Maybe I’m getting old and/or cynical, but music just isn’t what it used to be. Looking through what’s about to be released in the next few weeks and it’s disappointing fare. There’s either the umpteenth rerelease of albums by bloated sixties and seventies rock band, compilations that appeal to people who buy their music in supermarkets or reissues of soul and funk albums by groups and artists who weren’t even household names in their own house. Of course, each of these releases are hyped up by coked up PR gurus. As Chuck D said, Don’t Believe The Hype. Anyone who thinks I’m exaggerating just check out next month’s releases. Proof of this, is a ten-disc box set by a wannabe rock and roll band whose trademark lurid suits would’ve had Elvis choking on his burgers. Basically, the music industry is barrel scraping. As we say in Scotland, the ball is well and truly on the slates. Put simply, the music industry is dying a slow and lingering death. Either fetch me a ladder, a shovel or a priest to administer the last rites to the music industry. Thankfully, there is one place where music is vibrant and thriving…Scotland.

North of Hadrian’s wall, Scotland’s music industry is in the rudest of health. You just need to look at the long-list for 2012s Scottish Album Of The Year. The twenty albums on the long-list demonstrate not just the quality of music, but just how eclectic a selection of music has been nominated. There’s everything from folk, electronica, dance, indie-rock, jazz and R&B. Among the best known nominees are Paul Buchanan, Calvin Harris, Django Django and Emeli Sande. That’s just the tip of the musical iceberg. Other nominees include Lau, Session A9, Duncan Chisholm, Admiral Fallow, RM Hubbert and Karine Polwart. One of the other nominees are The Unwinding Hours, a Glasgow band whose sophomore album Afterlives has been nominated for the prestigious Scottish Album Of The Year Award. Before I tell you about Afterlives, I’ll tell you about The Unwinding Hours.

The Unwinding Hours were formed out of the ashes of Aerogramme, who were a Glasgow band who split up back in 2008. Just as Aerogramme’s army of fans were entering a prolonged period of mourning, and considering counseling, good news broke. That news was that, out of the ashes of Aerogramme, a new band called The Unwinding Hours had been formed. Featuring Craig B and Ian Cook, formerly of Aerogramme, the pair began work on some new material.

While some bands work quickly, The Unwinding Hours worked in a slow and methodical way. Songs were written, honed and eventually, taken into Ian’s Allucard Studios. Even then, neither Craig, nor Ian, knew whether the songs would ever be released. Gradually, the songs took shape, and Ian and Craig realized, that these songs were just that bit special. So, The Unwinding Hours, being a Glasgow band, signed to a Glasgow label Chemikal Underground.

2010 saw the release of The Unwinding Hours’ eponymous debut album The Unwinding Hours. Released to plaudits and praise aplenty, The Unwinding Hours were hailed as a band going places. They were lauded as Scotland’s next big band. However, before they were crowned as the future of Scottish music, they still had one obstacle to clear, that awkward  and “difficult” second album.

While many bands have released a stunning debut album, many have come a cropper with their second album. This is akin to a coming of age for a band. In many ways, it’s the musical equivalent of separating the men from the boys. However, by the time The Unwinding Hours began work on their sophomore album, Craig had decided to become a student. 

With Craig having decided to head back to university, to study theology and sociology, Ian concentrated on recording and production. Working in his studio in Glasgow’s south side, Craig made weekly pilgrimages to Ian’s studios, bringing with him demos. Gradually, songs evolved, were honed and eventually, feature on The Unwinding Hours’ sophomore album Afterlives. These ten songs have been influenced and inspired by Craig’s studies. Among Afterlives’ themes are the conundrum that is belief, personal responsibility, the thirst for knowledge and experience. Intelligent, intriguing, cerebral and compelling describes Afterlives. Quite simply, Afterlives is thinking people’s music. The Unwinding Hours have been influenced by Laurie Anderson, Flaming Lips, Max Richter and Scotland’s very own Cocteau Twins. To these influences, I’d add Teenage Fanclub, Blue Nile and The Bathers. All these influences and more, emerge during the ten tracks on Afterlives, which I’ll tell you about.

Afterlives opens with Break, where The Unwinding Hours make sure you’re paying attention. It’s literally a delicious explosion of energy and melodies. Driving guitars, pounding drums and keyboards set the scene for Craig’s vocal. Thoughtful, filled with doubt and heartache, emotion fills Craig’s voice. Meanwhile, the rhythm section provide a driving, rocky backdrop while meandering keyboards provide a melancholy contrast. Elements of indie rock and even grunge can be heard in the arrangement, while Craig’s vocal is reminiscent of troubled troubadours like Paul Buchanan and Tim Buckley. It’s a captivating combination, and bodes well for the rest of Afterlives.

After the opening bars of I’ve Loved You For So Long, it’s like being transported back to 1991 and hearing Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque for the first time. There are several similarities, which are uncanny. It’s as if Craig and Ian are paying homage to one of Glasgow’s great bands.  A wall of guitars, sweeping Byrdsian harmonies and even Craig’s vocal style are similar. His voice is filled with sorrow and regret, as he sings about having to break up a relationship. Not only does this track sound like Teenage Fanclub in their pomp, but like the Fanclub, The Unwinding Hours write great songs with poignant lyrics.

The Right To Know is very different from the two previous tracks. There’s a much more understated, spartan arrangement, which gradually grows in power and drama. One thing doesn’t change, and that’s the quality of the cerebral lyrics, which are about knowledge. Just drums and synths accompany Craig’s pensive, earnest and questioning vocal. Later, thunderous drums and stabs of piano are used to build up the drama. As it reaches a cinematic crescendo, Craig’s vocal takes centre-stage. Enveloped by buzzing bass, flourishes of piano and drums he emotively sings: “I’ll not leave this place to the idiots” and “I’ll fight for the right to know.” Emotive, powerful and literate, this Laurie Anderson influenced track reinforces that The Unwinding Hours are the thinking person’s band.

