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stratosfear
Unisex
Stratosfear
Double Agent

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Unisex hasn't had a new full-length release in the last four years. This sort of delay often signifies impending disaster for a band, but with Stratosfear, Unisex has ably proved themselves the exception to a loose sort of rule. Spacemen 3, Unisex's brothers in psychedelic space rock, once claimed that they took drugs to make music to take drugs to. Unisex's members may never have swallowed so much as one cap of Mitsubishi -- who knows -- and their listeners may never dip into the E, either, but this music definitely fits that mold.

From the first track, "The Full Force of the Sun", with its soupy vocoder-thickened vox, to the last mellow strummed chords of guitar in "In Among the Breakers", Unisex spins you around in an imaginary Eames chair until you see stars. All of Stratosfear's tracks are laced with theremin melodies -- it's an instrumental fondness that Unisex seems to share with Pram. Unisexuals Jo Doran and Stephen Lawrie, formerly the Telescopes, create lush harmonies that swirl around each other like November fog. The guitar arrangements are almost always simple but have a heavy reverb, while the drums are low-key and don't command notice, instead accenting the music with minimalist touches.

"Autopilot" is easily the best track in an long string of winners. It grabs you with the lounge-music sound of the meditative piano and the simple chorus, "I don't wanna land this machine /I'm not in command of it or me". The words add to the spacey feeling of the instrumentation, which forms the focus of the song. The whole album is a bit remniscent of Spiritualized's Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, but the mood here is more cohesive. There's not a lot of detectable Pink Floyd influence, either, unlike the work of King Black Acid.

The darker edge in Stratosfear delivers everything that the title promises: the upper reaches of the atmosphere and a continual undercurrent of menace, as well as the sort of veiled, forbidden sexiness that you find in Hitchcock's and Bu˝uel's movies. Slide this disc into your player and kick back; you'll lose focus so suddenly and easily that you might wonder if you've drowned -- if not for the deep sense of peace you feel as you float downward. This beats the Beltway blues (or your local equivalent) to hell.

-- Jenn Sikes
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