There’s something eerie and unsettling about the cover of Leaves Turn Inside You. There isn’t really much to it: a dark grey canvas scored with the band’s name in a black medieval font. It’s unassuming but demanding in all the right ways, immediately impressionistic. I first met Leaves when I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of the recent Empire reissue which is where we’ve spent most of our time together, both growing and learning from one another. And grow it did. From initial confusion and dissatisfaction on my end, individual songs began to enthral and imprint themselves upon me until eventually there was no denying that what I was listening to was exceptional. While far more inaccessible than some of the other releases in Unwound’s fantastic discography, Leaves is the best testament to their musical evolution and stands as a monolithic statement of post-hardcore.
Unwound experiment and work with a lot of different sounds and ideas on the record, painting a vast landscape that always feels very centred and cohesive. The album starts off strongly, after a prolonged introduction in the form of 2 minutes of noise feedback, by launching into the double header of Look a Ghost and December. Look a Ghost works with a very fun, almost cheeky guitar groove that doesn’t find comfort in steadiness, instead, consistently varying to practically command focus from the listener. The chorus is simple, “She never had a chance, so now she’s coming back for you,” and like most of the prevalent hooks on the record, the simplicity organically pushes it to become highly captivating. December begins with a thunderous, intoxicating bass line that thickens with the addition of the rhythmic drumming and sharp guitar chords before culminating in a cut-throat, energetic chorus. The song becomes something else entirely during the middle passage when the band shift their energy and take time to breathe before diving back into the hook at the end.
Terminus makes it clear from the get-go that you’re in for a wild ride, the bass lines adopting an aura of dominance as they quickly become entrancing. Dissociative lyrics begin calling out, ‘Fake me I’m not fucked!’ feeling like they should be shouted, yet remaining ever calm and subdued under Trosper’s vocal delivery. The unexpectedness of the second movement, when the song kicks into full orchestral gear, evokes memories of the violins on the Paysage D’hiver track Welt Aus Eis: eerily beautiful. The transitions between the three segments are also incredible, simultaneously abrupt and a full shift of tone and somehow effortlessly seamlessness. Even the titles of the tracks on the LP have clear intent. With We Invent You and Who Cares bookending the album, it makes it pretty clear: Unwound aren’t here for your pleasure, nothing on this album is made for anyone but themselves. The use of months in song titles is no mistake either, choosing October and December, 2 periods with which the movement between sees a bleak Washington climate turn freezing and the leaves on trees disappear entirely. Mirroring the crawl into winter, the album also plays host to a descent into nonchalance with hints of bitterness as it ticks by, slowly, with purpose.
The second of the two centrepieces, Below the Salt, tackles the bleak atmosphere created by earlier songs head on. What begins as an interplay between a ghostly piano and a heavy rhythm section, featuring a cold, dancing drum and bass, further deepens when the guitar properly enters the mix at the 3:50 mark, revealing the true emotional intensity of the song. It’s here that the band sounds most cohesive as they patiently play together in a gradual crescendo, adding each note to a cautious build up. Inevitably this culminates in passionate, cathartic noise fronted with Trosper’s cryptic murmurs that you can just make out beneath the dense sound. Burnt out, the band takes the final minute or so to unwind if you will, exhaustion seeping out of their instruments. The relentless onslaught wraps up, it’s a final exhale after holding in a scream.
For a three-piece band, Unwound were always far more than the sum of their parts, truly bringing out the best in each other musically. Unable to break through the 90’s underground scene into the limelight, they played with passion and dedication, allowing them to attain cult status, rather than to fade into obscurity. The cryptic lyrics of Leaves Turn Inside You act as a self-meditation and comprehension of a myriad of personal dilemmas, it was almost as if this complex double LP was destined to be their last from the get-go. For an album that often feels cold, drained and emotionless at the surface, it sure as hell evokes a lot of emotion from me, scratching deep within to express buried feelings of passion and rage. The creation of meaning through restraint,
or something like that …