Their first record, Fake Train, came out in the early '90s, and the first track on that record, "Dragnalus," was a catchy pop song that perfectly blended the energy of youth, the spirit of Northwest music, and the sardonic cynicism of punk. They could've stopped right there and still considered themselves a success. Some songs are just that good. But luckily for fans of their trademark alchemy of icy melodies, propulsive bass lines, and rocksteady drumming they kept going--and going, and going.
Unwound's new record is entitled Leaves Turn Inside You, and the implication of this autumnal phrase permeates its entire character. The record was literally created from scratch. It took two years to record in a studio that the band constructed on a farm in Olympia with only minimal help from outside engineers. "It was either go to a bigger studio or create a resource that we and our friends could use forever," says Justin Trosper, the band's singer and guitar player. The unlimited freedom born of being able to forget about budgets and timetables has allowed the band to create a sprawling, orchestral, and epic thing, barely able to fit on two CDs.
On Leaves, all the familiar Unwound-isms are present and accounted for--the snappy drumwork, the muscular bass, the melodic rapier parries of guitar. There's also a substantial amount of keyboard sounds contributed by former member Brandt Sandeno and backing vocals courtesy of Portland's Janet Weiss. What sets this record apart from the band's previous efforts could be summed up as maturity. The songs exude and communicate something much different than the simple punk explosiveness of "Dragnalus." It's the idea that music is art, and that a band's success should ultimately be measured in terms of its approach to songwriting, its longevity, and the quality of the songs it writes. The three members of Unwound are simply three musicians in love with the experience of creating music.
Unfortunately, commitment to musical purity hasn't translated into the level of success enjoyed by some of their Northwest contemporaries. Do they think that they haven't received their due? "The only real frustration is that we still have to work shitty jobs. Obviously, it's everyone's dream to be able to live off our art, but in a lot of ways the level of recognition is almost perfect. We don't feel under-appreciated, but our audience is there," responds drummer Sara Lund. Perhaps Unwound is enjoying a different kind of success these days, a fraternal bond that can only develop over time. "We're getting older," confides Sara. "We're being hit by the things that have and haven't happened in our lives. We don't take each other for granted anymore."
Like everything else for Unwound, this bond seeps into their music. It buoys the energy of their live shows and is communicated en masse on Leaves Turn Inside You. In our present musical culture that values youth over experience, Unwound reminds us that a turning leaf can be a beautiful thing.