It isn’t difficult to write a pop song. It’s really not. The reason mash-up artists such as Girl Talk have a genre is because modern pop’s gotten lazy. It’s hard not to mash songs together when the similarities are so apparent. This was not the case for The Unicorns in 2003 on their Alien8 debut album “Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?”
What the Unicorns did here is something remarkable, this record goes beyond what we expect of indie pop.
A listen through and you’ll see its optimistic charm; you’ll fall in love with the sweet-as-nectar harmonies of Nicholas Thorburn and Alden Penner, and then you’ll figure out that almost everything written on this record is about death. How about that? Wonderfully happy pop songs about death? The Unicorns open their album with “I Don’t Wanna Die” and close it with “Ready To Die.” Care to guess what they’re about? While the Unicorns become ready to die, they deliver 13 brilliant examples of what pop can be.
One aspect of this record that deserves recognition is its keen sense of humor. “Jellybones,” for example, starts with The Unicorns playing around with their synthesizer toys incoherently for 30 seconds, and leads into a frightfully catchy synth beat that absolutely defies you not to dance along. While you’re jumping around in your bedroom, you might catch what Nicholas Thorburn is saying. See, Nick’s lost his kneecaps, so he can’t dance along with you. He’s got a, “full-blown case of what is known as Jellybones.”
It’s hard to become acquainted with WWCOHWWG. Even after listening three or four times through, you may not be able to sing along, which points out the feat the Unicorns have accomplished here. They’ve gone and removed the verse-chorus-verse from pop. Each song flows perfectly from segment to segment without repeating itself, which makes for an endlessly refreshing listening experience.
“I Was Born (A Unicorn)” is easily the most accessible song on the record. The four-count on the snare and 60′s surf rock guitar tone tell us that The Unicorns are ready to party, but the problem is that someone forgot about unicorns, and now they’ve been left off Noah’s Ark. During the chorus the Unicorns argue with each other, “You say I’m doing it wrong/you are doing it wrong!” which shows us why Noah forgot about them. Who’d want to put up with bickering unicorns during a flood?
“Les Os”, the album’s climax, shows us the Unicorns’ capacity for more worldly topics. At this point in the album, if you haven’t realized the brilliance of these three Unicorns, this will push you over the edge. They ponder, “Is this love of ours a lie/ is it chemically derived to ascertain/ and sequester the pain/ is this love of ours a lie,” just before they deliver a cathartic shout that conveys all the emotion you could ever ask for.
This sort of thing is rare, people, so let’s recap real quick. Formless, sugary-sweet, death themed pop music. And it’s good. The Unicorns are ready to die, and it’s one hell of a lot of fun hearing about it.
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