Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You
Kill Rock Stars
2001
A

last year, I ended up writing for my college's student paper. It was an interesting experience, but just as often a slightly maddening one. The travails of trying to pester source after source for relevant quotes aside, I did enjoy squeezing in the occasional record review. Usually I'd accept whatever I was assigned, only occasionally balking at the idea of trying to come up with 350-500 words on the latest Dave Matthews album or going to String Cheese Incident and Shaggy gigs (Alice Cooper, though, could've been interesting, but I had studying to do that night). Sometimes, though, I took it upon myself to try to proselytize about music or films I thought deserved attention. Most often, I was met with a blank stare, as was the case when I tried to explain to an editor (a devoutly religious [male] N*Sync fan, mind) what I meant, in one Canadian metal-band review, by "martial clangor" or trying for the seventh time to scan the glossy black cover of Unwound's Leaves Turn Inside You and turning up only fingerprints. (The graphics department got kind of annoyed with me after I handed them a Fela Kuti album cover depicting seventy of his topless wives, I think.) This was, after all, I snobbishly opine, a paper that unashamedly gave four stars to Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water. Draw your own conclusions.


Most frustrating, I think, was the paper's insistence on one-sentence paragraphs of the Associated Press style. This, we all know, is of value and importance when the reader wants to know facts, but I often ran up against a wall when I found my wannabe-David-Foster-Wallace rhetorical serpents diced up into tadpoles. But, nonetheless, I am indeed glad I got to extol the virtues of one album, in particular, and that's Unwound's double-disc opus and my pick for best of the year thus far. So here's what I wrote, uncharacteristically terse as it may be, as much as it may sound I'm explaining Unwound to my parents:


Since its 1993 debut "Fake Train," Unwound has been one of indie rock's most intense and abrasive bands. Aside from a small, dedicated fanbase, many have focused on the band's seemingly limitless capacity to raise a racket, overlooking its originality and passion.


On "Leaves Turn Inside You," a double album three years in the making, Unwound seems intent on erasing all critics' misconceptions.


Dense and melodic, its songs often evoke '60s garage-rock and psychedelia, only without the simplistic posturing some bands employ when tackling the genre.


Clearly the product of careful writing and production-for this album, the band built its own studio-the record contains a wide variety of moods and textures, from the contemplative "One Kick Less" to the incendiary "Scarlette."


Especially on the second disc, many new instruments are present, such as harpsichord and cello, yet this mixture never fails to cohere. The vocal harmonies and relaxed, circular guitar of "We Invent You" are offset by Sara Lund's complex drumming and Vern Humsey's fluid bass. The band's impeccable rhythm section is at its best on this track and the stinging "December."


Some songs-like the propulsive "Treachery"-approach epic length yet never dissipate into noodling. Like its heroes Swell Maps and Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Unwound never sacrifices the essential drive and power of rock music for experimentation's sake.


The album captures a band expanding its sound without succumbing to self-indulgence. Eight years ago, the prospect of a double album from the likes of Unwound would guarantee a collection of misanthropic freak-outs, but the band has evolved.


Listeners will surely be anxious to hear what they do next.


Reviewed by: Chris Smith
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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