09 August 2012

The Unwinding Hours - Afterlives

Album Review: The Unwinding Hours - Afterlives (Chemikal Underground)

I must admit to feeling a little bit nervous with this post. It is, after all, my debut appearance for Peenko and with it this brings some pressure. Albeit pressure I am probably manufacturing from nothing, but still. Anyway, The Unwinding Hours second album Afterlives is the first record under my Sauron-like gaze (only I'm a bit nicer than him I think). Now, I had heard the name, but none of these guys output so was a little unsure of what to expect. 

Initially, I was thinking that the album was quite poppy in it's execution. Very uplifting pop, I must say, as opener 'Break' comes at you all guns blazing, with a big sound. There's a good bass edge on the verses and vocally it's really enjoyable. 'I've Loved You For So Long' was similar, but with a touch more guitar coming through and for some reason it reminded me a little of The Wannadies 'Dying For More' which I really like (there goes 75% of the blog readership). Not an overwhelming reminder, but more a subtle reminder. 

The third track was where the hooks started taking hold. 'The Right To Know' has a steadier pace and out of the opening three tracks it felt the least poppy to me. Vocally it is once again very strong, but a little more understated than the previous songs. It burns away slowly, with a burst of life a few minutes in, before it simmers once more. 'Saimaa' further deconstructs the poppier sound of the early tracks. A mournful sounding piano sounds from a distance, while a repeating pattern of notes reverberates. It's an interesting contrast. Above it all is a slow, heartfelt vocal. It's really nicely out together and a little unconventional when measured with the other tracks thus far. 'The Promised Land' changes things up again. A long, sombre note opens the song and resonates for a few seconds before shifting subtly. Crisp drums kick in and the vocal is more hopeful, which is at odds with the note resonating low down in the mix. Further sparkle is added when the guitar comes in, chasing the sombre note further away. That note is never entirely banished on this anthemic track, which ends in a splash of texture and colour. An early standout for  me. 

The second half of the album kicks off with 'Wayward'. Again, some great drums and a pleasantly jangling guitar kick things off. The tempo is good and a nice bassline further compliment the track. The tempo really is good. You feel that the track is constantly pushing forwards thanks to the rhythm section before the song ends as it began - in the crashing of big drums. 'Say My Name' brings things back down a little in terms of tempo. The drums go from driving to solemn on this track, but the introduction of the guitar gives the song a fuller sound. It maybe feels a little long, but I suspect that's more to do with the contrast between this song and the previous track, which flew along at a fair tilt. With that in mind, 'The Dogs' feels just right. A more minimal sound, it feels like it should follow 'Say My Name' as the contrast isn't as startling. There's a simple guitar and piano and the vocal sounds fantastic. With minimal accompaniment the vocal really flourishes and breathes life into this great song. 

'Skin On Skin' changes things up again. Slowed down industrial beats might be a good description of the opening few bars. There's certainly a meaty feel to the opening notes. There's a really nice guitar line about a minute in that acts as counterpoint to the beat. It's good a nice, steady pace and there are some electronic flourishes here and there to add more texture. 'Day By Day' closes things out, kicking off with some sonorous notes that wash over you before some beautiful strings come in to add some depth. The emotional impact is already felt before the vocal comes in, but that serves to tug a little tighter on those heart strings. The strings pitch and yaw, all the while washing over you like a warm wave. It's a really wonderful song to close the album. 

Overall I really enjoyed this. I wasn't fully on board after the first couple of songs but the middle section of the album is really strong. There's a few different things being tried here and that keeps the record interesting throughout. It really shone for me on the slower songs like 'Day By Day' and 'Say My Name', where the vocal really stood out but the more up tempo songs like 'The Promised Land' and 'Wayward' were really good too. Suffice to say that this will stay in my rotation for a little while yet.

Afterlives is released on 20th August through Chemikal Underground Records, you can pre-order a copy now through the Chemikal Store.  

You can catch the band playing live at The Tunnels in Aberdeen on 31/08/12, then the following night they're going playing a home town show at Stereo in Glasgow.

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