Unreal signals a departure from the shuffling, lilting, acoustic sounds of Western Transport. It’s about adventures in slow groove, soap box vocals, the nightclub vibes of a weird dream, and a vast expansion of sonic possibility. The considerable genre shifts over the album’s nine songs are navigated by the patient vocal delivery, the consistent clarity of the production, the calm specificity of the lyrics.
It’s melancholia with tinges of absurdity and humour. An embrace of current pop fascinations like 80s synth pop that never slides into kitsch or irony. It’s a fiction, a studio-as-instrument album through and through, where the tired line between synthetic and organic is beside the point.
It oscillates between maximal and minimal with choral layers of harmonies and synths a la Spiritualized giving way to sparse moments of focus and simplicity that channel Bill Callahan. James Irwin is a songwriter putting on hats, narrating each song’s imaginary landscape from a different perspective. He sounds at times like a crankier Paul Simon, a deflowered Sam Cooke, or a less cryptic Cass McCombs.
…And There Are Two Remixes: