The title for the Unicorns’ newest album, “Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?” sounds like a question from a wide-eyed child inquiring about the afterlife. These sorts of questions make adults squirm. It makes us uncomfortable to try and explain something so uncertain. But mainly, death is a subject that most people simply take too seriously.
After listening to the Unicorns, though, it’s hard to take anything too seriously. The Unicorns sing of plane crashes, ghosts, sexually transmitted infections and cancer in a style usually reserved for amusement parks, lollipops and flowers. Sprightly and somewhat cheesy keyboards with spunky guitars tinged with distortion are wrapped up in a lo-fi bedroom stomp. And when recorders, glockenspiels, clarinets and “oh-oh” choruses are added into the mix, it results in the catchiest indie pop since the Magnetic Fields. With the combination of sweet pop mixed with untimely endings, the band resembles a child at its first funeral – adorable, innocent and a bit morbid.
But the Unicorns don’t settle for buttery pop juxtaposed with macabre lyrics. “Who Will Cut Our Hair” is sugary, gooey, bubblegum pop during the whole album but with so many quirks and digressions it distinctly sets the Unicorns apart. The most noticeable difference is the group’s removal of the pop standard verse-chorus-verse. For many bands this absence would mean a loss of catchiness. The Unicorns are able to string one punchy hook after another, constantly switching tempos. It makes their pop unpredictable and thrilling.
“Child Star” begins with a creepy high whispered verse followed by a chilling organ sound straight out of a haunted house. This then bleeds into gentle and pretty harmonies that turn into singers Nick Diamonds and Alden Ginger acting out an internal conflict of “I’m still a big big star / No you’re not / Yes I am!” which ends with a battle of back and forth “I hate yous.” Somehow the band manages to mesh all these separate parts into a ball of brilliance.
“I Was Born (A Unicorn)” leaps out as the catchiest and most danceable track on the album as the band seems to state their thesis, “We’re the Unicorns / We’re more than horses / We’re the Unicorns and we’re people too!” It’s hard not to give in to the Unicorns’ ridiculousness and magic.
Finally, the album concludes in a full circle. Just as it began with “I Don’t Wanna Die,” the disc sputters to a stop with the Unicorns declaring they are “ready to die.” The ending is much like a song cut-off abruptly mid section on a mix tape. But like the rest of the album, it’s unexpected and leaves you chuckling.