Review: Total Unicorn – Relaxation Tape

Beginning with the incongruous mix of haunting, synthetic choir vocals and a robotic voice stating ‘total relaxation’, Total Unicorn set the weird-bar pretty high from the very onset of Relaxation Tape. However, this confusing opening very quickly gives way to something more straightforward: a head-bobbing, faintly glitched-out dance beat. Heavy on the kick drum and with twitching, distorted synths throughout, ‘ICUu’ is a track meant to fill dance floors with gyrating bodies, its overly simplistic groove based largely around a single chord. The track also lays down the basis of the space-age sheen that Total Unicorn scatter throughout the album, introducing the shimmering MIDI tones that will be with us for the whole voyage. Total Unicorn have your ears’ attention.

After the strange, monastic voices return for interlude track ‘(((ooo)))’, we are met with the squelchy basslines of ‘Hanuman’, reminiscent of a more restrained, adolescent Richard D. James. The overlaying of swathes of dubstep-baiting wobble over the frame of another simplistic, bass-driven skeleton, Total Unicorn show that their palette of influence stretches further than the listener may have originally thought. However, the ridiculousness suggested by the band’s promo photos and live appearance (robes, unicorn heads and glowing eyes) is certainly not forgotten, with the repeated mantra of ‘Hanuman/the monkey man’ retaining ties to the absurd throughout. Fun, catchy and excellent.

The start of the brilliantly titled ‘Whole Lot of Louvre’ comes across like one of Daft Punk’s rare relaxed moments, except fronted by opera singers. The soaring spaceyness is never more present than during this passage, which is then somewhat abruptly replaced by some deep afro rhythms, before returning to Pavarotti-lite once more. This tension and release is repeated as the song goes on, and drives it forward to make it one of the more engaging tracks on the album, the concessions to the dubstep ‘wub’ breaks still looming large.

After the next interlude ‘(o) (o) (o)’ takes a turn for the Shpongle and offers the return of the disembodied voice, this time telling you how best to go about breathing (and adding a little more sense to the album title), ‘Approaching the Surface’ arrives and transports us back to that 5am feeling, where it’s the end of the night, the warehouse is about to close and the sun is dawning. At nearly 6 minutes, this track feels a little overlong, but gradually introduces more interest in the form of some bright synth leads. The constant sense of otherness remains, however, with an ever present oscillating sound and some incomprehensible but quite explicit-sounding speech samples.

‘You’re Stealing Sound’ is a full chillout, with some similarities to Boards of Canada shining through in the underlying atmosphere, whilst ‘Xtal Saturation’ is a pleasant surprise as the most organic sounding track on Relaxation Tape, with live drum samples and a drum-n-bass feel, accompanied by upbeat, game-soundtrack-esque cheer. And then it is over. Relaxation Tape feels a lot like a journey through space and time, leaving the listener in a bewildered but joyful post-abduction state. Though the sounds used may not be entirely new or unheard, the approach through which they are applied is one that could hardly be called unoriginal. Ending with yet another robot-narrated oddity, Total Unicorn’s intentions become unclear; our disembodied tour guide now morphs his self-help tone into that of a zealous rebellion leader, urging us to wake up and take control of our lives. Are this band of unicorn-headed fiends trying to infiltrate our minds? Whether they are here to make us dance, raise our eyebrows or indeed get beamed up to their mothership, Total Unicorn certainly aren’t here to relax us, and certainly do not deserve to be ignored.

Richard Spencer

4/5

For fans of: Deadmau5, Shpongle, Daft Punk

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