Uniform + The Body
In Spring 2017, Uniform was asked to support fellow noisy, boundary-pushing duo The Body for a European tour. Having been longtime fans of the band, Uniform vocalist Michael Berdan and guitarist Ben Greenberg jumped at the opportunity. During the planning phase of the tour, Berdan and Lee Buford from The Body started corresponding regularly. Ultimately, Berdan asked Buford if he and The Body cofounder Chip King would be interested in making a collaborative record with Uniform. Buford enthusiastically assented, and the seed of Mental Wounds Not Healing was sown.
Uniform formed in New York City in late 2013 when old friends Ben Greenberg (Hubble, The Men, Pygymy Shrews) and Michael Berdan (York Factory Complaint, Drunkdriver, Believer/Law) realized they lived on the same street. Their impulsive collaboration quickly yielded Our Blood / Of Sound Mind and Body single. The six tracks that comprise the equally abrasive but more refined Perfect World have been coming together between tours and work ever since.
The music that Greenberg and Berdan conjure up under the Uniform moniker is immediate, aggressive, and even primal in form, but it plumbs untold depths. Berdan’s venomous voice mines deeply personal themes of resentment, regret, reflection and addiction over the hum of Greenberg’s almost impossibly disciplined guitar, bass synth, and drum machine lines. Greenberg uses the word “templatized” to describe their approach to writing songs for Uniform.
“There’s this set bunch of gear to create sounds, and it only creates sound through a certain process, or within its own limitations,” Greenberg said. “The goal of songwriting is to see how many different kinds of sounds you can get from the same basic process and machine.”
On Perfect World, that machine is firing on all cylinders. The guitar is run through a cheap ’80s preamp marketed to metal kids. The drum machine is equally no-frills, an Akai XR20 that Greenberg says “most people wouldn’t want to keep around.” These humble components are combined with noisy synth and Berdan’s profound howling to form something much greater. Post-punk, synthpunk, and industrial traditions are borrowed from as needed, but the constraints placed on the process mean the result is unique to Uniform. Berdan describes his lyrics as the consequence of feeling “so full of pain, confusion, deep selfishness, and general animosity that you make some horrible mistakes and have to learn how to forgive yourself for them.” Perfect World feels like the sum of all that pain and confusion, but it also feels like the catharsis.
On No One Deserves Happiness, The Body’s Chip King and Lee Buford set out to make “the grossest pop album of all time.” The album themes of despair and isolation are delivered by the unlikely pairing of the Body’s signature heaviness and 80s dance tracks. The Body can emote pain like no other band, and their ability to move between the often strict confines of the metal world and the electronic music sphere is on full display throughout No One Deserves Happiness, an album that eludes categorization. More than any of their genre-defying peers, The Body does it without softening their disparate influences towards a middle ground, but instead through a beautiful combining of extremes. No One Deserves Happiness is an album that defies definition and expectations, standing utterly alone.
Buford and King are outliers at their core, observing the world as if apart from it. They strive for music without a category. They embody many contrasts. They are open and playful as well as thoughtful and disciplined. Live, they deliver punishing volume and scale with their spare duo set up, expanding their sound through a complex set of effects on both guitar and drums. For records, they approach things entirely differently and expand their group in the studio to include Seth Manchester and Keith Souza from Machines with Magnets (their long-time studio), as well as Chrissy Wolpert of The Assembly of Light Choir. The list of instruments used on No One Deserves Happiness is an unexpected collection that includes 808 drum machine, a cello and a trombone. The band employs instruments in their unprocessed state for the simple beauty of the sound, and then in equal measure push them to their most extreme (for example, the sounds at the end of “The Fall and the Guilt” are created by a guitar and a cello). Because they create an entirely singular sound, The Body is in high demand for collaborations with artists across the musical spectrum, from The Bug to Full of Hell to The Haxan Cloak and beyond. They build albums that are as lush and dense as a rain forest and as unforgiving.
Building an album as layered as No One Deserves Happiness is a complex process. Striving for harshness, dynamics and detail all at once poses some technical challenges: It requires that tracks are built up, deconstructed, processed and re-built. Manchester explains that as an engineering team for The Body, Machines with Magnets must always consider the mix — they never go in and record the basics and then mix it. In order to get the immersive experience that is No One Deserves Happiness, they must experiment with and constantly re-evaluate every construct. While they do employ an 808 on this album, they use pre-fabricated samples very sparingly. To get the contrast they are looking for, they experiment with a huge variety of their own sound samples and varying levels of distortion. Reprocessing a few samples of a track can often result in a remix to retain the balance and dynamics they are looking for.
