Unknown Instructions is comprised of some heavy hitters: the rhythm section is Watt and Hurley (both of Minutemen and firehose); Joe Biaza (Saccharine Trust) plays guitar (and doubles as producer of Funland); and artist Raymond Pettibon, Dan McGuire, and the big guy from Pere Ubu switch off on vocals. Funland includes a cover of “Frownland,” a track which originally appeared on Captain Beefheart’s highly unorthodox Trout Mask Replica. The Beefheart selection is appropriate—it’s really emblematic of how “out there” Funland is. And while the guitar playing and the rhythm section is nothing short of amazing (Watt and Hurley—enough said), occasional vocalist Dan McGuire’s beatnik rap gets old quick. It’s actually infuriating considering the levels Biaza, Watt, and Hurley take Unknown Instructions’ music (“Those Were the Days” has a fucking instrument playing—it has to be Biaza’s guitar—that sounds like John Cale’s electric viola). Unknown Instructions really comes together on “Later that Night,” a track combining the group with David Thomas on vocals. As much as I don’t care to admit it, David Thomas is right up there with Beefheart as one of the most erudite and innovative vocalists of the rock’n’roll era. With the exception of Beefheart, there really seems to be no precedent for David Thomas—the man’s voice doubles as an uncontrollable instrument; his ideas on “The Geography of Sound” would probably pique Henri Lefebvre’s interest. Unfortunately, Thomas only appears on three tracks—one of which is only half realized (“Last Waltz”). Fans of Watt, Hurley, and David Thomas (at their most experimental) will find this album rewarding. Everyone else will want my fucking head for even mentioning this record.
–ryan (Smog Veil, smogveil.com)