Unwound holds a special place in 1990’s American Music as they were able to produce such a unique, genre-blending style while keeping a consistent flow of giving aggressive and abrasive tracks, but also pulling back the reigns and showing a softer, more approachable side as well. From the first seconds, Fake Train has a gravitational pull toward a chanting, punk rock style that balances both intrigue from the sparse and singular guitar work from Justin Trosper who also acts as Unwound’s lead vocalist, but also the incoming gentle rain of the bass guitar from Vern Rumsey and the gradual building of Sara Lund on percussion.
Hearing Fake Train for the first time is like stumbling upon a lost treasure that has finally been re-found. Unwound’s Fake Train is quite familiar, but different in its own regards. The biggest or most noticeable change is that while a debut record from Unwound, the production from Steve Fisk and Unwound’s direction is incredible. Fake Train goes through a constant wave of emotion and even at its lowest points, Fake Train still manages to progress and keep every single moving part, still congruent.
The opening track, “Dragnalus” is a somber reflection on the emptiness of daily life and how monotony can be the silent killer. Trosper explains, “My life, your life, this life, our lives you’re so bored with…I don’t feel strange, I don’t feel anything.” This is while Rumsey moves as a pillar in the foreground as his bass rumbles along and creates a clear distinction between the common-misconception of creating just a rhythm section. Rumsey acts above the call of duty and creates his own path that differentiates from both Lund and Trosper. Surprisingly, this is also Lund’s first record release and does an immaculate job with moving around her kit in both a loose and refreshing style. This becomes extremely evident on the following track, “Lucky Acid” where the percussion makes quick dashes between the snare and the cymbals. This style of playing is the catalyst that allows both Rumsey and Trosper to smack back along, creating one of the faster tracks found on Fake Train. “Lucky Acid” is a quickened series of dashes that show little time for recovery as it continually smashes and punches the way to the bitter end where the instruments become a sudden fallen mismatch of random, sporadic playing that falls to eventual silence.
Fake Train changes lanes so frequently between tracks, but amazingly, the true flow of the record never loses focus or becomes hard to follow. Instead, Unwound uses these different styles to their advantage and focuses on making both aggressive pushes like the track “Kantina” where Trosper can nearly yell his lyrics, begging, “wait, wait, wait, wait, don’t go. Stay, please stay, please… Resigned, the sunrise was a lie, was a dream, it’s too dark outside to be alive.” Both Lund and Rumsey support these screams with building sections where suddenly, the instruments become louder and louder and in mere seconds; Unwound is blasting at full force. “Kantina” is also another track where the music can shift and become almost silent. The constant waves that follow the rising actions and the falling fits of breaking down is incredible and is a progressive tool that shifts the focus between every aspect of Unwound’s style of play.
Fake Train then jumps back into the more, straightforward focused style with “Pure Pain Sugar” where the gradual builds are abandoned and instead traded for a lightning bolt of shock where Unwound moves, striking fast and aggressively; wasting no time as they continually pound away with rapid drum strikes, bass and guitar that move effortlessly through the fret board, and vocals that induce the world’s first screaming match with oneself. Trosper exclaims, “Another episode, we laugh, we cry, we’d almost rather die. The pain’s too great, don’t hesitate to taste your own. I feel okay, you want to know how I’d feel today.” This style is also adapted into the following, “Gravity Slips” where a locomotive style build is introduced and then gives way into a classic, punk rock style of track. Fast, abrasive, and unforgettable, “Gravity Slips” is incredibly angry but the short-lived assault is eventually traded once again for one of the most melodic and crawling styles on Fake Train.
“Star Spangled Hell” begins with subtle guitar moves from Trosper that eventually form into a more destructive attack that pushes the limits with substantial amounts of feedback and a sudden shift in power as the track falls into the pit of near silence once again. The waving motion is the most consistent theme of Fake Train as it is always present and challenges the listener in the way that Unwound moves. From the breakneck speed of tracks like “Gravity Slips”, “Lucky Acid”, or even “Honourosis”, to the melodic beauty of “Were, Are and Was or Is,” Fake Train creates a new mold that destroys both the walls of genre, and the walls known about creating a specific sound.