Delicate, ethereal vocals, courtesy of Wolpert and Maralie Armstrong (who wrote and sings the lyrics for “Adamah” and contributes vocals at the end of “Shelter Is Illusory”) sharply juxtapose King’s distinctive, hellish cries. Album opener “Wanderings” is the perfect introduction to No One Deserves Happiness: Wolpert’s angelic calls to “go it alone” build until utter despair takes over, her voice drowned in guitar distortion, and as it is swallowed, we hear the desperate cries of Chip King. The Body then completely switches approaches, starting again with bare drums, but this time more processed and more industrial. The march is quickly augmented by electronics and King’s distant shrieks — this continues to build to the apex of Wolpert’s vocals rising from the oppressiveness and elevating it with her melodies. The contrasting composition and employment of textures on these two songs highlight the Body’s songwriting and arrangement skills. Each track is at once melodic and bleak, employing many of the same instruments but never in the same manner.
The band’s musical tastes are broad, and that is reflected in the wide variety of inspirations they cite for the tracks on No One Deserves Happiness. “Two Snakes” started with a bass line that was inspired by Beyoncé and went through several mutations as the band remixed and reprocessed core elements, vocal melodies morphing into distorted keys, all carried by the foundational bass line. The core duo of The Body has clear ideas of what they want to achieve, but they are completely open to ideas on the execution. This collaborative, open approach allows for a lot of creative input into the building blocks or sounds of a composition that The Body then meticulously arranges. In the same manner as the music, the lyrics are inspired by a variety of literary reference points, from the spoken word piece on “Prescience,” written by Édouard Levé, to the Joan Didion quote inscribed in the album artwork. The Didion passage succinctly sums up an overriding theme of loss and isolation: “A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.”
In the past two years alone, The Body has joined forces with the metal bands Thou, Sandworm, and Krieg, recorded with Wrekmeister Harmonies, and collaborated with electronic producer The Haxan Cloak. They are currently working on a collaboration with The Bug and grindcore band Full of Hell. They have toured with Neurosis (playing large venues) and toured with Sandworm (playing house shows). This unexpected list of collaborators and unpredictable touring approach further emphasizes the demand for the band’s distinctive sound and their open, exploratory nature.
Author & Punisher
After leaving a career as mechanical engineer in Boston to focus on art and sculpture, Tristan Shone, the creator and sole artist behind AUTHOR & PUNISHER, moved west to pursue his MFA in Southern California. In the metal and machine shops of University of California, San Diego, Shone forged a relationship with design, sound and fabrication that ultimately yielded AUTHOR & PUNISHER‘s first music which mapped the journey away from traditional instrumentation towards custom made, precision machinery. Shone used his technical knowledge, along with his artistic background to create what Wired Magazine has hailed as his own “special brand of doom metal”, using these custom “Drone Machines”.
All aspects of the AUTHOR & PUNISHER sound begin with physical movement, limbs struggling in unison to coordinate a wall of electronic rhythm and oscillation, ultimately conditioned by an organic and loose quality absent of plastic perfection. AUTHOR & PUNISHER performances are a real amalgamation between man and mechanisms. They are direct, physical, heavy experiences that have amassed praise and intrigue from a wide array of audiences. Pitchfork styled him “immediate but mysterious,” Stereogum described his “chilling, unrecognizable form,” and NPR hails him as “a thrill [who] fires on all cylinders”.
Now in 2018, AUTHOR & PUNISHER delivers his sixth full-length recording and Relapse debut Beastland. A robotic experimentation in industrial metal, noise, doom and drone, AUTHOR & PUNISHER recalls Nine Inch Nails channeling Godflesh, traversing through dark, uncompromising, and often disturbing soundscapes with occasional detours into rich melodies and splinters of light. Armed with newly built “Drone Machines” and a new label, Beastland is AUTHOR & PUNISHER’s career-defining statement and a powerful listening experience that further blurs the line between man and machine.
“I built new machines for this album to make more aggressive and dynamic music. These devices are compact and powerful, made from robotic components, intended for high energy repetition. I, as do many others, feel rage against the Beasts of our era: those who horde, who poison, or who discriminate. We need aggressive music to make an aggressive statement. Beastland is an introspection of who we are as a human race. At a time when we have the tools, the intellect, and the history to remind us how to treat each other and the earth, we go far out of our way to feast on the less fortunate and vulnerable, disregarding the atrocities and lessons of the past.“