JohnnyoftheWell
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Johnny ranks Unwound: ALL SONGS

So, following a discog binge (full-lengths only) and a lot of note taking, here's the full lowdown. Please disagree with and discuss this as much as possible - I'll upload in chunks to get some of the ol' Suspense going ;]
80Unwound
The Future of What


Full Explanation Of Answer

The Future of What's scathing closer Swan ends with around three minutes of well-earned feedback. Following these with five and a half minutes of further feedback is a decision that only makes sense for those particularly invested in the CD or vinyl experience.
79Unwound
Unwound


Antifreeze

Unwound’s self-titled kicks off with one of the most unadventurous punk tracks they’d ever belt out. It’s okay, I guess. Trosper sounds frayed here as per much of the album, the band’s flair for good dynamics doesn’t shine and Sara Lund’s absence is particularly evident. Eh.
78Unwound
The Future of What


Vern's Answer to the Masses

Forty seconds of bass feedback, nice. This is a nothing song, but I appreciate it a good deal in sequencing; it works as a moment of respite in between two of the album's most blistering tracks, without dropping the sense of grit both whip up so well. Good interlude.
77Unwound
Unwound


Prospect

Fuck me, Trosper abuses his guitar here. It’s strange that the s/t’s sole instrumental cut is also one of its hardest slammers, but there you go. This one is two and a half fun minutes of dissonant hammering and harmonic abuse. Too bad the mix is almost unlistenable.
76Unwound
Unwound


Warmth

An unremarkable but reasonably fun hardcore track. The band *almost* kick up some momentum towards the end, but this one never takes off.
75Unwound
Unwound


Kandy Korn Rituals

This is one of the most aggro things Unwound ever put to record, a deranged mess of ideas that might as well be titled Fifty Shades of Justin Trosper Losing His Shit. It seems to burn itself out before the two minute mark, only to evaporate into feedback and launch back with something uncharacteristically close to bombast. Silly in many ways, but fierce enough to be worth its salt.
74Unwound
Repetition


Sensible

Sometime between 1995 and 1996 Unwound realised they’d underestimated how much they loved Fugazi. That’s okay, it happens to all of us at some point. Unlike most of us, they then channelled this into recording a nifty dub instrumental. It’s very fine.
73Unwound
Fake Train


Star Spangled Hell

Ah, Fake Train’s derelict pace-killer. As far as Justin Trosper lurching around semi-aimlessly in midtempo goes, Star Spangled Hell is fine I guess. Taking a looser approach to structure feels like something that could have worked for this album, and the band definitely have the chemistry to pull it off…but somehow it doesn’t quite feel right here.
72Unwound
Fake Train


Ratbite

A lategame punk cut from Fake Train, this one always felt a bit superfluous to me. Vern’s first bassline bops, but this one doesn’t land the punches it needs to and feels strangely overlong.
71Unwound
Unwound


You Bite My Tongue

This track more or less rips, but it also feels like it could have come from any band. The dissonance and pacing are on point, but there’s very little that feels unique to them and, once again, Brandt Sandeno is no competition for Sara Lund.
70Unwound
Fake Train


Gravity Slips

An adequate hardcore cut from Fake Train. A few fun thrills, but nothing special.
69Unwound
Challenge For a Civilized Society


Meet the Plastics

One of Unwound’s greatest qualities is their knack for being clamorous without being irritating. Meet the Plastics is one of their rare tracks that really toes the line. It’s hideous and homogenous, frustratingly memorable but distinctly short of momentum and pacing. Justin Trosper is very talented at playing with noise stylings in innovative and exciting ways; this one is as close as he comes to navel gazing off the back of dissonance.
68Unwound
The Future of What


Equally Stupid

Unwound make a dreary alternative track that plods and plods and plods and entirely warrants its name. It has one hook, and it’s horrendously catchy and finds itself continually developed over the course of the track. I hate it, but this gets it songwriting points.
(yeah, sorry JotS, this one kinda blows)
67Unwound
Further Listening


Miserific Condition

I’m generally ignoring non-album tracks for this, but my ex (a cool cookie) gave me a copy of Further Listening back in the day; this was my first window into pre-Challenge Unwound and although my memory of it is a little blurry, it stuck with me enough that I went over its niche cuts and threw them in. Miserific Condition is good ol’ hardcore thrashing - not much more to it, but it’s gritty enough to have an edge on some similar outings in that department.
66Unwound
Repetition


