Wednesday, October 24, 2007


when i was living in edinburgh, i went to see hallam foe, the new film starring jamie bell. while the film hasn't yet hit american shores, there's no doubt it will, considering its favorable reception in europe (and excellent soundtrack). directed by scotsman david mackenzie, hallam foe was filmed entirely in edinburgh and the surrounding countryside, and, accordingly, has a very british soundtrack. the movie's ostensible theme, "hallam foe dandelion blow," is performed by franz ferdinand, but the film's best songs were nestled among edinburgh's closes (or alleyways, to us non-scottish folks). the nativist soundtrack, which won the silver bear award at the berlin film festival, was compiled by renowned u.k. indie label domino, and includes songs from psapp, clinic, orange juice, sons and daughters, king creosote, and u.n.p.o.c. those first names are probably familiar, especially that of king creosote, but who's this u.n.p.o.c. guy?

u.n.p.o.c. (the acronym) began life in the late 19th century as a mercantile abbreviation for "unable to navigate, probably on course," a phrase that was used by arctic explorers. once the fog moved in and their compasses froze, these intrepid men calmly, rationally, picked a course that took them into the deep unknown. perhaps it was their indefatigable spirit that prompted tom bauchop, an edinburgh singer/songwriter to adopt "u.n.p.o.c." as his stage name; on the other hand, it might well have been their joyous celebration of trespassing the limit of human ingenuity and going boldly into the mist. u.n.p.o.c. (the artist) plays fierce songs in glorious lo-fi majesty, looping and stacking guitar and vocal lines to create a complex infrastructure that yet manages to dazzle with simplicity. u.n.p.o.c. have only one album to date, the stunning fifth column, a recording that burns with a frenetic joy that hides bauchop's lyrical loneliness.

it is a testament to u.n.p.o.c.'s skill that "here on my own," the song that appears on the hallam foe soundtrack, was personally selected by director mackenzie. played at a pivotal moment in the film, "here on my own" aptly sums up hallam's overwhelming loneliness and isolation while never slipping into morbidity or depression. u.n.p.o.c. and fifth column are relentlessly optimistic, inspiring joyous wail-a-longs in spite of whatever lyrical demons bauchop conjures up. instantly hummable and engaging, fifth column quickly wends its way into brain radio, on repeat; there is an indescribable purity and earnestness to u.n.p.o.c. that makes your toes tap and mouth sing, whether you want it to or not.

one of the first things you realize, upon listening to fifth column, is that bauchop is clearly interested in destinations. though his travel fetish doesn't begin to rival john darnielle's, three of fifth column's songs are about faraway places - album opener "amsterdam," the relentlessly catchy "avignon," and album closer "nicaragua" - and "see you later" and "been a while since i went away" also fit into the traveling motif. what bauchop is trying to channel are "triggers," words that are immediately recognizable and that can spark mental associations between real-life and music. "avignon" itself is the product of a long flight sitting next to someone who kept rattling on about how "it's so good to be in avignon," which turned into the very words of the song's chorus. regardless of song titles, bauchop's lyrics tend to be more of the bizarre variety, as in "amsterdam," where he sings about kings, queens, paranoia, and aliens. but here, as in so many places, fifth column's logical content plays second fiddle to its song structure, which is impeccable. originally clocking in at over 75 minutes, bauchop has stripped over half an hour away, leaving fifth column tight, focused, and infectious.

u.n.p.o.c. isn't going to start its own sub-genre; bauchop will never be plastered on the cover of nme (barring a radical reversal for his next album, tentatively titled the artist paints), but his fierce pop makes listeners into converts. its beauty is in twofold; the songs, obviously, are frequently impeccable, song segments cut and pasted together flawlessly, complex songs built on disparate ideas placed back to back, but fifth column's production, quavering lo-fi, is as essential of an element. obvious influences are 60s harmonic pop, especially on the boisterous "jump jet friend" and the beatles-esque "beautiful to me," though u.n.p.o.c. steers clear of imitation, crafting his own compelling sound. though his inclusion in hallam foe has no doubt attracted more listeners to bauchop's relentless sound, u.n.p.o.c. still remains to be one of the fence collective's darkest horses, a situation that sorely needs to be remedied. fifth column is one of best debut albums you've never heard.

this hallam foe trailer features "here on my own" in its second half (check out the comments section);
alternatively, you can go to u.n.p.o.c.'s myspace and stream tracks there. buy sweet u.n.p.o.c. merch here.

photo taken by henrik dahlberg.

No comments: