November 21, 2014
Challenge For A Civilised Society
(Kill Rock Stars, 1998)
After the monumental creative success of Repetition the band slowed down. They went a year without releasing a record, partly as they completed their biggest worldwide tour on the back of Repetition but also because there was a desire to break and experiment with sound. The result of the gap was Challenge For A Civilised Society: the band’s most difficult and also their least successful record. Both in terms of production and song-writing, Challenge is a far more abstract record than their previous efforts. The most startling feature of the record is Trosper’s saxophone taking on a major role on ‘Sonata For Loudspeaker’ and ‘Side Effects Of Being Tired’. The album has aged well and makes a lot more sense in the context of the records that surround it, but it remains the hardest of their nuts to crack.
Leaves Turn Inside You
(Kill Rock Stars, 2001)
If the two year gap between Repetition and Challenge seemed long, the build up to what would become Unwound’s final statement seemed mammoth. After completing their largest tour ever and having shown a desire to push their music into the unknown on the spotty, experimental Challenge, they would return home to pursue that path to it’s zenith, producing one of the previous’ decades first masterpieces.
It’s an incredible record, an epic, unnerving, dark, mysterious double album which seemingly dropped out of nowhere. While there were clear signs that Unwound had something as stunning and progressive as this in them, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to hear this and almost mistake them for a different band entirely. The tempo drops, the production crystal clear, Trosper’s vocals recede into a more talking, tuneful sound and they utilise string quartets to bring a whole new, eeire, classical dimension to their sound. It’s almost as if they were daring themselves to write unimaginable music. A highlight is ‘Terminus’, a nine minute post-rock odyssey that opens with marching band precision before descending into a nightmarish, post-apocalyptic, Godspeed aping sound. But the standout is definitely ‘Scarlette’. Built on an off-kilter, terrifying and never quite satisfied guitar-line, the hard-hitting rhythm section of Rumsey and Lund come crashing in and with some wonderfully creepy vocals from Trosper it remains one of the band’s finest songs.
Like with Fugazi, this final endeavour would leave them burnt-out creatively – simply put, there was nothing left for them to say.
Challenge For A Civilised Society and Leaves Turn Inside You will be compiled in Empire (Numero, 2015).
Check out the next page for two final records that are worth a mention.