Unbunny | Sensory Underload: Uncertain Tracks 1996-2008
Most Likely To: move all listeners to remain housebound and unshaven.
“I look for short cuts / when conflict arises / all slight of hand / elaborate disguises” sings Jarid del Deo on “X.” His words serve as a manifesto for Unbunny, del Deo’s musical focus for the last twelve years. Currently based in Seattle, del Deo offers Sensory Underload as the latest Unbunny release. Maybe it will finally get him some well-deserved attention, but only if he wants it. Self-deprecation is implicit in practically every syllable he utters, leaving listeners to wonder if they should bother listening to b-sides from a guy most folks have never heard of.
Fortunately, Sensory Underload is worth a listen. More nostalgic than cutting edge, it’s a pleasant record that requires minimal effort to warm up to. A number of tracks harken back to a different indie rock era – which was dominated by Doug Martsch and Mac McCaughn. Del Deo pays tribute on “Water and the Spanish Tongue” and “Versatec” respectively. Superchunk even gets a shout out on “Mandi.” And while there is always a place for indie rock comfort food, there’s something a bit ersatz about del Deo — like mac & cheese made with non-dairy cheese food. There’s nothing uneasy here … except for del Deo. While he’s obviously a huge fan, he paints a picture of himself that probably reflects his audience well too. He’s got fan boy feelings for Neil Young and Elliot Smith, just like you.
To call these tracks lo-fi is an understatement. There is audible hiss ringing through “Queen of Nothing” lurking behind the wobbly guitar solo. “X” is a heaping dose of “Creep”-style regret that would fit in on Rivers Cuomo’s new outtake record. With its clever lyrics and solid melody, “Mandi” stands out, while “Landscape Typing” balances Neil Young twang with the romance of harmony. Some of the best tracks, like the super-short “Dental Hygienist” are buried at the end of the record. On “Ginger Tussle,” del Deo sings: “I quit my job as a struggling doctor / staying home just to practice on you.” His lyrics show a subtle sense of humor that deserves to be heard, and not just on the sly.
Several of the tracks, like the 0:35 long “We’re All Gonna Die” or the three “untitled” tracks seem like they were peeled right off del Deo’s tape of song ideas with little attempt to finish them. The “untitled” songs that crop up on 2002’s Black Strawberries felt more complete. Maybe selling himself short is just del Deo’s modus operandi. If so, that’s a shame. Perhaps with a touch more certainty, del Deo could have found himself in the company of the lo-fi stars he admires.
Listen to “Water and the Spanish Tongue” from Unbunny: