Audaciously named Nebraska natives struggle to transcend their influences on their Saddle Creek debut.
Nebraska natives UUVVWWZ could have never predicted that their highly unusual handle would turn in to such a liability, when they chose it back in 2007. Yet by the time their debut was released in July 2009, their name immediately called to mind the double-V blogosphere whipping boy, Wavves. This association is nearly as unfortunate as the band's chosen pronunciation: "double U, double V, double W, Z" which despite their best hopes, will never quite roll of the tongue. Likewise, their moniker doesn't help in appreciating their music. The arty, pretentious way it deconstructs traditional band names only draws attention to the arty pretensions of their dramatic style of post-punk, which is by definition deconstructive. UUVVWWZ is a terrible name.
UUVVWWZ formed in Lincoln in 2007, deciding to cut their first record as soon as they composed their first nine songs. Soon after the completing the album, the Omaha-based Saddle Creek signed the band and remixed their self-titled debut for wider release. The conceptual conceit of the album – a naked portrayal of a group's creative conception – is compelling if not always rewarding. Often, influences overpower the material, and, as you would expect, at least a couple cuts could have used a bit more fine-tuning.
At the fore of UUVVWWZ's music is vocalist Teal Gardner, who forces her voice to shift from a girlish squeak to a throaty growl as the songs demand. She is clearly most comfortable imitating the childlike exuberance of Deerhoof singer Satomi Matsuzaki, as on the grating but catchy "Jap Dad". On sweeping cuts like "Neolaño", she ineptly slides around the notes in an apparent attempt to approximate a bluesy swagger. While her voice is mostly serviceable, her lyrics are the band's greatest liability. Take the chorus of "Shark Suit", in which Gardner repeats, "a suit made of shark teeth / making a tooth suit," a fussy, alliterative bit of Dadaist wordplay that is neither evocative nor particularly compelling. Unlike the absurdist inclinations of the obviously influential Beefheart, Gardner's lyrics are more ponderous than thought-provoking.
Behind Gardner, the album's sound is primarily shaped by guitarist Jim Schroeder. His angular riffs drive the faster tunes, while his devastating Ennio Morricone-like lines vitalize otherwise aimless tracks like the album-opener "Berry Can". Like Gardner, much of his style can be roughly traced back primarily to Captain Beefheart and contemporary indie groups like Deerhoof. Along with drummer Tom Abronz and bassist Dustin Wilbourn, Schroeder occasionally manages to transcend those influences on songs like "Castles", where dreamy soundscapes give way to a harsh synth-driven chorus, brought home by Gardner's sweet-to-grating delivery.
Little of the rest of the album matches the highs of "Castles", as the band slogs through the utterly forgettable "Green Starred Sleeve" and "Trapezeus" on the way to their nine-song quota. More than anything, UUVVWWZ is a bad name because it is so disappointing – such an audacious appellation has no business belonging to generally derivative musicians who only occasionally reach their artistic potential. Next time, they shouldn't settle for the first nine.