Ut - Conviction - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Ut - Conviction

by Mark Moody Rating:8 Release Date:2019-04-05
Ut - Conviction
Ut - Conviction

Early New York experimental no wave band Ut had relocated to the UK for the recording and release of their first studio album in 1985.  Continuing its reissue series of Ut’s entire catalog, Out Records presents us with that remastered album, Conviction.  Pulling some reworked songs from their earliest EPs and even earlier live recordings, Conviction doesn’t let up on the cacophony but the extended studio time allows the band to bring a newfound and orchestrated heaviness to the proceedings.  With the interchangeable lineup of Nina Canal, Jacqui Ham, and Sally Young on vocals and varying instrumentation it allows for not an endless array of colors, but rather different configurations of darker designs.

The development from their earlier work is clear, as opening track ‘Confidential’ also appeared on its self-titled EP.  The no doubt impressive clangor of the previous take is replaced by a nearly impenetrable block of sound, cut only by intermittent angular swipes of guitar.  Young’s sing/speak intonation of “this quagmire” is both descriptive of the sound made here and her vocals are part and parcel to the interwoven fabric of the song.  It’s also evident that the tracks on Conviction are not purely improvisational as they have a distinct pull to them depending on the lineup.  As on the leadoff track, when Young is on vocals the band comes closest to a traditional song structure.  The urgent race of ‘Phoenix’ is the most accessible track here with Young on vocals and the guitar interplay between her and Canal touches on the call and response textures of Television.  Ham’s drumming on the track shows her expertly pushing the pace.  Not a band to be pinned down to a classic lineup, but this mix is as “radio friendly” as Ut is going to get.

With Canal on vocals, tracks like ‘Sick’ take on a shambolic bass heavy stumble.  Ironically, one of Ham’s bass line meanders here sounds similar to the Footloose title song of the same era, but decidedly different world.  Canal also takes the lead on the aptly titled ‘Prehistory’ that evokes a pre-thought epoch when visceral reactions were what got you through the day.  Her declaration “I could blot out the Earth with one hand” as instruments fall in and out of the mix should be enough to have you scrambling for your cave. 

But some of Conviction’s most challenging moments come with Ham at the microphone.  Back upon its release, the tracks ‘Absent Farmer’ and ‘Stain’ would have been separated by the flip of vinyl.  Here played in sequence, the former’s tortured and most improvisational six minutes on the album are punctuated by Ham’s clipped vocals.  Seemingly disconnected lines like “I forgot my lipstick” take on the same level of gravity as “out in the thicket” as she bites her way through them.  ‘Stain’ ends up being the dark heart of Conviction and a lesson that today’s bands looking to bring an authentic sense of dread would do well to listen to.  Guest Tim Hodgkinson’s greasy sax work sets a queasy tone that builds over the track.  Though parts of Ham’s vocals are hard to establish the meaning of when she sings “he took a palomino, he came for the blood and he left with a stain” it imparts the same level of Western horror of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian in the span of four minutes.

Given more room to run on Conviction than they had previously to this point, Canal, Ham, and Young, tap into some dark and uncontainable animal vein.  What they produced here is expressive, but it’s imparted with no sense of judgment, discernment, or politics.  Without being as narratively descriptive, it’s the same involuntary nerve that Lou Reed hit on ‘Waves of Fear’.  Ut end up being detached observers of what goes on and what comes upon us between when the sun comes up and goes down.  Some of it in corners that most would not explore.  Not all of what goes on out there is pretty and Conviction asks you not to look away.     

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