Unwound: The Future of What
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I’m possibly the only person on the internets who is observing this anniversary. Unwound was an indie band hailing form Tumwater, WA in the early to mid 1990s. They spent most of their recording careers on Olympia’s seminal Kill Rock Stars record label, which is where I first heard of them. Interestingly, Unwound were the first non-spoken word act on the Kill Rock Stars label.
At the time, I voraciously consumed several bands from Kill Rock Stars, Up Records, K Records, Up Records and later Barsuk. One of the best and most fondly remembered from those years was Unwound. The Future of What is the fifth studio album by Unwound, and was praised for tunefulness, but derided for lack of consistency. For my money though, New Energy is one of my favorite tracks by the band (more on that later).
The album starts off with “Re-Enact the Crime”, a track which immediately evokes the familiar unwound sound of drums, alternately winding and direct guitar stabs, and lyrics buried in the mix.
Track four, “Discension” is about the cycle several people get into when they go out drinking, get way too drunk, have a miserable time, and do it all over again. With lyrics like “it never occured to you when always looking up that when it gets to you, nausea will resume”. Not exactly direct lyrics, but when coupled with the instrumentation, they create a story of somebody who is looking in on the scene with disgust that people could keep themselves in such a vicious cycle.
“Disappoint” is the first of three consecutive songs extending over the five minute mark. The track itself seems to be about the point in a relationship when the parties realize they are into the idea of the person more than the person themselves. The title of the song references being disappointed in each other, going on to say that “disillusion wouldn’t be the end”, perhaps suggesting that the couple have had this conversation or battle several times before.
Tracks 12 through 14, “Excuse Me”, “…But Pardon…” and “…My French” collectively flow together to make a 13+ minute song. The three tracks are all instrumental and feature identical instrumentation of an organ, a drum beat and a bell of some sort. I have a theory that these tracks act as a palate cleanser in order to prepare the listener for track 15….
Which is “New Energy”, one of the most energetic sounding tracks on the album. The song lends itself more to Unwound’s punk background than the rest of the album would suggest. The vocals are noticibly more upbeat and urgent than we have heard up to this point in the album. While remaining enigmatic, the lyrics themselves repeat the question “’Where’s your energy”, perhaps an affront to other bands from around the region who had started around the grunge explosion and did so to get famous instead of for the love of the craft. The phrasing is odd, though, with so many of the tracks on this album featuring a laid back vocal delivery. While other tracks feature raucous guitar swirls and a couple of those feature shouted vocals, but this track has an urgency that tracks like “Petals Like Bricks” do not.
Unwound continued making music through the 1990s, but ultimately broke up on, of all days, April 1, 2002. This lead several of their fans to take their break up letter for an April Fool’s Day prank. Two of the members went on to form Survival Knife, who are still active, and have recently released music in Isaac Brock’s Glacial Pace record label. Bass player Vern Rumsey went on to perform in Fitz of Depression, Karp and Witchy Poo, all of whom are well respected in the Seattle hardcore scene.