(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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

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)

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).

Gli Unrest di Mark Robinson emersero dalla scena di Washington (provenienti da Arlington, Virginia) come uno dei gruppi hardcore piu` originali ed eclettici. Completavano la formazione Phil Krauth alla batteria, Tim Moran alla chitarra e Dave Park al basso.

Il primo album, Tink Of Southeast (Teen Beat), poi raccolto in Fuck Pussy Galore, registrato nell'agosto 1986, usci` soltanto nel 1987, quando il movimento hardcore stava ormai declinando, e venne interpretato come il segno di un'evoluzione. In realta` il gruppo era in circolazione da anni (dal 1983, con un paio di cassette e un singolo) e per l'occasione aveva anzi smussato gli spigoli. La loro tecnica era grossomodo quella di un progressive-rock applicato all'hardcore: la forma-canzone dell'hardcore (breve, veloce, assordante) veniva dilaniata da arrangiamenti e improvvisazioni fuori da ogni convenzione, senza esitare ad appropriarsi di stilemi jazz, folk e blues.
Il disco si apriva con un rude inno degno dei garage degli anni '60 o dei Rolling Stones, Can't Sit Still, ma e` l'eccezione, non la regola. Il resto del disco e` infatti un freddo catalogo di esperimenti sulla canzone rock (come Cats, un incrocio fra bluegrass e Moody Blues, o il lied da cabaret cantato in tedesco Chastity Ballad) e di brevi piece strumentali.
Sia numericamente sia qualitativamente sono queste ultime a dominare l'opera. Con la loro progressione dal rock psichedelico (Holiday In Berlin, che associa lo strimpellio dei Feelies alle progressioni spaziali dei primi Pink Floyd, l'acquarello esuberante di The Tundra) verso il jazz (lo swingante "S" Street Shuffle e l'improvvisazione free-jazz di A Picnic At Hanging Rock) e il raga (l'incalzante crescendo di Hope) fino all'avanguardia pura (Live On A Hot August Night per sole percussioni), gli Unrest fondano di fatto un nuovo genere, che e` ambizioso nei contenuti ma non nella forma, che usa pochi e umili strumenti rock ma tenta fusioni arditissime di teorie musicali. Tornano in mente i momenti piu` creativi degli anni '60, quando i complessi post-psichedelici erano alla ricerca di nuove leggi armoniche, ma questa volta lo spirito non e` quello del "peace and love" bensi` uno spirito da laboratorio.
Infinitamente piu` colto dei dischi di hardcore, questo lavoro sanci` il passaggio del genere dai sottoscala dei teppisti alle soffitte degli intellettuali.

L'intero album verra` inglobato in Fuck Pussy Galore (Teenbeat, 1993).

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 by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Translation from the Italian by Nicole Zimmerman)

The influence of Dinosaur Jr. was mediated by their progressive practices, which was more evident on the next album, Kuston Karnal Blackxploitation (Caroline, 1990), which included 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 German song 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 many tracks were scraped for the album KKK (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, from which came 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.

L'influsso dei Dinosaur Jr, sia pur sempre mediato dalla loro prassi "progressiva", e` piu` evidente sul successivo Kustom Karnal Blackxploitation (Caroline, 1990), che annovera Chick Chelsea Deluxe (manipolata piu` avanti per diventare She Makes Me Shake Like A Soul Machine) e Teenage Suicide (che verra` rifatta nel 1993), due dei loro vertici creativi. Il lied Chastity Ballad, la medievaleggiante Lord Shiva il ritornello bubblegum di She Makes Me Shake Like A Soul Machine e la serenata Christina rivelano un vocabolario musicale assai ampio. L'album e` un concentrato di messaggi cifrati: per esempio il testo di Black Power Dynamo e` composto unicamente di versi tratti da canzoni dei Kiss; per esempio, il titolo stesso e` un macabro scherzo sul Ku Klux Klan. Gran parte del fascino della loro musica scaturisce dal fatto che si tratta di una metafora, e una metafora di qualcosa di indefinibile.

