The Melody Unit: Choose Your Own Adventure

The Melody Unit
Choose Your Own Adventure
Hidden Agenda

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.