Pop Unknown – If Arsenic Fails, Try Algebra

Pop Unknown
If Arsenic Fails, Try Algebra

A funny story about this album. Deep Elm has sent it to be reviewed three times now. The first time, it was scratched so badly that it looked like a topographic map. The second time, there was a dent in it, as if someone hit it with a nail. So the third time, John at Deep Elm packaged it in full bubble wrap, with “FRAGILE” written everywhere, and it got here in one piece! Thankfully, I didn’t miss out on the chance to listen to this album, and neither should you. Take that story as an example of what someone should go through to get ahold of Pop Unknown.
Pop Unknown was originally touted as “having an ex-member of Mineral.” I’m getting tired of all those “ex-members of” connotations, but it probably does help a new band gain some recognition. But if you liked Mineral and want the same style of amazing emo, go listen to The Gloria Record. Pop Unknown is much more of a straightforward indie rock band, pulling together strong song structures and lyrics and doing away with some of the emo trappings. And they have such a strong, deep sound, it’s hard to imagine that this is the band’s first full-length.
The band did release an EP earlier on Deep Elm and had a couple of compilation contributions. From those songs, I made comparisons more to Rainer Maria and more melodic bands, sometimes mixing in female vocals and going from slower to faster. This album has the band finding their sound, a more melodic rock with all of the sounds layered and a powerful melodic rhythm at times mixed with feedback and crunchy guitar riffs. And the vocals are much deeper and more resonating, sounding much more powerful than on their earlier music.
“Head in the Sand” starts off with a killer guitar riff, sounding as if it’s going into a power-rock song, and it certainly is in the chorus, but there is a serious pop sensibility behind the crunchy lead riffs, enough to keep you bobbing your head. “Half of Ninety” is amazing, slower at times, throwing in some feedback scrawls and layering backing vocals, all to combine into a beautiful song. “An Offering” is slower with more beautiful guitar and the deep, layered vocals singing “a trip to find an offering of all I know, some familiar faces, some familiar faces.” The deep vocals work best here, layered just enough to resonate in your head. Some Mineral comparisons could probably be drawn in this song because of its complexity and beauty. But then “Last to Know” has a more punk guitar riff and song structure. This song, perhaps because of the vocals, reminds me a little of another Deep Elm band, Starmarket. “Tattoo Your Image (On the World)” goes from fast to slow and soft, and “Fallen Star” picks right up, soft and slow and pretty, at times sounding like Red Stars Theory. “Perfect in Venice,” in addition to having a great name, is a more flowing melodic song with some emo chord work. The album ends with a pretty instrumental piece that will lull you to sleep.
Throw off the Mineral references, although the band is clearly an influence. I would still classify Pop Unknown as emo rock, but their sound is all their own, at times faster and more intense, at times slower and pretty. But it’s a sound that’s layered, textured, flowing in complex rhythms that just swirl inside your head for an amazing listen.