It’s intriguing to think that Unalaska have made a leap from the fantastical to the real. The band itself, formed by Zach Gray (existing frontman of Vancouver’s edgy pop provocateurs, The Zolas) and Brasstronaut’s Edo Van Breemen, first formed as a fictional gig meant to set the scene in local indie vampire-horror experiment Afflicted. Before you could say “I vant to suck your blood,” the on-set audience was hungry for more of the duo’s hastily assembled tunes. What’s a pair of creative individuals to do, if not take on the challenge?
Fast-forward a bit, and Unalaska have graced us with an actual, factual version of their music in this, their debut EP, recently released on Light Organ Records. Unalaska is a moody, tonally diverse but thematically close-knit packet of songs, driven by the pseudo-ambient interplay between washy, pulsing synth lines, spare drum sequencing and percussive, pointed guitar work. Gray and Van Breemen’s vocals mesh together in whorls of distorted, delayed whispers that bely a considerable commitment to lyrical depth: it’s not outright synth-punk dance music, not Tycho-style minimalist downtempo, not quite anthemic enough to be post-rock, but rather something couched carefully in between.
The album’s dreamlike, thrumming blanket of textures reaches peak fuzziness and warmth on “Salaryworld,” which builds what feel like disarmingly simple elements (including a core synth loop with deeply satisfying hints of NYC math-rockers Battles’ eye for intricate analog clockwork) into a deeply satisfying musical sensorium. “Fallows” sounds like a lost, melted tape reel from a sunny dream-pop record: it’s deeply unconventional and warped, with cheery vibes slowly being subsumed into a yawning, black pit of malaise that swells, inspires dread, and fades to the corners of the room like a shadow being pushed back by the morning. It’s a sharp left-turn from The Zolas’ punchy, hook-driven alternative sound. That being said, “Skeleton” perhaps most resembles that band’s existing body of work and could be considered the most straightforwardly appealing single on Unalaska. A driving riff anchors the song’s dark groove as high-hats skitter away, accenting just the right young intellectual dance-floor flavours, the song plunging from loop to loop with dexterity and grace.
Unalaska is an almost perfectly timed late-fall kind of record. It’s melancholic, but not without warmth and comfort, faraway without being coldly distant. It will get your brain wrapped around something that has all kinds of unconventional shapes, colours and textures, sticking in the crannies longer than its four songs might suggest.
The Unalaska EP is now available on iTunes.
Top Tracks: “Skeleton,” “Salaryworld”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good) + *swoop*