A horse of a different color, the Unicorns (Nicholas “Niel” Diamonds, Alden Ginger and of late, Jamie Tambour) are the perfect synthesis of pop music and My Little Pony. Their full-length debut album “Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?” was touted by many critics as one of the top albums of 2003, and while cynics were whining about how the ‘Corns seemed to have drank too much cough syrup, the world of indie-pop was abuzz and in love before anyone could say “casiotone.” Based conceptually around a unicorn’s fear of dying, “W.W.C.O.H.W.W.G?” is a 13-track exploration of paranoia, nostalgia and the Peter Pan Syndrome all wrapped up in a beauteous package of musical quirks, catchy songs and other fun bells and whistles. For a genre that sees more than its fair share of breakup laments and drug anthems, the record is certainly a welcome flit of fun and fancy, despite its preoccupation with death.
The opening track is appropriately titled “I Don’t Wanna Die.” Driven by toy keyboards, some squiggling sound effects and false-start guitar licks, the track sets the tone for the fear-of-death situation that runs throughout the entire album. The prophetic track proclaims, “Doo doo / doo doo / I’ll die / Doo doo / doo doo / It’s true / Doo doo / doo doo / So will you,” before the singers launch into begging for just “one more breath.” Followed by a trio of songs concerning ghosts-“Tuff Ghost,” “Ghost Mountain” and “Sea Ghost”-the progression of the album is a bit scattered. It’s as if the Unicorns are dealing with the specters of their inevitable demise in a few different ways. “Tuff Ghost” sounds fairly sinister despite its toy keyboards and synth pop undercurrent. “Ghost Mountain,” on the other hand, sounds like it’s all fun and games, complete with a catchy drum-machine intro and swelling backbeats. “Sea Ghost” is partly silly, opening with what sounds like someone playing an Irish jig on a recorder, and mostly blow-you-away, sporting clear vocals and an infectious guitar.
Other standout moments on the album (and by standout I don’t necessarily just mean in a musical light-while the band has managed to put out a lo-fi masterpiece on par with early releases from bands like Grandaddy and The Magnetic Fields, or as of late, The Shins, I’m not necessarily as impressed by their shiny poppy people music as I am with their utter weirdness on many occasions) include a song which inexplicably utters “Jellyjellyjellyjellyjellyjellyjellyjellyjellyjelly / Jellybones.” A hilarious back-and-forth interchange between Diamonds and Ginger on “I Was Born (A Unicorn)” sounds like a sandbox fight: “I write the songs / I write the songs! / You say I’m doing it wrong / You are doing it wrong!” This device is later employed to settle the fight as the singers tell each other that if Unicorn 1 starts believing in Unicorn 2, 2 will start believing in 1, etc.-making them real (the song samples a spoken piece which proclaims “They’re there if we believe they’re there then they’re there”). “We’re the Unicorns / And we’re people too,” they sing triumphantly as they end the track.
In a perfect bookend to the beginning track “Ready to Die,” a melancholic, dying Unicorn seems as resigned to his fate, coming to us live from his deathbed. “I’ve seen the world,” he sings, “I’ve kissed all the pretty girls / I’ve said my goodbyes / And now I’m ready to die.”
All in all, they still manage to make death sound kind of fun (or at least funny). For, after all, riding off in the sunset of your own demise must be amusing when you’re sitting atop a sparkly pink horse.