REVIEW: Mico: Outside the Unbearable Grows
Mico: Outside the Unbearable Grows [G7 Welcoming Committee, 2003] (mp3)
Three words? Mico Über Alles
The spectrum of left-leaning political music ranges from earnest folk-rockers and subversive punks to underground hip-hop artists and enlightened metal-heads. Mico are with all of them in spirit, and yet forge their own way - welding together The Verve, Q and Not U, Built to Spill and Jets to Brazil on their second full-length album, Outside the Unbearable Grows. Sparks fly.
Mico do not have a formula as much as they have a habit of writing good rock songs, as all of their tracks are solid and stylistically distinct. "Mirage" and "Revolution of Human Awakening" marry the topics of free speech and protest with rock-anthem hooks and soaring melodies. "Retransmission," with its boat-anchor of a bass line, brings to mind latter-day Sunny Day Real Estate, in all the best ways. While politics are always at the forefront on Outside, the songs remain accessible - a considerable feat given the literal approach of the group's lyrics ("Another child starves without a home/ Another factory farm takes 80,000 lives/ And you still say there’s nothing wrong").
And yet, as effective as Mico’s straightforward songs are, the ambitious title track is the album’s apex, proclaiming Mico’s true sonic potential. The ethereal guitar figure and staccato drum flourishes paint the picture of a sprawling concrete wasteland, an endless cityscape of office buildings and factories. The tension builds until the distortion pedal catapults the refrain of "How can we survive in a world fueled by greed" - but only briefly, and just seconds before the song fades out. Heartbreaking and epic, "Outside The Unbearable Grows" is one of the best songs you are likely to hear all year, and while it may not go into the lyrical detail that the majority of Mico’s songs do, it is the record’s most visceral and memorable example of the band’s politics.
Mico basically have two speeds: humourlessly political ("This Great Achievement", "Lina Tres") and beautifully atmospheric ("The Other World is Possible", "Outside the Unbearable Grows"). They do both exceedingly well, but the two styles feel awkward together, as if they were the work of two entirely different bands with the exact same message. The result is a good political rock record, intermittently interrupted by jaw-dropping greatness.
[I feel it's my responsibility to mention that this band, Mico, is not the same as Nico, Andy Warhol's preferred chanteuse. In fact, it sounds like there is very little in common between Nico and Mico, apart from 'Ico'. Consider yourself advised, then. This record is not a collection of Velvet Underground rarities. It doesn't feature the peculiar, zombie-like delivery of a NYC art-groupie. But these are things to be thankful for. And what better soundtrack for said thankfulness, but Outside the Unbearable Grows! -- Ed.]