Formerly of Yuck, Unreal is the debut album of Daniel Blumberg’s new solo project Hebronix. Blumberg attains an excellence here that isn’t usually expected of a debut album.
Daniel Blumberg rose to indie rock fame with the debut album of his old band, ‘90s indie rock revivalists Yuck. He shocked everyone last year by announcing that he was leaving Yuck to start a new project called Hebronix and Unreal is the result. Where Yuck was often more or less a rehash of ideas and sounds already thoroughly explored in 1990s indie rock, Hebronix takes those ‘90s sounds and brings them to new places. The album shows a huge leap in Blumberg’s songwriting depth and musical abilities.
Produced by Neil Haggerty of the Royal Trux, Unreal possesses a collection of six beautifully arranged songs that reveal themselves in slow motion. The album could be called post-rock but the music is often more gentle and meditative than what you’d normally describe with this term. You can hear an early Royal Trux influence in some of the slower tempos and menacingly distorted guitar solos that arrive throughout the album. However, the overall sound and style is much more elegant than any Royal Trux record. The album often calls to mind Spiritualized in its drawn out space rock ruminations, but with bright, melodic Doug Martsch-styled guitar playing throughout. Though Unreal certainly has its influences, this is pure Daniel Blumberg and doesn’t sound quite like anything else.
“Unliving” kicks off the album with soft guitar strums that utilize the silence in between the chords as much as the chords themselves. The song grows, blossoms, and breaks down again, starting anew on a bright guitar melody. A barrage of distorted guitars slowly pokes through more and more until it swallows the song whole in a glorious finale. Blumberg transcribes a feeling of hopelessness throughout “Unliving”, singing lines like “When all is unwilling / And all down the drain / And you’ve been unliving for another day." “Viral” provides a soft landing after the rollercoaster ride of “Unliving”. It is the most straightforward song on the album and the only one with actual verses and a chorus. The psychedelic, contemplative verses recall The Moon & Antarctica-era Modest Mouse and ultimately flow into a majestic chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place on Surfer Blood’s Astrocoast album.
For the most part, traditional songwriting goes completely out the window on this album in the best way possible. The songs are a combination of suites, different parts that hang on a particular repetitive melody or rhythm for a while before morphing into something completely new and different. Synthesizers, flutes, and strings accentuate certain songs as needed. The transitions are all very smooth and the songs have an ability to remain catchy, melodic, and memorable without repeating themselves.
“Wild Whim” is the sound of one of those idyllic dreamlike dates that you share with a girl you’re interested in, setting the stage for a blossoming love. The guitar playing sounds like Built to Spill’s prettiest moments but with the swinging rhythms and romantic underpinnings that Dinosaur Jr. explored on their Farm album. The song builds into a glorious haze of distortion as Blumberg sings “You’re the girl I see in my reoccurring dream / The girl that took the time to learn a tambourine / The girl who doesn’t give a fuck about anything." The title track “Unreal” closes out its last few minutes with a long Cats and Dogs Neil Haggerty-esque distorted guitar solo. On “Garden”, Blumberg takes on Stephen Malkmus’ disaffected style of singing after flutes introduce the song. It ends in a haze of violins.
Unreal is a very cinematic album. Each track takes its time and slowly reveals itself. At only six songs, on paper the album looks short but Unreal proves to be an ideal length. Each song is a journey unto itself, landing on a pretty melody for a short while and then moving on and never looking back. The music doesn’t move above a relaxed pace but never gets boring. Blumberg seems like he has a lot he wants to prove here and he achieves everything he set out to do. Yuck was definitely a good band with a cool sound but Hebronix is way beyond that. Blumberg attains an excellence on Unreal that isn’t usually expected of a debut album.