Unwound (1991-2002) were a Washington state post-hardcore band that flew under the radar throughout the 1990s, showering their small but committed fan base with a spattering of albums and singles, and boasting a workhorse ethic while constantly touring the U.S. and Europe. Noise-art rock with an atonal ear for spacey guitar drones, Unwound’s music also possessed the verbal melodic catch that made it ripe for college alternative radio. At least one song from the Unwound canon, “Look A Ghost”, from their 2001 swan song album Leaves Turn Inside You, should have been a huge hit single.
Released in late 2012, their Live Leaves album documents U.S. shows from the band’s final 2001 tour. In a press release, frontman Justin Trosper admits to cringing while listening to some of the recordings of the tour, the result of working without an active soundboard. While there is nothing cringe-worthy in these stellar live performances, the softer musical passages of spacey guitar drone, intent on lulling the listener into the farthest reaches of the cosmos, are in competition with the bar-like conversation and chatter coming from the venues.
Listening to the album is like being there. The sound is the quality of an A-plus bootleg recording, with crowd sounds and beer glasses clinking, all rolled into the mix indiscriminately. One happy fan shouts enthusiasm while standing far too close to the microphone. His grunts of appreciation reach the decibel level of the loudest guitar. Patron conversation is distinct enough to be understood. It makes for a cozy but loud, atmospheric live listening experience. Indulging in the sound, the listener can become entranced with the mesmerizing imagery of a thick slab of drone and effects, and then feel the need to mosy over to the bar to tip another beer.
“Look A Ghost” sounds as hot and exciting as an early Rolling Stones record when experienced live. Its lazy, adrift studio version is electrified with the punk spirited antagonism of David Scott Stone’s stabbing guitar and Trosper’s snotty faux British accent. Percussionist Sara Lund does an inspired set of choppy rolls and discordant beats in the 10-minute “Terminus”, a post-punk prog merging with pulsating barbed wire guitar work. The 14-minute set closer “Below The Salt” is a grand opus of drone, buoyed by wavering guitar chords that drift into the abyss like a Spanish lullaby. Bassist Vern Rumsey anchors the ominous soundscape with a commanding lead of sure-footed doom.
It wasn’t so many years ago I Googled Unwound, after discovering them on vinyl, and found the totality of information to be one Wikpedia entry which stated simply, “Unwound is a post-punk band from Washington state”. These days, now that there song is sung, information on them is all over the internet. Live Leaves gives you the oppurtunity to hear live recordings of the best band nobody ever mentioned in the ’90s.