The relevance and vitality of rock ‘n’ roll is apparently a conversation some people still think is worth having, though not for any shortage of musicians making their fair share of noise on electric guitars. There are undoubtedly more rock bands now than at any time before in history, and yet the oversaturation of the field is most likely a primary culprit in why excitement seems to be at diminished levels. The Black Keys seem to think it’s all Nickelback’s fault, but I’m not so sure they factor much into why nobody else’s records are going gold. That isn’t to say nobody cares, however-nostalgia acts, such as the newly reunited Pulp, At the Drive-In and Refused, are selling out shows and sparking enthusiasm. And in case anyone’s forgotten, the bulk of history’s most invigorating and dangerous rock records took years to take hold for a broader audience.
While fans seem to be clamoring for the good old days of punk and indie rock they probably didn’t pay ample attention to the first time, New York City noise rock trio Unsane, noisily and with minimal fanfare, continue to do what they do best-abrasive, meaty post-hardcore with enough ascendant melody to make the tenderization of your poor muscles worthwhile. New album Wreck, which arrives on the cusp of their 25th anniversary of a band, sounds as vital as the band ever has, even if the question of their relevance has always been a matter of influence versus reach. And frankly, Unsane has never seemed to give much of a shit about “relevance” anyhow, their skateboarding slam-session video for “Scrape” in 1995 being their closest brush with mainstream fame and an appropriately harsh way of getting there. All that being said, I’ll be damned if Wreck doesn’t come across as one of the more exciting and, frankly, fun noise rock records in some time.
Sticking to their characteristic one-word song titles and blood-drenched album art (though the red-soaked hand here is considerably less graphic than their debut album’s decapitation scene), Unsane don’t bother changing much about an approach that has made them so reliably, venomously awesome over the years. And yet, across Wreck‘s 10 burly tracks, the band still finds new ways of freshening up that brutality. There’s plenty of low-end rumble to “Metropolis,” and gut-wrenching churn to album opener “Rat,” and yet, these more conventional stompers are, while plenty good, among the less interesting moments. The squeal of harmonica in “No Chance,” however, strikes a more playfully abrasive tone, while mid-tempo groover “Don’t” is the band’s own twisted take on catchy. But it’s a testament to Unsane’s songwriting and sheer brute force that “Decay,” the best song on the album, can essentially be a jangly ballad and still end up sounding as loud and heavy as the other nine songs on the album.
Call it stubbornness or knowing when not to break something that isn’t already broken (in a manner of speaking), but Unsane hasn’t messed with a good thing in more than 20 years, and they aren’t about to start now. Nobody knows blistering, pummeling noise rock better than Unsane, and Wreck, even this far down the line, remains one of their best. Rock ‘n’ roll is probably no more dead or alive than it’s ever been, but its vital signs look good as long as Unsane is around.
Stream: Unsane – “Decay”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.