by Donny Doane
Music can be medicinal and multi-functional. It can console a lonely heart, turn that frown upside down or inspire an apathetic soul. Sometimes it can act as a tonic or salve to soothe the invisible bruises sustained through human commerce. If Duke Ellington can neatly iron out the wrinkles of a hectic yet not overly traumatic day, local rock band Unguided Missile is the jackhammer that can shatter the hardened residue after the most stygian day atwork.
Download an mp3 of Unguided Missile’s song Do the Right Thing.
Befitting his status as the band’s leader, singer/guitarist Kurt Allis was
the first to arrive for my scheduled interview with the group and I immediately
recognized him as the singing drummer of the noisy ’90s trio Brenda, with
whom one of my old bands played back in the day. Guitarist/producer Ben Durrant
followed shortly thereafter and soon the lineup was complete as drummer Tim Beam
and bassist Eric Asp made their respective arrivals.
Unguided Missile’s name had my mind conjuring images of errant projectiles
and random ricochets. Yet despite any images of arbitrary aim, the music maintains
a true trajectory straight from the garage to your melon. These guys shoot dead
center—no smoke, mirrors or laser sighting technology, just a quick eye
and quicker hands. And as their latest call to duty would testify, Below and
Beyond is a carefully contained 10 round clip of raw riff-rock revelry that
hits with both wallop and wit. In only 35 minutes we get a stiff dose of evil
blues and black humor ranging from bitter and brutal to brittle and hopeless.
What we have here is warfare, surrender, the wish to make peace and the burning
desire for revenge no matter how cold it is when it’s served. Recorded at
Durrant’s Crazy Beast Studio when members were besieged by various rigors
of life, Below effectively captures the catharsis that shitty times generate.
“I just went through a nasty breakup, so all of Kurt’s bitter songs
really jive with me,” says Asp.
“But even the bitter songs have an element of the positive in there,”
“Well, you can’t go too far or it ruins it,” says Allis. “If
you overdo it, it’s no good obviously.”
“But there’s always a bright side,” finishes Beam.
“Yeah,” agrees Allis. “You can sing a sad song in a happy voice.”
Whereas Unguided Missile’s previous album Time Well Wasted was done
on the quick, the assembly was more fragmented and tracked, resulting in a slicker
sound. On the latest, they took more time in the studio, but as Allis explains,
“We laid everything down at once,” which lends to the dirtier, live
“There’s only one guitar overdub, whereas on the last one, there were
guitars everywhere,” adds Durrant. “It’s totally opposite. Some
people think it’s kind of weird that it sounds so unproduced.”
the album features Greg McAloon (Ol’ Yeller) on bass and Glen Mattson (Kingdom
of Ghosts) on drums, the two have since departed to concentrate on those bands.
According to both Durrant and Allis, the fresh meat is a welcome addition that
breathes new life into the mix.
“It’s much more snappy now,” shares Durrant.
“Well,” adds Allis, “the cool thing about it is you play with
some guys for awhile and you play the same songs enough to where you kind of get
sick of them, but then new guys come in and they’re brand new songs to them.”
“That would definitely have something to do with the snappiness,”
“Well, Glen has a real particular style,” says Durrant.
“Yeah,” agrees Allis. “Glen drums by osmosis.”
Allis’ stoic, soft-spoken demeanor might seem to belie the violence he employs
in his music, but like Nirvana, Unguided Missile understands the pendulous dynamic
of the calm before the storm.
“[Nirvana’s] actually not a bad point of comparison,” agrees
Beam. “[Kurt Allis’] definitely got that dirge thing going.”
“I Need Help” opens as a humorous blast of life’s inescapable
truths. We all need jobs, money and meaningful projects and relationships, right?
Well, at least that’s what we’ve been told. Sonically speaking, it’s
a close enough facsimile to the MC5’s “Black to Comm” without
dissolving into an “experimental” pile of crap. When Allis sings “I
need love like I need a gun in my mouth/ I need my mouth to tell you how I need
you,” that more or less sums it up with tongue in cheek.
“It’s supposed to be fun,” says Allis. “You don’t
need to think very hard on that one.”
“Do the Right Thing” brings it down and ends with Allis warning us
that “When opportunity knocks/ Make sure your door is unlocked” just
in case we might be too lazy or afraid to answer it. Along with the other mellower
tracks, it helps puncture the otherwise enveloping darkness of the album and reveal
Unguided Missile’s hidden glimmer of optimism.
Allis’ favorite song on the album, however, offers no such respite—the
acidic “Inside Out” offers images of being shot in the gut, whereupon
the digestive juices seep forth to corrode and devour the surrounding vital organs
and facilitate a slow, agonizing death.
“It’s just a song about libido and how overwhelming it can be,”
adds Allis. “It kind of gives you that feeling like you’re about to
jump off a bridge. I know some of the lyrics can be a little extreme, but if it
wasn’t dramatic, it wouldn’t be exciting or interesting to me.”
“So Happy” recalls Cobain as a questionable statement of emotional
well being. And Durrant’s slipping slide guitar ala Pink Floyd’s Dave
Gilmour adds the whimsical element of buoyancy that plays foil to Kurt’s
nearly monotone delivery in “A Man and His Dog.”
Finally, this latest installment closes in true Minneapolis rock dude fashion
with “Wrong Side of Town,” a reverent, acoustic nod to the ’Mats
As my allotment of tape wound down, Asp asked, “What do you guys think is
worse—emotional or physical pain?”
And although the general consensus was little more than a collective, “Oh,
man ... ,” I’m pretty sure that we all know the answer is relative
to what we happen to be enduring at the time. When you have an evil woman with
evil ways on the brain, the mind occupies itself with physical analogies of that
suffering. But when you’re in the throes of passing a kidney stone, what
that bad witch did doesn’t seem so terrible.
Unguided Missile performs as a stripped down acoustic duo on Wed. Dec.
15 at Grumpy’s Northeast. 8 p.m. 21+. Free. 2200 4th St NE, Mpls. 612-789-7429.
Check out more of Unguided Missile on their official website
Download an mp3 of Unguided Missile’s song Do
the Right Thing.