With the band name “Miserable,” you think I wouldn’t have slept on Uncontrollable for, like, three months now—but I did.
I couldn’t even give you a definitive answer as to why I opted to pass on this one when it first came out at the end of April. Maybe it’s because I’m a little burned out on the whole “nu-gaze” revival of the last few years; or maybe it’s just because due to my chronic sorrow, I find myself listening to less and less new music, and making less and less time to write a review of what I do end up hearing.
Either way, I’m attempting to rectify the situation by hopping on this one now, and at the same time, be a team player for Bearded Gentlemen Music, a site that I used to contribute a lot more frequently to, outside of my own work.
First, a little background: Miserable is really just one gal, Kristina Esfandiari (she also fronts King Woman), and Uncontrollable is her first full length under the moniker, following the release of two EPs in 2014.
Dense, moody, and foreboding are three words that came to mind during my initial listen of Uncontrollable.
It’s a cavernous and murky experience, thanks in part to Esfandiari’s mumbled vocals that are, as expected, buried very low in the mix, as well as the layers upon layers of distorted and reverberating guitars she bases many of the songs around.
The album opens with a relatively sparse title track, that serves as a bit of an intro to the rest of Uncontrollable, which takes off (as much as an album like this can take off) with “Oven,” a song that, despite its gloomy exterior and mournful guitar strumming, has moments that teeter into a slight pop sensibility when it comes to songwriting—specifically when Esfandiari reaches the song’s refrain, which features the lyrics “Stick my head in an oven—why should I be ashamed I feel this strange? I know that you used to love me.”
Slightly later, she finds success with “Violet,” a song based around a torrential downpour of pummeling drums and endless guitar echoes swirling around you.
For an album that conjures up a poorly lit interior, there are moments where Esfandiari allows you outside—Uncontrollable opens up with the sound of rain falling while a piano plays in the distance.
“Oven” begins with an out of context voice mail from someone stating they almost got hit by a car; “Violet” starts with something lifted from an old video game, and heading into the album’s second half, “Stranger” begins with the sound of passing traffic on a busy street before it fades out abruptly and the Esfandiari’s haunted vocals come in over the top of low drones.
The album’s second half injects some slight energy with the electronic percussion and atmospherics of the swooning and woozy “Salt Water,” before moving into the ominous guitar work that anchors down “Endless.”
Uncontrollable concludes with a melancholic acoustic ballad, “Best Friend,” before segueing into a somewhat self-indulgent instrumental, “Saudade.”
From start to finish, an album like this is a hard sell as a casual listen—due to the dense and downcast nature of it, it’s not very accessible, and you have to be in the right frame of mind to really enjoy it—I mean, as much as one can enjoy a record by an artist who puts out music under the moniker “Miserable.”
Listening to Miserable didn’t make me miserable.
Hey, how about that? That’s pretty good right? With the near dirge-like nature of many of the album’s songs, the pacing can be rather slow, and even with a sparse nine-track run, there are songs that are exponentially more successful than others, like the aforementioned “Oven” and “Violet.”
For those who are counting down the years until My Bloody Valentine put out another record (here’s hopin’ for a 2035 release!), or for those who will take a gander at anything that files itself under “shoegaze” or “dream pop,” Uncontrollable is worth your time. What you’ll take away from it—that’s not for me to say. Some of this album won’t resonate much after it’s concluded, but then there are other parts of it, and those melodies will haunt you long after you’ve finished listening.
Uncontrollable is out now via The Native Sound.
Kevin Krein is a Minnesota based writer, and has been operating the award winning music blog Anhedonic Headphones since January 2013. For nearly as long, he’s been contributing to Bearded Gentlemen; and for nearly as long, he wrote “The Bearded Life” column for the Southern Minn Scene magazine. Since the summer of 2017, he began contributing “The Column of Disquiet” for The Next Ten Words. His writing has also appeared in The Wagazine, and in River Valley Woman. He is a vegan, a friend to all animals, and a huge jerk toward most people.