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Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? (2003)
The Unicorns
This was one of those albums that made me sit up and take notice the very first time I heard it; I got that tingly sensation that should sound familiar to any serious music lovers reading this. I entered a hyper-alert state that blocks out extraneous stimuli so that my brain can figure out if I'm actually hearing genius or just another goddamn let-down.
     (See, most of the time, when you buy a new CD and you listen to it, and you're more or less pleased with the result -- you usually don't end up buying absolute pieces of shit these days, because mp3s, lo-res audio samples on sites like Amazon, in-store listening stations, a billion online reviews, and the good old hipster grapevine should steer you towards the rare gems and away from the clunkers. But some artists out there must be geniuses, and the records they are making now are masterpieces, and they will be revered as such for many years. I take George Michael's advice, and I listen without prejudice to the recommendations of my friends, hoping for that special tingle that freezes me in my tracks and sends all the blood to my eardrums.
     I listen listen listen to the whole album, waiting with ever-increasing tension for the awful song that ruins everything, or the slow but steady decline in song quality characteristic of a "front-loaded" record, but sometimes the album is... just it, man, right? Jupiter aligns with Mars, the CD finishes, leaving my cheeks wet with tears of gratitude, and it's all I can do to stop shaking long enough to start the damn thing over again immediately. In years past, it's happened with Boards of Canada's Music Has the Right to Children, The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Rufus Wainwright's eponymous debut album, and even Beck's Midnight Vultures. Each of those albums left me in stunned disbelief, but you'll notice that the albums I listed are all from like 1999, so it's been a while.)
     Friends, The Unicorns brought me the closest I've come to that shivery transcendence since y refused 2 k. If I describe the album in too much detail, it will only sound stupid and make you want to avoid it, and I want you to buy it, live it, and love it with me. But it's only fair to say something like: a bunch of Canadians, boys, who may as well be teenagers even if they're not, perform a song cycle, or maybe an opera -- I don't know -- about unicorns and ghosts and Noah's Ark and bizarre medical conditions and death. (Huh, when I say it like that it sounds like I could be talking about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, but the albums couldn't sound more different.) The Unicorns are goofy, clowning around, ecstatic, energetic, and so A.D.D. that they can't write songs with choruses -- the idea of singing the same couplet or quatrain more than once would just bore them to sleep. I must have listened to this 100 times. I can't sing its praises more highly without sounding like a jackass. I love it.

Return to the Sea (2006)
I don't know how to break this to you after reading the elegy above, but less than a year after releasing Who Will Cut Our Hair... The Unicorns broke up. I almost cried, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that I'd always have that album. Well! Imagine my excitement when someone showed me Noel Murray's review in The Onion of this album (by the singer and drummer of the Unicorns!) a week before it came out. I was jazzed out my skull, bwah. Shee-it. And the review was fairly positive, even though he led the piece with the following bit of heresy:
The Unicorns' 2003 album Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? wasn't exactly overrated, since it was fairly obscure even by indie-rock standards, but a circle of hardcore indie aficionados did praise the slight, excessively whimsical piece of DIY pop way out of proportion.
Who cares, y'feckin' arse'ole. I ran out to get it, and it deserves the highest praise I could give it: it sounds like a Unicorns album. I almost wept the first time I heard it. Again I'll refrain from description, except to say that it's more stylistically varied than the Unicorns, and that, so far, I love this one too, only just a little bit less.
The Unicorns - Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?:: . . . . : . . .9.6:
Islands - Return to the Sea:: . . . . : . .8.9. :
5/10/2006 • link


Blogger Greg said...

I have almost all of the albums that you listed and agree with you whole heartedly. But I found 2 albums that had the same effect on me as Rufus Wainright: Sufjan Stevens' Illinoise and Sondre Lerche's Two Way Monologue. You might want to check them out. And I'm not sure if you've tried AllofMp3.com yet but you can't beat their prices.

5/10/2006 9:34 AM  

Blogger Omar said...

Wait till you see them live. My goodness. Pendejo Joe and I are still reeling.

5/10/2006 5:51 PM  

Anonymous Suz said...

Surreal- threeimaginarygirls just reviewed that here in Seattle and they're playing down the street from me tonight. I guess I'll have to check it out.

5/10/2006 10:48 PM  

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