Reviewing the Unknown Land with Jeff Vicario on SLE
Written by Jay on July 27, 2021
This is my third review. Is this format any good? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m only going to review albums from my Bandcamp collection based on whatever feels right at any given moment. It might mean writing about stuff that’s been out for a long time but when the music is timeless and uniformly excellent, as in the case of Unknown Land, well, why not?
All links in this review point to Bandcamp, so go make some purchases. Well, the next link doesn’t, but anyway, their website is: https://ukld.net/
I have sung the praises of Dark Seasons ever since I first heard it and it remains one of the most criminally under appreciated albums ever. Granted, that statement is not backed by a whole lot of evidence, because I’m lazy, but Unknown Land’s Spotify numbers sure are ridiculously low. 65 monthly listeners? Give me a break.
Unknown Land is collaboration between Lucia Ponticas from Chile and Rob Bryant who’s from Australia. They met on Twitter while promoting their respective solo projects in 2015 and have since released the album 33° in 2016, two 5 song EPs, Redline and Uno, in 2017 and 2018 respectively and their most recent release is the single Icarus from 2020. But this review deals with their afore mentioned 2019 masterpiece Dark Seasons.
First song, and my favourite from the album, is Gargoyles. It might be because I like the word. Coincidentally, that’s why I was so drawn to the band Gargoyl, who, perhaps not coincidentally, are also incredible. Mental note, write review of their debut album, which got unfairly panned on release. Back to the song. Someone used the word seductive to describe Unknown Land’s sound in a Bandcamp review and I’m going to steal it. This is seductive music. Mysterious, undeniably gorgeous, going in surprising directions at the drop of a hat. But that doesn’t mean this is just meandering vocalization in search of context. No, no, no, these are Songs, with a capital S, intricately woven together from their constituent parts. Lucia’s vocals soar and are full of character.
This song is more immediate starting as it does with a strong vocal-led verse, and the exquisite electro production carries it beautifully. Listening to Rob’s soundscapes makes me wish he’d produced some of Depeche Mode’s latter day – read boring – albums like Exciter.
I kind of understand why Gargoyles is my favourite song; because it is the first song and thus represents the whole album to me. That sounded weird. What I mean is that whenever I’ve hit play on Dark Seasons, I’ve always listened to the whole album. There is no way for me to playlist a single song from this one. Tau is an amazing song, don’t get me wrong, but it’s only now that I’ve decided to write a review while the music plays, that I’ve actually identified individual songs. This is also an Album with a capital A. No single piece of music can exist outside of it. That’s how I feel about it anyway.
Maybe one of the reasons for Unknown Land’s relative lack of popularity – I could be wrong about it – is that they’re so obviously not a singles band. This is conceptual art. Did I mention how much I adore the cover art? Not only the beautiful colour scheme but the symmetrical design? Well, I’m mentioning it now. I was going to do a special Unknown Land episode of JVS last year, actually, but never got around to it. I was unsure of how to put it together. Am I making amends with this review? Possibly.
I realize I’m not really reviewing individual songs this time. It’s more a case of random musings on and off topic with Dark Seasons as the soundtrack. Unfortunately, I lack the vocabulary to adequately describe the technical brilliance of the production. As I’ve mentioned before, when it comes to electronic music my only reference point is Depeche Mode. Actually, Unknown Land along with Kizunaut and Tengushee were among the first new electronic artists I’d ever listened to post DM. Anyway, Siren is yet another magnificent song on a magnificent album. Do they ever get bored of how awesome they are, I wonder?
“Hear me howling the moon” sings Lucia on the chorus on this song. I’m going to call this music seductive once more. What a voice, technically faultless, perfect phrasing and rhythmically just right. A frequent issue with otherwise good singers – good in terms of singing in pitch – is that they haven’t internalized the rhythm of the song and their voice wanders off the song. No such issues here.
Ok, it’s official. I’m running out of adjectives. But I notice this is Em’s favourite track on the album, and do you really need a stronger recommendation for listening than the word of the genius mind behind Plike? Name dropping aside, this is a dramatic and brilliant song. And like everything on Dark Seasons it doesn’t outstay its welcome. In fact, none of the songs are longer than just under five minutes, and even though song length is about the last thing on my mind while listening to this album, the fact that Dark Seasons clocks in at just over 34 minutes does make the decision to listen to it again (and again) very easy.
This song has a great bassline. Or baritone guitar. Whatever it is, I love it. And continuing on the theme of why short albums are great, well, I forgot what I was going to type. But I did grow up in the ’80s and started collecting music when vinyl was still a big deal. So, most of my favourite albums from my childhood were under 40 minutes and when CDs appeared in the ’90s quite a few releases mistook the possibility of having those extra 30+ minutes of music provided by the shiny new medium as a command to tack an incredible amount of mediocre material on their releases. I kind of understand that approach, having been guilty of it myself, but the truly great albums tend to be defined as much by what they don’t contain as by what they do. And Dark Seasons is, in my opinion, just such an album; it has incredible depth without resorting to overindulgent instrumentation or production. It’s ethereal and mysterious and still packs an emotional punch. But most of all, it is a testament to the incredible talents of Lucia and Rob.