Review Summary: Remember how in Kindergarten you would sneeze into a tissue, open it up, and gaze with wonder and amazement at its contents? This is that, in audio form.
Every so often, I’m obliged wrap my fingers around a record that, without leaning too heavily on the clichés, connects with my soul- an album so deeply in tune with what I’m feeling or what I want to express, that it seems as if the artists have scraped the innermost corners of my brain and arranged the fragments into a reflective tapestry that serves as a small pool of thought and emotion of which I can gaze into and have my image reflected back upon me.
Except when it comes to The Unicorns. If this is what my soul looks like, then I’ll just ***ing kill myself right now. ***, man.
You see- as disgustingly whimsical and observably ill-conceived this album is, I fear that I might love this band. Oh, lo! It was not a swift and decisive march straight into my good graces- I fought the urge to enjoy them every twist and turn of the way. I told myself the music-box hooks were too gimmicky to digest; that the sporadic stream-of-consciousness fantasy stories were completely incoherent; that the reoccurring motif of unicorns-as-a-metaphor a lifeless shtick devoid of humor.
And for a while, I actually believed this.
But the glass cage of denial and falsehoods began to rupture with the reluctant viewing of the subtly brilliant “Jellybones” music video. There they were- walking down the street, clad in three matching sets of pink capes and candy-white tap-dancing shoes, faces alight with the cocky smirk of a genius well-aware of his abilities- a swirling cacophony of orgasmic electronic beeps pouring out of my speakers in a syrupy mess of sweet indie pop perfection. The Floodgate of lies and deception I had built had burst in a sudden tidal wave of liberated emotion and guiltless joy. I was free.
I’ve been out of that musical closet for about a month now. And I feel good.
But really, there’s no need for me to be ashamed. I mean, obvious detractions and clichéd Canadian joke aside, The Unicorns are an exhilarating, albeit quirky, indie pop experience.
At the very heart of Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?
(if such anatomical metaphors are applicable to their sole curious musical endeavor) beats a quirky collage of implausible influences and sounds- summer camp sing-alongs laced with the sarcastic wit and sardonic despondency of punk ethos. Songs with grandiose carnival organs and ephemeral woodwind passages are backed with static-y lo-fi drum machines and stitched together with buzz-saw synth riffage that send my mind into transcendal bliss.
It kind of sounds as if all three members were touched inappropriately as children- the melodies seems delicate; their delivery, shy and unsure. The music usually comes off as childishly quaint and pristine- though it cannot help but take a new meaning when one first hears the dark and mordant overtones that occasionally float to the surface. The two creative powers of the band, Jamie Thompson and Nicholas Thorburn, trade off vocal duties in a seamless manner that keeps the music fairly fresh, yet manage to sound enough alike to keep the sound consistent and unified.
Part of the fun is getting wrapped up in songs that seem to dwell in a stagnant, sinister murk. “Tuff Ghost”, a particularly worthy pop-gem, begins sluggish and dark, clanking forward like a machine slowly rusting- only to be ripped apart by a kind of acid-laced, disco-from-hell frenzy of a chorus. The same kind of stylishly haunting desolation is echoed in tracks like “Child Star”, which drone on in an endless march towards eternity behind a backdrop of lo-fi drum beats, eerie pipe organ, and gauntly serene voices. Other songs, however, come off as pages ripped out of a volume of perverted nursery rhymes. The candy-as-candy static-romp “Ghost Mountain” compounds Atari-like beeps and wispy vocal chanting to paint a kind of innocently whimsical dreamscape with occasional high-lonesome groans, while the slightly druggy “Tuff Luff” is accented with a toy-box assortment of mellotrons, recorders, and violins.
Apparently there’s some sort of meaning in these songs- all of which are lost on me. I understand that “Tuff Ghost” is supposed to be some sort of cryptic indictment of American foreign policy, but lyrically the album thrives more on enigmatic tapestries of vague stories and clever linguistic ideas, rather than conventionally direct themes. The highlight of many songs come the form of fashionably self-aware backbiting interplay between the two vocalists...
“I write the songs...”
(I’ll write the songs!)
“You say I’m doing it wrong...”
(You are doing it wrong!)
...inexplicably out of place musings...
Somewhere in the asshole of my mind,
There’s a muscle which relaxes when you cry...
...and spontaneous freestyle rapping:
Hey nuclear war in a hotbed of trouble-
Make with the penance! Repent on the double!
Who Will Cut Our Hair?
is one of those few albums which is almost impossible to just pass off as “average” (that is to say, it is almost as easily despised and repulsed for it’s cocky self-indulgement as it is loved for it’s irresistible eccentricity), it is truly a feat to honestly assess the album without strong and profound decisiveness. On a personal level, this album seems to move me in two very distinct manners.
The first sensation is of complete
understanding and relevance- in the same way that you and your most trusted friend can sit in silence and independently arrive at the same thought and feeling.
The second, however, is that of a psychiatrist looking with helpless pity at group of mentally destroyed youths, bashing and thrashing wildly blissful ignorance- oblivious to their disconnection from sanity. I must confess, there have been moments when I- in a more sober mindset, have looked upon this disk and mouthed the letters “wtf” is sheer terror and disbelief.
But overall, this album almost runs the complete gambit in the “things I want an album to do list”. It grooves in sweet indie goodness, it mixes quirky individualism with emotions that, even without completely understanding, I can relate to- and it’s an entirely self-contained artistic achievement.
So I guess that really only leaves one stone unturned. Does liking The Unicorns make me a little bit queer?
But frankly I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I Was Born (A Unicorn)”