Fingernails on a Chalkboard

A five minute unpicking of one relatively cool riff. Repetition showcases some great instances of the band venturing into more expansive territory as they explore the possibilities of noise and melody. This is not one of them.
65Unwound
Challenge For a Civilized Society


No Tech

A fun skit that packs next to no staying power. A little inane, but it breaks up Challenge’s tracklist nicely.
64Unwound
Unwound


Kid Is Gone

This track has two things going for it: some fairly worthwhile Slint worship in the first thirty seconds and an unusually bright set of riffs. Beyond that it’s just another early-days hardcore cut, but this one is just about colourful enough to stand out as such.
63Unwound
The Future of What


Here Come the Dogs

I think this was the first pre-Challenge Unwound song I ever heard; goodness knows what my expectations were for their early years. Hear Come The Dogs sees them making a slightly silly but undeniably engaging hardcore banger; it’ll never be a highlight (especially following so close to the blistering Petals Like Bricks), but it’s serviceable in sequencing.
62Unwound
Repetition


Go To Dallas and Take a Left

This song is an anachronistic instrumental murdering of that shithouse Black Eyed Peas single I Gotta Feeling and I love it for this reason primarily. The band have a lot of fun here, and it’s sometimes fantastic and sometimes a little silly.
61Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You


Look A Ghost

Unwound do airy psych rock very well throughout Leaves Turn Inside You, and while Look A Ghost is worthwhile as the most digestible cut from this style it’s never stuck with me nearly as much as the likes of October All Over or One Lick Less. It’s kind of catchy? It isn’t anything close to abrasive? It has distinct melodies and counter-melodies. Madness! This is an Unwound pop song, and I’m only half sold.
60Unwound
The Future of What


Pardon My French

Yes, this is an interlude and its placement here is a bit of a meme BUT I have two reasons for low-key loving it: 1) a nostalgic synth organ loop being dropped in the middle of an Unwound album is a hilariously ballsy move and 2) I got into The Future of What through my CD copy while also getting into Bloodborne for the first time. The CD has an extended 14-min version of the loop at the end as a bonus track, and because I was hooked on the game I’d always let it play out, so it’s very much under my skin and embedded in my memories at this point.
59Unwound
Unwound


Rising Blood

A tenacious punk stomper that shows off the s/t’s energy at its best. This is very much Trosper’s song; he dishes out one of his better performances on this album and forces his guitar into a variety of gritty tones, shredding through harmonics like no-one’s business. Not quite a highlight, but promising enough stuff.
58Unwound
Unwound


Stuck in the Middle of Nowhere Again

Save for its *highly* tasty midway jam, this is just a pushy Sonic Youth track. However, that mid-section is full of Unwound’s trademark menace and makes for a huge highlight on the self-titled. Another good idea that would be wildly eclipsed here by its realisation on subsequent records.
57Unwound
Fake Train


Pure Pain Sugar

This is a somewhat unfortunate song insofar as it represents a steep drop of quality from Fake Train’s astounding side-A but also a respectable highlight of it’s latter half. Vern carries this one; his tone gives the track’s somewhat silly throwdown the oomph it needs and defines most of its memorable moments. The title lyric is a slight step too far as angsty Unwound goes, but it just about carries itself.
56Unwound
The Future of What


Re-Enact the Crime

This is probably the first instance of Unwound making a deliberately lethargic track and, eh, it’s okay. I appreciate this one for throwing a surprise change of tone after The Future of What’s scuzzy opening trio; I think I once saw it described as ‘acoustic’, which is hilarious but, relatively speaking, not the stupidest thing in the world. As a standalone track, it’s a bit limp.
55Unwound
Challenge For a Civilized Society


Data

Although I’ve been listening to it the longest of any Unwound besides Leaves, Challenge was probably the album I felt least sure of my opinions on, before revisiting it for this ranking. I had a positive but unspecific recollection of Data, and this seems about fair. It’s a decent opener, but feels like a B-grade reprisal of New Energy (ft. bassline and less energy) until things kick into gear for its momentous final minute. Good not great as Unwound openers go.
54Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You