Robinson incide poi un EP da solo, Sammy Supreme My Man (Teen Beat), dedicato al suo idolo Sammy Davis Jr, che raccoglie alcuni scarti dell'album (venticinque canzoni erano state registrate, ma soltanto tredici finirono su KKK).

Degli Unrest escono invece due 7", in uno stile ancor piu` indefinibile, che puo` far pensare tanto ai musical di Broadway quanto all'heavymetal: Yes She's My Skinhead Girl/ Hydroplane/ Feeling Good Fixation (per la K, con Justin Chearno al basso) e Cherry Cherry/ Wednesday And Proud (per la Teen Beat). Hydroplane e Cherry Cherry (due dei loro capolavori) sono indicative della nuova forma-canzone che gli Unrest hanno coniato.

Gli Unrest risultano pertanto irriconoscibili su Imperial f.f.r.r. (Teen Beat, 1992), l'album che corona la maturita` dell'artista. Le "canzoni" vere e proprie, come Suki e Cherry Cream On, sono forti di filigrane fitte e nervose alla Feelies; le splendide ballate quasi soul di Isabel e I Do Believe You Are Blushing "nuotano" in armonie tenerissime; Loyola alterna passi spagnoleggianti a fasi di improvvisazione libera da acidrock.
Il limite di rarefazione di questa musica per pochi intimi e` Imperial, sette minuti di un canticchiare a mezza voce (dell'uno e dell'altra), salmo e madrigale, con l'accompagnamento delle sole chitarre che ripetono una breve figura melodica come se fosse il ticchettio di un orologio. Ormai lontanissimo dall'hardcore, Robison sembra alla ricerca di un linguaggio (in chiave minore, in punta di piedi, minimale, solipsista) che mutui dal rock soltanto la strumentazione. Nel suo tentativo di ridefinire cosa sia una "canzone", ha ripreso gli esperimenti sulla sua forma portati avanti dieci anni prima dalla new wave e venti anni prima dai cantautori d'avanguardia (Van Morrison, Tim Buckley).
Il trio di Robinson, Krauth e la nuova bassista Bridget Cross (per qualche mese anche cantante dei Velocity Girl), e una strumentazione che comprende bicchieri di vino, "tintinnabulation", campanelli di slitta, acqua, cespugli e "salsachain", coadiuva il canto con il minimo sforzo e la massima intensita`. Gli strumentali Champion Nines, Sugarshack e Firecracker costituiscono i manifesti delle loro ambizioni e delimitano il loro raggio di sperimentazione: la prima con un etno-funky alla Byrne, la seconda con un ragtime demenziale, la terza con una piece cacofonica alla Varese.

L'evoluzione iniziata in quell'album trova un primo punto di arrivo sul mini-album Isabel Bishop (Teenbeat, 1993), le cui canzoni sono formalmente impeccabili. A parte i rifacimenti di Teenage Suicide e Isabel, brillano lo strumentale Nation Writer, con quel suo incedere incalzante, un trasandato boogie interrotto da pause oniriche, e un'altra delle loro soffuse ballate in chiave minore, Yes She Is My Skinhead Girl.

