Unified Alarm System | This is Only a Test

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This is Only a Test

by Unified Alarm System

Utterly original, a clash of imagery, noise and saccharine notes that leaves you wanting more...
Genre: Electronic: Experimental
Release Date: 

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1. Seventy 7 Seconds Low
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2. Ultraviolet Light Sabretooth Tiger Tank
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3. Thaaat's It
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4. Emerald Dragon Raygunz
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5. The Turtle Creek Convert
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6. Sunbeam Cottage
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7. Best Loser
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8. Tippy Ditch
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9. Photons Touching
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10. Luck Bubble Implosion
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11. Skinned Carcass Carousell
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12. Eulogy
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13. Chapter Zero
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14. This Has Been a Test
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Album Notes
Have you ever wondered what happens to those discarded circuit boards, microchips and tangled wires when they sit in the landfill for long enough? They dream. They start to talk to each other. They fuse with the plastic and glass around them and wander the landscape. They drink chemicals, watch early ’70s sci-fi movies and freebase gold dust. Then they put out an album.

Unified Alarm Systems is the experimental electronic duo of Brainswarm’s Tim Donovan and Friendly Psychics Music co-founder Chris Jones. The group formed in the fall of 2008 as an offshoot of Brainswarm, delving into digital soundscapes by using unconventional recording methods and gear like the Theremin and various circuit-bent toys. Theirs is a simple mission.

They make their compositions gurgle and bubble over with fuzzy synth lines and textures worthy of the “Clockwork Orange” soundtrack as performed by Kraftwerk. And yet they remain rooted in recognizable compositions – a vocal melody here, a keyboard line there. It's familiar but utterly original, a clash of imagery, noise and saccharine notes that leaves you wanting more. It’s a bit like wandering through the wreckage of a neon city while damaged androids vomit sparks and try to kill each other. The only difference is that you’re one of them.

Happy hunting, slugger.


to write a review

Lex Thiel

Disagreement.net (3/27/10)
Disagreement.net (3/27/10)

Unified Alarm System - This is Only a Test
(Friendly Psychics Music) 7 stars

Up until now I expected from Friendly Psychics Music only high quality home recorded lo-fi indie pop, but the release of Unified Alarm System’s debut album This Is Only A Test taught me to sometimes expect the unexpected. Like most other bands from the label, this duo also consists of artists involved in other projects that we have come to know and like from this small yet fertile collective from Ohio and Colorado.

Unified Alarm System is Brainswarm’s Tim Donovan and label co-founder Chris Jones who, while not giving up their precious DIY ethics, switched their rock instruments for weird synthesizers, circuit-bent toys, theremins and ancient sounding beat machines that steer the fourteen songs on this very long CD as far from contemporary electronic music as you can possibly imagine. It’s obvious that the two musicians are strongly influenced by the pioneers of electronic experimentation of the Seventies. The uncompromising unconventional structures remind strongest of The Residents, and yet whenever they find a little room for melodies, the vocal lines are not too unlike David Bowie, Gary Numan or even Marc Almond.

Some bass lines or occasional catchy parts may let you expect something more accessible from time to time, but Unified Alarm System always get quickly back to their unfettered sounds and structures that make listening to This Is Only A Test a very demanding but fortunately also quite entertaining endeavour. The different songs are all quite different and adventurous, so that you won’t run into boring repetitiveness, but I believe that seventy-four minutes of this eeriness is maybe a little too much to be consumed in one sitting. Fans of bizarre and outlandish sound experimentation should still find a lot to admire on this album, especially since the always present if certainly not typical structures give it a framework making access not too hard.

-Lex Thiel

The Machinist

Machinist (2/28/09)
Machinist (2/28/09)

Members of the American experimental electronic duo UNIFIED ALARM SYSTEMS, perhaps, are distant relatives of the musicians Russia DVAR. Here are just a transatlantic avant-garde do not focus so much on the cartoon melodies and music in the traditional sense, but rather on microarray atmospheric, friendly surrealism and haphazard funny noise. Excerpts of music, rhythmic strings and singing in their compositions, too, are leaking and quite funny ( "Seventy 7 Seconds Low", "Emerald Dragon Raygunz", "Tippy Ditch" etc.), but very rarely. Most of the speakers comes collage, chemical or glitchevoe kopopshenie plastic and natural sources of sound, sound schizophrenic voices, bits of UFO-tunes and processed noise. In short, there are those electronic and acoustic sounds something of cheap sci-fi movie 1970. The artists use unconventional medody recording teremin and various toys. They see their music as the soundtrack for the movie "A Clockwork Orange," by KRAFTWERK. This is a controversial comparison, in my opinion. Well, all right. Anyway I do not eat drugs, do not travel in time and are not elected. And like music UNIFIED ALARM SYSTEMS can develop that few fans of space glitchevoy music and groping noise avant garde. I hesitate to estimate the album "This Is Only A Test", but listen to it just never will.

Stephen Carradini

Independent Clauses (2/18/09)
Independent Clauses (2/18/09)

Friendly Psychics Music has a long history of challenging releases. They rarely make things easy for the listener, and that’s one of the things that attracts me to them. The releases are like good alcohol; whether beer, wine or other spirits, they all take getting used to before full appreciation can be had.

This, however, is not the case with Unified Alarm System’s This Is Only a Test. While I don’t have scientific evidence to prove it, I’m relatively certain this is the longest FPM release ever, at fourteen tracks averaging five minutes each. The fact that it’s over an hour wouldn’t be a problem except that this is some of the most abstract music I’ve ever heard. Each and every track is composed of synthesizers, theremin, static, vocals, reverb and white space. The difference between songs comes in changing the amount that each individual element is featured in the track.

Although odd, those pieces aren’t entirely foreign. What makes this release so frustrating is the compositions, which are incredibly long, drawn-out pieces that sound like the beginnings of techno songs looped over and over. Almost every track begs for a thumping beat beneath it to fill it out. But we are never treated to that, and the album becomes a study in tension without release. It’s incredibly discomforting to listen to This Is Only a Test, because there is rarely (if ever) resolution to the moods presented. The overall effect of the album is disorienting.

Making things more confusing is the fact that this is one of the best-recorded releases FPM has put together. The soundscapes made are pretty hi-fi in their recording – it’s just that they’re obtuse, peculiar and off-putting hi-fi recordings. If this is the direction that FPM is heading, I’m pretty excited; they’ve kept their very idiosyncratic songwriting sense and upgraded the parts that took away from the success of that vision. I hope that these striking production values will be used in future FPM releases.

In all, this is a point on a larger FPM line rather than a stop on it. This is Only a Test is more than an hour’s worth of unresolved tension, and I’m not sure who signs up for that. But as a marker on the FPM line toward the future, this is a sign of good things to come. If FPM in general interests you, I would still point you toward Derecho’s latest.

- Stephen Carradini