ALBUM REVIEW: Unmask Whoever by Activity

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WRITTEN BY: Vince Barreras

Activity is a supergroup of members from different NY area bands and Unmask Whoever is their debut record via Western Vinyl. Travis Johnson (vocalist/sampler operator) Steve Levine (drummer)  Zoë Browne (bassist) Jess Rees (guitarist) make up the group. Johnson and Levine work together in Grooms, Browne plays in Field Mouse, and Rees is of Russian Baths. Activity is an amalgamation of all these artists and their other bands. It’s very clear upon listening to these bands that their own artistry is being meshed together. Grooms, with their dark and esoteric noises, lowkey guitar tone and vocals, Field Mouse with its really powerful and present bass from Browne, and the dreamy and atmospheric guitar work from Rees, all mesh together to create a new sound and record for Activity.  

“In Motion” starts the record off and uses a combination of different samples and sounds that set a tone that is both desolate and dark. When the vocals come into the song they take influence from 90s era dreampop and are both ethereal and mysterious. “Calls Your Name” is the following track that continues to utilize different sampling sounds and once the band begins it’s like something out of a nightmare. Johnson’s vocals are half sung half spoken word and add to the isolation the track creates for the listener. Upon further research, this track, which served as the band’s debut single was inspired by C.S. Lewis’s 1945 novel The Great Divorce. “Spring Low Life” once again utilizes different ambient noises with a drum track buried underneath until the rest of the band begin an experimental sounding track with harrowing guitars, and a rhythm section that’s both tight and rocking. Something has to be said for Johnson’s vocals, which stand out once again. “Nude Prince,” ups the ante on the ambience and “Looming” is a really heartfelt and kind of slow core influence track. It relies less on instrumentation and more on the vocals.

“Earth Angel” is deep instrumentally. Those beginning guitar notes playing out are iconic, and once the band comes into the fold, the guitar is used as a way of creating an environment much like how it’s used in shoegaze records, taking influence from Rees and her work with Russian Baths. As the song builds the guitars become more whirly, more atmospheric, and huge. “The Heartbeats” continues where the previous track left off and keeps a mid-paced jam going where the members seem to just flow off of each other and create this grand track. “I Like The Boys” is in a similar vein as the Side A track closer. This time there’s a bit more emphasis on creating a shoegaze like soundscape but the overall ambience is still very much front and center. “Violent and Vivisect” plays like an indie rock track, and is a really balanced experience. It’s straightforward and really nice to listen to. “Auto Sad” closes the record out with some industrial sounding samples that call to mind darkwave elements. Rees plays out a few really low guitar notes that ring out in an echo/reverb-soaked daze. This track is dreamy and beautiful. It gradually closes out as the instruments fade out and the sustain from Rees is left to ring out as the record comes to a chilling and satisfying end. 

For a debut record, Activity was able to create their sound and take influence from their other projects. Unmask Whoever is heavy on ambience, mood, and atmosphere. Some tracks utilize sounds that are both deep and nightmarish, and others are used to create really lush and beautiful environments. What makes this record stand out is its influence. The members never pigeonhole themselves into one style or sound. As a listener you can’t say this is a dream pop record, or a slow core record, or even an indie rock record. Activity have essentially created their own universe of different musical influences. This makes for an engaging record that never remains complacent. Just when you may have it figured out, Activity will prove you wrong with an interesting sound sample, a deep drum or bass groove, or a guitar soaked in effects that makes the landscape that Activity creates so deep and grand. 

For Fans Of: Grooms, Field Mouse, Russian Baths

Track listing:

Side A:

  1. In Motion
  2. Calls Your Name
  3. Spring (Low Life)
  4. Nude Prince
  5. Looming

Side B:

  1. Earth Angel
  2. The Heartbeats
  3. I Like The Boys
  4. Violent & Vivisect
  5. Auto Sad

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