Nel 1993 esce l'album Perfect Teeth, forse il primo a non apportare alcuna novita` significativa; segno che il complesso ritiene di aver trovato il sound che aveva tanto cercato. Cath Carroll mette a punto quel sound chitarristico frenetico e fremente, con quelle armonie vocali piu` folk che punk. So Sick, con la sua pausa strumentale stralunata, la filastrocca di Six Layer Cake e la lunga Soon It Is Going To Rain, quasi in trance, non sono che variazioni sul tema. Le quali tutte non sono che variazioni della vecchia Cherry Cherry. Su quelle fondamenta armoniche Make Out Club scolpisce un ritornello pop che potrebbe rappresentare il futuro (commerciale) del complesso.
Ai margini del filone principale, invece, esperimenti come West Coast Love Affair (Scritta da Krauth) e Breather X.O.X.O. compiono, rispettivamente, una revisione sui generis del kitsch e della psichedelia, entrambi all'insegna di accompagnamenti striminziti e svogliati, di un languore snervante. Nel primo una ritmica complessa, che nasce dalla sovrapposizione del battito spigliato della batteria con una figura ondulata del basso, e uno strimpellio intermittente e dissonante di pianoforte sospingono un sofisticato duetto vocale di sussurri ripetuti lentamente all'infinito e un "drone" dalla chitarra che aumenta di intensita` e frequenza fino a coprire tutto il resto. Nel secondo, mentre le chitarre battono una cadenza ipnotica e Robinson bisbiglia le liriche, ogni tanto si leva un coro da musica d'avanguardia che ripete meccanicamente una figura melodica.
Esasperando la schizofrenia che dura nel regno hardcore dai tempi degli Husker Du, le canzoni abbracciano uno spettro sonoro che va dal rude al vellutato (Cross canta, quasi al rallentatore, due madrigali spettrali); ma sembrano spesso dei manifesti estetici, piu` che delle canzoni. Razzolando a questa maniera, Robinson finisce per disperdere il proprio talento alla ricerca del proprio talento.

La storia degli Unrest finisce qua. Phil Krauth inizia una carriera solista, che fruttera` due album di Sixties revival: Cold Morning (Teenbeat, 1995) e Silver Eyes (Teenbeat, 1996). Il terzo One Two Three (Teen Beat, 1998) sara` invece una sorpresa: una raccolta di canzoni sornione, sospese fra lounge music e Nick Drake (Inner Symphony, Catherine, Tuesday's Blues).

Robison forma i Grenadine con Jenny Toomey dei Tsunami e il trombonista Robert Christiansen degli Eggs. Goya (Shimmy Disc, 1993) coglie di sorpresa la critica e i fan: e` un disco di pura musica leggera ante-rock, una sorta di tributo a Tin Pan Alley (molte firme sono pero` falsificate: i brani sono quasi tutti originali). E` il trionfo del "cheese" (non certo del post-moderno, in quanto l'operazione non ha proprio nulla di intellettuale). Cherishino, Fillings e Gillen tengono alta la bandiera che fu di Imperial f.f.r.r. e da sole valgono la spesa del disco.

Nopalitos (Simple Machines, 1994) scivola invece sull'auto-indulgenza. ballate melodrammatiche come Mexico Big City, Steely Daniel e Barnacle. Il disco sembra soprattutto esistere per dar modo a Robinson di giocare con le musiche arcaiche, ma gli esperimenti raramente (Hell Over Hickory Dew, Roundabout On A Tuesday) funzionano.

Robinson e Cross formano gli Air Miami con il batterista Gabriel Stout, dei quali escono i singoli Airplane Rider (Teenbeat, 1994) e Fuck You TIger (4AD, 1995), l'album Me Me Me (Teenbeat, 1995), e gli EP Fuck You Tiger (Teenbeat, 1995) e Niagara Falls Is Frozen (Teenbeat, 1996). Il ritornello orecchiabile e le armonie vocali di Airplane Rider non preparano adeguatamente per il calderone eclettico dell'album. Il sound e` quello di Imperial f.f.r.r., ma con una produzione che da` risalto anche a drum machine e sintetizzatori. Da un lato ci sono brani che accoppiano la sregolatezza dei Pixies alla veemenza del punk-rock, come I Hate Milk e You Sweet Little Heartbreaker (forse i migliori) e dall'altro ci sono composizioni composite e dilatate, che ricordano la new wave (Sweet As A Candybar) o i Pere Ubu (Afternoon Train). In mezzo c'e` una novelty come le facevano i Cars: World Cup Fever. Cross e` piu` attiva sia come compositrice sia come cantante.

Robinson vara anche il progetto parallelo Olympic Death Squad con l'album Blue (Teenbeat, 1996), le cui This Is Riot Gear e The Anti-Kidnapping Song sembrano pero` scarti degli Air Miami senza la mediazione di Cross.

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.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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