Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Unwound, I (MN: 27)

Unwound- New Plastic Ideas

The way it sometimes works: a name will show up in enough places to compel me to seek _________ out. That’s how it was in the summer of 1994 (?)- kept hearing about this band Unwound being the next coming of all things punk/rawk. I drove down to the Newbury Comics in Nashua, the closest good place to my folks’ house in Concord, to see if I could track the band down. Cleaned out, except for a copy of ‘New Plastic Ideas’ on vinyl. I bought it reluctantly.

(On the issue of vinyl: we all know that it sounds better, more organic, blah blah blah, but the sad fact of the matter is that I don’t listen to actual record albums as often as I should because my record player is in my living room. There’s a CD player in my computer, which is where the vast majority of my music listening takes place. Having said that, though, when I was in Austin I was greatly impressed with Amanda’s little Fisher-Price record player. We listened to Joy Division, Kraftwerk, and Sam Cooke, and everything sounded phenomenal through one tiny speaker. Gotta check eBay and see if I can find me one cheap.)

Was impressed immediately by the immediacy of the record; I figured “New Plastic Ideas” was a signifier for some sort of chilly retro schtick. All three members of the bands have these very distinct, unique styles of playing (with the possible aside of Justin Trosper, anyway- more on that in a sec). Sara Lund’s drumming is quirky and reminds me of Aaron Cometbus’s- both contain unorthodox bits that sound like they taught themselves to play rather than taking lessons or whatever. Her style is unique, charming, and sounds good with Vern Rumsey’s bass. Both his playing and his bass tone are distinct- so much so, in fact, that I remember no less of an authority than Keith Werwa mentioning that Vern’s sound is easily identifiable even outside of the context of the band (if you don’t know who Keith Werwa is, you’re missing out on some of my favorite rock writing ever). Justin Trosper’s guitar is noisy and jagged and nestles right into the space left by the rhythm section. Everything is always tight and well thought out, even when songs occasionally shamble and sound like they’re teetering on the brink of collapse (as the self-taught drums sometimes do when the unorthodox fills and rolls come in and threaten to lose the beat). The one thing that occasionally doesn’t sound unique or distinct is Justin’s vocals, which occasionally veer into Thurston Moore territory.

No matter. Despite the occasional Youth-isms, the three members of Unwound are one of those bands that have been blessed by the coincidence/good fortune of meeting. ‘New Plastic Ideas’ is one of those records that has quietly become a touchstone of conversation when pivotal albums are mentioned.

Unwound- The Future Of What

Cleaner production means an unclean edge dropoff, which makes things sound a little bit different. Not bad, mind you, just different, less immediate. Unwound’s a band that’s right up there with Milemarker in the bullshit theme department: if you told me that ‘The Future Of What’ (or even ‘New Plastic Ideas’) was a quasi/concept album, I’d totally bite based on the strength of the artwork and the cohesiveness of the sounds contained therein.


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