heft and chemistry: scott mckeating and joe murray on the unit ama

August 9, 2013 at 7:36 am | Posted in live music, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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The Unit Ama – The Mason’s Mallet (vinyl LP, Tusk Records, TUF001)

 the unit ama

Ladies and gentlemen, your editor speaking.  There now follows an epic, mould-smashing experiment in tag-team journalism.  As both RFM staffers Scott McKeating and Joe Murray attended the gig at which this performance was recorded, and as both love the record, they decided to split it between ’em and review a side each.  Who am I to stand in the way of such bromantic celebration, eh?  See Scott’s opening paragraph for the hard facts of the matter, the rest is poetry…


Side A reviewed by Scott McKeating

Arriving onstage to a strong welcome from the in-the-know and familiar, and playing as a part of Newcastle Upon Tyne’s second Tusk Festival, The Unit Ama are another one of the North East of England’s unsung heroes. A trio comprising of bassist Jason Etherington, drummer Christian Alderson (who you can both find as members of the Miles-esque improv unit The Long Lonesome Go) and guitarist/vocalist Steven Malley, The Unit Ama are a ‘rock band’ in the same way Sonic Youth were/are a ‘rock band’. While these three players might work with tools of a power trio, they play fast and very loose with that particular setup’s conventions. For the record, and what its worth, Malley’s better loved by me for his outstanding folk project The Horse Loom than through this band or his rightfully lauded past as a member of both Crane and Kodiak, but there’s no denying the heft and the chemistry of The Unit Ama’s sound.

The opening track ‘Sycamore’ swiftly cranks itself up on its metallic guitar part, a muscled Husker ragged edged crunch that allows the rhythm to flex underneath. A push-and-pull of guitar and bass, there’s a lot in Ama’s rhythms that recall the sharp turns, mathness and force of Fugazi’s famed Lally/Canty engine. There are enough moments of structure melting under exploration to pull ‘The Mason’s Mallet’ away from being a straight-faced live document affair. Their post-punk flecked racket is mauled as it continues its momentum, the guitar ram raiding its way between Lee Ranaldo string wrangling one minute and micro Derek Bailey indebted investigations the next. Steven Malley’s voice is a mix of roar, wail and bullishness but there’s something tender and exposed in there too. The second track, ‘Sable’ is a more expansive piece though not without its wild bear at the limit of her chain ferocity. With warm lulls of  wide horizons and cauterised desertscapes, here The Unit Ama nod to their dissassociative side (recalling quiet Slint) without getting all post rock snoozy on us.

Side B reviewed by Joe Murray

This side opens with a knotted clump of notes tugged from the greasy strings of a bass guitar (penk…pendle-de-tumg) and accompanied by the dry-mouth gulps (glumm-broof-AW-Aowl) of Henri Chopin choking on bread sauce.  Soon drums have a look round the corner and say, ‘what about me then eh?’ and drop a tart ‘tub-tub-ping!’ all over the gaff.  Guitarist starts the harmonic star-light shine with a shimmering vocal (extracts from Miranda Grey’s diary perhaps?) into one of those muscular riffs that all rock groups wish for…like a Jordon/Minnesota, a Sunshine of your Love, a Flip yr Wig…one of them beauties.

And you know where you are for a bit.  The Power Trio doing that Power Trio thing…bass, drums, guitar all equal, all levels balanced, no bully-boy boss-man to stomp on your buzz.  Call me a bleeding heart but this is living, breathing musical socialism in practice.  I know where I am man.  This is going all the way man.  This chunka-chuka-chunka riff is going on forever man…right on down the freeway.  Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy.  The wind’s in my hair and my fist thumps the leopard-skin print steering wheel in time to that heavy, heavy riff.  Let’s fucking go man!  Hunter S Thompson and the Brown Buffalo.  Sure, we’ll stop for Gas and Tacos and a ‘worship at the altar of Quetzalcoatl’ guitar solo on the way but what we’re gearing up to is the inevitable BIG ROCK AND ROLL ENDING – cymbals crashing like Talos crashing to his knees, guitar & bass strings scoured for fair won victory.  I know where I am man.  Put your foot to the floor baby.  I ain’t never gonna stop.

But the Unit Ama have thought ahead and know the only way to stop this supernaut is not with a crash but with a change of medium.  With gentle love, love, love the blacktop turns to clear blue water, the highway becomes a placid lake.  One by one the guitar, bass and drums drop out to be replaced with shaker/mbira/percussion scraps…the propulsion is still there but this is more of a pedal power vibe, swish, swish swishing through English country  lanes…take your feet of the pedals to hear the ‘sccccciiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrr’ of cogs relaxing and freewheel to a stop. Tik tik tik tik…


…and that, dear readers, is that.  Allow me to draw proceedings to a formal conclusion and entreat you to buy here.

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