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“the trusted language” by UUVVWWZ | Album Review

Author: Michael Todd
02/08/2013 | Hear Nebraska | | Album Review
[Editor's note: This review previews a pair of album release shows in Lincoln and Omaha. Tonight, UUVVWWZ plays The Bourbon Theatre in Lincoln with HERS and Green Trees, starting at 9 p.m. for an $8 cover. On Saturday, UUVVWWZ takes the stage at The Waiting Room in Omaha with openers Touch People and The Renfields for a concert starting at 9 p.m. for $7.]

"No Apart" opens with an inhalation, just a few seconds of fretted notes humming through buzzing amps, before three menacing chords cut the breath short and UUVVWWZ's second album, the trusted language, begins.

Over the next 35 minutes, the quartet of musicians called "double-U" for short buries the rails it rode in on, rails laid by their self-titled debut nearly four years ago. Frontwoman Teal Gardner says it took two years for the trusted language's eight songs to take form. Through this collection's sharpened intent and meatier music, these songs outgrow those first nine UUVVWWZ wrote and later released in May 2009.

This second record's roots lead back to August 2010 when former drummer Tom Ambroz moved to Australia for a job in mineral exploration. After carefully bringing Dave Ozinga into the mix to play percussion and reform a rhythm section with bassist Dustin Wilbourn, the band started writing. Guitarist Jim Schroeder would spend hours at a time crafting the structures of songs, often with Gardner as she improvised alongside him.

UUVVWWZ Talks "trusted language" | Video Feature from Hear Nebraska on Vimeo.

The result is a set of darker, more mature songs — released on Feb. 5 via Saddle Creek — which succeed when they flawlessly switch from one personality to the next. In the liner notes, Gardner jumps from cursive to all caps in "Possible Project." The graceful italics of "Broad Sky Blues" lean below the plain but darker text of "GRIPS."

"No Apart" is a strong opener, but without the change of tempo 3 1/2 minutes in, it would be too straightforward with an anti-technology message that feels tired for millennials like me: "Thanks to them," Gardner sings, "we can learn to laugh at dust collected on the screen where I live in the house that I keep." "Open Sign" barrels down the tracks, loud and angry, but what's an out-of-control train that doesn't derail at the end (which "Open Sign" does by eventually self-destructing)?

It's a testament to UUVVWWZ's skilled songwriting and musicianship that the best tracks on the trusted language create their variety of emotional responses without very much noticeable manipulation in post-production. The guitar, bass and drums rarely shift from their place in the mix. A chorus of voices join Gardner on "Broad Sky Blues," and occasionally her own voice will multiply like it does to good effect three-quarters of the way through "Possible Project." But for the most part, Gardner shapes her single track of vocals to match the changing textures of the music.

Rarely if ever does the band play out-of-step with each other. The mix of personalities matches Gardner's own way of jumping from a sweet high note to a machine gun spattering of broken throaty syllables. She slithers from note to note, melismatic as she stretches her experimental lyrics. She might sway from the staff lines or the spaces in between, 10 cents sharp or flat. She might shape her mouth to change the timbre. Call it inability or call it intentional, the style is off-putting to some, and it's noticeable from the first line that her vocals have an extra weight to them, the only studio manipulation — or result of a cold — that can be distracting at first.

But for her "acquired taste" vocals, the band would be hard-pressed to find anything comparable were Gardner to land her own sort of Australian mineral exploration job. She almost single-handedly molds the band's stage presence with the sort of ballet she performs with her arms, eyes and then whole body. Where it's easy to examine her vocals closely on the record, on stage, Gardner explains for her style through the way she commands attention and works an audience.

Which brings us back to the band's shape-shifting performance. It's songs like "Perfect House" and closer "the trusted language" that underwhelm when the album is taken as a whole because each isn't as multi-faceted as their counterparts. Listeners might learn to crave the change in dynamics of second song "GRIPS" after its first three searing sections — intro/pre-chorus, chorus and segue — charge through 30 seconds to land on a slowly building groove. And when the rhythm of this verse is clearly defined, you try dividing it by four only to find that you'll need a calculator. The first two songs set a precedent that "Perfect House" doesn't meet.

The more languid, pastoral "Broad Sky Blues" and the more relaxed Nebraskan surf of "Charlotte's List" take from music theory the ability to know when a chord with less perfect intervals are needed to add drama. And this is part of the reason why this band is great. Most musicians want to be unchained from genre. While they call themselves avant-blues, UUVVWWZ needs an evolving definition that keeps up measure-by-measure with the music.

Forged from the melting pot of metal, jazz, indie rock, blues, folk, country and the many other elements of the Nebraska music scene, UUVVWWZ is a band that pulls together diverse elements to create an all-together awakening sound for the rest of the state and the world to hear.


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