UNUSUAL USELESS – And You Shall Use Less

unusual uselessUnusual Useless bill themselves as an “Unusual Chilean Band”, which seems quite fitting, since they’re a band not so easy to pigeonhole and they’re a band who have no clear idea of their own musical identity. That would be cool, if like some, they managed to push boundaries with their art. As it is, on their 2015 release ‘And You Shall Use Less’, they start out as a jangly indie rock outfit, but it’s not long before they give up on that and wheel out the ukuleles and hammer us with twee pop-folk that’s, in the main, so poorly formed you’ll have to wonder who’d want to even listen. Being in a band should be fun, and sometimes it’s clear they’ve got that right, but the twelve tracks that form this LP are by and large a genuine chore to listen to. As such, Unusual Useless all too often come across as an unprofessional mess.

From the outset, there’s a very retro bent to the band’s style, with ‘Left Behind’ showing off a clean and forthright bass sound, complimented by a hard jangling guitar that transports the listener straight back to the early nineties. A strutting rhythm, something akin to a gothy band covering a Kingmaker tune, emerges somewhat unexpectedly. Then, with that early promise, a rather flat vocal shifts almost all focus and lowers all expectations. Granted, the vocal is far from the best you’ll ever hear, but even so, it doesn’t quite quash all enjoyment of the band’s sound, since that bass part remains so high in the mix. Three minutes of rudimentary indie rock ensues, but despite best intentions, it never scrapes beyond sounding very average. That said, it’s pretty much the best Unusual Useless can muster, as becomes clear all too quickly. Sounding little better at first, ‘Dance It All Away’ employs a ringing guitar hammering out some 90s inspired twee indie…and then that flat vocal, some bell noises and loud cowbell embellish what could be described as a total non-event. Nothing here is in tune. The backdrop is dirgy, the vocal never escapes being any more than an almost one-note karaoke performance. Nearing the end, the bass rises, but unlike before, any promise is spoilt by a jarring, off-key guitar. This is genuinely horrible.

With the arrival of ‘No More Time’, things go from bad to worse. On this half-hearted almost reggae-calypso-pop hybrid, the band sets up a strident rhythm but then fails to do anything remotely interesting with it. The chorus is flat, utterly forgettable fare, the music is so rigid it quickly becomes boring and it’s only a wah-wahed guitar occasionally cutting through that adds anything of any real worth. Obviously that’s just not enough to hold the barest interest for three minutes. Even worse, the ukulele based ‘My Song’ employs a tuneless, very rudimentary harmonica and gang vocals over a clangerous non-tune that sounds like a bunch of drunk guys in a living room (and who knows, perhaps at this time, they were exactly that.) This pair of songs is so awful, there’s no real impetus to keep listening, but kind of like post-‘Green’ album by Weezer – there’s always that threat that if you don’t see it through, you might miss that hidden gem. Sadly, though, for this album, things remain in limbo somewhere between decidedly average and flat out terrible.

More uke-related ugliness informs ‘Antonia’, a horribly misjudged effort with bad vocals and glockenspiel clanking (which at least is mercifully short), while ‘Unusual Song’ offers a jaunty tune that sounds like a Wannadies demo, but falls at the first hurdle due to the inclusion of a horrible lead vocal and a bizarre choice of tuneless, distorted shouting as a counterpoint. Much like the opening track, the bass holds things together with a strong presence – it’s just a shame that such solid playing couldn’t find itself in demand for a more interesting band. ‘Try’, meanwhile, is a horrible

dirge that works largely around voice and acoustic guitar at first, reminiscent of Black Francis squawking through something from Syd Barrett’s ‘Madcap Laughs’. At the point where the stop button is called for, a shimmering dream pop guitar adds the album’s finest feature. Much like a couple of those bass parts, it’s totally wasted on this ugly non-song. Elsewhere, ‘Babylon’ is a distorted plod-fest that, although potentially a little better than most Unusual Useless fare, starts reasonably but doesn’t change key or offer anything in the way of a hook. It’s one of those tunes that’s not entirely bad while it plays, but is instantly forgotten – a reasonable guitar tone adds a small amount of interest, but the rhythm section plays with a metronome’s sense of quirkiness.

‘And You Shall Use Less’ is one of those albums where its often possible to tell what the band are aiming for, but despite the faintest glimmers of enjoyable music, they never really manage to hit the mark. A lot of this has much to do with their having a complete non-singer fronting them, but it’s more than that – at least fifty percent of their arrangements appear poorly thought through or just plain rushed. This album has some good bass parts on occasion, but has such a sloppy, oddly mixed send off, that ensures the end results never pull themselves anywhere above the wobbly bracket. Unusual? Not really. Useless? Not completely..but in all honesty, most of this is pretty bad.

November 2015