I find agreement with the description of Unwoman's Knowledge Scars as being 'exceptionally hard to define or categorize' in that I have a hard time figuring out how such well-made music can also have such gratingly preachy moments. The album is breathtakingly mature and complex musically and vocally, but its occasional protests of religious oppression, intolerance and close-mindedness are handled with all-to-often-said clichés that take the listener away from the total tapestry of compilation that otherwise shines.
"The mind of God, on what a woman ought to be" is the sampled prologue to In Gilead, the album's first track. It showcases the wide talents of Erika Mulkey, Unwoman's single parent, with a combination of record-sampled rhythm, conservatory-proficient cello, classroom-polished electronica skills and vocals that are emotional and tender. Its lyrics are sweetest when in Latin. It is broken up with intermittent samples of right-wing sermons and outtakes such as "In God's view, do you know how much distance separates me from that gay activist, or that abortion clinic doctor?"
The Futurist's Nightmare is some wonderfully done electronica. Fattened with distorted and overdriven rhythms and unexpected cello work. The vocals dance on the edge of operatic. Deeper Understanding is a throwback coming across as a mixture of early brit synth-punk and contemporary female vocalization. It is thick with Mr. Roboto imagery. Who Programmed My Desire would best lend itself to performance art. Off-balance rhythms and some great stereophonic counterpoint tickle the eletronica-bone without poking.
Adam and Eve would have agreed that Knowledge Scars, but neither could have put a better melody to cello. A standout, it is both musically complex and minimalist, letting secondary percussion, and motifs on doubled cello tracks, be the backdrop for vocals that are its gossamer wings. Freedom from Religion is rife with samples of 'President' Bush's speeches on Jesus and religion. Playing like an open letter of the Unitarian Liberation Front to Bush's ministry of faith-based legislation, it slides the slippery slope of preachiness with lines like, "You can't legislate reverence," "Our cultures are our own" and "This is what democracy sounds like." For as sincere, or on the mark as its sentiments may be, they come off lacking the teeth found in XTC's Dear God, or Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit.
Dispossessed is about as New Order as you get without being Newer Order. Take Blue Monday, add a dash of Kate Bush and let Tori Amos write the lyrics after watching a Lifetime Channel Guys Lie marathon. The vocals are a beautiful yearning and the imagery of love lost comes across with color. For tape-loop handicrafts and more stereophonic vocoder overloading than Howard Jones' Give Me Strength, Subsistence is meat and potatoes. And screw the Divinyls, gimme Unwoman's When I Touch Myself. Parallel lyric lines and a teasing cello create an emotional environment that crafts a sense that the title of the song is exactly what its about. One of the most compelling songs on the album.
Knowledge Scars is a compelling album that showcases the emerging talents of a complete talent. Musically there is a maturity and a craftsmanship that can stand on its own in any circle. Vocally it is sweet and strong, its only noticeable stumbles occasionally come in phrasing. Lyrically the album vacillates between: at its best, an exaltation of woman and liberality for the very essence of its extremely potent sounds and music; to its occasional but pronounced worst: predictable preachy motifs and mantras beautifully sung.
Post: Unmediated Productions, 3161 Lucas Dr., Lafayette, CA, 94549, USA