I feel very ill equipped to write this article. I feel like Steve and Elliot are both bigger fans of this album then me, and would probably have some more insightful things to say…and yet here is my synopsis.
Early on in high school I used to think of myself as pretty music savvy. I don’t even know why, but I thought that. Anyway, I got this album and a few other really good indie staples (Neutral Milk Hotel in particular I remember) on one of those really cheap 512mb hard drives. This was probably my first real introduction to late 90’s early 00’s indie, and I think I gave most of those albums one listen before getting rid of most of them. It could have just been I wasn’t ready or whatever, but I always think of it as not keeping an open mind.
Years later I’ve tried to show people this album, (in particular “I was Born (A Unicorn)” the standout track on the album and one of my favorite tracks of all time) and I almost always get blank stairs and shrugs. Each time that kills me because all I can think is how that’s totally what I did, and if you don’t give this stuff a fair shot you might miss out. Obviously some people might not like it, but there is no doubt in my mind that there are a ton more who would if they gave it a second chance.
The Unicorns and the people who enjoyed them always seemed to me like a special club, but instead of locked door with signs that say “cool kids only” the door is wide open. If you’re part of the club then you’re already here if not then you’re not. There’s no need for a door. It is music that really invites listeners to just enjoy themselves, and if you don’t then whatever.
The Unicorns were a short-lived Canadian indie pop act formed in the year 2000. They consisted of Nicholas Thorburn (Islands, Mister Heavenly), Alden Penner (Hidden Words, Clue), and Jamie Thompson (Hidden Words, Islands). These guys put out 3 studio albums but the first 2 were essentially demo albums making this their only proper album. It’s always crazy thinking back that these guys, who were about 22 at the time, knew exactly what they were doing/not doing.
The attitude of these tracks is great because it captures what every yuppie 20 something wanted. These songs are brilliantly crafted, and are able to walk the line between distant and hooky. They also couldn’t have picked a better time. In 2003 they certainly weren’t the first indie pop band, but it was just starting to be really trendy. It required just the right amount of musical maturity, manipulation of simplicity, and desire for something genuinely new that these guys had in droves.
The most noteworthy thing about this album, and what sets it apart from essentially everything else that comes near it is how these pop songs can have both catchy jangly hooks while throwing conventional song structure out the window. A lot of these songs don’t have a chorus (much more a verse/chorus/verse structure) or an A-B-A rhythm scheme. Basically these are songs without skeletons. This allows them to bend and twist in ways that other similar tracks couldn’t dream of doing.
I think there’s something to be said about them only putting out one album. The fact that these guys called it quits a few months after their reputation was catching up with them they were gone. I think since these guys were so ahead of the curve it wasn’t meant to be that anything caught up with them. The album begins with the song “I don’t wanna die” and ends with “Ready to Die.” They had done all they needed to do. They were in the history books, and now it was up for future teenage yuppies to discover them, and choose to keep them on their Ipod or not.
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