Ut - Ut and Confidential EPs

by Mark Moody Rating:9 Release Date:2017-11-17
Ut - Ut and Confidential EPs
Ut - Ut and Confidential EPs

Woefully overlooked London - by way of NYC - based improvisational No Wave band Ut is being resurrected via a series of to be reisssued releases on Out Records.  They are also planning a handful of shows.  The initial reissues consist of the band's first two studio EPs, the self titled Ut and later released Confidential. The band consisting of Sally Young, Jacqui Ham, and Nina Canal all take turns as vocalists and play instruments interchangeably.  The No Wave scene arrived as counterpoint to the slick synth pop of the day and even stood in contrast to the more straightforward punk movement.  US bands like Sonic Youth characterized the approach while the early Fall would have been a U.K. counterpart.  Ut comes off much more like Nick Cave's The Birthday Party and their 'Big Jesus Trash Can' vs Lydia Lunch's Teenage Jesus and the Jerks.  The backbone of Ut's sound is heavily blues based and characteristically atonal without being tuneless.  Avoiding jazzy skronk and being accomplished musicians they fit the scene but don't make it a point to try and be unlistenable as some bands did.  This is a challenging listen to be sure, but repeated listens bear their own rewards.  

Without aid of session notes, I'm not able to identify the lead vocalist on each track. I do happen to own their last album, Griller, on vinyl and based on those liner notes can ascertain that Young has a poetic deadpan approach akin to Patti Smith, Ham comes off as a more “traditional” singer (though with her share of abrasive moments), while Canal is an unabashed caterwauling force that fits the style and heavy crush of their sound well.  

The self titled four track EP starts with one of the more traditional sounding tracks, 'Sham Shack' which starts with a huge primal pounding of drums and bass that is washed over with a heavy blues guitar riff.  The insistent vocal mantra of "society see saw, inequity cribs" and “tottering rod” (whatever that might mean) is met with escalating guitar and some spectral keyboard washes.  The next two tracks fly in the face of their friendly sounding titles of 'This Bliss' and 'New Colour', reflecting anything but unbridled happiness.  The vocals are tortuous and twisted over the 10+ minutes of these two tracks.  The former song builds in atonal intensity with plinked and scraped guitar smothered by a heavy wall of bass and drums while the vocalist forcefully bleats "I am able, I can stumble".  'New Colour' goes longer and darker and is likely the most challenging listen here - the vocals devolving into nausea inducing high pitched shrieks and donkey brays (a'la Cave) over its seven minute course.  The last track of the first EP comes in relief to what came before.  The eight minute 'Exilee Goes Out' is an insistent raga that evokes the Velvet's 'Venus in Furs', sans the call of Severin, Severin, but outlasts it by a good three minutes.  A heavy, intimidating debut but one hallmarked by intensity and accomplished musicians that can't help but keep shreds of tonality intact throughout the assault.  

The three track Confidential tightens up the band’s sound but it is no less brooding.  In fact the lack of space makes Confidential all the more imposing as a set of songs.  The opening title track, builds slowly in power over its course and is one of the few tracks where the members voices are used in tandem which amps up the drama as the lead (I believe Young) sings of “this quagmire”.  It is the most straightforward song structure on display over the course of the two EPs but still has an abrasive power.  ‘Bedouin’ on the other hand returns to a more caustic landscape of raked and jagged guitar accompanied by shrieks and rhythmic sobs by the end.  The closing track, ‘Tell It’ is the most improvisational of the set.  Underpinned by choppy funk riffs and a rubbery bass line it adds yet a different approach to the other tracks, but maintains the uncompromising stance.  

Not having heard the original releases I can only say that the sound quality of the remastering is, well, masterful.  Not a bit of hiss is apparent and it lets each instrument and the vocals stand out.  Not only impressive for giving this overlooked band another chance at recognition (they were name checked on Le Tigre’s great late 90’s song ‘Hot Topic’), these early EPs stand up to any of the No Wave genre’s hallmarks and for being “of a time” have held up remarkably well.  That’s more a testament to the accomplished musicianship of the trio and their multi-instrument mastery than a need to rally against conformism.  Kudos to Out Records for giving us all another chance to hear this important band and, given the lack of availability of their other work to date, there is more ahead to anticipate.             

 

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