Review: Unwound – The Future Of What 10

Unwound

  • Unwound 
  • The Future Of What
  • Post-Hardcore
  • USA
  • 1995

Trigger warning: 28-year-old boomer upset at the state of Post-Hardcore.

Sometimes you find an album that appears to have a direct purpose and message, even just the album art embodies something. Rigid and cold, architectural. A harshly plain background of black and white. The whole time I was listening I felt like I was being told something that’s still relevant now. An aesthetic that pessimistically represents modern living and society. I felt a wavering sense of frustration layered over social obedience and escapism. The whole time I was listening to something that I already knew but hadn’t realized, something innate in my experiences – even if the lyrics were often wildly ambiguous, hinting towards a vibe or open-ended sentiments. A very poetic approach that should be the standard for post-hardcore (New PH tends to be more theatrical and safe). The Future OF What is my introduction point to Unwound, I did listen to their discog on shuffle for a couple of days to get a feel for the band. I listen to a lot of similar stuff like Fugazi, Drive Like Jehu and The Jesus Lizard so it’s right in my depth.

The Future Of What asks the same question that I’ve had in my head lately: What is all this leading to and is total destruction of it a bad thing?

The presentation: Since I so recently wrote about my distaste for intro and outro tracks on albums, this is a great example of how it should be done. How the audio story should be told. Every track is named but there are clearly tracks that begin and end the album. The end occurs over a handful of tracks at the end that traverse a soundscape that serves as the concluding sentence to this pointed thesis of a record. It has a similar composition to Rolo Tomasi’s Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It with the presence of reoccurring riffs, it’s effective and keeps the album tightly self-contained. The opening tracks start forceful, setting the tone immediately and as per the opening track title, has the highest energy. This dwindles down and spreads out throughout the course of the album like the heat death of the universe.  When the final ‘song’ dies out and the drone-like buzzing kicks in there’s a sense of tension building, like it’s not the end of the album but the beginning of the conclusion. The buzz builds towards a calmer and docile sound that sends us out with the same tone and emotion of the Eraserhead moon-faced girl singing and stepping on fetuses (Remember that scene where the guy stares at the radiator and contemplates suicide? Fuck that movie was bleak). An artificial sense of safety. These ending tracks are reviewed negatively in many reviews I read of this album, but I think it restates the thesis and brings the record to a crisp 59 minutes.

The sounds: These guys know how to take an aggressive framework and apply restraint. The songs roll out like waves pushing against the sand gradually wearing away at the landscape until it all just collapses decades later. The vocals are really appealing to me throughout, he has this way of going higher and lower in his pitch but never really change tone, he never goes too high over the instruments or under them either. They work together to create a flow, this is one of those bands where I can’t imagine it without the vocals, it just adds so much attitude – it weaponizes the music. Nothing is wasted here, not even the silence. The beats and dancability of some of these songs is surprising and I can’t help but move to them, dancing around my kitchen and repeating lyrics. It’s catchy and groovy but never too much of either. The guitar tones are so perfect, it’s a seamless switch between distorted chords, tremolo picking and mellow licks, no song sounds out of place. The rhythm section is great and shows in the mix really well. This whole thing has the right volume in the right places, we can hear the bass playing with the guitar while the drums take a bit of a break. Then the drums will pick back up with the vocals while everyone else churns out synchronized riffs. When the experimental elements are brought in like chime type instruments and samples, it’s used super effectively and minimally. It emphasis the music and it never feels like a gimmick. It’s jazz, it’s dangerous and it’s crystal clear.

 

Best tracks: Disappointment is a great track for how late in the album it is, the vocals on this are haunting as he recites “I never want to dive, inside this heart of mine.” and “I’ll disappear and then won’t know it’s true, disappointed in me, disappointed in you.”. To me this continues to speak about the state of life and what it makes us into. What we all become, and for what?

An interesting piece of storytelling is Excuse My French which has a nice progression that changes in the middle to delineate a half or a separation perhaps. This track has a reprise at the end of the album as two tacks; “…But Pardon…” and “…My French”, this seems to back up my notion of the half with “But parson” being our social politeness and well meaning, then “my french” representing “my bullshit” or chaos. The overall story I’m getting is the frustration and apathy of those ideas coexisting within our society. The necessary pretense we present publicly and the misery to hide or else everyone will hate us.

Natural Disaster resonated with me in a way I have difficulty articulating. There’s a hint of nihilism to the sound and lyrics or perhaps a sense of defeat. “I’m on a subway to a place I can’t pronounce, but at least I didn’t pay” jumped at me and I cherished it, as it mirrors an aesthetic I’ve directly experienced when taken literally, metaphorically it invokes the idea of being on a ride that’s beyond our control and the ones who pay are in the future… of what. Like I said, this album very directly communicates with my sensibilities both musically and lyrically. This album is the gold standard for a record as per my curation. This is the shining 10 and a piece of art.

This is the 10. Everything about this album contributes to a single thesis and theme. Many people had issue with the added tracks to the LP and thought the use of repetition and consistency was boring. This says to me that people’s attention span for music is all fucked up because those things actually make this album great. It’s a concentrated experience that captures something. If you’re writing a novel or a play or even a poem, you want the beginning to be meaningful to the end – that is the sign of a completed story arc. Out of a huge amount of recommendations played on shuffle, this is the album I gravitated to the most and has opened a whole new fandom for me. So not only is it a self-contained themed album that shares many of my own sentiments but it’s also a prime example of what the intention of Post-Hardcore initially was.

It’s simply the best.

 

 

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