With a little American help...
Janne Oinonen
11:10 29th March 2006
It’s possible that The Unit Ama never encountered the rulebook for rock trio formation before heading to the studio to lay down this, their debut LP. It’s equally likely that they did come across these commandments, but wisely decided to ignore the bits that stipulate that a band with a basic guitar-drums-bass line-up must adhere to one of the two popular templates – bluesy bluster cluttered by plentiful virtuoso fretwank, or an ensemble effort making up for paucity of manpower with energetic, hook-laden precision.
 
Whatever the case, the Newcastle troupe uncover some truly stirring, explosive alternatives to not just the tried and tested three-piece sound but rock in general on these ten tracks. It’s something of a refreshing relief, if not a shock, to come across something this original, even alien at a time when even the most marginal sounds are roped in to soundtrack ad campaigns and far too many mediocre bands are glad to ape whatever’s hot at the moment with little regard for anything other than keeping the cash registers alight.
 
As with anything exploring the outer limits, it’s initially a bumpy ride. Most combos would present the simple melody of opener ‘Dead Birds’ in the sparsest, most unobtrusive of settings. The Unit Ama, however, choose to cook up a raucous, free-form rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of the cacophonous improvisation of the furthest-out skronk-jazz, whilst the feverish guitar-mangling and stuttering rhythms of the nervously twitching ‘Governed’ are more than a bit disturbing. Persevere with the platter, though, and what at first sounds like mere off-putting textbook definitions for uneasy listening soon start to make compelling sense.
 
The Unit Ama sound isn't entirely without precedents. Both the rumbling metronomic beat of ‘Plastique Bertrand’s fuzz bass-driven race down riff lane and guitarist-singer Steven’s zeal for skipping the pentatonic bollocks in favour of exploring his instrument’s untapped potential for startling shrieks and squeals resemble Sonic Youth, whereas the loose, sprawling crescendos of ‘The Ostrich’ bring to mind Lift To Experience – another trio who didn’t give two hoots about what had gone before. The instrumentals ‘How The Mind Works’ and ‘Glass Like Water’, meanwhile, borrow a bolt or two from the post-rock toolbox, but replace that genre’s complex structures with relentless repetition that provides a wealth of hypnotic thrills.
 
It’s not quite a masterpiece, though. Steven is more of a ranter than an actual singer, but his pipes don’t pack the necessary menace and authority to carry off the hectoring approach with the aplomb that, say, Mark E. Smith does, whilst on the tunes front, the chaotic ‘Horses (of Northumbria)’ veers perilously close to the wilful unpleasantness of hardcore noise-mongering. Next to the overall quality of this astonishingly accomplished debut, however, these reservations can be easily brushed aside with dismissive title of another selection – ‘Fuck The Critic’.