With a clutch of deeply conceptual albums on subjects as diverse as the anthropocene and sleep paralysis after a major car accident, CUTS' latest album, Unreal, is a cathartic and mournful meditation on pandemic, populism, and disinformation.
Unreal is the second full-length album by musician and filmmaker Anthony Tombling Jr’s CUTS moniker. Tracks retain their emotional resonances in strong melodies and eerie vocals, but there is also a hard edge to the music compared to previous releases. “I’ve always reacted to my environment,” explains Tombling, “and a lot of the themes I am exploring on Unreal are around climate crisis, pandemics, and the terrifying rise of right wing orators.”
Unreal was largely made in lockdown, as Tombling moved to an isolated house where there was no phone or internet three days before full lockdown was introduced across the UK. He soon built a routine of foraging for dinner in the morning, and making music all afternoon. It marks a major departure in his output, as the first album not to be rooted in his films.
It opens with 'R U OK’, with a precipitous bass drop into anxious rhythms like irregular heartbeats. 'Dissolution' is a vocoder ballad for fragmenting hardware; 'Unreal' is a hazy roller, evoking fast cars on highways at night. 'Omega Minus' is a requiem for post-industrial wastelands, as robotic voices sweep over dust storms and obsolete machinery, then 'Sheltered Life' harnesses coarse, rippling static around depth-charge bass. ‘The Brink’ brings on woozy and elastic basslines, 'Exhale Exile' sways in melodic loops lashed to fitful beats, then final track 'An Infinite Collapse’, blows off the grit to reveal songlines and crumbling metallic pulses that crackle with static electricity.
Tombling’s sound world for Unreal is one of anxiety, frustration, and emotional peaks, where heavy slugs of sound are lifted by vocoder lyricism, sharp static and fizzing cymbals that cut through like shafts of light in abandoned warehouses. “It’s the heaviest record I’ve made,” says Tombling, “but it’s also the most accessible. I was much more influenced by what's going on in the world – it’s impossible not to be at a moment like this.”