. "The Black Hat" is a painful excursion into what appears to be Thomas getting crushed by the wheels of his own self-importance, or perhaps doing his impression of the air getting let out of a balloon very slowly. Granted Thomas has not always been the most easy listening of singers, but his attempt here to be a sort of yodeling Tom Waits as extracted through a telephone really detracts from his own actual talents and contributions to this disc. Perhaps it wouldn't be too bad had Thomas' voice been placed much lower in the mix, but I found his three pieces to be overall unbearable (which is a shame too because the music for these is, of course, fantastic.)

Overall the album's sound is very warm and comforting, in a way like music made by good friends for themselves in their spare time who actually produce something worth listening to. Consume this album late at night whilst head banging along on the couch with a good bottle of wine and the lights dimmed low. Repeat when necessary. [Smog Veil]

-Nick Blakey

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