Scarlette

Leaves…’ angsty flashpoint is a mixed bag. I have no issue with Trosper’s harsh vocals, but they blend hideously with this track’s psych stylings. However, songwriting is as strong as anything from this album, often coming off as a less pent-up version of December. It’s no highlight however, and feels a little close to disappointing compared to the phenomenal tracks either side of it.
53Unwound
Further Listening


Hating in D

This one is a hot mess, but I dig it as a scathing long cut. The bridge here is some Usual Dosage-esque brooding discontent. Hearing this back to back with Swan at the end of Further Listening is not for the faint of heart.
52Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You


Who Cares

Um, ok, maybe this is an outro song with very little substance beyond a We Invent You reprise and headscratcher of a trumpet sample, but it’s such an unexpected and oddly satisfying closer that I give it points over Scarlette and Look A Ghost. Sorry, guys.
51Unwound
The Future of What


Natural Disasters

While a little below The Future of What’s average bpm, I’d consider this a very middle of the road pick from that album. The songwriting is on point and those guitar tones are to die for, but this doesn’t have the knockout value of that album’s powerhouse tracks and it’s not quite engaging enough to make the most of its sluggish pacing.
50Unwound
Fake Train


Feeling$ Real

I never listen to this track outside of Fake Train, but when I do it invariably reminds me that this band are perfect at closers. The moodiest, ugliest, most sluggish track of the bunch, this one brings home a stomach-clenching vocal performance and clamorous chorus. Hideous stuff, but very necessary in its way. Love how caustic this band can be.
49Unwound
New Plastic Ideas


Entirely Different Matters

A quickfire banger to kick off the best of Unwound’s 90s albums. If I believed the world revolved around Metallica I’d call this after Fake Train the Master of Puppets to their Ride the Lightning - but it doesn’t, so it’s more like the Liar to their Goat in a universe where Liar was better than Goat, or maybe the Sister to their EVOL. Hmm. It bangs, and then it’s over. Good stuff, good start; the worst on the album by virtue of being the least substantial.
48Unwound
Fake Train


Nervous Energy

Nervous Energy is a textbook snapshot of everything Unwound were about at this point: sluggish grooves, constantly shifting dynamics, intermittent noise and a furious overtone of malaise. I can’t really fault it as such; the main reason it’s this low is that I consider it far outgunned by the likes of Honourosis and Usual Dosage. Vern and Justin raise some good hell though; this is a staple in its way.
47Unwound
Unwound


Understand & Forget

This is the first point on the s/t where Unwound’s scope for greatness really becomes apparent. In some ways this is just a Sonic Youth song with some cookie monster vocals on top, but the guys nail some quickfire changes of pace and their languorous noise is as sharp as the hardcore. Later tracks would see these kind of ideas expanded much more convincingly, but this track is convincing enough as a snappy standalone.
46Unwound
Challenge For a Civilized Society


The World Is Flat

I have a weird soft spot for this one, although I don’t think it’s anything close to perfectly realised. Those verses are just so anxious; Trosper’s erratic guitar punctuations are underscored by some of the sexiest drumrolls in the game. Sara Lund is the unsung hero of this track by a decent margin; it’s a shame the piece hinges around such dull bursts of distorted riffing in place of a chorus. This feels like a sizeable upgrade on Fingernails on a Chalkboard, but not nearly the peak as far as anxiety Unwound goes.
45Unwound
Challenge For a Civilized Society


Sonata for Loudspeakers [Instrumental]

Hi guys, did you know this song is an instrumental? Crazy, right?! Sonata for Loudspeakers is more or less Abstraktions v.2 - a good thing since Abstraktions is fantastic. This one paints more in broad strokes and has less of the subtle dynamics and Slint worship that made its predecessor so great; instead, it has horns! Horns are good, but they can only raise a track so high. Solid enough atmospheric cut.
44Unwound
Repetition


Devoid

Devoid’s great strength and great weakness lies in how incredibly memorable its opening bassline is - so much so that I struggle to remember anything else from it. I’ve heard this song *checks* 26 times now, and the impression I have of the first 20 seconds overweights the rest by so much that I can’t help but dock it a few places. Otherwise, it’s a decent midtempo rock cut that sits nicely after Next Exit’s edge-of-your-seat tension and release game.
43Unwound
New Plastic Ideas


