Feature: Unreliable Narrator (2019)

Though the raucous punk of Pittsburgh band Unreliable Narrator’s debut LP – Old Man Yells At Older Man, self-released this month by the quartet – owes a lot to ’70s punk and ’80s hardcore, its message-minded blasts of noise are definitely cut from the cloth of 2019.

Take, for example, frontman Clint Benjamin’s take on the Trump-era rebranding of white supremacy as nationalism or “alt-right” posturing.

“I say, ‘Fuck that noise.’ They’re still odious,” says Benjamin, a Squirrel Hill resident and adjunct professor who teaches English at Duquesne University and the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC). “It’s time to stand up and be counted. You can’t stand by with Nazis and fascists on the rise – that’s crap that should’ve died a long time ago.”

The band – Benjamin is joined, alphabetically, by drummer Damon DiCicco, guitarist Greg Murray and bassist Chris Nichols – also flashes similar barbs as political commentary. Album opener “Casual Cruelty” tackles the caustic nature of contemporary American political discourse, and “Gotta Be Better” horse-whips racism and sexism. There’s a song about the oppressiveness of capitalism as seen through the lens of student loans, and another about being open-minded about gender identity. 

“White Flight,” a real rager that boils over its lids, explains itself. “Thoughts and prayers don’t save us,” Benjamin snarls elsewhere.

In case you didn’t get the progressive-leaning message – this is a band that cites The Dead Kennedys as an influence, after all – the cover features a sketch of Leftie iconoclast Noam Chomsky shouting at the grave of former President Ronald Reagan. That just about does it.

“We do try to do a social message, social justice and all that. I hope that comes out,” Benjamin says. “We punch upward. And speaking truth to power is important to us.”

The band is in the process of booking a proper record release show in Pittsburgh, Benjamin said. The music is available on Bandcamp and will be cut to cassette. Unreliable Narrator is putting itself out there.

“From the Germs: ‘those who know will know and those who want to know will find out,’” Benjamin says.

Nichols joined Unreliable Narrator on the bass earlier this year after the 12-song LP already had been recorded. He says much of the band’s current sound is a mix of “your basic meat-and-potatoes punk stuff.”

“There’s a little Replacements, a little Clash – we try to bring everything to the drawing board, if you will,” says Nichols, who lives in Greenfield.

“I feel we have a very unique niche in Pittsburgh,” adds Nichols, who moved to the city from Youngstown, Ohio three years ago. “There are a lot of bands that are heavier, more intense. Unreliable Narrator is a voice for the nerdier punk, the shy guys, that sort of thing.”

Blessed are the meek, indeed. – Unsigned (Justin Vellucci), Pittsburgh Current, Dec. 10, 2019


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.