Since 1982, a shortwave radio station in Russia has been transmitting the same short, monotonous buzz tone at the rate of approximately 25 tones per minute, just about 24 hours a day, every day. That station, UVB-76, has since been nicknamed “The Buzzer,” for obvious reasons. According to Wikipedia, the actual purpose of the station remains unknown and has not been confirmed by government or broadcast officials, despite much speculation through the years.
The latest disc from X-Ray Press, appropriately titled UVB-76, invites speculation as well. Stylistically, UVB-76 skips all over the place and is divided up into five fairly disjointed parts, which are bulleted by numbers and Roman numerals. Each part begins and ends the way an entire record might, every section bridged by an instrumental piano interlude.
The rest of the tracks blaze through the math rock and art rock genres with open-minded inclusion and the brutality one might find on a hardcore disc. X-Ray Press sells itself, often wordlessly, with its dedication to rhythm and musical discipline. On “On Breathing Water” and “Tiffany/Stephanie,” distorted guitar effects print like fax machines, evoking qualities inferred by the band name. In “Chord & Mumble,” robotic guitar-picking recalls two machines speaking to one another. In other tracks, guitar lines seem to harmonize, driving home the idea that, yes, other instruments are present, but the guitars are definitely the main squeeze.
Listen to “Holy Ghost, USA” – DOWNLOAD MP3
With its title and sound, UVB-76 might come off like a work of pretention. And maybe it is. But perhaps it is simply the result of three art school kids joining forces with a classically-trained musician, to create inventive, challenging music. The four members of X-Ray Press are very obviously musically adept, and are probably just bored when they’re not kicking major musical ass in the time change-heavy and ridiculously technical way.
Nonetheless, despite the well-executed thematic goals and musical competence that damn near approaches perfection, some of the vocals could use work. Occasionally, they take on a polished radio-friendly quality, sticking out like a sore thumb against vicious instrumental backgrounds. These moments are rare, though, and by halfway through the album, the vocals are either toned down to the point of non-existence or ramped up to better suit the tunes. If this is the weakest part of the disc, it’s not much to gripe about.
At 18-tracks-long, UVB-76 is a lofty undertaking, in which every detail seems to have been considered. The release is instrumentally-sophisticated, and gives a lot of fodder for listeners to ruminate on.