Hexenzsene

An unlikely bright patch just before New Plastic Ideas takes a turn for the very, very gloomy, Hexenzsene feel’s like that album’s equivalent of an unlikely pop song. It’s strange to hear this coming from Unwound, and it’s not exactly a mood raiser - drop this on any peak-era Sonic Youth album and it’d sound angsty as hell. After Envelope’s monumental downer, however, it’s a nice palette cleanser, however brief.
42Unwound
Repetition


Lady Elect

A controversial placement, perhaps. This is a rare softboi track from pre-Challenge Unwound, and it’s easy to see why this is such a firm staple for many. They do bleak and beautiful very, very well here. All I can say is that although its chorus is more or less heartbreakingly perfect, the verses here are plain do very little for me. Wow, I feel like Ars writing on this. In general, Trosper’s knack for turning an almost facile sequence of notes into a grounding melody isn’t showcased at its best here.
41Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You


Below the Salt

The longest and bleakest song on any Unwound album is, appropriately, a bit of a mouthful. This is one of the most challenging growers on Leaves… and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. It’s one hell of a closing statement and considerably moving in its execution, but I can’t help that feel that other moments on the album said even more, more succinctly. The slow pacing here is impressive in and of itself - it takes four and a half minutes just to hit the first countermelody! There’s a lot to be said for this one; as a mood piece there’s no faulting it, but I’ve never found it to stick as hard as the other highlights from Leaves…’ side-B.
40Unwound
Challenge For a Civilized Society


Laugh Track

I remember this being my favourite from Challenge for a long time, and this makes sense considering how long it took me to find my way to Repetition. Laugh Track is a decently good successor to Corpse Pose that brings next to nothing new to the table but lays down some of Unwound’s catchiest hooks along with some infectious energy. If Unwound had bothered with singles, this would have been ripe for the picking.
39Unwound
Fake Train


Dragnalus

I guess this is one of the more iconic early Unwound tracks. Fuck, that main riff is ugly as hell. Seething misanthropy is obviously par de course for this band, and this track sums it up better than most: hateful and BORED. You can hear the Fugazi influence in the band’s newfound knack for engaging pacing, but more importantly Sara Lund is on skins for the first time and she holds this one down like no-one’s business. I’ve never got into Dragnalus beyond its role as a warmup song for Fake Train/the following albums, but in that guise it’s perfect.
38Unwound
The Future of What


Accidents on Purpose

I love this title. I love how awkward this whole track is. This band is so good at doing ugly things. In the scheme of their discog, this track is just a 2-minute skit, but I feel it fleshes out just how talented they were at making crude ideas totally compelling.
37Unwound
Unwound


Fingertips

A midtempo ’rock’ track, Fingertips is steady and confident enough to land as my favourite cut from the self-titled record. Unwound dip into their grungiest here without dropping their clangy dissonance in the slightest. In some ways it’s a straight-up Pixies/Nirvana track, but there’s something thoroughly delicious about hearing the band nailing this in their own language.
36Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You


We Invent You

Outstanding intro. I love how fiercely this one flexes Leaves…’ psych elements from the word go. Beautiful enigmatic melodies all round: this sounds as greyscale as anything Unwound made, but in a totally different way. Leaves really couldn’t ask for a better opener. We Invent You is very much a tease and not a highlight, but I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
35Unwound
Repetition


Next Exit

Similarly to Lowest Common Denominator, Next Exit was one of the slow cuts on Repetition that best shows Unwound flexing their noise chops. There’s something distinctly apprehensive about this whole track, but the tradeoff in its final couple of minutes between a relatively conservative bass groove and increasingly freeform punctuations of noise is nothing short of iconic. Lee Ranaldo would be proud.
34Unwound
Challenge For a Civilized Society


What Went Wrong

Fuck me, the end of this album is dreary (but also the best bit). What Went Wrong is 8 minutes of emotional torture, definitely one of the band’s more maudlin moments. It’s also way overlong and a little off in its pacing, but its overall feeling of despair is excellently articulated at points. With a decent amount of fat trimmed, this could have broken the top 20.
33Unwound
The Future of What


