As you’ve probably heard, early aughties Montreal indie sensations the Unicorns have reunited for a limited concert run. While a select few are offering live animal sacrifices in tribute to various heathen rock gods for this good fortune, the majority of the hipper-than-thou public is more likely at a loss for words. The response instead is probably closer to, “Wait… who the fuck are the Unicorns and why are they touring with Arcade Fire?”
Worry not if you fall securely in the latter camp. We know you know the Arcade Fire didn’t invent the genre, but just so we’re all on the same page please accept this little primer on the Unicorns for the coincidental re-release of the seminal, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?
Way back in the dim past of the first millennial years, rock music was really, really bad. There were two radio options. First was Modern Rock which was basically a shitty mash up of the worst elements of rock music combined with the worst elements of hip-hop (Lincoln Park, Limp Bizkit, Godsmack, amongst many other notable disasters). The other option was the dead horse Alternative Rock which was musical cold cut leftovers from the previous decade (Pearl Jam, the Foo Fighters, the Black Crowes, etc., tired, old dudes still clinging to any vestige of relevance the genre once held). So if you were into guitars and Satan you were basically between a rock and a hard place. Remember, this was before the internet was ubiquitous, albums cost around $20 a pop for like three good songs and then you had to go to a physical store and search through the stacks.
Some people were lucky enough to live in musically advanced societies around major cities. Still others were blessed with college radio stations that made up for limited wattage by playing the most up-to-the-minute underground rock that was a direct antithesis to whatever Clear Channel was pissing down most of America’s throat. If either applied to you back in ought four, you might have heard the really odd but massively ahead of its time single, “I Was Born a Unicorn,” off the equally bizarre album, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? by the Montreal based Unicorns.
Little played immediately upon release, Who Will Cut Our Hair… went on to receive rave reviews from every outlet that mattered* and what began as a North American tour went on to become global. Thirteen months of sold out world wide touring was required to back up just under 30 minutes of music. It’s not hard to tell why; even after all these years with the innovations and experimentation that came with the genre, Who Will Cut Our Hair… remains a powerhouse indie record.
In fact, it sounds fresher than ever. Combining the punk esthetic of sub-three minute tracks with song topics that fall well outside the norm of conventional oeuvres, the Unicorns have aged like a fine box of wine. Primarily melody based, Who Will Cut Our Hair doesn’t make the popular mistake of being different for difference’s sake. Displaying video game soundtrack keyboard rhythms and the double lead vocals of Neil Diamonds and Alden Ginger, the Unicorns were/are a band apart. Ya like easy listening love song duets? Diamonds and Ginger did that, only replace love with hate. No seriously, on “Child Star,” they trade their disgust for each other in a lovely, crooning manner that perfectly balances humor against serious infliction.
The Unicorns were never a rocking rock band. While they prefer simple, garage melodies their songs’ subjects remain pretty dark. Tracks like “I Don’t Wanna Die,” “Ready to Die,” and the early album “Ghost” trilogy make you just wanna dance. Imagine the music middle child Gene of the terrific animated comedy series Bob’s Burgers would make if he were in an early twenties downer college garage rock band and you have the essence of what the Unicorn’s Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?
Of course 13 months of touring would take its toll on any group and the spectacular first album by the Unicorns would double as their last. How incredibly appropriate. With everything that happened in the proceeding years, the rise of the indie genre, the death of the traditional big business record labels, the near instantaneous access to the glut of music being released, the Unicorns became a fond memory.
But instead of remaining just another, “Oh yeah remember good old days?” group, earlier in the year it was announced the Unicorns would be reuniting. Like the Pixies before them, this news was a big deal to a lot of people. The group subsequently announced a select number of dates with contemporaries Arcade Fire and later in the month will re-release the re-mastered Who Will Cut Our Hair… with a four track bonus of previously unreleased songs.
*Fun Fact: Surviving the Golden Age didn’t exist at this point. It would take another year before Imperialist Founder Adam Maxmillian Tercyak-Morgan (AdMax T-Mo) kicked this whole party off in 2005. We simply weren’t there to cover the Unicorn’s release, unlike every important album in the decade since, but if we had you know we would’ve been the first to turn you on to ’em. Why weren’t we around for it? Well, some speculate it’s because the Golden Age was just beginning. Did the Unicorns initiate it? No one knows, but the timing feels right.