My Soapbox

live reviews | single reviews | album reviews | other reviews

Unwound is the best group around. They are very intense, by turns assaulting and soothing the listener. Live they play with a grace and dignity that most groups these days lack. The innovative instrumentation by all three members give the group an edge over the masses of cookie-cutter bands that clutter the underground scene.

The band started out as what you might call "post-hardcore". The group has evolved over time into a very experimental band, but even though they experiment with their sounds they never come across as avant garde or arty. They are rock music with brains, and brainy music with emotion and intensity.

"It's so sad when I come out of an Unwound show: my posture is horrible and while I stare at the ground I am terribly disappointed that my flesh can't hear." - DayGlo269

Live Reviews

My review of the show on 13 January 1998, in Sacramento

My (shorter) review of the show on 18 February 1998, in San Francisco

Of course, my opinion carries plenty of weight with you
but if you're still not satisfied
here are a few reviews written by other people:

March 2001 at SXSW

January 2001 in Seattle

September 2000 in NYC

 8 January 1998 in San Francisco

10 January 1998, in San Diego

24 February 1998, in Dallas

8 March 1998, in Chapel Hill

11 April 1998 in Belgium

28 May 1998 in the Netherlands

20 November 1998 in Seattle(?)

A review of a bunch of LA shows

Setlists (not exactly reviews)

Some conjecture (not exactly reviews)

August, September 2001 tour

9 January 1998 in Los Angeles

19 February 1998, in West Hollywood

25 February 1998, in Austin

10 April 1998 in Holland

9 May 1998 in Rome

Several European shows

A review of a show in Boston

Back in the day...

More back in the day (funny)

26 October 1999 in Seattle

June 1999 in Belgium

More reviews

Single Reviews

Caterpillar - the title track is a good song, along the lines of the Fake Train LP. Fans of 'grunge music' can dig the sound, and fans of the band will notice that this single, although it came before the Kandy Korn Rituals phase, actually sounds more like their later recordings. Also included is a neat instrumental and what a rock critic would call a "dirge" on side B.

Kandy Korn Rituals - the title track is really scary. It's the epitome of the early Unwound sound - loud and fast and abrasive, with Justin tearing out his throat and pummeling his guitar. More of the same on the other two songs. Kandy Korn Rituals and Against appear on the self-titled album, with different mixes.

You Bite My Tongue - the songs on this one are also available on the self-titled record. They are like Kandy Korn Rituals, but not quite as insane. Cough syrup punk rock.

MKUltra and Totality - are two great songs. These were NOT left over from the New Plastic Ideas recording sessions (earlier I had written that they were. Actually they were recorded a long time before New Plastik Ideas and were the first songs they recorded with Sara) and really rock. Many people feel that this is the best thing they ever did (those are the sort of people who don't dig Unwound's later styles as much). The first song is heavy rock in the inimitable Unwound style and the second is a fast-paced instrumental that erupts into chaotic screaming and noise.

Negated - this was my first record by Unwound and my first underground recording ever. Needless to say, I love this record. It features some really scary saxophone and trombone stuff. This was recorded around the same time as Fake Train, but it's definitely more progressive and weird. The first song is intense, the second is sloppy rock, and the third is a bizarre instrumental that the band reportedly wrote twenty minutes before it was recorded.

Corpse Pose - a classic. This is a different mix from the album track with the synth more prominent, but if you've heard one you've heard them both. The song is a repetitive rolling bassline with a dissonant guitar line and monotonic vocals that erupts into an off-time interlude. The B-Side is a great song, much more frantic and energetic, probably from the same sessions as the Repetition LP.

Split with Steel Pole - the untitled song (Seen Not Heard). Very good stuff. This probably could have been on the Repetition album. It features some abrupt change-ups and cool groovy sections, and then Sara's Vibraslap is icing on the cake.

Worst Case Scenario - this isn't Unwound, and it doesn't even sound like Unwound. This is a hardcore band with Justin and Brandt, as well as two shadowy figures known only as "Jordan" and "Larson". It's not really my thing, but if you want it it's four songs on the Lookout! record label.

You Speak Jealousy - yuk. I'm a big Unwound fan but I don't like this song one bit. As far as I can tell it's the first Unwound recording ever, but I could be wrong. It's on the Kill Rock Stars compilation, which also features Nirvana and other Washington State celebrities.

Eternalux - I only have a copy of this song on cassette, and it's cut off half-way through the song, but what I have sounds pretty good. It sounds like their earlier stuff (along the lines of New Plastic Ideas, sorta) and it's more straight-forward than their more recent releases. It's got some spacy guitar sounds during the clean sections, followed by all-out screaming during the chorus, without ever losing control.

Album Reviews

Unwound - this album was made with Brandt on drums. The Seattle influence (metal crossed with punk) is apparent, but the band's individuality shows through. The band sounds much less refined than they do on later recording. This is not be the best introduction to the band, if what you want is to get a feel for their current style.

