“This is serious business,” calls out United Nations’ Geoff Rickly on “Serious Business”, the lead single and sludgy opening vortex on The Next Four Years. He means it. Despite the band’s penchant for finding humorous ways to push people’s buttons, it’s clear they have authentic intentions. They’ve unleashed two minutes of absolutely savage noise before Rickly’s note, so there’s no reason to think he isn’t being earnest.
Except that, all told, “being earnest” seems pretty low on United Nations’ agenda. The band has spent the last few years gleefully getting into trouble with everyone from record stores to the actual UN, and they’re just as willing to turn punk into the punchline. “Punk seems awfully safe to me now,” Rickly griped in a 2013 Alternative Press interview, “so I like the idea of doing something actually dangerous.” He was referring to an ongoing lawsuit, but he might as well have been laying out a mission statement. Still, the former Thursday frontman and his UN bandmates (including members of Acid Tiger, Lovekill, and Pianos Become the Teeth) seem unsure of where to go from there.
The Next Four Years marks their latest attempt to figure out what makes punk “dangerous,” and the results are mixed. The record (a loose term, as the physical edition contains two 7”s, a 10”, and a cassette) undeniably kicks ass. More than anything, though, that’s an acknowledgement of its sheer firepower. Everything about The Next Four Years seems intended to inflict maximum damage, whether it’s the thunderous bass drum that builds to the climax of “Meanwhile on Main Street” or the seven-minute onslaught that is “F#A#$”, a song Rickly has described as “our pretentious phase of trying to sound like Godspeed [You! Black Emperor].” He’s being too jokey and self-deprecating, there; “F#A#$” is an album standout that, despite its considerable length, forgoes atmospheric foreplay and dives right into the good stuff.
Who, then, is the right kind of hardcore fan for this album? It’s hard to see older punks falling for United Nations, whose music owes a far heavier debt to early ‘00s screamo than it does to Black Flag or even Refused, two bands UN has evoked via album artwork and/or song titles — the cover of The Next Four Years pays heavy-handed homage to Black Flag’s early SST Records compilation. On the other hand, UN’s overtly political themes and sort-of-subversive parodies will likely play well with younger fans looking for Thursday with an extra set of teeth.
Subtlety would serve United Nations well, but the band seems almost existentially opposed to anything that can’t be interpreted as “radical” or “in your face.” Rickly and his peers could stand to learn more from Refused’s balancing of chaos and unsettling quiet. United Nations can beat the hell out of their instruments, but that’s not what makes punk dangerous. If and when these guys figure it out, they’ll be a major force in hardcore, but for now they seem content to make a lot of noise.
Essential Tracks: “Serious Business”, “False Flags”, and “F#A#$”