At just 23, Daniel Blumberg already has three debut albums under his belt: In addition to Yuck, with whom he recently parted ways, he’s also released albums with his early band Cajun Dance Party and as a solo side project called Oupa. His latest endeavor, Hebronix, a collaboration with Neil Hagerty of veteran alt-rockers Royal Trux, sees the Dinosaur Jr.-style swagger of Yuck slowed to a stoned stroll. Unreal’s six songs sprawl unhurriedly across seven or eight minutes apiece, full of intricate details and pretty touches that reward repeated listens.
The first track, “Unliving,” is languid and dreamlike. Opening with an invitation to “close your eyes, and remember,” Blumberg creates an air of hushed reverie with only his voice and a few strummed chords. A pair of guitars drift in to weave coruscating patterns against the silence, soon joined by gently galloping drums as the song builds to a shimmering high, before floating back down into hushed calm. To note that these five minutes of quietly majestic songwriting make up just the introduction to a delightfully melancholic slice of Pavement-like balladry gives some kind of indication of the scale on which Blumberg is working here; casting aside the laser-guided focus of Yuck’s bone-crushing alt-rock has let him craft songs of enormous ambition and scope, if lacking in the adrenaline-rush thrills of his previous band’s music.
By contrast, “Wild Whim” offers proof that, even if Unreal isn’t exactly a sonic brother of Yuck, the two albums at least have some common ancestors. One of the best songs Blumberg’s ever written, the track is a breezy wander through the alternative songbook—the mellow swing of Teenage Fanclub here, the weary optimism of Steven Malkmus there, shot through with bolts of J Mascis’s monolithic fuzz-rock. On “Viral,” Blumberg’s muttered, off-kilter vocals recall some of Travis Morrison’s more subdued performances for the Dismemberment Plan. “Garden” and “The Plan,” on the other hand, are both solid, but ultimately rather meandering and unspectacular, proof of the difficulty of maintaining the high standards Blumberg sets on the first half of the album.
Unreal finds Blumberg once again embracing the familiar sounds of ’90s alternative rock that he’s mined throughout his career, but this time marrying them to the sprawling, expansive structures of Krautrock and post-rock, where repetition and rhythm are as important as melody. When it succeeds, the album achieves a kind of weightless beauty above and beyond anything else in the Londoner’s repertoire, and even the relative failures display the kind of ambition to suggest that his decision to leave Yuck was justifiable. Just don’t bet on him sticking around for very long.