Pop Unknown – If Arsenic Fails, Try Algebra – Review

Pop Unknown

If Arsenic Fails, Try Algebra (Deep Elm)
by Tim Den

Now this is more like it. I was a little worried that Pop Unknown, with its “x-members of this-n-that” in tow, was going to disappoint me yet again (’98’s debut EP, Summer Season Kills, was a mediocre showing). Nope, not this time. If Arsenic Fails, Try Algebra is the result of the band’s last year-and-a-half on the road, playing with each other and figuring out how to balance pop sensibilities with the often-atonal melodies of emo. The band sports new members again (new bass player and an additional third guitarist), which probably strengthened the songs. Cuts like “Head in the Sand,” “An Offering,” “Lonely Here with Me,” and the irresistible “Oh Kay” (sweet title) all suggest that Pop Unknown is getting the hang of this “dreamy Brit-pop/atmosphere in bed with traditional emo” thing. Soothing tempos filled with emo guitar stylings, but salvaged from Bland City with written vocal lines.

This is a big improvement from their debut. And even though there are still many unnecessary residules (arpegiated guitar work that all sounds alike [and way too “emo”], stiff melody range [everything in major makes the songs sound the same], long songs that don’t go anywhere [“Fallen Star”], and just plain so-simple-they’re-bad songs [“Last to Know”]), I can at least now recommend this band to friends. Besides, who can resist the Smiths/Sundays drum intro of “Tattoo Your Image (On the World)?” Much too silly, but so very fitting. A good record with very nice moments and signs of better things to come.