‘Unreal’ was largely written during lockdown and in isolation, on the outskirts of Bristol back in March, 2020. A record right at the forefront of society and contemporary life, Unreal isn’t afraid to confront the issues of today. In fact, it goes for the jugular.
In the past, CUTS (musician and filmmaker Anthony Tombling Jr.) has crafted conceptual albums based around the Anthropocene and sleep paralysis, but this time around, Unreal tackles the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of populism and its effect on society (both nationally and worldwide), and disinformation tactics. His music is a cathartic outlet and a rage against the current system. Through music, CUTS exorcises and purifies the air. Machine-gun-heavy, industrialised tones and scattered electronic beats are met with direct emotional force, and once the opening distortions of ‘R U OK?’ set things up, it goes full throttle from there on, setting the template for the rest of the record. The beats kick hard (and there’s a distinct, harder edge to the record), and the electronics are imbued with the poison of venom. Floating vocals cut through the haze, but they’re brought under control and rhythmic dominance…one could argue that the vocals are almost under their own strict lockdown, one created by the all-powerful melody and the overarching rhythmic police.
“I’ve always reacted to my environment, and a lot of the themes I am exploring on Unreal are around climate crisis, pandemics, and the terrifying rise of right-wing orators.”
Tombling moved to an isolated house three days before the Spring lockdown was introduced. There was no phone, no internet. Music became his daily bread. This has led to a more concentrated and direct sound. Emotionally raw, anxious, with stress levels going through the roof and plenty of frustration unleashed, Unreal is a necessary and relevant record. The vocals are able to rise above the punchbag-beats thanks to their lighter vocoder sound, riding higher in the air before being brought back down to earth through the sticky mesh of static and the troughs of thick, muddy distortion, but the vocals don’t hang around for long. Unreal places a finger on the pulse of the world. It’s capable of euphoric meltdowns while also being mentally damaged by recent events, proving to be stark and also melodic, and somehow feeling like a rougher animal for encountering 2020. Unreal’s music needs to be heard, designed for and influenced by the current state of the world.