(Copyright © 1999-2024 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Tink Of Southeast, 8/10
Malcolm X Park, 7.5/10
Kustom Karnal Blackxploitation , 6.5/10
Imperial f.f.r.r. , 8/10
Isabel Bishop , 7/10
Perfect Teeth , 7/10
Phil Krauth: Cold Morning , 6/10
Phil Krauth: Silver Eyes , 5/10
Grenadine: Goya , 6/10
Grenadine: Nopalitos , 5/10
Air Miami: Me Me Me , 6/10
Olympic Death Squad: Blue , 5/10
Flin Flon: A-OK, 6/10
Mark Robinson: Tiger Banana, 5/10
Mark Robinson: Canada's Green Highways, 5/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Unrest were formed out of Washington by singer Mark Robinson and drummer Phil Krauth. Tink Of Southeast (1987), later reissued in Fuck Pussy Galore, was an ambitious slab of progressive hardcore that included several instrumental pieces and incorporated jazz and avantgarde techniques. The extended musical vocabulary of Malcolm X Park (1988) and the transitional semi-pop of Kustom Karnal Blackxploitation (1990), and the addition of bassist Bridget Cross, led into the group's pop phase. Despite their nervous filigree, the songs of Imperial f.f.r.r. (1992) were, first and foremost, splendid pop-soul-folk ballads, which, despite the rarefied arrangements and the free-form dynamics, retained strong identities. Robinson was applying the lessons of Van Morrison and Tim Buckley, not the lessons of Fugazi. Whereas the mini-album Isabel Bishop (1993) indulged in that impeccable format, the last album, Perfect Teeth (1993), was again bold and aggressive like the first one. Having come full circle, Robison dissolved Unrest and wasted his talent in a series of projects that explored Tin Pan Alley's kitsch (Grenadine) and synth-pop (Air Miami).

Full biography.
(Translation from the Italian by Nicole Zimmerman)

(This translation needs verification. If you are fluent in Italian and can volunteer to doublecheck it vs the original Italian text, please contact me)

Unrest, formed by Mark Robinson (from Arlington, Virginia), emerged on Washington's music scene as one of hard-core's most original and eclectic groups. The band also included Phil Krauth on drums, Tim Moran on guitar, and Dave Park on bass.

Their first album, Tink Of Southeast (Teen Beat), aka State Champs, later reissued in Fuck Pussy Galore, was recorded in August 1986 but came out in 1987 when the hard-core movement was already in decline and became a sign of evolution. In reality however, the group had been around for years (since 1983 - with a pair of cassettes and a single) and had the opportunity to smooth their rough edges. Their technique was largely that of progressive-rock applied to hard-core (brief, fast, and deafening) torn by unconventional arrangements and improvisations, without hesitating to use the jazz, folk, and blues styles. The album opened with a course garage-rock 60's style hymn of the Rolling Stones, Can't Sit Still, but this was the exception not the rule. In fact, the rest of the album was a catalog of experiments in rock songs (like Cats, a mix of bluegrass and Moody Blues, or the cabaret style song sung in German of Chastity Ballad) and short instrumental pieces. Numerically and qualitatively speaking, these last tracks dominated the album. With their progression from psychedelic rock (Holiday In Berlin, which combined the strumming style of the Feelies with the spatial progressions of the first Pink Floyd, and the exuberant watercolor of The Tundra) towards jazz (the swinging "S" Street Shuffle and the free-jazz improvisation of A Picnic At Hanging Rock) and raga (the pressing crescendo of Hope), ending at pure avant-garde (Live On A Hot August Night with only percussion), Unrest created a new genre that was ambitious in its content but not in its form. Only a few rock instruments were used as Unrest ardently tried to fuse musical theories. The most creative moments of the 60's come to mind when post-psychedelic groups search for truly new harmonies but this time the spirit was not of "peace and love," but of experimentation. Infinitely more "educated" than most hard-core albums, this album sanctioned the passage of the genre from underclass thugs to elite intellectuals.

The entire album was included in Fuck Pussy Galore (Teen Beat, 1993).

