It’s been an interesting year for rock music thus far, but no matter what your feelings might be about the current trends dominating the charts, most will agree when I say that the genre doesn’t feel quite as brawny as it did a mere fifteen years ago. For rock n’ roll experimentalist and frontman Mike Knowlton and his band Unlettered, the challenge of making heavy music great again isn’t quite as daunting as it sounds to the rest of us, and in their new EP New Egypt, they pull out the stops to make their mission happen at all costs. Knowlton’s artistic and conceptual voice leads the way through five fiery, noise-influenced rockers that are sure to grab your attention, and above all else, this is one player who doesn’t sacrifice tonality for tempered crossover appeal. It’s jarring at times, but this EP has a gut that you won’t find anywhere but college radio right now.
Unlike a lot of their peers, Unlettered don’t appear to have much interest in intentionally highlighting the hybridity within their sound, and more specifically, the compositional style they’re using in tracks like “D>B>H” and “Sin Sip.” On the contrary, they’re letting the natural diversity of their influences show up in everything from the texture of the strings in “Group of Compliers” to the bassline swing in “Malfroid Archives,” which is one of my favorite tracks here. It’s a completely different way of showing us what they’re about aesthetically and absolutely a smarter means of exhibiting their experimental ambitions without getting too crazy with the fretwork (or the lyrics accompanying it).
“Too Good to be True,” “Sin Sip,” and “Group of Compliers” are sporting some of the most fluid noise rock arrangements I’ve analyzed in a long while, and the heavily-varnished production technique unquestionably helps us appreciate all of the detail within the instrumentation and vocal alike. Without adding a certain amount of panache behind the soundboard in tracks like these, it would have been a lot more difficult to give the intricacies in the music their proper time in the spotlight – and that’s well over half the reason for picking up New Egypt in the first place. Knowlton and Co. aren’t playing your mom and dad’s punk rock here; they’re getting into the nitty gritty and turning elements out that haven’t been toyed with by many mainstream players in 2023.
I hadn’t heard of Unlettered before coming across New Egypt for myself just recently, but I’m very curious to hear more of their sound now that the record’s five songs have become permanent fixtures of my spring playlist. Extended plays can be short and sweet or overstuffed with more content than most audiences know what to do with, and as strange as this might sound, this record is a good middle ground between those two extremes. It’s obvious that Knowlton and his band are ready to do something a little loftier than what an EP will allow for, but at the same time, this is the perfect way to get their name and stylistic trademark out into the general spectrum.