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Wednesday, Jul 16 2003
One of the few bands ever to make use of both banjo and synthesizer, New York three-piece (and sometime four-piece) Ui hit its stride in 1993, right about the time that Simon Reynolds penned his infamous article on "post-rock," coining the term that would define the next decade of underground rock and pissing off scores of hipsters in the process (even as they scrambled to fill out their record collections with the requisite bits from King Tubby, Silver Apples, and Autechre). Besides the group's unusual instrumentation (though relying most heavily on drums, bass, and guitar), Ui's post-rock pedigree was and is immaculate. Members Clem Waldmann and Wilbo Wright have played with artists as diverse as Pizzicato Five, Yo La Tengo, Stereolab, and Marc Ribot, while multi-instrumentalist Sasha Frere-Jones is known as a talented music journalist with an affinity for hip hop.

Answers, something of a comeback album after a four-year hiatus (and reportedly the group's final recording), comes at an odd time. Most of those aforementioned hipsters have moved past the "post-" to embrace either garage rock or punk-funk (a style whose resurgence Ui prefigured in the band's cowbell clonking and almost tribal low-end wobble). Ironically, this gives the album a certain freshness: Unfettered by hype, Ui has settled down to craft a collection of grooves that sound almost, well, grown-up. Combining compressed power chords ("Back Up") with whimsical bass harmonies ("The Headache Boat") and drifting into lackadaisical Americana (the appropriately titled "Banjo"), Answers seems at times like the work of a particularly urban jam band, turning on a dime from orchestrated riffage into taut improvisational passages.

Devoid of vocals, Answers sometimes feels as though it lacks a center; this might have something to do with the record's oddly muted quality (given the current pop penchant for effects-soaked productions, how can Ui's unadorned style not sound muted?). But once you stop looking for the focal point and instead immerse yourself in the sprawl of a lullaby like "Sleep Hold" or a repetitive puzzle-box like "Please Release Me," you'll find plenty to hold you inside -- whether you've decided to hang your hat on rock's last post or not.

About The Author

Philip Sherburne


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