Essential New Music: The Dead C’s “Unknowns”

In disasters lurk opportunities. The Dead C, a trio that’s operated out of various towns on New Zealand’s South Island since 1986, convened at a seaside holiday cottage in October of last year to do a bit of recording. Unburdened by the need to write songs, they improvised two albums of material, only to have a not-so-funny thing happen to the digital multi-track recording: A glitch wiped the whole session.

Fortunately, they had also left a couple Zoom recorders running in the corner, albeit pointed in directions that ensured that warped room sound is as essential to the finished product as guitars, drums and vocals. Instead of the lengthy jams that have made up recent Dead C recordings, Unknowns comprises five manageably sized tracks that sit around your turntable like a dinner gathering of Frankenstein’s monsters.

Opener “Grunt Machine” sets the tone. Assembled from patches of looped guitar noise, protesting feedback and an arms-thrust-forward stagger of a beat, it sounds like something you’d want to avoid even before Michael Morley’s somnolent moan drifts in. Each Unknowns piece has its distinguishing characteristics, but they share a family resemblance, especially in the spots where the stitches show. That’s some lovely scars you’ve got there.

—Bill Meyer