Descension

While not as tightly focused or overall brilliant as the backend of New Plastic Ideas, The Future Of What’s second half is full of stomach-lurching moments. Descension is the first of of these; aptly named, this is a real “shit gets real” track - lots of imminent dread spelt all over it. It sometimes flies past me, but I think this is one of the tightest songs in Unwound’s canon in many ways; those four minutes don’t skip a beat and the band play with a seamlessness they would rarely match (up until Leaves…)
32Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You


Demons Sing Love Songs

For my money, this is the weirdest song in the Unwound canon. Sometimes it goes right over my head, sometimes it feels totally essential to Leaves…’ haunted/evasive atmosphere. It’s very plain in some respects but very haunting in others; hearing Trosper and Lund throw out something a stone’s throw away from a psych pop song is pretty disconcerting in and of itself. One thing’s for sure, the album wouldn’t be nearly the same without it.
31Unwound
The Future of What


Swan

One of the ugliest and most momentous tracks in the game, Swan’s verses anchor themselves around a stubborn anti-melody and are traded off with a fire n brimstone overload of a chorus packed with peak bleakness. If Fiction Friction and For Your Entertainment closed their albums on ironically triumphant notes, this feels like the band blowing apart The Future of What on a full-throttle downer. It’s strangely satisfying for sure; no wonder this track warranted around eight minutes of feedback as a following winddown - the scope of that crater is almost on par with Feedbacker Part III’s…
30Unwound
New Plastic Ideas


What Was Wound

Now *this* bangs! What Was Wound feels like the perfect version of everything the band were rooting around for on their self-titled album. It’s punk as hell, very catchy, a straight blast from change of pace to change of pace. At points, Trosper comes close to screaming an singalong - out of character for sure, but a welcome rush. Great track, one of their best straight-up punk moments.
29Unwound
New Plastic Ideas


Arboretum

As sluggishly turbulent as anything on New Plastic Ideas’ backend, Arboretum marks itself out through a slightly more forgiving focus on melody. Vern’s surging bass hook in the chorus might be overbearing, but there’s something oddly beautiful about its incorporation here. The midway instrumental is pretty enough too, an unexpected deep dive into subtle dynamics that feels like Unwound’s own For Dinner… Arboretum is excellent; the only thing holding it back for me is its adjacent placement and structural similarity to Usual Dosage, which I feel outguns it somewhat. Still, this one’s mellowness has a great quality to it.
28Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You


Off This Century

Leaves…’ disc 1 rock climax is a pretty intense deal. For all this is more majestic and tempered than old school around, it comes off in some ways as one of their angriest tracks; Trosper’s sneering in the mammoth bridge section is all the more acerbic for how clearly his lyrics can be made out. In other aspects, this is one of the most seamless compositions they ever put together; its knife-edge semiquaver’d guitar rhythm and melodic climax are both impressively executed. Seamless and melodic are not what I love best from this band, however, so it avoids a higher placement.
27Unwound
Challenge For a Civilized Society


Lifetime Achievement Award

An ultra-depressing dirge that drags its heels through a series of haunting melodies and frames Trosper’s most apathetic vocal performance on record. I want to call this plain or overlong, but I think a slow trudge was the best way to deliver it. Sometime in the second half they play the happy birthday song backwards while Trosper drones through another verse, and it sounds like a human soul wilting into oblivion. I don’t often come back to this one, but it never fails to catch me off guard when I hear it.
26Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You


Treachery

A little sludgy and overtly psyched out, Treachery goes 9/10ths of the way to being a bona fide rock banger but chicanes into something more evasive. I love how tense this one is; that “trouble with the truth is double” mantra in the bridge is a huge moment of release and a little underrated as one of Unwound’s best melodic moments. This track doesn’t pack quite the same weight as several tracks above it, but it’s lean and murky enough to land a solid spot.
25Unwound
Repetition


For Your Entertainment

Huge track, huge lyrics, *huge* bridge. This is an easy pick for the best Unwound closer (though not one I stand by), but it’s quite dull to write on; it draws Repetition’s attention to melodic basics and disciplined songwriting out to its logical conclusion. And then, appropriately it ends. Remember how I said in Lady Elect that Trosper was slightly off when it came to picking out simple yet effective melodies? Yeah, For Your Entertainment makes for that a hundred times over. Great song.
24Unwound
Challenge For a Civilized Society


