Activity's new album Unmask Whoever is the kind of record that could help you discover the hidden truths in your life. The group, made up of sampler and vocalist Travis Johnson, drummer Steve Levine, bassist Zoë Browne, and guitarist Jess Rees, have based their new record on C.S. Lewis' novel The Great Divorce, an exploration of what happens when you become so entrenched in the idea of hell that it helps reveal the beauty of heaven.
The wispy vocals, wild guitar riffs, and ominous, bare bones melodies on Unmask Whoever conjure feelings of paranoia and general unease that could help one face uncomfortable questions of right and wrong, love, and loneliness.
Listen to Unmask Whoever below, alongside liner notes for each song. Pre-order the album here before it's available on DSPs on March 27.
A miserable, paranoia-inducing situation I was very thankful to get out of and move on from, various obscure samples manipulated to the extent that I'd have to look up what they were, and a 606 drum machine. I think we played it once in the studio.
"Calls Your Name"
Steve and I had been reading A Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis and the song became about that book, the kind of addiction to resentment that's really easy to let happen. The drums were recorded on my phone and sampled. Actually the whole song is
samples, but some of them we actually played ourselves.
"Spring (Low Life)"
Trump or someone like him, full of bitterness, unable to form coherent
thoughts, much less communicate them. I guess it's a bit proggy, but a little of that is okay
Those icy synths for whatever reason made me think of the title and I worked back from that into this idea of what happens to the families of people, specifically men, who do shitty things, especially after they get caught. This one was pretty much totally cut together piece by piece in the studio, not live at all.
Wrote this for a friend who was going through a lot of the same depression/anxiety issues I deal with. When it's really bad for me I'll sometimes imagine there's a protector in the room keeping the bad thoughts at bay, so this is that, silly as that might be. We were daring ourselves to play it as quietly as we possibly could.
There's a lot of freedom in knowing the person you're with is the person you want to be with forever. It's liberating to not feel restless. Some of my favorite guitar stuff that Jess did is on this one.
Fear of cops who refuse to be held accountable, drawn into this scenario I
imagined about a few ex cops getting drunk. A lot of samples chopped up on this one too, and
the final song is edited down from a much longer jam. We only played it once and knew we
couldn't really do it again.
"I Like the Boys"
Not really sure what this one is about but I like the lines about cellophane ripping and hearts getting displayed. When we play it, I don't know what it's about but my chest kinda flutters on those lines. I think we played it really well and that Jeff Berner made it sound super gorgeous when he recorded/mixed it.
"Violent and Vivisect"
We all have these shitty little parts of ourselves that come up sometimes, all nasty and petty, even with people we care about. It's about that, wishing it weren't the case, being taken by surprise when a version of yourself you don't like at all makes itself known. I like that we saved the one kinda straight up rock out moment for the second to last song.
This one was totally formed in the studio from just like chopped up pieces of sound.
Jess and Zoe went in and ad libbed these amazing parts. Steve's drums are sampled from like 20 minutes of jamming. About a few things but, most poignantly, imagining a world like the one
it feels like we've been in these past two weeks, after some kind of apocalyptic event and
everyone's living underground or can't go outside. What's a sunny day like in that world?
Photo: Ebru Yildiz