Essential Albums: The Unicorns- Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?

Alternative music usually just receives the label because the songs are aimed at to narrow of an audience for the mainstream radio to play. This isn’t meant as a slight towards the genre, which is basically the only thing I listen to, but the casual listener really just wants something to be immediate and catchy along with a chorus that they know. This is where a lot of the best alternative music emerges, when a band does provide the immediacy of pop/rock cravings but they decide to intentionally fuck it up a bit for their own brand of unique experimentation. This is the best way I can describe what The Unicorns do, and it’s why they’ve become such a wildly popular band for alternative music fans who can appreciate these aspects; the broken voices, the perfectly out of place flute/recorder(?) solo, and the randomness which ultimately morphs it’s way into the songs’ rhythm. These qualities define The Unicorns just as much as the catchy choruses, and Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone is undoubtedly the album that captured the band’s gigantic potential the best.

The Unicorns are only a three piece band, with drums being played by Jamie Thompson and Nicholas Thorburn and Alden Penner trading off vocals on the songs, sometimes literally line for line such as the personas they take in “Child Star” of a not-so-sophisticated argument between a washed up kid actor and a former fan. This mentality towards not really having a lead singer plays into the unconventional style that they work so well within, as each gets chances to change songs drastically when a new verse arrives. Take a look at “Jellybones” for a good example of this, it starts out with a slow build to establish the dancing rhythm, the keyboard’s role in the track, but then this stops as the doctor diagnoses and a distorted guitar takes over the role of being the prominent instrument. This only lasts for about 30 seconds though as everything eventually drops out to set up an acoustic guitar’s chance as the main instrument, with “But this is love, so we’ll survive” getting repeated until a long background sound fades out the track. These drastic changes are so odd for the song because it is, at worst, the second most single-like track on the album despite the drastic changes occurring within the 2:44. Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone forces you to embrace the catchy and clever aspects next to their experimentation, as they make sure that no matter what odd things they insert into the track it remains as melodic and energetic as tracks like semi-official band anthem “I Was Born (A Unicorn)”.

Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone was the final album for the Unicorns because they extensively toured afterwards and eventually grew sick of either each other or the process. It’s an upsetting split, but they did what any band hopes to do in creating an album  that will make them remembered before calling it quits. Nicholas Thorburn was involved with the band Islands once The Unicorns split and is a member of supergroup Mister Heavenly that released former CDB- rotation album Out Of Love in 2011, while Alden Penner and Jamie Thompson have actually reunited with others to form the band Hidden Words.

Track Picks: I Was Born (A Unicorn), Jellybones, Sea Ghost

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