LOST: The Unicorns – Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? // Islands – Return To The Sea

Two albums that I keep side by side on my usually-alphabetical and chronological CD shelf are The Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? and Islands’ Return To The Sea. They made a pop on the same radio stations paved the way for Broken Social Scene, Feist and Arcade Fire and that like, but then they kinda just… went away. Why? The Unicorns’ sole album was non-stop fun, twisted quirky pop that was never serious. Bent melodies, cheap instruments and toys, happily un-self-consciously weird rock. The Canadian outcast, the underdog hero. Listen to the abrasive, in-the-red synth of “Jellybones” crash into the drums and lift itself into classic rock territory. (Note: not ‘classic rock’.) Same with the recorder solo on “Unicorns Are People Too.” Maybe off-putting to the cool rocker, but if you quit worrying what everyone thinks, it’ll make you grin like a five-year-old on Trix.
After The Unicorns’ break-up, Nick Thorburn was the first to put out new music. Islands’ Return To The Sea sounded like Unicorns post-puberty: more mature, retaining the twisting structures but losing the screeches, squelches and burps that made The Unicorns so… special. It’s like that taking the little kid out of his backyard and showing him the world. “Rough Gem” was the first single off of the album that got some decent airplay on campuses across Canada and became the song that everyone would come out to see. Apparently they don’t even play it anymore. “Where There’s A Will, There’s A Whalebone” gets eerie about halfway through and pulls the rug out, having Busdriver spit rhymes and leaving indie kids wondering what the eff just happened.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that The Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? is an “overlooked” Canadian album. I mean, they’re no Arcade Fire or Broken Social Scene, but there is a solid cult following for this little band from Campbell River, B.C.
Since it’s release in late 2003, the cult of The Unicorns had already been growing at a steady clip. Costumes at shows, great banter, quirky-ass pop songs; the kids couldn’t get enough. Web sites on social networks had songs posted under various names by band members and side groups (All Makes Parts and Collision, Th’ Corn Gangg, Nick Common et al.) set people off on the hunt for everything this group of pervy popsters had recorded. There’s a good double-album’s worth of Unicorns material (at least!) that didn’t make Who Will (and that’s not even mentioning the limited-to-500 debut they released earlier that same year).
Like all things, they came and went. All you can do now is call up your local campus radio station and bring these wicked albums back up for air. (2003, Alien8, www.alien8recordings.com // 2006, Equator, www.equatormusic.ca) Patrick Michalishyn