Personnel: Rachel Webber, Scott Ryser (vocals, synthesizer); Bill Nelson (guitar, synthesizer, drums); Jon Parker (synthesizer, percussion); Seth Miller (drums).
Recording information: California; San Francisco.
Photographer: Rachel Webber.
A synth-punk masterpiece like the Units' debut album Digital Stimulation would be a tough act to follow even if the band hadn't encountered more than its fair share of difficulty in releasing more music. While the slick singles "The Right Man" and "A Girl Like You" saw the light of day, label problems kept their subsequent albums under wraps for over 30 years. Futurismo finally released Animals They Dream About in 2016, a year after their Digital Stimulation reissue. The band's second album finds them in an intriguing middle ground between their debut's brilliant aggression and their polished singles: Working with Be-Bop Deluxe's Bill Nelson as producer, they crafted a sound that was both accessible and futuristic. At times, it's hard to believe this album was recorded in 1981; the mix of synth washes and funky, rattling percussion on songs like "Your Face" and "Interstate 5" dominated the airwaves in the mid-'80s. Elsewhere, the smoother production increases the band's resemblance to Devo on "Bones" by honing the Units' jagged hyperactivity into new wave precision, while "Get That Funky Thing Off of My Shoe" reaffirms that almost every band recording during this era had a hip-hop-inspired oddity in its closet. The Units match Animals They Dream About's polish with a more detached viewpoint. Even if these songs are poppier overall, they're not always as immediate as Digital Stimulation's grit. Instead, the band uses its shiny approach subversively, disguising the paranoia and dysfunction in their lyrics. "Even in America/We are being watched," Rachel Webber sings on title track, which pairs Kafka-esque angst with one of the Units' bounciest melodies. They take this feeling of constraint to meta levels with "More Alike"'s blank-faced conformity, and finds the poignancy in it on "Straight Lines," which trades Digital Stimulation's scorn for haunting regret. However, the band couldn't contain its abrasiveness for all of Animals They Dream About, and "Jack"'s heavy distortion and industrial drums have more in common with their debut than anything else here. Futurismo's release also includes "Live at the Kabuki Theater 82" as a hidden track, and the live performances of songs like "Sidewalk Reel" make the transition between the Units' albums sound more organic. In some ways, Animals They Dream About may have more cachet as a long-lost album than it would have if it had been released in the early '80s; as it stands, it's a fascinating artifact that more than deserves to be heard. ~ Heather Phares