Reckless. Fun. Catchy. Silly. Menacing. All of these adjectives could be used to describe Giant Drag’s new full-length of noise-pop Hearts and Unicorns. Featuring memorable pop melodies and strange lyrics delivered with a raw ferocity, Hearts and Unicorns is able to draw in fans of indie-pop, pop-punk, noise-rock, noise-pop, and shoegaze all at the same time. Thick layers of distorted guitars, crashing drums, distant guitar rumbles, and sporadic oddities all cradle lead singer Annie Hardy’s cunningly innocent voice. All of these elements combine to render Hearts and Unicorns as an infectiously fun collection of songs that are as brutal as they are pretty.
For the uninitiated, Giant Drag is composed of Hardy (on vocals and guitars), and multi-instrumentalist Micah Calabrese (drums, as well as guitars, keys, etc). The bio on the band’s website is the transcript of a strange conversation between Hardy and Calabrese, as the duo tries to reign in their strange sense of humour to come up with a self-interview. Really, all you need to know about this band is found in that bio, and not because of the sketchy information they share about the band’s history, but rather because of the blending of a strange sense of humour with some gems of thought. That description is also applicable to Hearts and Unicorns,and even the cover of the CD shows Hardy staring into the camera listlessly while stabbing herself in the leg with a knife. After listening to Hearts and Unicorns, in fact, one is left not knowing for sure if the band members are quite sane, but the consistently exceptional quality of the music reminds the listener that, eccentric lyrics or not, this band knows how to craft pop melodies and coat them in just enough layers of distortion that keep the songs edgy without losing control. Listen to the seesawing guitars and strained vocals of “Kevin is Gay”. Layers upon layers of growling guitars and background bending My Bloody Valentine-esque lines, as well as a solidly feverish drum part support Hardy’s coquette vocals (at one point in the song she sings the main chorus melody with the lyric of “Meow, meow, meow, meow”…as ridiculous as it may seem to the reader, it works, and sounds great!). “Cordial Invitation”, a bit of a more mellow song, also demonstrates Hardy’s nice performance of another great melody (she kind of reminds me of Jen from The Von Trapps, or perhaps more widely known, an edgier member of ABBA or perhaps The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs), over nice acoustic strummed guitars and buzzing background electric guitars. other songs show a more chaotic side of the band, such as the straight up rock of “This Isn’t It”, to the PJ Havey-sounding dirty rock of “High Friends in Places”, or “YFLMD”. Other highlights on Hearts and Unicorns include the eerie and dreamy “Smashing”, with its plodding tempo and atmospheric treatments, and the complex ballad “Blunt Picket Fence”, which includes a nice trumpet part in the mix of the band’s intricate arrangements. Hearts and Unicorns finishes off with a very very odd hidden track that I’ll leave as a surprise for listeners…the strange sense of humour of the band is given open full control, while the band’s musical experimentalism is also used to finish off the CD on an apt note.
Hearts and Unicorns is just one of those timeless CD’s that will always be fun to rock out to. This is the kind of music I would have loved as an angst-filled teenager, yet the music sounds just as current in 2005 as it would have in the early 90’s pop-punk underground.. Giant Drag provides and energetic (yet aesthetically pretty) catharsis for music fans looking for music that is accessible, yet a little dangerous. This mix of the menacing with the pristine, like the photo on the cover with Hardy’s face looking so soft and serene while she cuts herself, and like the music which mystifies the listener with its gorgeous pop melodies delivered with aggressive noise, is what defines Hearts and Unicorns. An excellent release from a band that is inherently much more talented than they pretend to be.