By Graeme Wiggins
VANCOUVER — In our modern, post-ironic era things have got so detached and muddled that sometimes it’s hard to tell when something is a joke or not and the line between sincerity and sarcasm has blurred. This is the kind of area that screamo/powerviolence band United Nations thrives in. Playing with political theatre (often donning Reagan masks, controversial album covers, intentional disinformation, and, of course, their band name) it’s clear they work within the realm of satire. Couple that with brutal blast-beats and the intense emotional screaming from frontman Geoff Rickly, who used to sing for post-hardcore/emo band Thursday, it becomes harder to tell what’s supposed to make you laugh and whats supposed to make you cry.
With Thursday, Rickly made music that was intensely emotional and personal. He started United Nations to do something different from that. “This was the kind of direction I originally wanted Thursday to go in, but it kind of went in another direction,” says Rickly. “Don’t get me wrong, I love what we did, but there comes a point where you feel like fucking enough already with the sad songs.” The sadness and emotion occasionally pokes its head through, however. “You know when you come across really good satire, that really gets at the heart of the matter, that does its job really well? It almost becomes sad in its own way.”
In some ways United Nations is a return to his roots, throwing hardcore shows in basements in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “This was the kind of stuff I used to listen too – Reversal of Man, Orchid,” recounts Rickly, “Reversal of Man actually broke up at one of the shows I put on.” The influence is definitely felt. The new album The Next Four Years is a half hour of pure aggression that moves at a blinding pace. The cover and title is a take on Black Flag album The First Four Years, and the album pokes fun at both their legal problems (The actual United Nations had a problem with the band’s name) and punk rock in general.
This humour has been with the band since the beginning, so much so that it’s hard to find good information online about the band. Wikipedia suggests possible Kids Bopz album versions and lyrical help from Kristen Schaal and improv group Stella. “Yeah, in the beginning we had a deliberate disinformation campaign. I mean we tried to give different and contradictory information in almost every interview we did,” says Rickly. And people believed a lot of it. “I had people asking what Kristen Schaal was like, and stuff like that. In the end seeing what kinds of things people believed so easily got kind of frustrating and sad.”
To that end they’ve toned down that kind of thing. They’ve also managed to stay out of legal trouble for the time being, having received “no letters from any corporations lately, thankfully.” This isn’t because they’ve lost their edge or gotten soft, it’s just that those things are distractions that make it more difficult to make music and play live shows, and their live show promises to be an intense one. Asked to describe their current show, Rickly says “I would say 60 per cent blast beats, 30 per cent stand-up comedy, and 10 per cent musical theatre.” With a plan like that, and an album as brutally satisfying as The Next Four Years, the blurred line between sincerity and humour no longer matters. All that matters is paying attention.
United Nations perform as part of the BeatRoute BC five-year anniversary celebration at the Korean Cultural Centre November 8.BC, BeatRoute BC 5-year anniversary, British Columbia, Korean Cultural Centre, United Nations