Untied States: Retail Detail

Fractured noise, beat-dropping time signatures, touching intervals of melody and bizarre wordplay -- this is the sound of intelligence devouring itself.

Untied States

Retail Detail

Label: Self-Released
US Release Date: 2006-05-02
UK Release Date: Available as import

There are two kinds of chaos. One is that primordial ooze that contains everything in an undifferentiated mass -- the beginning sort of chaos, best approximated in musical terms by drone. The other is the disorder that comes when things fall apart, the rules no longer apply, certainties fade and floating anxiety is the only palpable mood. It is this decadent sort of chaos that Untied States evokes in their second full-length album, a detuned, oddly timed, infinitely creative but undisciplined howl at modern life.

Consider for instance, the existential problem of other people, necessary -- especially if you're young and horny -- but unknowable. Untied States attacks the issue in a postmodern break-up song called "It's Not Goodbye", which begins in lonely, reverberating keyboard notes and erupts into assaults of frustrated rage. "You're an enigma... seeming/ Dying to meet you at the end of it all", singer Skip Engelbrect despairs, his wail running headlong into abrasive spirals of juddering guitar, and despite the complexity, the dense web of sounds that surrounds him, he is essentially alone.

Or, take the horrors of war, as Untied States does in "Martyrs Have Nothing to Live For". Here a jittery web of guitar dissonance and irregular drum explosions coalesces into occasional structured song fragments, as a slurry, desperate voice moans things like "But I don't want to die for/ What I can't enjoy" or "I've got this casual casualty/ I've got this casual reality/ But, oh, martyrs have nothing to live for." Quietly discordant intervals build tension while oddly tuned guitars plink out jerky no wave rhythms. Architecture within the song is an illusion, something that the next firebomb of feedback will rip right through. There's a violence implied, a confusion embedded, an inarticulate response to nightmare scenarios that feels very in tune what we see every night on the 7 o'clock news. Despair comes from realizing that there is simply no authentic way to react to a bewildering set of stimuli. As Engelbrecht sings later, in "You Own Your Own", "The more I try to feel/ The more I am faking/ The more I try to fix/ The more I keep breaking."

Retail Detail draws freely from the post-punk legacy, borrowing alternate tunings from Sonic Youth, rattletrap slyness from Les Savvy Fav and jerk-rhythmed, junk-percussioned funk from early Liars ("We Don't Have to Climb" sounds very much like "Every Day Is a Child with Teeth"). Like The Fall, they play with short, semi-sensical phrases, which gain humor and resonance through repetition; lyrics like "My cause is my curse" and "Martyrs have nothing to live for" become inexplicably meaningful over the course of their songs. The band intercuts these more developed tracks with short, atmospheric intervals, the clocktower dissonance of "I Mile Aisle", the silent film organ notes of "Retail Detail" and the piano and abrasive guitar duel of "Retell the Tale".

The absence of rules and continual violation of structure makes Retail Detail somewhat hard to follow at first, yet this same unexpectedness is what ultimately makes the band interesting... if not especially joyful. It's the sound of clever despair, completely free of strictures and swaggering over its lawlessness, but maybe wishing that someone, somewhere would lay down some limits.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.