Unwound: a beginner’s guide to the ’90s noise-rock legends
Unwound band (1)

As we continue to take a look at cult bands who deserve more attention, today it’s the turn of post-hardcore legends Unwound.

An acquired taste sure, but they went on to define noise-rock in the 90s and still serve as a strong force today.

Their seminal sixth album Repetition turns 20 this weekend, so it’s as good a time as any to introduce you to their charms.

Who are they?

Unwound band (1)

Unwound were a post-hardcore band based in Olympia, Washington over in the US.

They formed in 1991, and consisted of lead-songwriter Justin Trosper on vocals and guitar, Vern Rumsey on bass and Brandt Sandeno on drums (although Sandeno left the band a year later to be replaced by Sara Lund). They were known for their fiercely dissonant sound, which was often achieved through unusual guitar tones.

Unwound were strongly associated with the post-hardcore scene of the time, as well as the noise rock scene, and toured frequently, playing ‘all ages’ shows wherever they could and carrying with them a strong DIY ethic.

Their first release came in the form of a 1991 demo tape, and shortly after they recorded a mini-album (although that wasn’t released until 1995).

The band were considered one of the flagship bands of the cult label Kill Rock Stars alongside Sleater-Kinney during the 90s, and their large support for gender equality in music made them many fans in the world of riot grrl too..

Best Album?

Leaves Turn Inside You

Unwound Leaves Turn Inside You album artwork

Surprisingly for a band of this ilk, it’s their latter stuff that is considered their best.

2001’s Leaves Turn Inside You was the eighth and final studio album from the band before their dissolution a year later. It was recorded in 2000 by the band members themselves at their newly built studio, MagRecOne.

Trosper at the time explained:

“Every record, we tried to raise the bar to some degree by asking, ‘What can we do to make this better?’ Usually that was just increasing the amount of time we spent in the studio. So the idea with the last record is that we would build a studio to record ourselves and break out of the pattern we’d established, and we’d have as much time to do it as we wanted — for better or worse.”

This striving for musical development was evidenced across the record, with tracks like ‘Below the Salt’ featuring everything from gentle piano to near whispered vocals, a far cry from their post-hardcore beginnings. Nods to their early days were still there though, on tracks like ‘Scarlette’ – a veritable hardcore punk song.

The album was released as a double LP and double CD, with the discs being labelled 2 and 3, implying that Challenge for a Civilized Society (their previous album) is the first of a three disc set.

Three Defining Tracks

‘Corpse Pose’

This standout track from 1996’s Repetition (possibly their second finest album) manages to wrap up everything that is great about the band in one three-minute song; with atonal chords jarring and colliding against each other, and haunting post-hardcore.

‘Look a Ghost’

Leaves Turn Inside You‘s highlight still carries with it an awkward, atonal lilt, but less aggressive instrumentation and delicate plucking make it a pleasure to listen to.

‘Dragnalus’

Another slice of classic Unwound from 1993 (sort of) debut, Fake Train.

How did it end?

The band broke up on April 1 2002, and the fact that they called it quits on April Fool’s Day led some fans to believe it was all a joke, especially since a band T-shirt from earlier in their career bared the inscription “Unwound 1991–2091”.

There has been no hint of any reformations since, although in 2013 the band licensed their back catalog to The Numero Group for a series of Record Store Day box sets.

Who did they influence?

In the wake of the band’s split the music world practically grieved, with many a eulogy going public. Troubleman Unlimited’s Mike Simonetti said:

“Unwound were (and still are) beautiful people. Unwound was one of the most influential and vital bands of the ’90s, and their last record was a masterpiece. You just don’t know it yet. Unwound’s influence will live on for a long time to come, and they were everything a band should be: independent and non-compromising in every aspect.”

They influenced just about every post-hardcore/noise rock guitar band in the coming years, everyone from Kagoule (who often cite the group as a favourite band) to Future of the Left.

Unwound: A Beginner’s Playlist

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