Side Effects of Being Tired

Challenge is full of fleetingly great ideas that don’t translate into excellent songs, but Side Effects of Being Tired is as close it comes. The first section is killer, a post-hardcore belter with saxophones raising hell as Vern sneers down the mic during a rare turn as lead vocalist. The following extended noise jam is a tough swallow at first, but very well realised for what it sets out to be; this track takes a slightly different headspace compared to most other top-tier Unwound cuts, but it occupies a fairly unique place in their discography as a result. A banger *and* a slow-burner - hard to compete with that! I almost wish it were longer…
23Unwound
New Plastic Ideas


Abstraktions

It’s insane how well this band understood both Slint and Sonic Youth. This is reflected across their work, of course, but Abstraktions feels like a perfect marriage of both in one sinister, sometimes-almost-beautiful instrumental that meanders its way through seven minutes with nothing short of dynamic fluency. It’s fantastic in its midway sequencing on New Plastic Ideas, separating up the albums quickfire first half from its momentous second side, but heard in isolation this still delivers the goods.
22Unwound
New Plastic Ideas


Envelope

Similar to Nervous Energy (also track 3!), this song feels like the perfect average of its album in a generally flattering way. Unlike Nervous Energy, I pack a ton of personal baggage with this one. I spent a lot of time getting into and obsessively listening to Unwound during the lowest year of my life, and Envelope’s lyrics (in eerily precise detail) and brutally ominous overtones stuck with me more than most, so it can go up a few spots for that alone. But mainly, that introduction is the sound of the bottom dropping out of your stomach as you reassess your life and clock how badly you’ve fucked it :]
21Unwound
Repetition


Murder Movies

After a somewhat languorous mid-section, this is where Repetition picks up pace again. Murder Movies is an off-kilter scorcher, lightning in a bottle for almost two minutes. The rhythms and hooks are just fantastic here. I dunno. It’s a blast.
20Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You


Summer Freeze

Fuck me, this track is an oil slick. Something of a sleeper pick from Leaves…, this is one of the album’s most sinister moment and a near-standout for me. I can see it being a little repetitious for some, but those dark melodies and that droning refrain are very much under my skin at this point. A lot of Leaves… is airy and almost refreshing; this is a brilliant claustrophobic counterpoint.
19Unwound
Fake Train


Lucky Acid

“Indie grind”, ha. I love this song. 1:44 of the most brutal track in the Unwound canon. The noise is dialled up and traded off against a sludgy slam-down that makes for one of the few Unwound songs I could imagine properly moshing to. A perfect meltdown; I think this one is tied down a little by nature of its own scrappiness, but it’s such a blast to hear them go all out that I’m not too phased by this. Banger.
18Unwound
Repetition


Unauthorized Autobiography

This track is such a natural follow-on to Corpse Pose that I basically think of them as the same piece. It’s another case of a ludicrously good bassline from this motherload of a bass album, and I like how this one goes for a punchier feel than many other tracks on Repetition; this one doesn’t indulge too much in its own groove. Very lean stuff.
17Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You


Radio Gra

A more expansive follow-on from Summer Freeze’s claustrophobic nightmare, Radio Gra is superb songwriting. Relying on a handful of arpeggios and string accompaniment, it evokes the same atmosphere as the strongest of Slint cuts but, unlike Slint, it says the most through its melodies, rather than its dynamics. Unwound have always been more invested in dynamics, which are more effective vehicles for communicating moods in general; the degree to which their melodic confidence catches up here is stunning. A thoroughly hypnotic experience.
16Unwound
Repetition


Corpse Pose

A normie pick for a top 3 Unwound song, but for good reason. Corpse Pose is one of the most melodically memorable and rhythmically impressive things the band have on offer; just hearing how these three members go from playing in their own separate worlds in the verses to tightening up for a lean chorus gets me every time. The bridge is obviously huge and complements the song fantastically, but I think my main complaint is that Trosper’s guitar tone is a little too clean for its own good here. Corpse Pose is a blast, but it doesn’t have quite enough grit to place higher for me. A great introduction to the band, for sure.
15Unwound
New Plastic Ideas


