I honestly did not expect this record to be good. Especially this good.
Sure, one can tout Orchid as an influence as much as they please, but to be able to craft a fine example of actual screamo the way United Nations has while both wearing their influences on their collective sleeve while simultaneously creating a sound their own is a substantial feat (especially in a genre where the idea is to fill every nook and cranny with as much noise as possible).
First, this album simply grabs you from the initial count. Very little time is wasted before vocalists Daryl Palumbo (Glassjaw) and Geoff Rickly (Thursday) alternate an assault of screams over a tempered myriad of crushing guitars and driving drumbeats. By the time I was done trying to figure out how these guys managed to craft this sound, the album was over. Like any great record, it ends before it can get tiresome and never wears out its welcome.
The fine line of noise versus music is walked perfectly, with the guitars being more than a force of sound, but holding an appreciation for melody and hooks; the introduction to "The Shape of Punk That Never Came" could be described as gruesome and addictive. The guitars know when to take charge ("Revolutions in Graphic Design") and when to just play off the vocals ("I Keep Living the Same Day").
And while the instruments provide a stellar sound, the real standouts here are Palumbo and Rickly. Their dueling vocals echo off one another perfectly, with Palumbo being a confrontation, a force, and Rickly being an echo, an army. "My Cold War" and "Model UN" hold fast the center of the record, with a stellar one-two combo as an example of how these two vocalists really can meld together well.
My one complaint about the vocals is I wish the lyrics were a bit better (also, for shame on Eyeball, the $20 price for the vinyl comes with no lyric sheet, so I'm relying on the internet for transcriptions here). The problem with trying to live up to the appeal of Orchid is that the band managed to craft such poetry into destruction that the words you scream do have to be top-notch, and sometimes this album doesn't pull through. The messages are always amazing, a staunch, wholly political record filled to the brim with everything wrong about living in modern America: the middle class guilt; the nightmare media; the government paranoia; the daily drudgery. I found Thursday's new album, Common Existence, to be far superior lyrically than this outing.
That all being said, most of the time I don't even care. The music is incredibly powerful, and when it counts, the lyrics come through; "We know how it feels / the sound of their laughter / the TV's cold glow / follows you home / to the room where you sleep, all alone" ("Filmed in Front of a Live Studio Audience"). Perhaps the standout of the album is the one-line "I Keep Living the Same Day," whose only lyric is the title, a simple yet astounding commentary on the awful repetition of lives strapped to jobs or mundane repetition. The artistic and sacrelige-inspired "Subliminal Testing" screams "I can see you in the shadows / I can see you when you sleep" played forward and "You'll never listen to this / won't you turn it back around?" when played in reverse. So, you know, get stoned and listen to this song.
From the second of guitar feedback before an onslaught of sound to the rather great trumpet solo to close out the album, United Nations manages to capture a feeling held properly and most recently by an act like Ampere. The United States is seemingly in short supply of bands who do this sort of thing right, without the bullshit hairstyles or the appearances on FUSE or the misogynistic lyrics. While Europe enjoys the likes of Daitro, Trainwreck and Sed Non Satiata, this revival of real screamo is a trend I wouldn't mind seeing reborn in America. Bands such as Kidcrash, L'Antietam and Cease Upon the Capitol are bringing the spotlight back, but until this sound of angst makes a full revival and there are more bands like this than you can spit at, don't discount this record because it says "Featuring members of Thursday."
Because Thursday, this isn't.