(Original text by Piero Scaruffi)

Each song of Malcolm X Park (Caroline, 1988), was destabilized by abrupt changes and tasty detours. Mark Robinson's troop wed the evil energy of punk-rock and the futuristic aesthetic of the new wave. They toyed with a hiccupping and epileptic version of garage-rock in Malcolm X Park, delved into the swinging and bouncing rhythm'n'blues of So You Want to be a Movie Star, mocked rockabilly frenzy in Ben's Chili Bowl, deconstructed hardcore fury in Oils. But they also intoned the poppy vocal harmonies and refrain of Can't Sit Still, as well as the breezy serenade of Christina on a tribal beat.
Stranger in My Own Hometown boasts the emphatic messianic tone of Nick Cave, and the self-referential anthem of Disko Magic is almost funk-punk. Last but not least, they crafted the horror-psychodrama Lucifer Rising, with sudden bursts of pounding neurosis, and spat venom and dissonance in Castro 59. Unrest's emotional collapse was vast and profound. The electronic melody of The Hill wrapped up the album, as if nothing had happened.

(Translation from my original Italian text by Nicole Zimmerman)

(This translation needs verification. If you are fluent in Italian and can volunteer to doublecheck it vs the original Italian text, please contact me)

The influence of Dinosaur Jr, even though mediated by their progressive practices, was more evident on the next album, Kuston Karnal Blackxploitation (Caroline, 1990), which includes Chick Chelsea Deluxe (manipulated towards becoming more like She Makes Me Shake Like A Soul Machine) and Teenage Suicide (which was remade in 1993), 2 of their most creative hits. The lied Chastity Ballad, the medieval Lord Shiva, the "bubblegum" return in She Makes Me Shake Like A Soul Machine, and the serenity of Christina revealed a musical vocabulary that was more than ample. This album was a collection of encoded messages: for example the lyrics of Black Power Dynamo were composed solely of verses taken from Kiss songs and the title of the album was an eerie joke on the Ku Klux Klan. A large part of the charm of their music comes from the fact that it was used as a metaphor, a metaphor for something that cannot be defined.

Robinson cut a solo EP titled Sammy Supreme My Man (Teen Beat), dedicated to his idol, Sammy Davis Jr., but most tracks are leftovers from the album (25 songs were recorded but only 13 ended up on KKK).

Unrest put out two 7" albums in an even more indefinable style that made one think of Broadway musicals in heavy-metal: Yes She's My Skinhead Girl/Hydroplane/Feeling Good Fixation (for K, with Justin Chearno on the bass) and Cherry Cherry/Wednesday And Proud (for Teen Beat). Hydroplane and Cherry Cherry (2 of their masterpieces) were indicative of the new song style that Unrest concocted.

The group was unrecognizable on Imperial f.f.r.r. (Teen Beat, 1992), the group's crowning achievement artistically. The songs were truly songs, like Suki and Cherry Cream On, completely thick and nervous like the Feelies, the splendid soul-like ballads of Isabel and I Do Believe You Are Blushing, which floated within the softest of harmonies, and Loyola which alternated between Spanish styles at periods of improvisation free from acid-rock. The limit of rarefaction for this type of music for the few intimate listeners was reached in Imperial, 7 minutes of low, soft singing (by one and then the other), like a psalm or hymn, accompanied by only the guitars which repeated a brief melody as if they were the ticking of a clock. At this point, far from hard-core, Robinson seemed to search for a language (in minor key, careful, minimal, and solipsismal) that borrowed from rock only the instrumentation. In his tentativeness to redefine what makes a song, he had taken this form of music from the experiments carried out 10 years prior in the new wave, and 20 years after the avant-garde vocalists (Van Morrison, Tom Buckley).

The trio, created by the addition of bassist Bridget Cross (who for a time was also the singer for Velocity Girl), and an instrumentation that included (but was not limited to) glasses of wine and bells, assisted the song with minimum effort and maximum intensity. The instrumentals Champion Nines, Sugarshack, and Firecracker were the proclamation of their ambitions and delineated their radius of experimentation, the third with a cacophonic piece like Varese.

The evolution that began in Imperial f.f.r.r. finally arrived on the mini-album Isabel Bishop (Teen Beat, 1993), with its impeccable songs. Apart from the remaking of Teenage Suicide and Isabel, the instrumental Nation Writer shined with a relentless pace, a shabby boogie interrupted by dream-like pauses. They also include another one of their suffused ballads in minor key: Yes She Is My Skinhead Girl.

