Way Back Then: “Repetition” by Unwound

text by digital-media

14 March, 2016

By Spencer VH

[March 14, 2016]

Some bands never really break out of the underground. Sometimes they don’t want to. When you tour the world five or six times over and release over eight albums worth of material in ten years, I doubt there’s much regret in the minds of Unwound. When a band plays in basements and at colleges in favor of larger venues (and institutes an outright refusal to headline eighteen-and-over shows), you know it really has to be about the music. Unwound really was all about the music.


Album artwork used for review purposes only.


Starting from humble beginnings in the fertile Olympia, Washington punk scene, the members began making music together in high school in a short-lived band called Giant Henry. While the material would later be released, Giant Henry’s first songs and subsequently the first material released as Unwound were hand-made and self-released by the band themselves. The weight of their solid debut, mostly written and recorded as teenagers, began their life-long relationship with legendary Olympia record label Kill Rock Stars. Despite not having as much recognition as other Kill Rock Star associated acts like Bikini Kill, The Melvins, Elliot Smith and a band called Nirvana, Unwound is as much if not more a staple of their roster than all others. Releasing six studio albums, two extended plays and a live album together; no other band really embodied the punk spirit of Kill Rock Stars more.

Unwound is a band that, more than most, pushes any and all boundaries of what exactly ‘punk’ might be considered. The band is truly all over the board, sometimes all in the same song. ‘Corpse Pose’, a song released as a single off of ‘Repetition’, features a trademark Vern Rumsey rolling bass line which lets the guitar freely jag out from angularly away from or chug in synchronization with. Unwound always felt like a band so much larger than a three piece (although they sometimes truly did perform as a four or five piece) and that is owed to the tightness between its core musicians and their ideas more than the actual playing itself. Describing the band is almost impossible, as each subsequent release takes them further and further into uncharted waters when it came to the borders of punk, rock, noise rock, experimental and metal.

When it came to planning the recording of ‘Repetition’, the band had plans on how to make it different from past releases and the people in mind to help make it a reality. Legendary producers Steve Fisk and John Goodmanson were enlisted to make Unwound’s ‘most studio’ release, which was their most structured recorded material to date and introduced keyboards to the band’s sound, which would remain a constant through the remainder of the band’s releases and live set-up. Always touted for the masterful bass work of Vern Rumsey, this album in particular has been hailed as some of his best work yet. While the band’s final record,  2001’s record ‘Leaves Turn Inside You’ is, as the band intended, their true masterpiece; fans and critics alike have heaped praise on ‘Repetition’ as the record that most represents the ‘punk’ aspects of the band and the niche career they carved for themselves out of their messy yet somehow concise combination of punk and noise rock.

Prior to the release of ‘Repetition’, the band toured with the likes of Sonic Youth, Fugazi and Polvo and following it’s release continued to join forces with more of the most groundbreaking bands of the time like Deerhoof and Mogwai. The band’s self-imposed DIY ethic when it came to their own touring combined with the lengthy, larger-venue trips with some of the biggest bands of the time led the band to live somewhat of a double life but it never seemed to be a problem. Unwound just wanted to play. It’s member’s still do. Since the dissolution of the group in 2001, they’ve reunited to play a Sonic Youth curated All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival in England and worked on solo projecst and other musical endeavors. Bassist Vern Rumsey formed a band called Flora V. Fauna and still runs the pre-Unwound ‘Punk in my Vitamins’ label and fanzine. Sara Lund plays drums with Sleater Kinney’s Corin Tucker. Justin Trosper and on-again-off-again Unwound member Brandt Sandeno formed a band called Survival Knife in 2011. The band licensed their back catalogue and have seen some substantial box-set releases of past material and unreleased material to a new generation of fans in recent years.

Unwound has a legacy unlike most of the bands of their era and area. They released more than twice as many albums as Nirvana and likely played more shows than the legendary grunge trio. They aren’t likely to have nor want a resurgence like Kill Rock Stars labelmates Sleater-Kinney. They have what they created and what they’ve left behind. An unfiltered, unrestrained and unkempt time capsule of Olympia, Washington punk history.

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