The Unit Ama – The Unit Ama

The Unit Ama
The Unit Ama

A reclusive and shadowy band from Newcastle, The Unit Ama have been active for a little while now. This self-titled album was recorded in 2003, although released by Gringo not until 2005. The band’s approach to songcraft owes much to Rumah Sakit and the better-known Storm and Stress — bands whose recordings date back quite a long time now. And it’s worth mentioning that not many bands have the skills to pull off what these bands pull off.

Much of The Unit Ama’s music alternates between post-punk drive and controlled noise. The odd time signatures and the arrhythmic convulsions spike the sound. There aren’t always melodies to hang on. There aren’t always rhythms you can tap your feet to. It’s like riding Space Mountain: you can’t see or predict what’s ahead but you welcome the unexpected nature of the ride.

“How the Mind Works” repeats itself for the first 2/3 of its duration, with vocals that recall Ikara Colt. Drummer Christian (first names only) eschews any kind of backbeat and instead goes for an intricate pattern between the un-snared snare and the high hat. The last third of the song is all atonal guitar and cymbal washes, with only a steady bass line to anchor it. The song flows right into the next — entitled simply “M” — and its quiet nature feels like a respite. “M” does slowly build into a Jim O’Rourke or David Grubbs kind of guitar piece, again with only the bass to keep time by.

“Glass Like Water” takes cues from June of 44. Its post-punk styling emphasizes the band’s most rock inclinations. It’s probably the most accessible and ordinary of anything here, although “Plastique Bertrand” (apart from its being in 5/4 time) gives it a run for its money. “Dead Birds” opens the album with quiet restraint before it overwhelms you with its tension. And, yes, its title does mean something relevant to the song: “dead birds washed up on the shore” goes one line.

Later in the album, “Horses (of Northumberland)” would give Medications a run for its money. Its gallops get interrupted by stabs of drum and bass, but its returns to flat out post-rock bring it back to its energy. “Fuck the Critics” sounds like a cross between Minutemen and Shellac. Unfortunately, even at 2 minutes in length, it feels a little tired or forced. In fact, the vocals here and on other songs can be engaging but also a little off-putting. But you don’t grab a record like this for the vocals, do you? You come for ideas.

Album closer “And How The Elephants Danced” takes minimalism even farther than did opener “Dead Birds,” but it has a similar feel. Much of its 6-plus minutes is very quiet, apart from the cymbal runs and the guitar scrapings.

All in all, this is a brave recording by a band that pulls together influences from a lot of well-known and critic-favorited bands. But, like its influences, The Unit Ama carries a flag marked “difficult listening.” It’s not for everyone, certainly, but those who enjoy this kind of thing will probably really enjoy it. Those who give it a chance will discover its rewards.