Unwilling To Explain

Unknown Instructors

ORG Music, 2019


REVIEW BY: Tom Haugen


There are plenty of all-star outfits out there today, but none quite like the assembly that is Unknown Instructors. They are comprised of the rhythm section of Minutemen and Firehose, (i.e., Mike Watt and George Hurley), and vocalist/poet Dan McGuire is also in attendance, as well as members of Jane's Addiction and Saccharine Trust on a few tracks. Perhaps most noteworthy, though, is the addition of J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.) on this fourth Unknown Instructors album and the first since 2009.

With so much varied talent present, it's no surprise that my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Unwilling To Explain meshes all sorts of ideas into an unclassifiable listen where you're as likely to hear avant-garde punk rock as you are reckless jazz.

Proof of the unusualness of  the listen starts with the spirited guitar solos of the lead off track “Acquainted With The Night,” where McGuire speaks Robert Frost's words and tumbling percussion is present for a highly experimental opener. “Ballad Of The Unknown Instructors” follows and indeed is more subdued, as McGuire's poetry is aligned with quieter guitars, co-vocals from Joe Baiza, and cellos for effect in a noise/art punk hybrid.

This is an album where each of the musicians contribute equally. “Election Day In Satchidananda” is closest the outfit come to jazz, and they even recruit harps from Stephan Haluska, and “Hand In Hand” brings some actual singing while Mascis pulls off guitar acrobatics for an atypical rock 'n' roll adventure.

Side B offers us more iconoclastic ideas, including the swift, garage rock, and blues influenced “Out In The Cold,” while “You Already Know” injects saxophones in their formula with contributions from Stephen Perkins (Jane's Addiction) behind the drum kit. Deep tracks like “Initiation” are among the best and host a busy atmosphere with breaks of poetry amid strong guitar riffs and throbbing bass. The peculiar album exits on “The Patriot,” where a more bare, waltz setting builds into a jam band vibe with careful exploration. 

Even though each member recorded their contributions in different parts of the country, there's a collaborative effect that almost feels spontaneous. The Beat Generation’s delivery of the often stark poetry and playful template is layered in a dense fuzz that only J Mascis can lay down. Sort of like a meeting of The Velvet Underground, John Coltrane, and Captain Beefheart, this disc is one you'll need to hear repeatedly and pay close attention to truly understand the genius present.

Rating: A-

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© 2019 Tom Haugen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of ORG Music, and is used for informational purposes only.