The power trio of singer/guitarist Justin Trosper, bassist Vern Rumsey and drummer Sara Lund may not make memorable songs per se, but Unwound does make an indelible sensation. Flaunting serious noise science that recalls but rarely imitates Fugazi, Slint and Sonic Youth, this Tumwater, Washington (near Olympia) band exudes an almost palpable existential rage, largely dispensing with melody to rely on a tensely wrought wall of guitar clamor that overlaps like so many layers of steel fencing. Boldly experimental and yet emotionally vital, the band produces what the liner notes to its second album term “progressive Punk Rock.”
The stark Fake Train boasts a formidable dynamic range, from the meditative instrumental “Were, Are and Was or Is,” which pours sublimely chirping feedback over dappled guitar arpeggios, through the pile-driving “Pure Pain Sugar” and up to the apoplectic heights of “Lucky Acid” and the schizo noise bursts of the aptly named “Nervous Energy.” There are few hooks and Trosper’s voice rarely veers from a generic indie-rock holler, but those deficiencies are more than compensated for by the band’s inventive attack (especially by Lund) and the sheer number of cool sounds and textures that festoon every track.
New Plastic Ideas finds Unwound branching out into propulsive odd meters, a vastly bigger sound and even more traumatic contrasts between loud and soft, pulling the arty riffage into much tighter focus. There’s even something resembling melody emerging on songs such as “Envelope,” “Hexenzsene” and the downright Cure-ish instrumental “Abstraktions” — but the band’s strength remains the art of noise, as in the staccato dissonance of “All Souls Day” and the way the roiling mass of distortion in “Usual Dosage” gives way to a lambent middle passage of tinkling, ringing tones.
Although The Future of What goes in for slightly more conventional song structures, the lung-shredding “New Energy” makes it clear straightaway that the band has only honed its edge. Trosper hits new heights with the cyclonic drone that closes “Natural Disasters,” the prismatic harmonics of “Re-enact the Crime” and the masterful three-minute feedback aria that ends the record. And then there’s the curious keyboard loop track, “Pardon My French”; the effect is of well-calculated disorientation-much like the rest of Unwound’s music.
The band’s 1995 self-titled album is actually its debut, recorded in 1992 with original drummer Brandt Sandeno but not released at the time because the group felt it was no longer representative of its sound after Sandeno left. Which is very true — Unwound is a manic, bilious spew, more straightforward and even catchy, with little of the tricky guitarchitecture and chiaroscuro dynamics the band would later make such a big part of its sound. Still, the relentless intense anger makes it a revealing document of this band’s stormy emotional roots. And truth be told, it’s one of their best.
Continuing Unwound’s onward-and-upward creative arc, Repetition raises the ante further from The Future of What. Clanging guitar noise is only one of the band’s tools here; the album’s taut structural designs are equally effective whether charged with carefully wielded aggression (“Fingernails on a Chalkboard,” the febrile and funky “Message Received”), fed into comely barbed-wire pop songs (“Lowest Common Denominator,” “Lady Elect”), translated into dubby instrumental grooves (“Sensible”) or set free with saxophone in the jazz jam freakout “Go to Dallas and Take a Left.” Repetition is a sharp kick in the head that clears out the cobwebs and stimulates the imagination.