The Drama You've Been Craving
Monday April 30, 2001
unwound Invent The Future
The sound of darkness and light, nothing and everything
By Michael Goldberg
It begins with a tone. One note, held for just over two minutes, as if they were clearing the room, purifying it. You can't ignore it, and so you focus. You become centered and calm. Your mind clears. You are ready.
A minimal electric guitar riff floats from the right speaker; the tone fades, and a second electric-guitar melody emerges from the left.
It has begun. You have entered the sonic landscape that is unwound.
First I listened to the new album, Leaves Turn Inside You ten times through speakers. I listened in the room where I write. I listened early in the morning; I listened late at night. I listened as I drove through the countryside in my car one morning. The music was intense and powerful, and, at times, so, so beautiful. The end of "Terminus" is like fresh water, like ice held against your skin, like a whisper.
I listened with headphones. You must listen to Leaves Turn Inside You with headphones. In no other way will you experience the totality of this epic two-CD album.
The Way Out
Loud and fast was the way of most punks for the longest time. Sonic Youth offered a way out, and unwound drummer Sara Lund, bassist Vern Rumsey and singer/guitarist Justin Trosper took them up on it. They seem not in the least afraid of letting their music take them where it will. The music here is elegant, serene even. Yet unwound, who started as a punk band in 1991, and were the first band signed to Kill Rock Stars, retain their punk edge. They dare to do it their way. There is a cello on one song, a harpsichord on another, mellotron on many. And some amazing guitar.
Everything about Leaves Turn Inside You is special, from the foldout, purple-and-lavender-lettered, muted-black cover that contains two CDs no jewel box for this band! to the CDs themselves, each of which has a black, white and grey picture of a wild horse on the surface. It's like a magic black box. It almost glows.
Sometimes the instruments combine into a blast of sound, as if they were a single instrument. The sound intensity increases, and then, in "Off This Century," Trosper talk/sings: "It's every bastard for himself."
Some songs here speak to me of things gone wrong of betrayal by lovers, of rebirth and salvation, of the end of the world, or, perhaps worse, a world where "everything is a commercial." But nothing is literal, and I don't pretend to know what, specifically, Justin Trosper is saying in these songs. It's as if the trees and the leaves, the earth and the rocks were speaking in tongues.
Pretty Modern Version
In an interview on the Kill Rock Stars site, Trosper explains what the group was going for as they made the album: "I've always been inspired by the late 60s psych recording (even early on) but I don't think we really got to touch on that stuff until now ... When we started mixing it, I felt like we could make a pretty modern version of a 67/68 era record without really sounding like one of those bands. Also I was really inspired by the 'Berlin' era of Eno/Bowie. And as usual, "Metal box/second edition" PIL, even though it doesn't really sound anything like it."
Listening to Leaves Turn Inside You is like watching Ingmar Bergman's Through A Glass Darkly or perhaps Persona. It's like walking through an exhibit of Jackson Pollock's work. Like trying to read Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Only not like any of that.
The music is heavy and light, exciting and drowsy, bright and sad, hard and soft. But that doesn't tell the half of it. It's like the most wonderful story you've ever read and the most tragic. The happiest day of your life, and a day of despair. Winning the lottery and learning you have cancer.
It is as if unwound decided that in the indie world, where, ideally, bands can create exactly the music they want with no concessions to the marketplace, they were going to make one of the great albums of all time. I imagine this band, in MagRecOne, the studio they built in Olympia, Wash., having the guts and the vision and the focus. Setting out to reinvent what an album can be and doing just that.
Michael Goldberg is the president of insiderone.net. He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.
© 2001 Michael Goldberg. All rights reserved.