Three years have passed since Untied States checked in with 2006's Retail Detail. Since then, a lot has changed for the unhinged art-rock ensemble centered around Colin Arnstein and Skip Engelbrecht. Their third full-length, Instant Everything, Constant Nothing drops this month on the Paris-based Distile Records, and it's a concerted stab at making a pop record — albeit one filtered through the schizoid, post-industrial psychedelia that's been their calling card all along.
"Blues, punk, rock and roll ... all of these things freaked people out at one point in time, and we want to freak people out, too. But we want the music to be timeless," says Arnstein, who shares vocal and guitar duties with Engelbrecht. "A great example of what we're aiming for is Joy Division. Their records scare you. They were stepping out on so much of a limb that you don't know if you're comfortable listening to it."
Along with Carnivores' bassist Philip Frobos, Satchel Mallon (drums) and Darren Tablan (keyboards, samples), Untied States has always flourished via dense arrangements with heavy dissonance and manic rhythms driven by Arnstein's distressed screams. Within the opening moments of Instant Everything, the discomforting drones and machinelike drum bursts of "Gorilla the Bull" melt into discordant guitar melodies. But the song's simple rhythms are the real standout. As the album unfolds, metallic riffs flare and grind against moaning angst.
At times, the record comes across a bit like Radiohead on a bad acid trip, and the group's attempt at making conventional songs is just as manic as heard on Retail Detail. Yet they also make a deliberate attempt to create songs rather than mere atmosphere on "Not Fences, Mere Masks" and "Bye Bye Bi-Polar." The arrangements are smoother, but littered with strange lurches and the occasional, jarring time change that begs for the King Crimson comparison. But for these guys, prog is a dirty word.
"I don't like progressive music," Arnstein shrugs. "OK, I put on a Yes record once in while, but we're trying to write songs that people will remember. Pop songs."