Genn - Unum
Unum: the Latin word for oneness, unity, a sense of being whole. The debut album of ĠENN is a hard-earned statement of evolution, woven from the band’s four distinct threads of influence and identity to reveal an arresting tapestry of ambition. It follows on from their 2021 debut EP Liminal which was born of isolation, a fragmented jigsaw puzzle put together at a distance in the pandemic era. The project triumphed against all odds, but ĠENN knew that the EP walked so that something far greater could run. Unum is the product of that long-awaited togetherness; it captures that lightning in a bottle which strikes when four distinct strains of talent – four best friends - are free to create. ĠENN have never sounded so limitless.
The band is a royal flush: all different cards, but all belonging to the same suit – and of course, when you play that hand, it’s of the highest possible value. Preserving their own individuality has always been their greatest strength. Guitarist Janelle has a taste for the kaleidoscopic sounds of neo-psychedelic rock and post-punk’s intensity, while Leanne, their bassist, is driven by the desire to play her instrument in a way that is distinctly her own, walking the line between the prog-bass she loves and the sensibilities of the jazz musician she learned from. Drummer, Sofia, grew up in the world of jazz and blues but found the freedom to experiment she was looking for in a psychedelic approach, and Leona’s vocals have theatrical command which channel the Eastern vocal tones of her native Malta.
Always present in their minds and music is a sense of feeling like outsiders. With Janelle, Leanne and Leona’s Maltese roots, no matter how hard they try to assimilate into their adopted hometown of Brighton, they always felt that they remained on the margins. Sofia’s background is Jamaican, Portuguese and British, and while she was raised in Brighton, she experienced a sense of otherness through a unique lens: being part of something while still being separate from it. Unum grapples with questions of selfhood, the contradictions of identity and ancestry. “It all relates to identity and the search of it,” shares Leanne.
In Unum, the band wanted aspects of Maltese heritage to bleed into its sound. Janelle felt inspired by the fingerstyle guitars and raw spirit of Għana, a kind of traditional folk music. “Calypso”, in all its jazz-indebted catharsis, was named for the island her mother hails from; she had a vision of it being embodied as a destructive mermaid. From Leona’s perspective, its lyrics are a homage to the Maltese poet and playwright Mario Azzopardi, who left an indelible effect on her use of language. She also shared in Janelle’s interest in Għana – particularly its distinct, choral tones. Malta’s language is Semitic, sharing parallels with the Arabic language, and so Leona toyed with its tones and modalities which demanded an entirely new vocal range beyond her comfort zone. “I went on runs trying to sing the notes, I tried singing them doing handstands, because I thought that if I could do it in a pressured and unique circumstance, then singing them in a booth should be easy,” she laughs.
This kind of pressure is no stranger to ĠENN. The four of them had a vision in their head and were hellbent on executing it, losing sleep often over how to translate their ambition for a song into reality when they jammed together. Working seven days a week to make ends meet and invest resources back into the band is another fact of their reality. Unum was an act of escapism from the heaviness of day-to-day life. The album’s tracks came thick and fast in the jam sessions to the point where, Janelle jokes, it felt like they were “puking music”.
Lead single “Rohmeresse” stalks life and its humdrum rhythms with a panther’s poise. The title is drawn from French new wave director Éric Rohmer, whose characters negotiate the mundanity of everyday life, trying to come to terms with their desires as life slips by. The tension of its daydream chants loosens its white-knuckle grip before spinning out into a sonic freak-out with Leona’s screams. In its first week of release, the track earned support by the likes of Steve Lamacq, DIY, Gigwise, John Kennedy and Spotify’s Shockwave playlist.
“Days and Nights” was christened with the working title ‘Spy Banger’ for its swaggering, electric prowess, and reckons with the constraints of soulless day job. “You’re dreaming of an alternative option, but you’re stuck with the same routine over and over again,” says Leona. Like many of their songs, it was a product of last-minute spontaneity, totally unplanned but too striking to ignore. “The reluctance to understand dreams clash with reality / Losing yourself over sleepless sleep / Strolling aimlessly with a heightened desire to survive,” she muses.
The band push the envelope even further with “A Muse (In Limbo)”. The track is inspired by the mind-altering sensibilities of trip-hop, which can be heard in the relaxed psych-influenced guitars. The clave block sound you hear took weeks to perfect to fit with the vibe the band had carefully curated. “Playing music is a constant juggling act of everyday tasks, consistently breaching such highs and lows,” explains Leona. “It’s often easy to feel the loss of self-will in our present when bowing to the structures we exist in. The voice takes an ‘out of body’ view of the self, trying to work out routes of escape that often seem impossible to reach. Symbols of walls and windows evoke this sense of claustrophobia, as time feels like it’s slipping away.”
A natural observer, Leona often finds herself writing in the third person, sometimes even writing from the perspective of objects. Inspired by the works of Virginia Woolf, Jean-Paul Sartre and Georges Perec, she is drawn to sharp imagery and metaphors which allow to her explore something with nuance while encrypting her vulnerabilities. “A Reprise (That Girl)” stems from her compulsion to observe. During a spell of unemployment, she found herself developing an unhealthy attachment to content creators online who she would compare herself to – an obsession with an ideal. “It’s about being consumed by the feeling of wanting to be someone else or achieve something else, being devoured by so much information that you lose your time obsessing about it. You end up going a bit bananas,” Leona shares. It has a nu-metal thunder that runs in the vein of Rammstein – “one of a handful of songs on the album you could attribute to someone dicking around with a pedal”, laughs Leanne.
Success, for ĠENN, is to navigate the storm - the frenzy for which they are named - while still finding an escape route in each other. Unum is their getaway car, and now, they’re ready to start the engine.
Very Limited Transparent Orange Vinyl LP With Lyric Poster
A2 Days And Nights
A3 A Muse (In Limbo)
B1 Le Saut Du Pigeon
B2 A Reprise (That Girl)
B3 Apparition No.7
B4 Wild West
B5 The Sister Of
B6 The Merchant Of
Genre: Punk & Post-Punk
Format: Vinyl LP
Cat Number: LMNLC001LPX
Released: 6th October 2023