What is striking about these two newly available-on-CD releases from former Arlington, Va., residents Unrest are the subversions that Mark Robinson and his band get away with. The freedom is obvious and immediate; this is punk, the "new thing," fresh refuse from the blank generation. Reagan is still in the White House; Michael Jackson is king of the airwaves; Poison is kickin' ass and Robinson et al., armed with the emerging possibilities of an American underground and the subversive incantations of British punk rock, are able to generate a stirring musical curveball while still having a laugh.
The bread-and-butter tracks on both records are the hardcore stabs that shift between nervous-teenage-boy energy and nervous-adult-is-there-anything-else release. But it's the nonsensical rants, spoken word segments, rockabilly segues, movie samples and pop-torrid love songs that give both albums their edge. Punk is not a repetitive musical style for Robinson. Rather, punk is the ability — or more exactly, the obsessive need — to break the straight face, to transgress the mask in front of the microphone, sending up '80s sexism ("Love's like a muscle/And you make me want to flex" from "Black Power Dynamo" on KKB) while warning against emotional fascism ("All I need is more time to remember/time is something you don't have/they're going to crucify you!" from "The Gas Chair," Malcolm X Park).
And though Malcolm X Park is the more "consistent" and emotive of the two records, it's a song like KKB's "She Makes Me Shake Like a Soul Machine," an overly serious acoustic power ballad à la "Patience" with full-on vocal overdubs and a FM-radio fade-out — surrounded, of course, by killer hardcore — that illustrates punk's brilliant fusion of irony and honesty. It's 1990, the last quiet year in the underground, and punk is an open world where Robinson feels at home pairing Kiss' "Strutter" to Fugazi-esque lyrics and upside-down Zeppelin riffs to bar-band middle fingers.
Carleton S. Gholz writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail email@example.com.