Who knows what Unicycle Loves You frontman/producer Jim Carroll has been up to in the year and a half since putting out 2010’s Mirror, Mirror? Maybe he did a lot of soul searching, or shoe gazing, or maybe he’s just been playing Yuck on repeat. Whatever the case, ULY’s third album, Failure, smartly strips away the hyperactive, tempo-shifting twee shenanigans of past recordings, leaving the Chicago trio’s ubiquitous pop hooks shining bright among lo-fi piles of garage rock sludge. The result is short (29 minutes), punchy and, more so than any ULY record yet, hops right to the point.
If track names like “Bitch Eye” and “Sun Comes Out (And I Don’t Care)” didn’t properly communicate the band’s grungey new trajectory, album opener “Garbage Dump” is quick to slap down a squealing electric thesis. Even amid this presiding static of guitar grit it’s not long before an unshakably catchy chorus or hummable riff comes along to remind us what ULY has always done so well. The cheery acoustic pull-offs on “Piranha,” Nicole Vitale’s bouncy bass lead on “Wow Wave Cinema” and the pumped-up cowbell fever antidote of “Separate Places” all stand testament to Carroll’s famous hook-crafting swag.
Failure finds its most fluid marriage of sweet and salty on the midway track “Bitch Eye,” invoking through jangling chords and lush boy/girl harmonies a sudden-onset vacation to some fictional ’90s island where pretty hipsters ride around on mopeds and sip High Life from the bottle. Album closer “Master Medical Driveway” is the only track to totally fall into the noisy shoegaze deep end, crowding an otherwise catchy beat with squalling fuzz and unintelligible samples. But here at its clunkiest, Failure is still so locked into steady drum and bass propulsion that you might catch your toes a-tapping even as you broodingly stare them down.