Monday, June 16, 2008

Unicycle Loves You; Unicycle Loves You (2008)

Proud Chicago sextet Unicycle Loves You are a portmanteau of sorts, on both fundamentally stylistic and complex musical levels. Here is my deconstructionist theory: in name alone, Unicycle Loves You seems to be an amalgamation of The Unicorns (whom the band sound like), to a lesser extent Bikeride (whom the band sound like), and to an even greater extent Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (whom the band sound like). In sound, as you may have noticed parenthetically, the band has imitated over a dozen different musicians.

When I first heard the band, I was in the audience at Union Hall this past Friday. I couldn’t describe what I liked about them, but I knew that I liked it. I also like promoting indie bands directly. It seemed only fate that I should purchase their album, for a reasonable ten-spot, while attending their show.

It is Monday afternoon, and I am home listening to Unicycle Loves You’s self-titled album, no longer drinking and drunk. I still like what I am hearing, but rather than sit passively tapping my toe, I feel the need to further dissect their sound. What I initially appreciated about the band was the sense that every song sounded different than the last. “Great Bargains for Seniors,” the first track off of the album, could have easily been a b-side off of The New Pornographers’s 2000 release Mass Romantic. Just as surreptitiously, vocalist Jim Carroll then adopts a sultry tone, almost like Jarvis Cocker doing an impression of David Bowie. The song shifts once more, with an unexpected a capella verse, much like The Futureheads popularized with their self-titled album in 2004.

Track two, “Kiki Bridges,” is a fast, guitar-heavy, Broken Social Scene-esque song. In other words, the lyrics can be as meaningless as possible as long as the beat is good; in which case, I might be obliged to compare them to the Canadian rock band Stars instead. Carroll modifies his vocals to sound like an early nineties indie rock band, most recognizably Dinosaur Jr, with bassist Nicole Vitale on backing vocals. “$ + C” is an altogether forgettable track that does nothing to harm nor improve the album, and requires no further commentary.

“Highway Robbery” is perhaps the most infectious track on the album, starting with a drum solo and culminating into a guitar riff that sounds exactly like the opening to Chad VaGaalen’s “Clinically Dead,” which was originally released in 2004, then re-released in 2005 by Subpop. The chord progression is changed just slightly, sort of like when Sublime released “What I Got,” and everyone who had a general knowledge of music knew the song was basically their own bastardized version of “Lady Madonna.” Only this strikes me as a much more egregious offense, pilfering the riffs of a relatively unknown artist, VanGaalen, instead of paying homage to one of the most famous bands in history. Furthermore, the song ends anticlimactically, as if the songwriter had absolutely no idea what should come next.

“Yum Pla Muk” demonstrates another instance where Carroll alters his vocals, in this case, to sound like Britt Daniel of Spoon. Likewise, most of the song is instrumental, relying heavily on intricate bass lines. “Under 18” is another upbeat pop song in the likes of The New Pornographers. The song is at its most unbearable when Carroll and Vitale exchange spoken words, alternatingly between the chorus: “Feels like 150 degrees / All your friends say I’m OK, whatever that means / I ain’t gonna do nothing to solve it / I still remembered not to look at them girls if they’re under 18.” I understand that insightful lyrics are not a requisite component in music appreciation, but I wonder sometimes why certain bands give us their lyrics in the liner notes when they obviously took little care in crafting the words to accurately convey their message or concept. “Woman Bait for Manfish” is a great song in which guest musician Alan Scalpone provides a delightful trumpet solo, a song made great, perhaps, in its sparse lyrics. “We Got Animals,” again, features Vitale sounding a lot like Amy Millan of Broken Social Scene. Finally, “Dangerous Decade” truly offends the listener, insulting his intelligence with a scratchy, atypical beat, reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand’s first album in 2004. Really? Did they think I wouldn’t notice?

I have come to this very realization: Unicycle Loves You has not made a concept album, like many of their beloved predecessors. They have merely collected a range of sounds, from the likes of whom are very talented and user-friendly, and, in turn, released an album which misleads the listener to believe that they themselves have created something original.

This is not to say that Unicycle Loves You are a complete waste of time. I believe, given their raw abilities as musicians, they may someday be able to hone their skills and produce an album of substance. Their debut ten-track (one dollar per song?), self-titled LP Unicycle Loves You, however, is not that.


Karen said...

So, what you're saying is, you love them? you hate them? i'm confused.

Sally said...

I would use neither verb... but my overall opinion is more negative than positive. Basically, I think the band are mediocre and palatable, at the risk of originality.

Karen said...

Meh. I'm not convinced and I would tend to disagree. I like 'em! I think the recent review on is more in line with what I think of them. Let's give credit where it's due here. There's some veritable crap music out there these days and Im bored to death with most of it. Honestly, I can barely get my toes to tap anymore. This band makes me move and that makes me happy. Then again, I'm just one woman with one opinion with no blog to call my own. ULY are entirely worth checking out for those who seek something pleasing to the ear and free of all of those age old hipster pretenses. Some of us do like to do more than nod our heads and cross our arms at shows that we slap down 10 or 15 bucks to see. Unicycle Loves You delivers it live and on tape. Also...

Two things worth noting for facts sake:

-Britt Daniel. No S.
-Alan ScalpoNe (that's an N, m'dear) of The Bitter Tears does indeed provide a delightful trumpet solo and is worthy of whatever praise you can muster up of his brass stylings.

Sally said...

They are catchy, but I don't accept the argument that mediocrity is better than shit. Thanks for the typographical error corrections!