Review: Unwed Sailor at Mississippi Studios

FFO: Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, Saxon Shore

Last Friday, October 28th, the Halloween weekend began at Mississippi studios with a decidedly international bill, rounded out by PNW post-rockers Unwed Sailor. The night was headlined by New Zealanders The Chills (celebrating the 30th anniversary of seminal album Soft Bomb) and featured Jane Weaver (from Manchester, UK), but already the cozy confines of Mississippi Studios were filling up for a band from less far afield.

“Golden Cities”, from the 2021 remaster of Unwed Sailor’s 2001 album The Faithful Anchor

Like The Chills, Unwed Sailor are celebrating the re-release of a seminal album – 2001’s The Faithful Anchor. The remastered album is a wonderful example of the instrumental and ambient strain of post-rock that emerged in the late 90s and early 2000s perhaps most famously exemplified by bands such as Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky. Unwed Sailor, centered around Johnathon Ford and featuring a rotating line-up alongside him, formed in Seattle in 1998. While the band have always had a mostly instrumental, often ambient, post-rock sound there are noticeable differences to some of their contemporaries. Unlike other mostly instrumental post-rock bands they often write snappy, rapidly shapeshifting pieces of three minutes or so, with a bright, energetic sound and little room for long, quiet stretches, at times drawing on the indie-rock of the same era. In essence, Unwed Sailor’s is an honest, unpretentious post-rock, one easily accessible to somebody new to the genre and which demands to be foregrounded, yet just as ambitious, subtle, and sonically interesting as the work of any of their contemporaries.

“Ajo” stands out as a track with a heavier feel on Unwed Sailor’s most recent album Truth or Consequences

Besides the remastered The Faithful Anchor the band have released new material in the form of last year’s Truth or Consequences which further demonstrates these tendencies while also exploring new directions. ‘Lilith’ is a classic Unwed Sailor track, featuring a repeating but morphing riff and drumbeat while other sounds build and fall away around it whereas, ‘Ajo’ goes in a slightly different direction with a heavier beat and a very danceable feel.

On Friday night, Ford emerged with his two bandmates and the venue’s projector screen drawn down behind them. As they opened the evening’s performance, soaking the audience in the soothing waves of old and new material alike. Visuals that toyed with color and shape completed the ambience, with the warm, inviting effect at odds with the spooky occasion of the weekend. As the all-too-brief opening set drew to its close, Ford reminded the audience of his love for Portland while retuning before the band built to roaring, ripping, satisfying crescendo.

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