Review Summary: Unwound at their most fractured, noisy and abrasive, and for that it’s definitely worth something
More often than not, critics like to claim certain bands with certain distinguishable titles. I think there’s a reason for Unwound to be given the prestigious title- as one, if not the most nosiest and dynamic groups on Kill Rock Stars; proving to be the label's first flag-ship bands. Perhaps the 1994 effort “New Plastic Ideas” is clear and almost pummeling evidence to this claim, encapsulating the dense and crushing power chords that lead to rising mounds of feedback only to come back around to a song structure- a sound that led to be their trademark up to this point. And while this might not be a truly original approach undertaken, the rare energetic flair that accompanied it was breathtaking; rivaling even that of, coincidentally, many Dischord bands that relied on heavy rhythms and instrumental serenity.
And so with the release of New Plastic Ideas, Unwound were at a point in their dynamic career where they were evolving to a sound more cinematic, more discordant than the thrashing and brooding direction of the music they were originally taking. Still, the atmosphere created here is a mix of both constant murkiness mixed with a pummeling ferocity unrivaled. Still, much of the album features Unwound at their messiest and angriest, not to mention their loudest. Not only is the band exceptionally tight, New Plastic Ideas is a showcase for the anguish of Justin Trosper vocal style, and Sara Lund’s sporadic but extremely tight drumming. Trosper’s anguish is clearly reflected in the lyrics “it's a /shattered day all around/it's a shattered day in our town/seems wrong/it's a Saturday all the time/it's a Saturday once again” showing us once again the cryptic fashion in which Trosper approaches his song-writing. The distressed yelps of “hex on you, what a shame” really add a passion to Trosper’s otherwise subdued vocals.
Much of the time, a layer of noise rises to swallow the melodies, but underneath the jagged and rugged layers of noise lays a conventional song template akin to verse-chorus-verse. “Entirely Different Matters” dissolves into a verse-chorus-verse structure beneath chugging guitars and rumbling-yet-sophisticated bass lines. Much like Fugazi, the success of an Unwound song is heavily placed on the shoulders of the bassist Vern Rumsey, and in traditional fashion Vern Rumsey helps carry many of the songs here. It seems, however, that Unwound haven’t added the right amount of sheen and shine to the sound they were wishing to achieve here; many of the soothing tracks suffer from a sludgy execution (whether this was intentional remains to be seen). Moments where the sludginess works for the betterment include the slow “Envelope” which gradually coalesces into a passage of rising guitars, taking cues from the traditional format of crescendos and incorporating it. And while the blending of dynamics ranging from Sonic Youth, John Cage and Fugazi isn't quite there yet, the raucous passages and the rhythmic virtuosity is combined quite well. This can be seen in the album’s highlight “All Souls Day”, which is, hands down, among the noisiest and breathtaking songs ever written by Unwound. The aforementioned Sara Lund contributes greatly on here as her drumming is controlled and then suddenly breaks loose in a fury of guitar bursts; adding strength to the abrasive train-wreck.
Beautiful arrangements that would be seen in the future are further epitomized in the beauteous “Abstraktions”, making for the perfect candidate to help you go to sleep (in a good way, of course). The guitars are controlled, balancing the bass along the way throughout the 7-minute piece, never allowing any of the instruments overpower each other; not quite an easy feat.
New Plastic Ideas can be perceived as the band’s first real attempt to create their own brand of noise drenched songs, but it also features the band’s most succinctly focused song structures. Compared to their more epic and technical endeavors in the future, New Plastic Ideas can hardly be considered as an artistic project, but in the grand scheme of things proves to be a transition for the band; moving to a darker and more cryptic style while still maintaining the underlying dissonance that would continue to be encompassed in the band’s sound. After this point the band would go and venture into more expansive and exploratory and lengthy compositions; a venture that fruitfully yielded breath taking results. But for what it’s worth, for a single moment in time, New Plastic Ideas is Unwound at their most fragmented, noisy and abrasive, and for that it’s definitely worth something.