The past year and a half has been generous to Unwound devotees. Between the excellent Live Leaves (a document of their five-person tour line-up for the Leaves Turn Inside You originally intended for release in 2003), Numero Group’s Record Store Day 2013 delivery of Justin Trosper and Vern Rumsey’s high-school band Giant Henry’s unreleased album Big Baby, and Numero’s comprehensive, immaculately designed box set of Unwound’s early days, The Kid Is Gone (the start of a must-own series of reissues, continuing in March with Rat Conspiracy), there’s an embarrassment of riches. Hell, you can even buy t-shirts again. What’s lacking from this steady stream of legacy protection is an actual reunion. No tour dates, no new material, as per the Fugazi model.
If you can accept that Unwound won’t be reforming to unleash Leaves Turn Inside Two or hitting your local club to doubled ticket prices, you’re in a good place to hear Justin Trosper and Brandt Sandeno’s new group, Survival Knife. Like any number of second-acts from 1990s staples (Burning Airlines, Jets to Brazil, Evens, and especially Hot Snakes), Survival Knife faces an inevitable, somewhat unfair comparison to their beloved predecessor, one I’ll dive into instead of attempting to avoid. The four available tracks from Survival Knife recall compact rockers from Repetition and Challenge for a Civilized Society (“Corpse Pose,” “Data”) with some of the mechanical precision stripped away. The hard-rock/hardcore directness infused in Survival Knife’s shout-along choruses was absent from much of Unwound’s art-damaged catalog, particularly the sprawling Leaves. And yet Trosper’s musical DNA hasn’t been completely altered; the mutating guitar parts and verse vocal delivery are immediately identifiable as his work.
If you’re forced to choose between the two seven-inch singles Survival Knife issued in 2013— “Traces of Me” b/w “Name That Tune” on Sub Pop; “Divine Mob” b/w “Snakebit” on Kill Rock Stars—pick up the latter. The Sub Pop single is worth checking out if not faced with an unlikely hypothetical situation (two Unwound fanatics come across one copy of each single at precisely the same time…), but “Traces of Me” feels unduly restrained when compared to the abrasive energy and bigger riffs of “Divine Mob” and the Meg Cunningham-howler “Snakebit.” I prefer Survival Knife when it’s held to my throat.