Unless you’ve heard UNA before, odds are that they will not sounds like you expect them to sound. Even reading descriptions of their sound (trip hop/electronic/downtempo) may not prepare you for their actual sound. UNA’s latest release, Noise of the Wing, has bouncing instrumentals at the forefront competing with slinky, R&B vocals. It’s a strange mix, made stranger when you see the album cover that looks like an early 2000s alternative band. The Los Angeles-based quartet is made up of Jennifer Nice (vocals,) DJ Eddie Barajas (turntables,) Richard Larsen (guitar, keyboard,) and Scott Eric Olivier (synth, guitar, and drums;) they’re a talented group, but they’ve got some weird taste in writing and arranging.
UNA considers themselves a trip-hop, downtempo, electronic band but they also mix in some pop, blues, Latin, and Western… there’s all kinds of things mixed in here, which takes away from some of the mysterious and/or the chill feeling present in a lot of trip hop. UNA plays with genres between songs: while “One By One” starts the album with trip hop and hints of a Western soundtrack. “Trailblaze” follows with full-blown pop: it’s like Mandy Moore meets Captain & Tennille meets trip hop. “I Want to Believe” is a cross between trip hop and blues – slow, sultry, and more Morcheeba-esque, but still mixes in a choir. “Nature Boy” has a Latin flair and adds in samples of people speaking Spanish to really drive the point home, and then adds record scratching for no good reason. So much of the album reminds me of adult contemporary pop from the late ‘90s, especially Canadian bands Sky and Philosopher Kings (if the latter used a lot more electronics.)
There are some similarities to Zero 7, but the vocals and instrumentals on Zero 7 are much more cohesive. With UNA, Nice’s voice is soulful, bluesy, and sultry – it would be well suited to R&B. The vocals, while beautiful and warm, feel out of place on these mostly electronic instrumentals. The lyrics are odd, from stream-of-consciousness about flipping through a magazine and not cleaning a coffee cup on “Cuz Your Fast” to traveling through space on “Trailblaze.”
There are three remixes on the album by different artists, each bringing a very different feel to the songs. Charles Webster’s remix of “Vacancy” is a deep house track, taking only the breathiest of vocals and putting them over a looped beat. It is a completely different song from the original, which has watery synth and distorted guitar. The remix sounds like a completely different song – a more conventional song.
UNA is made up of very talented musicians who are great at their crafts – they just have strange tastes in combining genres. There’s an overall feeling of the trip hop instrumentals being at odds with the R&B vocals – and yet the songs still lack the drama of both genres. There’s a lot going on here, and none of it is bad on its own, but it doesn’t work so well together.