by Adrian Gandara
Like a lot of bands in recent years, Unknown Relatives was making music infused with that fuzzed-out surf rock sound — clean guitars, breezy melodies, pop drums, and a hazy layer of reverb coating it all. Well, the sonic beach party’s over. These guys have packed up and headed off, some place they make something more their own. On Lagniappe Per Capita, you can still hear that same happy-go-lucky band in there somewhere, but now they’re taking those guitars and drums and using them for something completely different on this noisy post-punk album.
It’s a step in the same direction they started on in last year’s Clueless. But for all the growth and musical range Clueless showed, it also had a sort of identity crisis; the songs would veer suddenly from alternative to surf to hardcore. Lagniappe Per Capita is hyperfocused, and it pays off. The album stays firmly in the realm of post-punk, but that doesn’t mean Unknown Relatives isn’t experimenting and taking chances. On “Medium,” the album opens with a few seconds of distorted guitars bubbling up to the surface. From nowhere the motorik drumbeat and bass drop in, driving an aggressive guitar solo that doesn’t let up for two minutes until the first verse finally kicks in. I honestly have no goddamn clue what Kyle Carpenter is singing about, but his voice makes it sound anxiety-inducing, and his punctuated screams just keep the panic going.
Tension is at the heart of Lagniappe Per Capita. It infects the (mostly) unintelligible vocals. It’s in the angular guitar lines and the way they play off Nick Stout’s blasting drums. It’s in the shifting cut and run dynamics of “Presents don’t Work.” Then there’s “Asleep at the Job,” which closes the album. It’s a noticeable slowdown to everything else. A guitar cuts in, repeating four notes moving slowly down and back up. The drums hit a simple beat and the bass joins in. Carpenter agonizes over something on top of everything. But the song never goes anywhere. It keeps building like a claustrophobic wall of sound from every side, getting louder and closing in. And then it all just… goes.
“Asleep at the Job” and “Medium” are great because they never relent, but it’s cutting all this tension that makes “Photos” a standout. The mood builds, but everything feels stuck in place. It’s something turbulent; there’s something ominous just around the corner and you can’t be sure what it’ll be. Finally it breaks, and it’s strangely comforting. The whole track is a beatdown for sure. You’re caught in a storm. But for those last 60 seconds, it feels like letting go. Those distorted shoegazing waves are pushing and sweeping, and it feels so good to just get caught in the surf.
Unknown Relatives play Beerland on Friday, February 24th with The Zoltars and more.
Adrian Gandara is a writer and photographer who has edited for the Short Horn and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @adrun_thephotog