Unmap – fans of Volcano Choir perhaps? – launch an all-guns-blazing assault on your ears via their debut LP, Pressures. Fortunately, the guns they’re brandishing are more like water pistols than six-shooters; it’s unabashedly fun electro mayhem. Originally conceived as mere soundtrackers for vocalist Mariechen Danz’s artwork, Unmap soon grew into something much larger, with Alex Stolze (Bodi Bill, Dictaphone) and Danz yoinking Matthias Geserick and Thomas Fietz to assist on rhythmic duties.
Based in Berlin, the foursome appear to be spending their days messing with the conventions of synthpop rather than playing ball. The lead single “When To Lead And When To Follow” rattles with splendour and creepy-ass Cajun guitars. Danz chants like a woman possessed amongst chamber-pop harpsichord chords and Eastern strings, with post-dubstep handclaps and all manner of neo-goth flotsam and jetsam floating around the air. It’s not your standard synth-led fare. The noises available on Pressures are, at their root, delicious pop. Unmap have taken it down a much more experimental route however, and they callously toy with a variety of genres and instruments, ensuring that although the is definitely a pop record, it’s not like one you’ve heard before.
“Monkey Effort” is a slow, creaking number, capable of being privy to the dwindling moments of a campfire or a majestic fuschia dawn – to start with, anyway. After its genesis, romantic-era/vaguely Middle-Eastern strings take charge, leading the track on an exodus to weirdsville (population: post-rock). “ABC (Hierarchy Of The Alphabet)” is like that one sketch from Trigger Happy TV when Dom Joly reads his epic poem, ’5 Million’. Well, there’s a bit more substance to it – backed by Sims 2 build mode pianos – but essentially we’ve got someone reciting every letter of the alphabet a few times in various directions.
Some efforts are less psychotic. Sort of. “Pirates”, apart from the doom’n’gloom sprechgesang and buccaneer-based imagery, isn’t all that removed from future-R&B thanks to the ‘normality’ of the rhythms section and synth pads. “Wire Rule”, slippery with swaggering clicks and glitchy dialtone synths, is a brutish, malevolent dirge (also featuring bubbly ’90s eurodance).
More often than not, Unmap’s first album is sheer wacky chaos, and it’s great. You cannot predict what’s going to come next as they seem to lurch randomly from one genre/form/convention to the next, injecting a wonderful unforeseen essence into the fray. Though the music is aloof and flippant, they lyrical content is often intense, exploring (according to the press release), colonialism, paranoia, the fallacies of power and the weight of impermanence. Heavy stuff. Whether you can actual draw that from the music is a challenge in itself, as the lyrics tend to be cryptic like the Zodiac Killer’s ciphers.
All in all, this an LP that demands your attention, mostly in the same fashion that a trainwreck-type celebrity scandal does: it’s unbelievable, it twists and turns on a whim and is quite frankly, ludicrously entertaining. Whether Unmap have a long term appeal remains to be seen, but definitely on first impressions, and for an as-yet indeterminable spell afterwards, Pressures will consume your mind as you try to figure it out (in vain).