It took me all of five seconds to begin to enjoy Late Nights. The gritty blues opening lick on "Denver" plainly states, "You'll either like this or you won't." Luckily, I love the hell out of some melancholy garage rock, and despite Unruly Things' debut EP having only five tracks, they deliver what I love in spades.
Unruly Things is a trio comprised of Nate Hutchinson on guitars and lap steel, Pete Albertson on bass and Brian Pelham on drums. All the guys share vocal duties. Their music is forlorn, raw and very, very contained. In garage rock, this usually spells disaster; you simply don't try to contain a style of music that excels in noisy hooks. This is not the case with Unruly Things, who give their energy into making forlorn, usually quiet numbers that almost sound like eulogies. I say garage rock because the sensibilities are there; the stripped-down instrumentation, the guitar-focused tracks, tough bass lines and of course the classic three-piece set-up.
"Denver" is an excellent opener but I'd forgive anyone who also said it's the most deceptive cut on Late Nights. A fast-paced opener that relies on plaintive vocals and anxious guitars (regular and bass), the song boasts some pretty cool imagery: "Down in Denver all I did was die / kneeling on the grass I looked to the sky / blinded by the moonlight shining through the pines / all I did was die." It’s a pretty lengthy chorus that dominates the verses but it also shows the band's propensity for strangely infectious hooks, and the mood shift at the end where the instruments tone it down and the background vocal harmonies is a surprisingly welcome closing.
The beginnings of the next track, "A Fool's Ballad," is equally surprising, what with its military rat-a-tatting percussion leading into a funeral procession of quiet flutes and constrained guitars. The restrictions follow up on "Worse Everyday" for the first half at least, until the boys let loose with much faster drumming and punchier bass lines. The final two tracks are similar in sound, though the closer, "This Highway," places much more emphasis on bass. The band continues their brand of intriguing melancholy before ending it all with a simply guitar lick and drum break.
There's something creepy a foot that doesn't strike you until the end of the EP (hence why I'm mentioning it at the end of this review), a barely-concealed fascination of anxiety and foreshadowing that leaves you a bit uncomfortable. It sounds like garage rock; in fact several times I was reminded of a deconstructed Archie Bronson Outfit. But outside of "Denver," the EP's best track and the most straightforward rock song, the band blends in negative feelings that don't need several amps or scratchy production to convey their discontent. Late Nights is a different flavor of a familiar treat, and very recommended.
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