Totally Unicorn – High Spirits//Low Life
Released: February 18, 2022
Drew Gardner | vocals
Aaron Streatfeild | guitars
Dean Podmore | bass
Adam Myers | drums
There is a well known verse expressed by Buddha that is recited as: “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”
Astonishingly for mathcore party enthusiasts Wollongong’s Totally Unicorn, their studio album discography can be aligned with these three aforementioned characteristics. Their debut album: Dream Life could be viewed as the sun rising in Tromsø, Norway after the Polar Night event where from November to January, the sun doesn’t rise at all. After an extended nightlife of countless EPs, Split EPs and singles unleashed upon the world and toured relentlessly, a six year wait brought upon a chaotic mathcore celebration along the lines of Daughters’ Canada Songs but with a massive dose of Ale injected, fueling a tongue-in-cheek fun time in 11 songs bursting with bamboozlement.
The quartet’s second LP Sorry is inevitably the moon. Ten tracks ascribed to the heartache, anguish and darkness vocalist Drew Gardner experienced with the breakdown of his marriage. The band had progressed in leaps and bounds with their song-writing, even adventuring into slower territories with a brash bluesy sombre slow-burner ballad in single ‘I’ll Be Fine Now’ – their coup de maître. They had not abandoned their brilliant convoluted musical madness by any means, however, their direction could be compared to the explorations and refinement of the marvel that was (and still occasionally is) post-metalcore royalty Poison The Well. The full-length had the power to change the tides of emotion to anyone who observed Totally Unicorn, just like the moon does with tidal movements on Earth.
Therefore, following the verse spoken by Buddha mentioned earlier, the band’s third record High Spirits//Low Life must be foreseeably: The Truth. Opening with the single ‘Yeah, Coach’, Mr Gardner admits his truth in his first sentence: “Always letting people down in my life” among a bouncy musical beat that sounds somewhat like the idea of Jack White attempting to play a punk mathcore hybrid – yes, that brilliant. What should be disclosed though, is that Drew actually doesn’t let people down. This writer knows first hand he is one of the most genuine, caring and delightful gentlemen in heavy music. These lyrics are in reflection of the truth that the younger generations’ financial opportunities and prospects are matter-of-factly, inferior. It is nearly impossible to obtain the advancements in life previous generations have and for the most part, we are given advice that it is our “fault” and we are the issue. The ironic chorus in response that is gruffed and yelled: “Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah” is intoxicating and an anthem that will be shouted at shows (remember those?) LOUDLY. If the idea of The Chariot during their Long Live era collaborating with Frenzal Rhomb excites you, then this will smell like a trophy.
‘Tip Your Tin Foil Hat’ is direct from the Totally Unicorn playbook of wryness with a nod of musical respect to Arizona’s The Bled. As it is practically impossible to not acknowledge the pandemic, this exploratory boogiecore number (it has a “dancing” feel, so this scribe coined this genre name, also please acknowledge lyrical content) in essence navigates the conspiracies involved with COVID-19 in a coarse manner, with glorious and courageous cowbell. ‘Old Mate’ carries more cowbell class (thanks to percussionist Adam Myers) and has the western feel of Poison The Well’s Versions remarkably, Ryan Primack would undoubtedly become ‘Nerdy’ in regards to guitarist Aaron Streatfeild’s slide skills.
The ‘Unicorn have toured relentlessly with famed punk bands from numerous corners of the globe, so it is only telling that some of that aura will seep into their formula. ‘Weekday Warrior’ is that call to arms for the inopportune who don’t have the blessing of Monday to Friday regularity. To be viewed as a conjugation of a blue collar punk song, but heard as a monstrous beast with noise-core influence would be effective; remember punk is an attitude as much as a musical genre. TU toured with The Flatliners who have a blue collar jingle entitled ‘Hounds’ – honestly, these songs would work together on a Split EP extraordinarily.
The title track is the grandest endeavour the band have undertaken, over seven minutes in length – it is a Rock Opera. For this author, when negotiating the metal realm and the topic of “Rock Opera”, Between The Buried & Me are the masters of that domain. Similar to a unicorn, ‘High Spirits//Low Life’ is simply exotic and obscure for Totally Unicorn – but the quartet are exotic and obscure, so the horn glove fits. Think of this as a continuation of ‘I’ll Be Fine Now’ and trust me Canada’s Fucked Up will be astounded.
As mentioned, Poison The Well’s Versions was a game changer in the metalcore realm, it was, possibly to its own detriment, too forward thinking. As per Aristotle: “There is no great genius without some touch of madness” – enigmatically ‘The Catch’ by ‘Unicorn is too aptly titled capturing all sentiments just stated.
If one were to combine every song created by the four-piece and swirl it into a wine barrel, let it age for over a decade then filter this liquid through Bon Scott’s jeans, we just might have the formula for the song ‘Fri(ends)’. Overstated? Perhaps, but even Jay Whalley from Frenzal Rhomb contriBREWted some melody on this fine liquor. As per Seinfeld, specifically Cosmo Kramer: “That Hennigan’s goes down smooth”; ‘Fri(ends)’ goes down and improves comparably.
In 1988 Bill Murray acted as Frank Cross in the film Scrooged – a movie based on the novella A Christmas Carol; Drew Gardner’s opening line for the track ‘Trust Fund Glee’ is: “They’re the Scrooge and we’re the crawlers” – fantastically, one can see Mr Murray actually singing those words in the character he portrayed after his transformation when these words are grunted; here is the proclamation. This is a hymn for the hindered and a song for the spiteful. A call-out to the privileged who live out of an abyss of financial security that there is a difficult and damaged existence one cannot hide from forever if they expanded their periscope. How Totally Unicorn made this message not only fun with the finesse of a middle finger, they actually made it a mathcore war-cry; astounding is almost descriptive of its aptitude.
To close: ‘Not Winning’ admittedly sounds like the last call at the bar; it has been a messy bender but bugger me it has been brilliant and I cannot wait to relive it over and over. The truth is High Spirits//Low Life cannot be hidden, it is a HIGHLIGHT.
Totally Unicorn – High Spirits//Low Life tracklisting:
1. Yeah, Coach
2. Tip Your Tin Foil Hat
3. Old Mate
4. Weekday Warrior
5. High Spirits//Low Life
6. The Catch
8. Trust Fund Glee
9. Not Winning