(photo: Sam Marble)
Words by Jordan Martich
From the first half-second of furious guitar feedback that introduces record opener “Tabloid,” Uniform have already established a tone for their latest record Wake In Fright — enraged. The NYC duo have been making music that resonates with the frustrated among us for years before they collaborated in this project – guitarist Ben Greenberg in Pygmy Shrews and The Men, and vocalist Michael Berdan in Drunkdriver and Believer/Law. Over time spent in the same scene, they grew closer and decided to work together on what became their first EP, which was eventually eclipsed by the brooding and painfully self-aware Perfect World, their debut LP released by 12XU Records in 2015. The pair have crafted a signature sonic mixture for themselves by offsetting minimalist noise compositions with raw vocals and wild riffs, the power of which rests in their creative magnetism towards one another rather than working within a larger group of musicians.
Uniform combines the heated iron prod of hardcore, the minimalism of industrial noise, and the velocity of heavy metal to capture an energy that is their own. It started with a challenge that contains the isolation that was so prevalent in their work. They wanted to create music within a certain set of limitations by using just the two of them, a drum machine, a guitar, an amp, and a PA system. Devoted to these restraints, the music defined itself into a cohesive and innovative project.
“In the same way that when we started we created these technical limits on the way we create sounds with a small amount of gear and that's the same idea,” Greenberg said. “There's a barrier that you've got to push up against, to creatively push up against a wall of ourselves.”
Just as their limitations were expanded within a carefully-curated bubble, the sound of Uniform evolves on Wake In Fright from gloom and dark insecurities to anxious obsession and existential dread. A severely urgent demeanor bridges the tracks of this record, made wonderfully caustic and enigmatic by the engineering and musical work of Greenberg, whose guitar tone embodies the totality of distortion at all times, as heard on the thrash inferno “Bootlicker.” He works gracefully within the rigid tempos to create a tapestry of noise, elevated by the homemade library of drum sounds, samples and audio clips put together by Greenberg in his studio for the recording process.
“That's part of the challenge that keeps this band fun, honestly. We're still pushing ourselves to do new things together and figure out a way to make stuff work,” Greenberg said.
The haunting energy of Berdan's vocals take this record home, gutting what's in your skull to make space for the various internal voids that his lyrics call to mind. There's the insomniac howl on “Night of Fear” which conjures all of the sleepless thoughts that drain the human spirit, or his doleful growl on “Habit” which harrowingly relays a tale of addictive ruin.
“The first EP was literally the first three parts of any song that the two of us had come up with, like we just threw some shit together and that was that. This was entirely different. It was something that we sat down with and really studied, tried to cultivate,” Berdan said.
They began recording Wake In Fright in a world where Trump had only laughingly announced his candidacy, and while the album deals with the personal more than the illicitly political, Berdan hopes for the audience to take away an experience.
“It's a harsh, hard, heavy, angry record. Confused record. Frustrated record. If those sounds help anyone to process all of the awful things that are going on around them right now, their own confusions or fears, whatever they might be, personal, political – I'm happy. I wanted us to be able to be present for this, to be outlet for anyone that needs one,” Berdan said. “We're people of certain temperaments. We're people in a state of personal evolution and societal evolution but we've always been frustrated maniacs.”
Uniform, Black Marble, Mall Walk, Blank Square (Noise Pop)
Starline Social Club
February 22, 2017
8pm, $12 (21+)
Jordan Martich is a writer and musician living in Oakland. He drinks too much coffee and doesn't go to the beach enough.