All Souls Day

Much as Leaves… is a slowburning masterpiece, I won’t hesitate to call the second half of New Plastic Ideas the concentrated highlight of Unwound’s whole discography. These four tracks feel like their own suite, running together with increasing desperation and hitting higher and higher highs. All Souls Day is the point on the album where the shit hits the fan, part noise rock banger and part warning sign that, uh, something’s off and things are about to get real. Oh boy, do they.
14Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You


December

Now this is *excellent.* One of the first Unwound songs I really got into. That opening bassline; those guitar punctuations; that ultra-smooth chorus tying together anxious verses. Classic stuff. December is so slick I sometimes get carried away by it and forget to be impressed by how well-crafted it is; a very minor pseudoflaw, but we’re in the top-tier now so it gets docked a few places.
13Unwound
Repetition


Lowest Common Denominator

This is I think the first real sighting we get of the artsier approach that developed throughout Unwound’s final three albums. Lowest Common Denominator’s use of noise and changes of rhythm are more sophisticated than anything the band had previously pulled off in this department, and its unhurried tempo foregrounds this deliciously. That’s half its appeal - the other half is lies in how its ubersexy bass grove marks four-for-four when it comes to Repetition’s opening salvo. Really strong stuff.
12Unwound
The Future of What


Disappoint

I think The Future of What wins the award for the Unwound album with the most accurate song titles. This track is a horrifyingly invocative portrait of everything going wrong in slow motion. It’s a perfect example of noisey Unwound at their most sluggish and shows the band’s knack for getting their quieter sections to sound more uncomfortable than their loud ones; the harmonics and melodies in this one feel emotionally grating in a way that still gets me. I have a very vivid memory of hearing this on the plane the day I moved to Italy having organised zero accommodation beyond my first week and deeply regretting everything I was leaving behind, having snagged about 2hrs sleep the night before; this track brought out this deep feeling of dread and “fuckfuckfuck what happens next, how’s this going to go.” Best and worst choice of playlist.
11Unwound
The Future of What


Demolished

A highly underrated pick and in many ways one of most accessible Unwound tracks; the basslines here are very melodic and Trosper’s vocal performance is more in line with your usual depressed 90s alt rock band than his usual acerbic flair. I guess that’s it - this is basically a catchy, upbeat alt rock song given the Unwound treatment. Not their best, but definitely one that makes me come back the most.
10Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You


Terminus

An obligatory pick for one of the top spots, Terminus is more or less worth the hype as Unwound’s breathtaking pseudoepic. Dropping a cut this ambitious and expansive into a tracklist that had just seemed to hit its groove with December and Treachery is a bold move, but it feels somehow appropriate to Leaves…’ scope. This one has been amusingly compared to GY!BE, by virtue of being vaguely post-rock and containing strings. However, progression here is more complex than Godspeed’s linear marathons, working fleet-footedly in 4-bar trade-offs in incremental than dynamics. Unwound wisely avoid an outright climax here and up the intrigue by cooling off and swapping in an extended coda; mature songwriting etcetc. A deeply impressive cut.
9Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You


One Lick Less

Utterly beautiful. In many ways, this is the most impressive track on Leaves…’, a psychedelic masterpiece that reconfigures the band’s feverish dynamics into something sweeping and dreamlike. I’ve spend half this list dropping Slint and Sonic Youth references, but I don’t think either band could ever have made something this graceful sound so perfect. That’s growth for you.
8Unwound
The Future of What


New Energy

The best pure ‘punk’ Unwound song, what a fucking great opener. Vern’s bassline on this one is pure evil and the intensity is dialled up to 11. The Future of What is probably Unwound’s most angular, clangy album and this track shows this off immediately. I once played this track so hard on my guitar that I broke my D string. That’s the third lowest string - that shit isn’t meant to happen. Huge stuff.
7Unwound
Repetition


Message Received

So I bought a used copy of Repetition without knowing a single song on it (apart from whatever was on Further Listening, which I couldn’t remember clearly) and it was probably the most expensive disc I’ve ever paid for. So when it arrived and I put this on for the first time, I lost my shit. 30 seconds of tape scratching at the start?!! I was about to turn that shit off and sulk when in comes probably the grooviest bassline ever laid down on an Unwound track and some top-notch Trosper un-melodies. Message Received is a simple track beyond this, but it wraps up Repetition’s best qualities very concisely and lands as the best Unwound opener for me.
6Unwound
The Future of What


