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Hebronix, ‘Unreal’ – Album Review

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In April, ’90s indie guitar-rock revivalists Yuck suddenly announced that while they were indeed working on the follow-up to their 2011 self-titled mini-breakthrough, the album would not involve Daniel Blumberg, their primary singer and songwriter. Very few bands have tried to continue without their voice, but with Blumberg focusing on his Hebronix project, the situation seems in the best interests of both parties.

Blumberg’s ‘Unreal’ is a major departure from the up-tempo, snappy pop-crunch of Yuck’s debut. He worked on the album with Royal Trux mastermind Neil Hagerty, and the impression is that we never knew the London-based artist at all, as he is comfortable on his own, chopping through influences with a machete and carving a path to a territory he can call his own.

Influences are important to Hebronix because ‘Unreal’ sounds like a.) nothing else being made right now and b.) a lot like the bands Blumberg adores. The songwriter has cited the early Drag City albums from Silver Jews, Smog and of course Royal Trux, and these influences sit front and center on ‘Unreal,’ as does that of Silver Jews associate Stephen Malkmus, whose singing style Blumberg’s is strikingly similar to. These reference points don’t plague Hebronix or distract from Blumberg finding his own voice. In fact, they come off as inspired, because they simply aren’t being mined elsewhere.

Only one of the six songs on ‘Unreal’ comes in at under five minutes, and that’s an effective creative choice, as Blumberg’s songs rarely drag or feel hampered by their length. Only opener ‘Unliving’ seems structured like a long song, with multiple distinct sections that seem slightly less than natural together. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing — Radiohead‘s most beloved song is a similarly structured piece — and Blumberg sounds like Bon Iver at times, employing outdated tuning effects. It’s not quite ‘Paranoid Android,’ but Blumberg more than pulls it off.

Only the college-radio folk of ‘Wild Whim’ matches this early highlight, but none of ‘Unreal’ is especially problematic. If anything, the album lacks a little polish and reveals Blumberg’s need for more self-editing. The title track, like ‘Wild Whim,’ builds off repetition, and Blumberg lets the instruments do that talking. It’s a captivating listen that drifts lightly into clock-watching territory after about five minutes. ‘The Plan’ and ‘Garden’ finish the album with songs that are often beautiful and feel stumbled upon, as if the real meat of the tunes is the result of jamming, which may or may not have been the reality of the situation.

It’s hard to say whether you need a longing for the era that Hebronix is drawing from to really love the music, but if that is the case, and you miss those gold sounds of guitars from more than a decade past, Blumberg’s departure from Yuck is a gift. He’s still speaking to the same type of fan, but he’s building on the past rather than emulating it.

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