Van’s Sometimes Weekly Albums: “Leaves Turn Inside You” by Unwound

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Van Klesper, Staff Writer

Picture this: It’s 2001, and you’re wandering through your local music store, looking for a new album, when you come across an album with just the word “unwnd” on the cover. Looking at the spine, you see that the name of the band the word is an amalgamation of is Unwound, and the album is called “Leaves Turn Inside You”. Your curiosity somewhat peaked, so you buy the album and insert the first disc into your CD player at home, at which point, you’re treated to a blast of synth drone that goes on for 2 minutes, leaving you wondering “when’s the song gonna start”. At that point, the main guitar line comes in, a clean, gently strummed melancholic riff that fades out after a minute, only to come back in at full blast, coming over you like a tidal wave. It’s at this point that the vocal melody comes in, the entire band harmonizing emotional lyrics detailing something talking to someone about “saving grace”, how “nothing will be the same, and that “I’m inventing you”. Fittingly, the track is titled “We Invent You”, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Now discarding the pretentious opening paragraph in favor of actually reviewing the album, Unwound was a post-hardcore band formed in 1991 and died in 2091. They actually broke up in 2002, but “unwound 1991-2091” was something of a catchphrase for them when they were around. Why they did that I don’t know, but declaring that your band will exist for 100 years, jokingly or not, is awesome and I like it. How they went about post-hardcore music differs from album to album. I wouldn’t exactly call myself an expert on the band, especially since at the moment I’ve only heard four of their albums, but I shall try my best. Very early works like the self-titled album went for the very punk philosophy of being loud for the sake of being loud, but by their first album released on a record label “Fake Train”, they instead went for focusing on progressive song structures, creating noise with feedback and dissonance instead of going “play music loud”. By 1996’s “Repetition”, they added in more experimentalism such as synths and a larger focus on song structure, and come this album, and they were a far more mature group than the one they were at the start, with the noise still being there but taking a backseat in favor of post-rock influences and elaborate, layered instrumentation. “Leaves Turn Inside You” is also their last before breaking up, and honestly, despite being nothing like what they made before, it’s both their best album and the perfect sendoff for the band.

I wouldn’t call “Leaves Turn Inside You” “mellow” per se, but it is more melodic than previous albums. Actually, “melodic” might not be that accurate either because the band isn’t too afraid to play dissonant for long stretches, but the album as a whole is still more accessible to someone just getting into Unwound for the first time. As a warning, I’m not covering every song on the album, partially because I can’t really analyze an album with more than 8 songs on a song-by-song basis, so for my sanity, I’m going to just cover the highlights. It’s also because I want some people to go into some songs not knowing what to expect rather than know exactly what it contains because I just analyzed the thing. Actually reviewing the songs now. I’ll skip “We Invent You” because I already described it in the opener and don’t know what else to say except “good song, please listen”. The second track, “Look a Ghost”, is easily the most accessible on the album, and the catchiest too. The riff and structure are simpler than the rest of the album (By indie rock standards, anyways). The lyrics are more straight-forward compared to the previous one; Instead of a vague series of words that may or may not be a message from god, “Look a Ghost” talks about some kind of female specter haunting the subject of the song, with the brilliant chorus only repeating “She never had a chance / She never had a chance / So now she’s coming back for you”, implying that the “you” here had some sort of involvement with her death. Good song, it’s at the top of their Spotify page for a reason.

The fourth track, “Treachery”, starts off with a bit of synths reminiscent of the intro to “We Invent You”, but sped up. Afterwards, the main song launches into a series of layered riffs that sound a bit like Radiohead’s “In Limbo”. The chorus strips things back in favour of loud drums and the song’s title being repeated with a stutter on the first letter, sort of like David Bowie’s “Changes”. The verses tell some kind of a short story of some guy named Richard. At the end, an hypnotically catchy outro repeats “The trouble with the truth is double”, with a very enigmatic “you” added on at the end. Then comes “Terminus”, which is easily the highlight of the first disc. At 9 minutes long, Unwound know how to make every second count. The first part, and the only one with lyrics, is kind of stomp-y, with the most memorable lines being a chant of various phrases such as “Kill me I’m not dead”, “Will me I’m not dead”, and so on and so forth. After that it transitions into a catchy riff that somehow builds up and never changes at all, while always needing to release its pent-up energy in the form of bursts of guitar noise that wouldn’t sound too out of place in a Black Metal song if not for the high recording quality. Stripping away all instrumentation except for the strings lead into the calm final 3 minutes, a neat little indie jam that perfectly leads into the next song. I probably did a bad job describing the song, but that was kind of on purpose because I want people to experience this song for themselves. It might even be my favorite song on the record. The follow-up song, “Demons Sing Love Songs”, is a perfect way to follow “Terminus” since after the multi-structured glory of that song, you get something far more calm and straightforward to help chill out afterwards.

Disc 2 opens up with “One Lick Less” and its barrage of blaring drums for the first few seconds before abruptly stopping before gently strummed guitar (electric and acoustic) and strings come in. Justin Trosper starts singing quotes from “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner is a heavenly voice as the song slowing swells up for the course of its 5 minute runtime. I think this is the perfect way to open up the second disc as it almost feels like a second introduction? I don’t know how else to describe it, but as an opener to the second disc I think it does a pretty good job. Sadly, I can’t talk about as many songs on disc 2 as I did with disc 1 as, while it’s not bad, and you might even find your favorite here, I feel like the more calm route this disc decides to take doesn’t grab me as much as disc 1 did.

“Radio Gra” starts off with a recording of some program on the radio, before quickly becoming a dark piece with blaring mellotron and a melancholic melody. The best comparison I can make here is a storm. The song is like driving home while a big storm is going on, and you hope that the lightning doesn’t hit you. Yet despite the storm’s danger, you can’t help but be in awe of its beauty. That’s kind of what this song is like. “Below the Salt” is 10 minutes long, but unlike the other epic on the album, doesn’t have any elaborate sections, instead being a build-up and climax that wouldn’t be too out of place in a Godspeed You! Black Emperor song. I could describe the lyrics, but that would just be me quoting the whole thing since I really don’t know how to describe, outside of the obvious terms such as “climactic” and “final”. And really, I could use those words for the whole song. Even though, like the rest of the album, this is nothing like the rest of Unwound’s repertoire, I feel like this song is the band’s perfect send off. “Who Cares” feels more like an outro than anything, but caps things off with a repeat of the “We Invent You” riff before, rather humorously, ending with an upbeat jazz piece and the backmasked message “Thanks for nothing”.

“Leaves Turn Inside You”, as I said before, was Unwound’s final album before they broke up. And even though the album marked a drastic shift in the band’s sound, I think it made sense to end on this for some reason. I’m worried that using the word “final” would be misinterpreting this, but I personally think it fits the air the album has. Please listen to this album yourself, I don’t even think I scratched the surface of what it has to offer. I don’t want to give this rating out like candy, and this may not be my favorite album of all time, but I can’t think of any other rating to give this album except a 10/10.

Rest in Peace Bassist Vern Rumsey. You will be dearly missed.