Petals Like Bricks

A bizarrely overlooked track that is absolute peak Unwound in many respects. Most of this track is straight pummelling but Trosper in particular threads an impressive amount of melody here. His guitar lines in the stormy verses and uncomfortably delicate midsection are disarmingly beautiful, in a dirty kinda way. Perfect title to that end. This track feels like an ultracompressed, faster version of tracks like Usual Dosage or Nervous Energy, and it’s deeply impressive how well this is pulled off while hardly sacrificing those tracks’ intimidating sense of gravity.
5Unwound
Fake Train


Valentine Card / Kantina / Were, Are And Was Or Is

Oh man, the trilogy. The best accidental pressing phenomenon of our times. This trilogy is not *quite* the best Unwound track - Valentine Card’s Jesus Lizard-esque romp isn’t quite on par with its successors and the SY Sprawl-isms of Were, Are And Was Or Is are maybe a tad stretched out. However, nothing will ever sound quite the way Vern Rumsey’s bloodcurdling bassline does at the start of Kantina. Trosper’s firework of an overdriven intro, the song’s skeletal almost mute verses, and that momentous first chorus. My God. This central track is a scorched-earth banger and would comfortably sit at the #1 spot if released as a standalone - yet somehow I would hate for this to happen. The trilogy carries a strong charm in how it folds around its central cut, as though to a raise a cautionary too-much-of-a-good-thing finger. A classic.
4Unwound
New Plastic Ideas


Usual Dosage

Usual Dosage is disgusting. Everything about this track feels anxious and unstable in a way that almost makes me sick at points. This track is just unbelievably menacing, turning the classic peak/valley gimmick into a genuine sense of threat, eruptions of noise bursting out of a seething undercurrent. For all he holds himself in reserve more than the two previous albums’ wildest moments, this is probably Justin Trosper’s most harrowing performance for me. Also, I’ve talked a lot about how SY/Fugazi/Slint/Jesus Lizard et al. can be read from the band perhaps without crediting them on their own merits enough; this is a perfect track when it comes to demonstrating their individual Wow factor, and I can’t imagine anyone else nailing it the same way.
3Unwound
New Plastic Ideas


Fiction Friction

This is how you close an album. If the previous three tracks on New Plastic Ideas felt like they were plumbing incrementally lower depths, Fiction Friction calls our bluff over the whole “how deep will they go?!” schtick and lays down an apocalyptically noisey landmark of low bpms and clamorous resonance. There’s something perversely triumphant about it, its huge, ultradeliberate note placements clanging with great assertion after its predecessors’ feverishly restless dynamics, and Trosper’s contemptuous aside “I’m not a prodigy“ somehow landing as an expression of freedom. That’s Fiction Friction for you - equal parts burnout and release, a fitting end to one of the best post-hardcore albums released by anyone.
2Unwound
Fake Train


Honourosis

Honourosis is a weird choice of near-favourite, from Fake Train or in general. Almost like Nervous Energy’s depressed/less nervous older sibling, this is far and away the album’s most melancholic pick. Unwound are exemplary as a resentful band, but I think they often work even better as a forlorn band (hence Fiction Friction, Kantina, Disappoint etc.). Justin and Vern are very shrewd in where they drop their melodies here; this song has distinct hooks, but they’re sparse and weary, and the track’s slow shifts in and out of distortion give it an oddly compelling sense of dragging its feet. I dunno. This is depressing but also loud as hell, and if that ain’t true to the appeal of early Unwound I don’t know what is.
1Unwound
Leaves Turn Inside You


October All Over

A true classic. Most Unwound tracks are fairly easy to pinpoint in relation to other songs/bands/styles without losing their edge, but none of these associations come close to touching October All Over. It’s totally cogent with the rest of the album, but it’s also one of those very rare tracks where everything is so perfectly placed that it seems to operate according to its own logic. That opening riff paired off with that drum-beat; the way the whole thing is so smooth yet grounded in the off-beat. Inspired. That midway jam is impeccable; despite being driven by reverb, layered tones and reverse effects I feel like I could sing it it note for note from memory. That’s how to manipulate sounds while making every note sound essential. That deadpan “sometimes you laugh so cry” lyric would feel misplaced out of 9/10 songs, but it lands with full weight here. Nothing is overly foregrounded. Everything is perfect.
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