Face-melting harmonies aren’t as common in rock music as they used to be, but this isn’t enough to deter Unlettered from making them the bedrock of their new record New Egypt, out now wherever quality indie noise rock is sold and streamed. New Egypt, as its title would imply, isn’t your typical noise rock record. It’s got a heavy modern edge influenced as much by audio revolutions as it is the conceptualism behind the earlier noise and outsider scene we saw more than thirty-five years ago, but not in the punkish style that you might assume.
With alternative hooks in “D>B>H” and “Malfroid Archives,” brutish melodies in “Too Good to be True” and “Group of Compliers,” as well as a curt sense of self-awareness in “Sin Sip” along for the ride, this record invites us into the world of Unlettered for what is an unforgettable but surreally short masterpiece.
Knowlton fully utilizes the rhythm in the percussion we hear in “Too Good to be True” and “Group of Compliers” to emphasize the passion in his voice, but I don’t know that he can be accused of leaning on Unlettered more often than he places himself at the helm of the harmonies. He’s firmly in control as we transition from verses into brooding refrains, and in every stitch of material here, he makes it known to us through his delivery that this isn’t a project he wants the audience to consider his and his alone. There’s a desire to be engrained with the band while directing what they’re going to play, and his leadership impacts the swaggering undertow of the melodies here.
As much as Mike Knowlton is the main star of the show, it’s the chemistry between him and Unlettered in “Malfroid Archives” that pushes us to the edge of our seats from the jump in New Egypt. “Sin Sip” is his lone moment occupying the stage almost all by himself, and though it’s the perfect capper to the tracklist, it doesn’t feel like the most persona-defining moment this EP has to offer us. I haven’t completely decided what to make of the larger narrative that the lyrics and music forge here, but I do know this much – with every listening session I spend with Unlettered’s new record, I walk away feeling something different than I did the previous time (though just as inspirational in spirit, I should add).
New Egypt is short, simple, and exactly what a lot of neglected noise rock fans have required this spring, and even if it falls short of rocking us for the complete length of a studio album, it gives us a pretty good idea as to what we should be anticipating out this band’s future output. There are too many critics suggesting that rock n’ roll is dead in 2023, but for every one of those critics, there seems to be a dash of melodic ribbonry in this record to make their argument entirely mute. Unlettered belong on your watch list, and once you’ve heard New Egypt yourself, I know you’re going to agree.