"I HAVE TO BE pretty self-motivated," says Unnatural Helpers drummer/frontman Dean Whitmore. "Otherwise I'd sit around and drink beer and just play shows."
For the past 11 years Whitmore has kept his Seattle rock unit forging ahead while weathering lineup changes and releasing a paper trail of 7-inches. Unnatural Helpers' excellent 2010 LP on Hardly Art, Cracked Love and Other Drugs, didn't necessarily break new ground, but it sure as hell kept rock alive, recalling the good-time punk of early Replacements. Not much has changed on their latest, Land Grab, a record that effectively gets in, gets down, and gets out.
Unnatural Helpers recorded the album in two batches—the first at Seattle's Egg Studios with producer Kurt Bloch, the second with Eric Randall at home. The sessions were meant to create a little sonic tension within those sugary hooks. "I love the Sebadoh records that have the studio and boombox stuff," says Whitmore. "I definitely had intentions of it being way poppier and way gnarlier, but I don't think I accomplished that."
Whitmore doesn't bemoan the outcome, however. While Land Grab may not contain the jarring production he was looking for, the songs shake, rattle, and roll just fine on their own. Among the two-minute jams is the seething punk anthem "Hate Your Teachers," while he saves the best moments for last on album closer "Julie Jewel," which rides two chords for days, picking up tension and noise along the way before disintegrating in a wash of horns.
It's easy to pick up on the fact that Unnatural Helpers carry the tradition of the punk and classic rock-influenced music that unexpectedly put Seattle on the map in 1991 (you have to wonder if there's a smirk attached to Whitmore's snarl). It's kind of comforting. But Land Grab goes beyond the pesky nostalgia neurotransmitters shooting through our bodies. Rock 'n' roll in the right hands is timeless. And if Whitmore has anything to say about it, Unnatural Helpers will become the dinosaurs they deserve to be. "When I'm 74 that will be awesome. I'm sure by then [Unnatural Helpers] will still be some sort of weird band."