by: Hannah Liuzzo
Gunk is a 3-piece dirt-rock trio out of Philly whose first release in 2013 Gradual Shove would have been enough for them to make their mark, but they’ve somehow managed to swiftly outdo themselves with their recent self-titled release. Gunk, a densely packed fourteen track/36 minute whirlwind, displays the band’s impressive ability to seamlessly transition in and out of different textures, to play with time & feel, and even crisscross genres while still maintaining a sense of continuity—all without taking away from the record’s most redeeming quality: its ability to be completely self-contained.
It’s pretty important to give Gunk a listen in its entirety before jumping around. You don’t have to but you’re going to thank yourself later because all of the tracks feed into and off of each other (think Radiohead’s OK Computer). The record opens with “Another Day”, a riff-driven, comfortable four-on-the-floor rock song with droney vocals at the front of the mix that takes a drastic change in tempo and atmosphere right after you start to feel settled into the verse. The rest of the record seems to all effortlessly unravel from there—“Hippy” has a safe, infectious melody over a Yo La Tengo-esque groove, complete with a cartoon lightning bolt guitar solo and some sweetly layered vocals over tender proclamations (I’ll borrow my dad’s car/drive it up to you/it’s the least I can do).
“Discourse”, the third track, is the first threat to the feel-good sentiment they’ve constructed leading up. It’s the first taste of frustration—the vocals are buried under a clean but anxious guitar melody and build into a stirring sense of freak-out. And then right when your skin really starts to crawl and itch with anxiety, they dive in and rescue you with some ‘verb-y super clean guitar in “Window”, draped with about as much fuzz as a peach. “Energy” is an unexpected follow up of cute electronic drums and synth sounds that actually explode into “Look In Eyes”, a gazey wall of sound with so much drive that you might not even care about distinguishing the lyrics.
“Groove” is another return to a manic state—a super fuzzy bass /drum groove and guitar riff that never quite settles into itself until it magically opens up into an atmospheric psych rock jam, and then dies away to an anxious spoken word sample over glitchy soundscapes. “Seeing Is” is a mumbly garage rock/shoegaze hybrid reminiscent of early My Bloody Valentine that builds up then dies abruptly, followed by “Lie”, a tastefully primal bass/drum/vocal track with a touch of decorative guitar.
“Forms of Torture” is a much-needed return to balance, comfort, and melody. It’s an off-center folk ballad that sits lazily on top of an old timey bass line and is dusted with vibrato heavy guitar melodies with a gigantic layered psych rock chorus—a bit of an oasis.
The record winds down with “Stay Personable” a musically inviting track that ironically seems to take lyrical personal jabs, followed by “Woke Up”, a tame and tender acoustic ballad with a sentimental vocal melody. They hit you square with one last instrumental statement track on the way out (“Changer”) that reminds you how clever they are with varying guitar tone and creating atmospheres.
There are so many aspects of this record that are worth tuning into that it practically demands several listens. The balance of tension vs. release, mania vs. comfort, conflict vs. resolution is extremely artful, the lyrics are engaging, and their use of texture to construct atmosphere is enlightening. Listening to Gunk almost delivers a sense of relief--despite the severely over-saturated realm of music vs. internet, there are still bands out there making music that doesn’t need context. Gunk is one of those bands and this record speaks for itself.