Unlearn – Places


Unlearn - Places

Its hard to believe that this Seattle post-rock/instrumental quintet’s album Places is its debut. I’ve reviewed dozens of instrumental acts on this website, but this one is different. Places doesn’t feel like a debut, and it almost does not feel like a post-rock or all instrumental record as most of the instrumental melodies have a lyrical and melancholy quality to them. What Unlearn manages to do here is create epic sound-scapes most young bands only grow to accomplish in later records.

Seing as these guys are from Seattle, Washington, it’s appropriate that they open their album with what sounds like rushing water and wind. The digital noise kicks in and you almost know just what you’re getting yourself into with “Lost and Found”. The melodies do evoke Mogwai quite a bit, sure, but this short and sweet introductory song has a life of its own. “L’inondation” opens with gorgeous and light bell tones that continue to tug at your heart strings, with industrial beats in the background that almost undercut the sweet tone, but don’t quite break the heartfelt lines. The song eventually swells and all instruments come in with drums and muddy bass. “L’inondation” is an example of a band mixing noise with melody and it being instantly lovable. The guitars are deceptively unitelligable, but their seemlessness makes it hard to discern when the digital ends and the guitars begin. This is a brilliant song that shows what these guys were capable of early on, as if the opening track wasn’t good enough.

“Still Life With Actress” belongs in a movie. The normal digital notes flow throughout and an acoustic guitar carries the melodies. The back bone is really the digital stuff though, and the combination works perfectly as the song starts off slow and crescendos and adds another perfect acoustic guitar line. “Ellenwood Drive” is a haunting experiment in eerie noise and beautiful tones, and “Emerald City” continues the cinematic scope Unlearn builds on throughout the album. It’s not hard to hear the Radiohead influences here. With moving clean guitar lines and a post-rock style digital approach, it’s hard not to think of Thom Yorke and company, especially when the bass of the song really hits.

On “Ocean of/Oceans” the group really shows its appreciation for Brian Eno with swelling ambience throughout, but the addition of more subtle instrumentation really makes this song unique. It’s a gorgeous piece of work that is as hopeful as it is haunting. Admittedly, “At Home” is the only weak link because it doesn’t attempt anything that wasn’t already done on “Emerald City”, but that’s not saying much because it’s still a solid track with a heavy emotional pull in the middle of the song. “Whiteout” really threw me for a loop with its old school video game/NES-like melody, but it fit so well with the tone of the rest of the songs that it didn’t come off as cheesy or forced. These guys know how to manipulate sounds and use them to their utmost potential. In fact, this song is their most ambitious as they play with really heavy and expansive sounds. It truly sounds like the climax to an emotional period epic.

Now, the closer of the album is really something else. “Northern Hemispheres” is the song that is closest to what the traditional post-rock/instrumental song is, as pioneered by Mogwai and carried through with Explosions in the Sky. In fact, it will sound like there are melodies in this song that are lifted right from both bands’ catalogs. All of this doesn’t matter though, because “Northern Hemispheres”┬áis one of the most perfect songs on an already near flawless album. It opens slow and ends epically with a sweep of all instruments. Here, Unlearn is stripped to their most core elements: beauty, melancholy, energy and unwavering ambition.

I’ve compared these guys to a lot of other bands that cover similar ground, but Unlearn manages to take all of its influences, take all of the best elements and make something that is truly special. The band’s name was a good choice, and so was the title of this album. “Unlearn” everything about post-rock/instrumental/ambient/experimental music, cause this album will really take you to “places” you never expected to go. You’ll be glad you took this journey with them.