Unwritten Law

Music from High Places (Atlantic)

Surprisingly, unplugged punk isn't an evolutionary dead end. Even when it comes from MTV. For proof, San Diego quintet Unwritten Law offers Music from High Places, a soundtrack album from MTV's travelogue series of the same name, in which artists of all stripes visit exotic locales and record in an unusual venue. This installment finds the new-school standouts in Yellowstone National Park, delivering acoustic favorites in the company of American Indians and horses.

Sometimes the setting rubs off on the songs -- "Cailin" and "Elva" take on a mild Western flavor. Unwritten Law's trademark wall of guitars and big beats disappears in the unplugged format, but the band sublimates that power into aggressive, evocative strumming, and the group's exceptional melodic sense remains constant, as does its eclectic streak. Most of the songs rock, and even the slow-dance moments aren't weepy, "poor tattooed me" ballads. Picture Dashboard Confessional with some balls -- and variety.

 
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