Unwed Sailor - Heavy Age - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Unwed Sailor - Heavy Age

by Steve Rhodes Rating:6 Release Date:2019-05-03
Unwed Sailor - Heavy Age
Unwed Sailor - Heavy Age

I first stumbled on Oklahoma's Unwed Sailor nearly 20 years ago due to their collaboration with like-minded artists Early Day Miners (the Ninth Ward from The Stateless LP), where patience, introspection, the importance of mood and a touch of sonic atmospherics were the order of the day, with early Mogwai, without the crescendos and bombast, a clear reference. They continued this path over subsequent albums, largely evading the radar of the popular press until going on hibernation, recording-wise, for the past decade.

Returning with their first full-length in 11 years, Heavy Age, lives up to its name in part, as the tracks have progressed and are audibly more substantial and denser, however this is not necessarily a good thing, as the weight of the record too often feels leaden and overwrought, but thankfully there are enough lighter elements to relieve the tension.

Thudding drums, pounding bass, and a basic, two-chord guitar refrain, but just a trace of MBV tone bend in the guitars open up 'Indian Paintbrush'. Very direct, and almost poppy-ish, especially when the guitar treatments become more 'watery' and the occasional wah-wah is used, it touches on newer elements of psychedelia, like an early form of The Verve meeting a generic version of The Oscillation. Flourishes of synths appear part way through to add a bit of extra texture, but sadly this does not prevent the track from feeling uninspired like we've heard this pattern and chord changes thousands of times before. The track struggles to add anything substantial to set it on its own, unique path. Not unpleasant in the slightest, but it seems somewhat unanimated and dated, despite the persistence of the instrumentation.

The bass remains prominent and the guitars remain spectral on 'Moon Coin', with a hint of Goth/The Chameleons undertones to begin with, as the track mixes 80s and early 90s influences. The drums speed up and the song takes a more interesting turn as guitars weave with heavier delay and a light administration of fuzz, but once again the track struggles to make any lasting impact, as the composition feels a bit directionless and unfocused.

Matters don't improve with 'ACAXAO', as though the guitar chimes more, the rhythm section continues to pummel and smothers the track, with little room to breathe. As the synths focus the track in the late 80s, almost touching on the Northside horrors of Baggy, albeit it with better guitar textures, everything seems over-forced, and the output suffers as a result.

The pace slows down on 'Heavy Age', with hints of Loop in the heavily-defined riffs and psychedelia nuances. There is more space between the notes at last and more of a hook to the guitars and direction to the music. Initially, like a sped-up Codeine, awash in fuzz, the guitars become more spectral in the bridge and makes the song far more interesting. Drifting into heavy Shoegaze territory, like a reflective Swervedriver, there are plenty of varying guitar noises with different effects throughout that makes this track less suffocating and despite its name, one of the lighter tracks on the album.

'Jealous Heart' continues the improvement, as the guitar sits within Disintegration-era Cure, This Ascension, Levitation and 'newer' gazers such as Antarctica and Aeriel. Much more melodic, the synths are buried rather than dominate, as the tone takes a nice, moody stance, and builds up excellently, though the track seems to fall over in a flat centre and then disappointingly over-indulges itself in a rather dull finale.

Despite its title, 'Disintegrate' is more structurally sound, with a nice simple, two-chord opening tone and uncomplicated echo-tinged guitars and driving bass and drums, that opens out into a fuzz-drenched centre, accompanied at times by placid rumbling drums, maintaining the melodicism and drive. This is a far more controlled track, feeling like a narrative that takes you on a journey whilst continuing to draw you in.

The bass-heavy 'Ovid' is perhaps the most effective summary of the newer direction Unwed Sailor have taken on this record, with rolling, truncated structures like Rothko and Billy Mahonie, as the guitars and drums threaten to swamp the sound, but hold back just enough for the track to freely flow. Bass and guitars use looped repetition to greater effect, with far more hooks than much of the record, as chiming guitars sail over the top, with the whole effect feeling like a modern-day accelerated Explosions In The Sky.

There is time for reflection on 'Nova' as arpeggio, high-note guitars, more ambient and relaxing than anything on the album, nods to The Twilight Sad and especially The Cocteau Twins' 'Lazy Calm', with just an acoustic guitar and pattered drums permeating into the joyous shrill of the ambiance. The only problem is the track is way too short and fizzles out just as we're about to treated to something magical.

The highlight of the album is 'Indian Ocean', a carefully building track that relies more on space than technical showmanship. As bass and guitars soar with introspection, a hint of keys, a nice upward bass progression, and plaintive guitars lead the way into an effortlessly beautiful bridge that opens up into a kaleidoscopic swirl of guitar noise and direct drumming, that retains purpose throughout the track. Sometimes the simplest things are the best and this track is the pinnacle achievement of this and by far the strongest song Unwed Sailor have written in some time.

Sadly despite all the positives of the centre of the record, the album closer 'When You Want Me There' is a bit of a let down. The early promise in experimental radio interference and expansive drumming is not built upon, and despite the busy drums, the pace remains glacial and plodding. Though there is a feel of a building epic being formed, aligning itself to Unwed Sailor's post-rock pedigree, as the instrumentation tends to get busier and louder in tone and perspective, it never takes that next step the track is crying out for, instead of dragging its heels to a rather insipid conclusion.

It is definitely a welcome return for Unwed Sailor after many years out of the limelight, and Heavy Age is an attempt to progress and move on from their back catalogue of old, it's just such a shame that the band didn't quite focus and refine some of the tracks to allow the record to flow more naturally. Though the album certainly has some great moments, it is rather let down by its inconsistency and a lack of clear direction.

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