Unicycle Loves You's third album boldly reads Failure, accompanied by an image of a woman's bottom half sprawled over a sewer to drive the less-than-optimistic message home. It's a simple title that's capable of stirring an immediate emotional response: isn't there a part inside all of us that's petrified by the ever-present threat of failing at life and winding up somewhere lying over the proverbial (or maybe literal) sewer? The concept of the Chicago's trio's latest collection of songs might focus on this universal, anxiety-inducing theme, but the execution doesn't follow suit. Failure is a huge success.
If you've heard ULY's 2010 album Mirror, Mirror, you'll notice right away that Failure is quite a different experience. It's bolder, louder and despite its underlying sense of discontent, more accessible. Where the last release sometimes meandered, this one gets right to the point. For every hook that wasn't pronounced enough before, there's two waiting to pounce and grab you by both ears now. Opener "Garbage Dump," a sort of folk singalong at its essence that's done up as a noisy rocker, is the most immediate example; I'd dare anyone to resist singing along with vocalist/guitarist Jim Carroll to the track's "woo-ooh-ooh-woo-ooh-oohs."
It would be easy to derail after such a big opener, but Failure never really does. "Wow Wave Cinema" and the title track are jaunty surf-tinged tunes that have as much gritty bite as they do pop sparkle, while "Bitch Eye" (which places the focus on co-vocalist/bassist Nicole Vitale) is a fuzzy, jangly delight and the wistful "Brand New Pillow" breezes along with one of the record's most appealing melodies. Pretty much every song here is compact and made for repeated listens thanks to both punchy production and the tightness of the material itself. It isn't until the tenth and final track that things let up, as "Master Medical Driveway" shows us out with some spacey atmospherics that recall Mirror Mirror's few instrumental interlude tracks.
It's tough to describe ULY's sound on this album as referencing a specific rock sub-genre because so many apply: noise pop, garage, indie rock, psych, power pop, and so on. That's a good thing, because instead of coming across as a rehash of some band or release that came before it, this set of songs sounds exactly like what it is--simply a really great rock record. In an interview with the Village Voice, Carroll described Failure as "an attempt to kick Mirror Mirror's ass." With all due respect to the band's previous material, mission accomplished.
'Failure' is out February 14th on CD, vinyl and digitally, and the band will celebrate the release with a show on February 13th at the Empty Bottle. They'll also be heading to SXSW in March, with a local sendoff show March 10th at Hideout. You can check out a video for the track "Piranha" below and download two other tracks--"Wow Wave Cinema" and "Sun Comes Out (And I Don't Care)"--for free.