In Direct Communication
Unknown Component – Its a Fine Line (mp3)
Keith Lynch is a local singer-songwriter that has never done things the usual way, starting with his chosen stage name Unknown Component, which suggests an electronica act, or a band at least, but it’s just Keith, his guitars, and his elderly computer. I’ve been a fan since reviewing his first CD and helped him mix and master a couple of his previous CDs, so I won’t pretend any journalistic objectivity here. But even before I worked with Keith, I admired both his songwriting and the stubbornness with which he attacks his art. He isn’t part of the Picador-centric local rock scene, or the townie folk musicians. Maybe fewer weekends on the scene damaging his hearing and his liver have fueled his relentless production—In Direct Communication is at least the fifth album he’s made in the past three years.
This CD seems heavier on synth sounds than his recent work, which gives it a curious ‘80s throwback flavor, reminiscent of early New Order perhaps. But New Order’s songs seem feckless and dazed, and Keith sounds weary, hoarse, but completely sober, like each song is what washes up from a night of fraught insomnia. When he sings “someone is tearing me down/somewhere a light has gone out” again strolling minor chord triplets you might wonder if he needs his meds checked, but at the same time you know he’s getting a lot of pleasure out of transmuting this miserableness into songs. In “Identifying Interpretation” he sings “Cut down, picked up, and kicked out, cornered in this sound it’s bound to get better eventually,” and it sounds almost optimistic but the chorus, “there’s nothing that I’d rather do than live a life of being true, a conversation with a mirror in a tomb,” dashes all hope. And yet it’s sung to a sweetly melancholy melody, and it’s impossible to be depressed by a line as clever as “time isn’t ours—it’s extinguishing the stars”
Unknown Component plays this operatic Goth doom off against music whose hummable melodicism is anything but gloomy. Sure, he likes his minor chords. But his songs are chock full of chord changes that surprises the ear first time but sounds inevitable by the second chorus. Elliot Smith mined this conflict between the sublime and the bleak to great effect, right up until … well you know. Be consoled that in real life Keith is a level-headed, regular guy who is just doing his best to write good songs. Anyone who can make guitars chug like this while tossing off clever couplets about the heat death of the universe is my kind of people.