Fake Train - this is the first album with Sara. This album contains one of their best-ever songs: "Kantina." It's intense rock music, with inventive musicianship and vocals that manage to be catchy, deadpan, frenetic and sad all at once. Each song sounds different and unique, while managing to stay grounded in a common style. It's very unlike normal rock music, but it's got all the components of rock music. This is the music of a Philip K. Dick novel, a soundtrack for cruising in a spaceship jalopy. This is the music of raw emotion.

New Plastic Ideas - the best album of their early days, in my opinion. This record is intense. It's like Fake Train only ten times better (and Fake Train was good!). I think that "Abstraktions" is the first time the band had Steve Fisk join in, with some sort of keyboards or loops in the background. This is the culmination of their sound during this phase, and later albums would explore in different directions.

The Future Of What - This album is more eclectic than anything that came before, with the usual servings of emotion and rock, as well as the beginnings of the experimentation with song-structure and dissonant chords that distinguishes the next one. It will take you several listenings before the full understanding hits you, or at least it did for me. This is the beginning of the current Unwound sound.

Repetition - they really hit their stride on this one. It's still the future of music, glitches and all, with much more experimentalism than ever before, but they never lose the listener in musical wank. I hear this album as a cross between all the good things on Future Of What and New Plastic Ideas, along with new influences from free jazz and Steve Fisk's increasing involvement, as well as with the band's willingness to create music right there in the studio, which is something they've never done much before.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is A Train - this is a 12-inch EP record, and not a full album. I've collected a couple of reviews from the mailing list, an unfavorable one and a favorable one. The first side contains a new song (Mile Me Deaf), two from Challenge For A Civilized Society (No Tech and Solo Sonata, which is an alternate version of Sonata For Loudspeakers), and a very long sound collage. Mile Me Deaf is a good song but nothing earth-shaking. No Tech is just No Tech. Solo Sonata is nice to listen to, and so is the collage, which is called The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is A Train, as created in collaboration with Steve Fisk, and contains samples from old Unwound songs.

Challenge For A Civilized Society - Here's what folks have to say about it. I like it, although it took me a while to understand it. It's an extension of Repetition and an expansion on their sound. The vocals are given much more attention here than in the past, and the production is much different than before; in fact, much of the music was written right in the recording studio. The songs seem to be of three distinct types: New Energy-type full-on rockers, stark experimental songs with dissonance a la Corpse Pose or Equally Stupid, and intense sad songs. Unwound reaches the heights of beauty and harsh noise, often during the same song.

Leaves Turn Inside You - I heard a few of the songs live, and they were great, but nothing prepared me for this record. Everything on this record is new. This is not a logical progression from earlier music so much as a total leap into new territory. It's ridiculous to try and describe this kind of sound, but I'll give it a shot. The sound is gigantic, layered, intricate, sophisticated, sometimes blunt, sometimes delicate, usually brilliant. The angularity of past records has been worked into the fabric, rather than sticking out, and the emotional highs that Unwound roughly blasted out in "Envelope" or "Kantina" are now so expertly executed that it takes your breath away. The worst songs are interesting, and the best songs are earth-moving -- and they're almost all "best songs." On this record, Unwound goes from being an excellent band to... whatever's better than excellent. Here are reviews from other people. (Current favorite moments: Terminus, part II; the piano in Below the Salt; the sadness in One Lick Less; the larger-than-life riff from We Invent You; the whole damn feeling I get from the whole damn record.)

Other Reviews

The Replikants - is Justin's other band. Justin and Brandt Sandeno create electronic pastiches and sound manipulations that can be haunting, cool, funny, and occasionally tedious -- but that's the price of experimentation. Check out their second record, Slickaphonics, to hear what I consider the testing grounds for the brilliance of Leaves Turn Inside You. Here are a few words from other people.

Video Bootlegs - here's what someone else (whose name I have forgotten) has to say about one of the few available videos of an Unwound performance: "I got the Unwound video bootleg through a trade. It's actually pretty good; ususally I'm disappointed at the quality, but you can hear everything fairly well and it has an o.k. picture. If I remember right it is from just before 'Repetition' was released because it has a bunch of tunes from that, as well as some 'New Plastic Ideas', and of course they played 'Dragnalus'."

Other bands - Here's what Will has to say about the Young Ginns, which is a band Justin is in: "Take Tim Green's late Ulysses crazy feedbacky metally guitar parts and put them in an Unwound-esque dirty garagey situation. It's a good 7inch. Buy it." Brian M. described the Young Ginns this way: "I will stress once again that the recent CD issue of the YOUNG GINNS is eeee-sential for Unwound fans... basically, take the early Unwound sound (Brandt as drummer era), add some early SST punk paranoia to it, and there you go."

I live in a cave and eat rocks, so I'm not always the first person to hear the latest news. Anyone who wants to save me from obscurity should mail me with info on their latest releases, as well as any tour dates, instructions on 'how to be cool', or anything else you want to share darling.

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This document was last updated 2 May 2001. it's nice outside.




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