X-Ray Press – UVB-76 Album Review

Since 1982, a shortwave radio station in Russia has been transmitting the same short, monotonous buzz tone at the rate of approximately 25 tones per minute, just about 24 hours a day, every day. That station, UVB-76, has since been nicknamed “The Buzzer,” for obvious reasons. According to Wikipedia, the actual purpose of the station remains unknown and has not been confirmed by government or broadcast officials, despite much speculation through the years.

The latest disc from X-Ray Press, appropriately titled UVB-76, invites speculation as well. Stylistically, UVB-76 skips all over the place and is divided up into five fairly disjointed parts, which are bulleted by numbers and Roman numerals. Each part begins and ends the way an entire record might, every section bridged by an instrumental piano interlude.

The rest of the tracks blaze through the math rock and art rock genres with open-minded inclusion and the brutality one might find on a hardcore disc. X-Ray Press sells itself, often wordlessly, with its dedication to rhythm and musical discipline. On “On Breathing Water” and “Tiffany/Stephanie,” distorted guitar effects print like fax machines, evoking qualities inferred by the band name. In “Chord & Mumble,” robotic guitar-picking recalls two machines speaking to one another. In other tracks, guitar lines seem to harmonize, driving home the idea that, yes, other instruments are present, but the guitars are definitely the main squeeze.

Listen to “Holy Ghost, USA” – DOWNLOAD MP3

With its title and sound, UVB-76 might come off like a work of pretention. And maybe it is. But perhaps it is simply the result of three art school kids joining forces with a classically-trained musician, to create inventive, challenging music. The four members of X-Ray Press are very obviously musically adept, and are probably just bored when they’re not kicking major musical ass in the time change-heavy and ridiculously technical way.

Nonetheless, despite the well-executed thematic goals and musical competence that damn near approaches perfection, some of the vocals could use work. Occasionally, they take on a polished radio-friendly quality, sticking out like a sore thumb against vicious instrumental backgrounds. These moments are rare, though, and by halfway through the album, the vocals are either toned down to the point of non-existence or ramped up to better suit the tunes. If this is the weakest part of the disc, it’s not much to gripe about.

At 18-tracks-long, UVB-76 is a lofty undertaking, in which every detail seems to have been considered. The release is instrumentally-sophisticated, and gives a lot of fodder for listeners to ruminate on.

Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

Vee has two narrative short films. Searching Skies (2017) touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States; with it, they helped co-organize The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. Reckless Spirits (2022) is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature-length project.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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Written by Vee Hua 華婷婷
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