When it comes to wistful “what could have been?” speculation on the last decade in music, fans of a certain brand of ultra-ramshackle lo-fi pop tend to go dewy eyed over the possibilities of a world in which Montreal trio The Unicorns hadn’t hated each other quite so vehemently. The band managed just one album proper – 2003’s ‘Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?’ – but it was a good ‘un, a bracing collision of winsome melody, delirious harmonies and galloping enthusiasm set to a total disregard for the notion that a pop song might need, y’know, a chorus or whatever.
They were a bit confusing, but hailed by near enough everybody who heard them as brilliant, a giggling pinch on the posterior for an indie scene starting to get a little too obsessed with excessively nonchalant New Yorkers. Sadly twin frontmen Alden Penner and Nick Thorburn were as full of hatred as their music was of joy, and by the time ‘Who Will Cut Our Hair…’ made it over to these shores (at the tail end of 2004) the band had split up.
Thorburn (and long-suffering drummer Jamie Thompson) returned soon enough as Islands, who’ve thus far bashed out three paranoid, rambling albums of disconcertingly hi-fi strangeness; however, it’s only this week that Penner makes it back to these shores with his new, Google-repellent project Clues – who also include a former member of Arcade Fire, Brendan Reed.
Signed to Constellation – the Montreal label best known for grandiose post-rock bands such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Clues’ self-titled debut album is a claustrophobic, often unsettling collection of what is, nonetheless, wonderfully hummable music. Instead of pop’s traditional innocence it just sounds a bit… evil, all ominous brass and Penner genuinely sounding a bit afraid.
Given that Islands tend to write ten minute long songs about things like being hanged (Vertigo) and Clues are wont to coat their tunes in a vatload of dolorous sonic murk and giving them names like Remember Severed Head, it’s fair to conclude that a) The Unicorns were probably the pair’s best shot at stardom and b) despising each other seemed to make the pair write much happier songs.
A shame in a way, but if ‘Who Will Cut Our Hair…’ is still the best record Penner or Thorburn have been involved with, it’s only by a whisker; Freakscene is happy to salute these troubled kings of heroically impractical pop music. And to do so we offer you some treats, courtesy of Clues, who’re offering you two free tracks, ‘Ledmonton’ and ‘Remember Severed Head’, both taken from their self-titled debut. And as a parting shot, enjoy yourself the video to album opener ‘Haarp’.
Clues’ remaining UK dates are:
OCT 21: Edinburgh, The Electric Circus
OCT 22: Dublin, Whelans
OCT 23: Liverpool, Korova
OCT 24: Bristol, Start The Bus
OCT 25: London, Lexington
OCT 26: London, Pure Groove In-Store at 1pm
Just don’t request any Islands songs.