PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


The Melody Unit: Choose Your Own Adventure

Gary Glauber

The Melody Unit

Choose Your Own Adventure

Label: Hidden Agenda
US Release Date: 2001-11-27

In these hectic times of business-as-usual during heightened alert, music has proven a steady refuge throughout. It's my pleasure to report that The Melody Unit's Choose Your Own Adventure has been a real "go-to" choice in recent weeks. Something about the music here is consoling and comforting, almost therapeutic.

The calm of the pink noise dream pop music washes over you, to the point where the voices become just another effectively appealing instrument in the overall mix. The winsome male/female harmonies between Kevin Kelly and Jessica Folsom soothe without making the demands on your attention that other vocals might. As a result, lyrics become secondary, words just sounds that appeal in an unobtrusive way. The message is the warm sound itself, and the words play no bigger part than any other element.

Nine songs of moody sonic pop are the given choices presented in Choose Your Own Adventure, but there's no bad options among them. This Seattle-based indie band manages to induce a state of peaceful equilibrium with the pulsing, sonically effective rhythm section of Mark Salvadelena on drums and Tim Kappert on bass. Add to this the melodic nuance of Peter Lynch's synth keyboards and Kevin Kelly's layered guitars (plus the harmonizing male/female vocals mentioned above) and you've got the elements for musical hypnosis of the highest order.

This second release from The Melody Unit seems tighter and more polished than their debut effort. An engine-like bass thrum leads off the lengthy opener, followed by hook-laden sonic layering. Once the soft vocals kick in, you're intrigued, and when the angelic harmonies of the chorus arrive, you realize you're off on some sort of fun ethereal musical journey. "Suite For Caesar" clocks in at over six minutes, with whispery vocals that convey a less-than-subtle message. This is a tale of a world about to be overturned, making way for a new generation's freedoms, the end of history and a call to a new future: "Soon we'll know more than we need to know / Keep an open mind for genocide / In just a generation's time, the world will be reborn". This might be the CD's best track, yet without careful listening, most will never really "get" the words.

"Kona Song", inspired by Kelly's 2000 Hawaiian vacation, also builds slowly with layers of sound (variants of this formula are followed on other tracks as well, but always to good effect). This is a love song to the wondrous reviving powers of Kona's incredible natural beauty and bountiful sunshine. "Welcome Back Tomorrow" is another memorable one, a pleasant romp of a song that rides on delicious guitar lines, in spite of slightly confounding lyrics (e.g., "No mind, sweet valentine, what goes on is what comes home"). It was recently included in the Parasol's Sweet Sixteen compilation. "Go (And Not Go)" operates off a driving rhythm, again with harmonic vocal lines that lull you into submission, talking around things not quite apparent or maybe that's the whole point: "It's just another song, for what it's for / With every other stupid word / Another noun, another verb".

As I said earlier, the words and voices are merely another integral part of the whole dreamy haven of sound. What makes these tracks work so well is an old-fashioned emphasis on solid melody (how apropos the band's name). While so many of today's collective artists trade in the world of ambient psych-pop shoegazing, few are able to offer up much beyond loose ramblings of studio tricks like tape loops, odd noises and heavy reverb.

The quintet that is The Melody Unit offer up a lush banquet of tuneful taste treats, sweet but not saccharine. Realizing their inherent ability to semi-hypnotize the listener, Kelly and company use this power at times to get a strong message across, almost subliminally. In "Prepare The Juggernaut" the music is amiable and pleasant, all kindness and disarming sunshine, while in actuality the words sung call for an urgent uprising: "Our call to arms rings loud / Sound the revolution now"!

The arrangements and layers of affable textured sound that build on the steady rhythms and sound melodic foundations are impressive. Fine engineering by Dave Rodgers helps to make it all work. This is a band that has found its niche and seems comfortable to be doing it so well.

Jessica Folsom says it best when she takes her airy Julee Cruise-type vocals to the fore in the lovely song "Snoqualmie". This song is an answer to the critics (particularly in their home base of Seattle, where the band remains very much overlooked and under-appreciated), an explanation without apology, how words aren't required though they won't deny their place in the sound. This is Kelly's gift to me, it would seem, writing the group's own biography: "Beautiful sound is all we require / No misunderstanding in the sound / No misunderstanding who we are / Now the sound is what we are (if you're wondering)".

Choose Your Own Adventure is chock full of that beautiful sound, pleasant and genial and calming, if not plain mesmerizing. For those seeking musical haven in these turbulent times, I can vouch for its oddly analgesic effect.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.