Unwound's Leaves Turn Inside You: An Appreciation
The turn of the century marked a creative, albeit not commercial, renaissance for indie-rock, a time when well-cemented bands as unlikely as Wilco, The Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse and Fugazi all churned out bold, expansive albums that skirted safety zones and, years later, stand as each band's best. Of all the ambitious studio masterpieces that surfaced between 1999 to 2001, however, none was as unexpected as Leaves Turn Inside You, the final album from Unwound. The Washington trio spent the better part of the '90s shouting out rabid, apothic post-hardcore, amassing a discography of great punk records, but for their swan song they retreated to the studio for three years, laboring over a measured, two-disc mind-fuck that eclipses even Radiohead's OK Computer. With fall in full force, now is as good a time as any for my semi-annual endorsement of this too often overlooked gem.
A baleful album rife with demons, ghosts and lost time, Leaves weeds out ambivalent listeners right off the bat with the two minutes of unwavering drone that introduces the album opener "We Invent You." Those who stick with it, though, are rewarded once the song breaks, unleashing its oversized symphony of sighing, overlapping vocals; hazy, hypnotic guitar and glorious Mellotron. Most of these 14 songs are this orchestrated. They build to grand crescendos, break down into distinct movements and bind themselves with reoccurring motifs.
The album is a masterpiece of not only composition, but also tone and texture, exuding autumnal ambiance. The cyclical electronic groove of "October All Over," for instance, evokes the skittering of wind-swept leaves. Like so much of Leaves Turn Inside You, that song is bittersweet in the same way fall is: The surroundings are gorgeous, but the beauty is short-lived. The turning leaves forebode the barrenness of winter.