“New Egypt” by Unlettered
Nimble in his execution but never rushed in his words, Mike Knowlton is a true force to be reckoned with in the song “Sin Sip,” the closing anchor in his new record with Unlettered, New Egypt. There’s something a little labored about the delivery Knowlton employs for this fifth and final tune in the tracklist of New Egypt, but even without the assistance of Unlettered behind him, there’s never a moment in which he seems out of focus at all. He’s got a charisma that I can’t get enough of, and if you check out his new record, you’re going to see exactly what I’m talking about.
New Egypt boasts a very similar aesthetical framework to what we saw out of a revolutionary period for post-punk so many years ago, but with tracks like “Malfroid Archives” and “D>B>H” sporting a little heavier harmonic finish compared to their siblings on previous recordings in history. I get the impression we’re supposed to be picking up on the alternative sensibilities here more than we are any of the other artistic components, but with guitars the size of skyscrapers everywhere we turn, it’s hard to completely get away from the rock ethos that purveys every exciting moment.
The mixture of paced songs like “Sin Sip” and “D>B>H” with bludgeoning tracks like “Group of Compliers” and “Too Good to be True” shows off a lot of depth for Unlettered, but I don’t know that any of this material was placed on the record simply to amplify specific aspects of the band’s sound.
There’s a well-rounded construction to every bit of music we find in New Egypt, and while it’s an indie release in every category and department that count for something, there’s no reason why any of this content couldn’t score some FM airplay over the spring season.
There’s a lot of personal investment in “D>B>H” and “Group of Compliers” that translates not only through the lyrics but the music as well, and it’s in this way that Knowlton verifies his ability to get exposed before the audience without backing out halfway. He’s trying to put his feelings into melodic revelry here, and even if it’s a bit more minimalist in stylization than what his band is capable of breaking off (with the right budget and time to record, that is), it’s as much of a juggernaut as the extended play format can provide for.
Unlettered have been on a bit of a hot streak in 2023, and if you ask me (and a lot of other critics who have been following their ascent lately), I believe that New Egypt is the most complete and hearty look into their collective skillset we’ve had the chance to hear so far. The bottom line with this EP? With or without the searing strings of “Group of Compliers” and lumbering riffage of “Too Good to be True,” Knowlton is a true artist, and his voice alone makes this the kind of record no alternative buff wants to put on after hearing it for the first time.
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