Album Review: Unknown Component – Arbitrary Ambiguity


Unknown Component

Arbitrary Ambiguity

Keith Lynch (a.k.a. Unknown Component) doesn’t have a band—he produces his music at home and plays all the parts. He uses a group name, though it’s just him. And while he’s a guitar-playing singer-songwriter, his albums are full of electronic sounds.

Unknown Component’s specialty is minor-tinged pop songs with lyrics that hint at bleakness, unrequited love and emptiness. His previous albums had a pronounced Radiohead influence; his latest release, Arbitrary Ambiguity sounds more like the more upbeat songs by the Cure. He’s raised the tempos and brought the beats to the foreground without abandoning his customary high-concept moping.

Lynch’s production skills have also improved since previous albums. Every song features complex, layered production, incorporating synthesizers, sampled strings and overdubbed guitars. “Sadness Is An Endangered Species” reminds me of 10CC’s elaborate arrangements, where the different instruments are blanketed in reverb until they become billowing clouds of minor chords with indistinct edges. The chugging three-chord roar of “The Insignificant” crescendos into a Phil Spector wall of sound, propelled by a big “When The Levee Breaks” beat.

Every song on Arbitrary Ambiguity has the sort of wide-screen sound that feels way too big for a home studio. Lynch’s voice, which has a slightly nasal edge and subtle growling undertone, can cut through the mix just fine, but his lyrics are maddeningly obscure, mostly seeming like allusions to things never actually described. The lyrics work as sounds, but meaning is elusive.

One might wish for more direct, concrete storytelling from Unknown Component, but musically, these songs are so satisfying and accessible that it doesn’t matter. There’s an emotional payload that gets delivered even when the listener has no idea what he’s saying. That’s a cool trick, and by no means an easy one to pull off.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


A collaboration between The Englert Theatre and FilmScene


Help us build the greatest small city for the arts in America—right here in Iowa City. Learn more »

Donate Today

Strengthen • Grow • Evolve is a collaborative campaign led by two Iowa City-based arts nonprofits, The Englert Theatre and FilmScene that seeks a major reinvestment to strengthen the arts through modern and historic venues, innovative programming, and new models of collaboration.

For 18 years...

Little Village has been telling the truth and changing our little corner of the world.

If you can, help us head into the next 18 years even stronger with a one-time or monthly contribution of $18, or any amount you choose.


Wed, Oct. 23, 2019

Hilton Garden Inn Iowa City Downtown University at 7:15 a.m. (program starts at 7:30 a.m.)

Keynote address by Dr. Melissa Shivers
Vice President for Student Life
University of Iowa

Buy Ticketes

(No tickets sold at the door)

2019 Award Honorees

Jesse Case
Elizabeth Bernal
Angie Jordan (South District Neighborhood Association)
Inside Out Reentry
Matthew Farrey
Kevin Sanders


VOTER’S GUIDE for the 2019 Johnson County Elections

Mark your calendar! Local elections for City Council and School Board on November 5, 2019. Polls are open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.