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Unschooling – New World Artifacts (Bad Vibrations)

France’s Unschooling emerges as a fresh contender in the ever-expanding realm of post-punk and noise revivalists. But does their debut LP, New World Artifacts offer more than rehashed angular guitar riffs?

Yes. But…

To write about Unschooling without acknowledging the significant influence of the dearly missed Calgary outfit, Women, feels almost impossible. As a huge fan of the latter, diving into Unschooling’s prior releases – the Random Acts of Total Control EP (2021) and Defensive Designs cassette (2019) – is like entering an alternate universe where Matt & Patrick Flegel, Christopher Reimer, and Mike Wallace forged a seamless path together beyond their split in 2010. On New World Artifacts, Unschooling offers a few new twists on this previous output while staying true to their original inspirations.

The result? Gloriously mutilated, jangly guitars reverberate everywhere around this album. They sound like church bells calling the faithful one moment and wind chimes being dismembered by a rusty coping saw the next. A vibrant energy courses through the whole thing, characterised by Unschooling’s intense bursts of activity followed by a cool-down, come-down wooziness. Recorded at a DIY studio in rural Normandy amidst a whirlwind year of tours and festival commitments, the band had to make time, often in the late, solitary hours of the night, to lay down their tracks. Chaotic schedules, unreliable equipment and jigsaw-piecing together different takes all lend New World Artifacts a kind of enigmatic idiosyncrasy. This is enriched further with the addition of contrasting textures via saxophonists Levi Gillis (The Dip, Beat Connection) and Emeline Morisset (Les Agamemnonz), alongside the string virtuoso Kyleen King (Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks).

At a little over 32 minutes long, New World Artifacts is easily enjoyed in one sitting. To single out particular tracks doesn’t really do justice to its whole hurricane, haunted house ride. Nonetheless, two singles from this controlled chaos, ‘Brand New Storm’ and ‘Excommunicated,’ offer a glimpse into the diverse styles that Unschooling effortlessly integrate into their music while never straying too far from their post-punk core. ‘Excommunicated’ itself forms the spiralling centre of gravity of the album. A dark odyssey in three parts, it traces the fine line between dreams and nightmarish visions, pulsating, piercing and slashing unexpectedly around a central melody. The album’s shorter tracks tend to be more sharply focused. ‘Erase U,’ for instance, exudes an air of nonchalant coolness with swaggering vocals and a searing guitar riff. Meanwhile, ‘Ribbon Road’ – named after the randomly unscrolling and exasperating level on Mario Kart — takes the listener on a late-night journey through a dual bass-led jazz explosion. Unschooling holds all this pandemonium quite lightly, never taking themselves too seriously. ‘Shopping on the Left Bank’ muses sardonically on the gentrification of home town Rouen, while Trauma’ and ‘Mom’s Work France’ are more egg punk. Frantic and jittering, they bunk off the main assignment to head down more thrilling discordant side streets.

New World Artifacts concludes with ‘The Goose’, a less pacy exploration of Unschooling’s fresher ideas, weaving in strings and subtle vocal turns. The result sounds more measured and controlled, a difference that immediately recalls something approaching Preoccupations‘ latest, perhaps without the neon production sheen they put on everything.

Unschooling’s take on art rock and post-punk may not break much new ground, but I loved the exhilarating tour they went on through the essential elements of these genres. Forget everything you think you know, it seems a well-trodden path can be just as interesting with the right travelling companions.

New World Artifacts is out via Bad Vibrations on 6th October.


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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.