Review Summary: Unwound mix dense post-hardcore influences and experimental shoegazing sounds on 1996 album.
Leaves Turn Inside You is one of the greatest album titles ever devised, and the fact that the cover art to Unwound’s final studio release is so solemn makes the title work all the better. As a sentence, it’s sinister, and yet emotional, visual, and still mysterious. Every time one hears it he feels an urge to put the record on and become immersed in the beauty that lies within. Repetition, on the other hand, is an utter failure in the history of album titles. For one, it shares far too much similarity with Fugazi’s Repeater, an album whose influence the band obviously took to heart, and, if that’s not enough, Unwound had the balls to actually repeat the title Repetition a good 9 or 10 times within the front cover alone. Not to mention the fact that repetition is far from a quality a good human being would seek in his music. But I guess titles mean next to nothing, as evidenced in this particular situation. Repetition is a great listen (though it can be said that Leaves is a far better one), and if that isn’t enough to get you to put it on right now, then I guess you can just keep on reading.
Unwound are a talented bunch of folks. Perhaps the first thing one notices about their music is the powerful bass sound of Vern Rumsey, though by no means would one fail to notice the guitars or drums. It’s just that Rumsey’s bass is so ridiculously high in the mix, though that’s far from a bad thing. In fact, it’s probably for the best, seeing as though it’s often the intense thundering of Vern’s mighty hand that keeps an Unwound song together. Like Fugazi before them where Unwound succeed is having the ability to create such a dense soundscape with so few instruments (one guitar, one bass, one set of drums.) Justin Trosper’s (also the band’s lead vocalist) guitar parts are at times ethereal, and at times atonal, but best when combining those two elements. Drummer Sara Lund’s work is surprisingly groove based (though she can sure smash a crash cymbal with the best of them) and this, in turn, does wonders in strengthening the band’s, particularly Rumsey’s, attack.
Unwound’s flawless cohesiveness is perhaps evidenced best on album finale, For Your Entertainment, where Vern shows his mastery of the fretboard’s upper reaches and still manages to hold down a strong foundation for Trosper to create one of the album’s most memorable melodies. And to not mention Sara’s ferocious drumming would be unthinkable. Unwound prove their intense musical talent over and over on Repetition, and when it all culminates in the chorus of FYE, with Justin’s shrieking vocal counter-melody a key final ingredient, it’s a thing of beauty. Lady Elect is another one of Repetition’s finest moments, one of those hopelessly dark mid-tempo Shoegaze tracks that would make up the bulk of Leaves Turn Inside You, but still seems refreshingly calm on this album. It’s hard to describe a moment like the one in which Lady Elect’s verse comes crashing into its chorus as ‘glacial’, but even amidst the crash cymbal beat-downs and thick distorted bass fuzz Unwound make it pretty clear that there isn’t a word in the world to describe them better. Lyrically, Trosper is brief, but often poignant, as evidenced with his lazily delivered calls of “leave it to yourself/to find it somewhere else/Safe outside of time/martyr of a kind” during the crushingly controlled chaos of the Lady Elect’s chorus. At his best he sounds like a more subdued (and perhaps clinically depressed) Thurston Moore.
Though the album is dominated by songs that mix the surprisingly melodic with the unflinchingly loud n’ noisy (see: Corpse Pose, Devoid, et al) occasionally the band will dig their heels in and churn out something truly unlistenable. And oddly enough, these tend to be the moments on Repetition where the band’s audience becomes most captivated. Listen to the closing minute or so of Next Exit to verify this for yourself. In the end, Repetition is an excellent release for the band, and worth its weight in the ears that the band no doubt rendered deaf during its conception. To be enjoyed at extreme volumes.