The Unheard Tapes by Unknown Artist were originally recorded between 1984 and 1989 and re-released this year. I have no idea how much of this is hyperbole but according to some info he obtained, “After recording these tapes, he graduated from UC Santa Cruz (with a degree in math), sold all of his instruments and wandered the earth never to make music again.”
Going into this album it was hard to even approach it as an album for a number of reasons. First of all there are twenty six songs with no filler. It’s an intense collection of material that I had to break up into sections because I tried my best but couldn't get through all the songs in one sitting. The other thing is the recording quality and volume differs from track to track. It’s all unequivocally lo-fi but there are levels to this genre. In all honesty I think these songs should be passed on to a professional mastering engineer to make the songs at a more average volume as well as clean up some of the muddiness the is occurring between 200 - 400hz.
As for the music it felt a little ahead of its time in some regards. Either way the music that was being played was not being recognized by mainstream culture. I heard elements to some degree or another of now musical legends like Sonic Youth, New Order, Primal Smith, The Smiths and a couple more. Remember back then you had to have your finger on the pulse of what was happening by word of mouth, the few print music magazines, going to shows or whatever the guy at the record store recommended. On that note it's a little difficult to label this music much of anything because of the disparate styles that are presented.
Take for instance a clear highlight entitled “Unheard Silence” which seems to take some influence from bands as far ranging as The Jesus and Mary Chain to INXS. Now compare that to “skin” which is based on different aesthetics and textures revolving around pretty guitar picking.
On an album with this many tracks you’re bound to have some highlights and some tracks that aren't as striking and that is no exception here. The Joy Division-esque “motionless roadside” immediately had my attention. At the end of the day people will have different preferences. Hence I will encourage you to explore the album.
As a child of the ’80s this was a nostalgic ride for me even if I didn’t get into many of the bands that influenced the sound much later in life. I’m glad these tapes resurfaced but I have to wonder if the man who is supposably wandering the earth ever did.
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