In spite of what our last (and next) episode might lead you to believe, Canada is capable of producing good music. In fact, in the early oughts, fully 98% of all indie rock was imported from the Great White North, in strict defiance of America’s foreign policy at the time. And to prove it, this week we’re taking on one of Montréal’s finest one-album wonders, The Unicorns.
Their death-obsessed first (and only) album, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?, is still an utterly unique artifact in music, filled with songs that combine the sheer hook-tossing ADD of Guided by Voices with the proggier impulses of Fiery Furnaces. Their compositions often completely eschew the verses and choruses that have long been the cornerstones of pop music, instead drifting thematically through different catchy passages until you end up somewhere far away from where you started, confused and dazzled. The partnership of Nick Diamonds (née Nick Thornburn), Alden Ginger (née Alden Penner), and later J’aime Tambeur (née Jamie Thompson) was one of the most unique and mind-blowing in indie music.
Unfortunately, their fatalistic songs and album title proved prescient—the band broke up acrimoniously two years later, beaten down by the rigors of touring and deteriorating interpersonal relationships. They put out one more EP before cracking up, but 2014 was terrible and we all prefer to ignore it. As of 2018, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? remains the sole defining document of this one-of-a-kind musical relationship (we’re going to pretend their first two demos don’t exist either).
But their legacy lives on, and while The Unicorns remain curiously underrated among the other alumni of the Montréal Gold Rush of ’04, those who believe, who truly believe, continue to sing their praises. And on this island, we’re nothing if not believers.
Also: cozy coffins, bad Ian Malcolm impression, and how to literally emasculate the masculine.