Funland CD - Smog Veil

Underground alternative rock supergroup Unknown Instructors take the poetically-inclined artistry of Saccharine Trust, Captain Beefheart, and likeminded creative stylists and update it for the twenty-first century. The basic template on this third Unknown Instructors outing, Funland, remains identical to the ensemble's previous two projects, largely because the record uses a similar blueprint and the material on Funland was recorded during the sessions for 2007's The Master's Voice, using the same musicians. For those unfamiliar with Unknown Instructors, the band comprises former fIREHOSE cohorts George Hurley (drums) and Mike Watt (bass, vocals); Saccharine Trust and Universal Congress Of guitarist Joe Baiza; and vocal contributions from blurt poet Dan McGuire, illustrator Raymond Pettibon, and Pere Ubu leader David Thomas.

Like Saccharine Trust and Pere Ubu, Unknown Instructors craft dramatic recitations overlaid with disheveled layers of guitar, tightly woven rhythmic riffs, and bracing but not necessarily accessible art-punk arrangements. Anyone expecting something akin to Mike Watt's former band The Minutemen or the jazzy excursions of Baiza's Universal Congress Of should steer clear of this whacked-out carnival ride. The strongest pieces feature McGuire and Watt. The proceedings open with the warped word play of "Maji Yabai," a bass/guitar duet moored by Watt's deeply tenderized, idiosyncratic utterances that cite John Coltrane, resistors, big trains, and flannel shirts. That's followed by the disc's finest moment, "Those Were the Days," McGuire's remembrance of an adolescent epiphany he had while attending a county fair. Baiza disgorges semi-controlled six-string feedback, Hurley pulses out a percussive jazz cadence, and McGuire recounts a youthful past when everything seemed possible but the world was filled with doubts, mystery, and dark implications.

In a nod to musical antecedents, the group also completely reworks Don Van Vliet's "Frownland," reorganizing the Trout Mask Replica track into a powerful and uneasy outburst. David Thomas' three offerings are uncompromising slices of stream-of-consciousness moans, mantras, and effects-laden whispers that also reveal a close association with Captain Beefheart. Thomas displays his usual memorable eccentricity on the sparse and unearthly "Afternoon Spent at the Bar, Sunny," which trembles with spiked guitar and barely restrained angst, elements that are repeated on the echo-stained finale, "Last Waltz," where Thomas stretches the syllables of "good bye" into a concluding and terminal gasp.

By Doug Simpson




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