Clocking in at over seven minutes, “Rubber” is by far the longest song on Yuck’s self-titled 2011 debut. The slow, plodding track is also a compelling change of pace from the more caffeinated slacker-pop that surrounds it. Since making that album, singer-guitarist Daniel Blumberg has left Yuck—which is attempting to go on without his signature sleepy voice and retro-indie licks—and launched his solo project Hebronix. Unreal is Hebronix’s inaugural release, and it picks up almost exactly where “Rubber” left off—that is, somewhere under a heap of tattered flannels left over from the ’90s. But where “Rubber” runs red with sloppy distortion, Unreal’s even longer songs are antiseptic and airtight—and on the whole, too oxygen-deprived for their own good.
Blumberg’s drowsiness gets the better of him. When pitted against chunkier hooks and punchier songs, his voice shambles winningly. But even on Unreal’s shortest song, “Viral”—the only track on the album under seven minutes—he wanders, losing the thread both emotionally and melodically. Opener “Unliving” is even worse; like the scraps of several songs haphazardly strewn in a row, it never connects or coheres. Minus all the meltdown messiness of Yuck, Blumberg’s strumming isn’t soulful enough to be called lethargic; it just ticks away, slowly and rigidly, leaving nothing but marked time in its wake. Producer Neil Hagerty of Royal Trux adds the same crisp precision he’s been bringing to his latest work with The Howling Hex; what Blumberg needs, though, is more room to fall apart.
Where Unreal shines is in its beguiling bursts of texture. Although Blumberg does step on the fuzz pedal from time to time, his most utilized guitar effects create eddies of pinging notes and layers of loops, which add some desperately needed dimension to his otherwise underweight songs. And on the album’s middle two songs, “Wild Whim” and “Unreal,” he nails what Hebronix seems to be going for: a shuffling, rambling sleepwalk full of throbbing bass and languidly spiraling guitar. “My tongue is standing on the edge of a thousand words,” he sings in “Wild Whim”; “I feel unreal,” he repeats with simple perfection on “Unreal.” Delivered with a drawling, halting majesty worthy of J. Mascis, those lines only accentuate how lackluster so much of the disc is.
With Unreal, Blumberg is still doing what he did in Yuck: trying his best to evoke the raggedly glorious era of ’90s indie rock. Here, though, he’s aiming more toward the middle of that decade, when everyone from Pavement to Dinosaur Jr. to Built To Spill began to ease up, turn inward, and, in some cases, fade away. That dreamy, careworn melancholy seeps through the album, in spite of his best attempts to smother it. If that makes Unreal a way for Blumberg to put to bed the last remnants of his time with Yuck—and the lingering vestiges of his shallow revivalism—all’s the better.