Later in 1993 they released the album Perfect Teeth, perhaps the first album that did not have enough significantly new material; a sign that the group had finally found the sound it was searching for. Cath Carroll perfected the frenetic and trembling guitar sound with vocals that were increasingly folk. So Sick, with a dazed instrumental pause, the rhyme of Six Layer Cake, and the long Soon It Is Going To Rain - almost as if in a trance, were just variations of the same theme; variations of the old song Cherry Cherry. On these fundamental harmonics Make Out Club carved out a pop style refrain that, potentially, represented the future (commercially speaking) of the group. To the margins of the mainstream, however, experimental tracks like West Coast Love Affair (written by Krauth) and Breather X.O.X.O. achieved, respectively, a revision of the kitsch and psychedelia genres, both as emblems of paltry and listless accompaniments and of an unnerving language. In the first, a complex rhythm born from the superimposition of a confident beat, an intermittent strumming, and dissonance on piano propelled a sophisticated vocal duet of slowly repeated murmurs and a "drone" by guitar which augmented the intensity and frequency until it covered over the other sounds. On the second, the guitar kept time with a hypnotic rhythm and Robinson whispered the lyrics, and every now and then a chorus of avant-garde music arose which mechanically repeated a melody. Exasperating the schizophrenia of hard-core that reigned until the time of Husker Du, the songs embraced a ghostly sound that transformed from rough to smooth (Cross sung, almost in slow motion, two ghostly hymns); but they seemed to be aesthetic proclamations more than songs. Scratching about in this manner, Robinson ended up dispersing his talent to search for the same.

The story of Unrest ends here. Krauth began a solo career that produced two 60's revival albums: Cold Morning (Teen Beat, 1995) and Silver Eyes (Teen Beat, 1996). The third album, One Two Three, (Teen Beat, 1998) was a surprise: it was a collection of crafty songs suspended between lounge music and Nick Drake (Inner Symphony, Catherine, Tuesday's Blues).

Robinson formed Grenadine with Jenny Toomey (of Tsunami) and trombone player Robert Christiansen (from Eggs). Goya (Shiny Disc, 1993) surprised both the critics and the fans: it was a album of pure, mild pre-rock music, a sort of tribute to Tin Pan Alley (many of the signatures are forged: the tracks are almost all original). It was the triumph of "feel-good" music (not of the post-modern, as the work has nothing intellectual). Cherishino, Fillings, and Gillen held high the banner that was Imperial f.f.r.r., and alone were worth the money for the album. Nopalitos (Simple Machines, 1994) sank into self-indulgence with melodramatic ballads such as Mexico Big City, Steely Daniel, and Barnacle. The albums seemed, above all, to exist so that Robinson could play with archaic music, but the experiments rarely worked (Hell Over Hickory Dew, Roundabout On A Tuesday).

Robinson and Cross formed Air Miami with drummer Gabriel Stout, and they released with the singles Airplane Rider (Teen Beat, 1994) and Fuck You Tiger (4AD, 1995), the album Me Me Me (Teen Beat, 1995), and the EPs Fuck You Tiger (Teen Beat, 1995) and Niagara Falls Is Frozen (Teen Beat, 1996). The catchy refrain and the vocal harmonies in Airplane Rider did not prepare the listener adequately for the eclectic sound of the album. The sound was that of Imperial f.f.r.r., but emphasized the drum machine and synthesizers. On one hand, there were tracks that paired up the promiscuity of the Pixies to the vehemence of punk-rock, as in I Hate Milk and You Sweet Little Heartbreaker (perhaps the best) and on the other hand, there were compositions which were composite and dilated, recalling the new wave (Sweet As A Candybar) or Pere Ubu (Afternoon Train). In the middle there was a novelty song similar to the style of The Cars: World Cup Fever. Cross was most active as composer and vocalist.

. Robinson also launched a side project: Olympic Death Squad which produced the album Blue (Teen Beat, 1996), on which the songs This Is Riot Gear and The Anti-Kidnapping Song seemed as if they were discarded by Air Miami without the mediation of Cross.

(Original text by Piero Scaruffi)

Mark Robinson's next project was Flin Flon, a trio that plays bass-driven dance-pop (Swift Current) and whose album A-OK (Teen Beat, 1998) sounds like a neurotic version of New Order.

Mark Robinson's first solo album, Tiger Banana (Teenbeat, 2000), is a streamlined version of Grenadine: oblique, eccentric guiter-based pop with sparse keyboards arrangements (French Good Looks, Difficult Situations, Putting Up Good Numbers, Water Crashing In). Best are the two crunchiest numbers (Starfighter and Volunteers Conquering Fires).

Mark Robinson's second solo album, Canada's Green Highways (Teenbeat, 2001), is even more primitive than Tiger Banana: lo-fi, spare, ambient.

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