So far, Afterlives has proved a truly eclectic album. Saimaa sees another change of direction. Again, there’s a Laurie Anderson influence. Accompanied by just a wash of synths and lone piano, Craig delivers a vocal that’s filled with confusion and desperation. Influenced by Jeff Buckley and Nick Cave, it’s a vocal from a man whose lost direction. He’s bewildered, at life’s crossroads, pondering life’s big questions. A piano provides a broken-hearted accompaniment as washes of synths buzz like electricity in the air. Quite simply, this is one of the most beautiful songs you’ll ever hear, where Craig delivers a soul-baring vocal, that’s filled with despair and confusion.

The Promised Land is a song about religion and when opens, reveals a broody, moody and maudlin sound.  It drones into the distance, almost uncomfortably, to be joined by drums and Craig’s vocal. He’s not impressed by The Promised Land, and what it has to offer. Later, the song blossoms, as jangling guitars chime. They’re the perfect accompaniment for Craig as he articulately rejects religion in an eloquent and melodic way.

Wayward sees The Unwinding Hours kick loose, and show that when they’re not afraid to find their inner rock stars. Still, the lyrics are intelligent and literate. Anything else, you feel would be an affront to their indisputable songwriting skills. So this is no throwaway pop song. Like a puppy, a song by The Unwinding Hours isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life. The rhythm section and searing guitars drive the arrangement along, while Craig delivers a heartfelt vocal. Not only is Wayward melodic and memorable, but catchy and anthemic.

Say My Name is another track that demonstrates why The Unwinding Hours are like a chameleon. It sees another change of tack, with two disparate styles of music meeting head on. Understated and pensive, just washes of synths and drums join Craig as he delivers a heartbreakingly sad vocal. As a melancholy piano and moody bass join the arrangement and searing, angry guitars add a real rocky sound. This works though, and reminds me of the Cocteau Twins. These two parts to the arrangement become one, as Craig unburdens himself of the hurt, heartbreak and loneliness that he’s feeling. 

Just an acoustic guitar and piano open The Dogs, which is a beautiful acoustic song. Craig’s tender, thoughtful vocal articulates the vocal with feeling. His vocal veers between pensive and melancholy, to dreamy and hopeful. He’s heading on a journey, looking and hoping for peace, happiness and love. Accompanying him, he hopes, will be the woman he loves. Quite simply, not only does this song features some beautiful, hopeful lyrics, but a tender, heartfelt vocal from Craig, sung against a subtle backdrop.

Skin On Skin has a dark, industrial sound. Gone are the acoustic instruments of the previous track. Replacing them, are drums that crack and buzzing synth. They prove a contrast to Craig’s tender, needy and impassioned vocal, as he sings of his need and love of his partner. A meandering, strummed acoustic guitar proves to be the ying to Craig’s yang, before the arrangement grows in power and drama. It’s like a musical metaphor for how much Craig’s grown to love and need his partner. The result is a love song with a twist, where need, reliance and love shine through.

Closing Afterlives is Day By Day. From the distance, the arrangement gradually decides to reveal its subtleties and nuances. Dark, melancholy strings sweep in, accompanying Craig’s vocal. Filled with sincerity, he proffers the advice: “that you should take it Day By Day.” This makes you wonder who he’s talking to and what’s happened to them? So heartfelt is his delivery, that it sounds personal. It’s like he’s revealing something of himself. Beautiful, tender and impassioned, delivered against an understated, but cinematic arrangement, it’s an enigmatic way to close Afterlives.

Earlier, I said that The Unwinding Hours are not unlike a chameleon. That’s the perfect description of a band who have many sides to their music. One minute they’re comfortable delivering a slice of indie rock, the next, a beautiful, pensive and understated ballad unfolds. Then The Unwinding Hours deploy synths to create a much more industrial sound. Arrangements veer between spartan and understated to much fuller and rockier. No two songs are the same. Each one is unique. So, you can’t say that The Unwinding Hours have a “sound.” Not at all. The Unwinding Hours are a truly unique and enigmatic band, whose music has been influenced by numerous artists and musical genres. There’s everything from Teenage Fanclub, Blue Nile, Jeff Buckley, Laurie Anderson, Flaming Lips, Max Richter, Tim Buckley, Nick Cave and The Byrds. Similarly, you can hear everything from 60s garage bands, seventies singer-songwriters, eighties electronica, indie rock, folk and soul. 

One thing you can say with certainty is The Unwinding Hours is they only produce outstanding music. You won’t find faux pax nor filler on Afterlives. Instead, the ten tracks feature intelligent, articulate and eloquent lyrics, delivered with passion and emotion. These tracks evoke a variety of emotions and deal with a variety of subjects. Thoughtfully and articulately, Craig B delivers the lyrics as if he’s live and survived them. Similarly, Craig and Ian play their music with passion, injecting life, meaning, energy and emotion. 

While many bands struggle with that “difficult” second album, that’s not the case with The Unwinding Hours. Afterlives surpasses their eponymous debut album. It’s a much more eclectic album, where seamlessly, The Unwinding Hours flit between musical genres. Effortlessly, The Unwinding Hours reveal the many sides of their music, music which deserves to find a much wider audience. Hopefully, when the shortlist for the Scottish Album Of The Year is announced in a few days time, The Unwinding Hours’ sophomore album Afterlives will be on it, as it was one of the best Scottish albums of 2012. Standout Tracks: I’ve Loved You For So Long, Salmaa, Say My Name and The Dogs.


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