The Unicorns Return
Think back to October 2003. W was in the oval office and Saddam was still in a spider hole. The iPod still had a click wheel and the iPhone was four years away. People were still willing to give the Wachowski Brothers the benefit of the doubt on the third Matrix. Emo was still on the charts and Canadian band The Unicorns with a penchant for wearing pink were trying to make their mark on indie pop with Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?
What happened next is could have been ripped from VH1’s Behind The Music. The Unicorns record blew up in ways no one could have imagined. They were darlings of the indie circuit, won over both mainstream and alternative media, and were hailed as the best band in the world (by Vice Magazine, no less). But then, at the peak of their fame, the internal tensions that once fueled the band creatively, exacerbated by the stresses of relentless world touring for 13 months, tore them apart. As of February 2005, the Unicorns were no more.
And yet, from beyond the grave, their impact continued to be felt. The lack of new full-length albums, combined with the cryptic lyrics and deceptively simple, intentionally raw production of this, their magnum opus, created new fans while intensifying the adoration of existing ones. They had, as P.T. Barnum would have advised, left their audience wanting more. Their reputation grew to mythic proportions, their influence reaching so far as to warrant a mention by Ted Mosby on How I Met Your Mother. Their unflagging fan base kept the memory alive and evangelized the music.
This summer, amid swirling rumors of a new record, it was announced that the Unicorns would be getting back together to open for fellow Montrealers Arcade Fire. It’s only fitting that Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? is being reissued with the addition of four bonus tracks.
For the uninitiated, the Unicorns, like their mythological namesake, exist somewhere in the realm between the dreaming and waking worlds. While reminiscent of the Flaming Lips, their sound is decidedly lo-fi and their tone is conspicuously gentle. While they are a three-piece band at the core, collaborators and their own multi-instrumentalist aspirations help flesh things out. There is an odd dichotomy to this album. While there feels like there is an underlying structure to their work that has been obsessed over and honed, the actual recordings seem to be impulsive and unrefined.
The four bonus tracks fit snugly in with the existing album. Lyrically, “Rocketship” has the wide eyed innocent escapism of an episode of Adventure Time backed with a pulsating electronic organ, video game noises and the occasional acoustic guitar break. “Let Me Sleep” is the standout of the bonus tracks. Think The Mamas & the Papas flavored guitar work layered over a martial drum beat with a dash of tight vocal harmonies thrown in for good measure. “Evacuate the Vacuous” is a self-serious dirge for a relationship gone bad with an uptempo mid-section. The final track, a live version of “Haunted House,” is a musical ghost story prefaced by an extended stage banter intro.
In all, this reissue is great for everyone from the fanatical completionist looking for a fix through and including the fresh faced novice who wants to see what the excitement over Arcade Fire’s opening act is all about.