From the ashes of the much loved Aereogramme came The Unwinding Hours, a project started with no clear intentions by band mates Craig Beaton and Iain Cook. They started recording together around 2009 and produced a self-titled album the following year. Opinions were split as to whether this was indeed a new beginning or merely a continuation of the Aereogramme sound under a different banner. In my mind it was definitely a reinvention, and on Afterlives there’s further evolution. Where The Unwinding Hours was perhaps downtempo and often restrained, Afterlives is anything but.
Opener Breaks is upbeat, optimistic, affirmative and a statement of intent with big choruses, big guitar sounds and a driving tempo provided by Iain Cook and fellow bandmate Johnny Scott’s rhythm section. Then I’ve Loved You For So Long kicks in and suddenly I realise what it is about The Unwinding Hours that has changed on this album. It almost sounds like they’ve looked up. There are hints of a somewhat shoegaze sound on the album in the guitar distortion and layered vocals, but without the gazing at the shoes. Craig’s strong yet fragile sounding vocals perfectly complement this sound. The Right to Know reins things in a little lyrically and showcases something that’s hard not to notice about Afterlives; synths. Obviously, The Unwinding Hours have utilised synths before but there’s definitely an increase on Afterlives. It helps flesh out songs that would be too understated and maybe too close to some of the material that featured on their debut. Yet lyrically there’s more of a sense of certainty about their intentions as Craig sings "Don’t count me out just yet / I won’t leave this beauty to the idiots". Wayward, the first single from the album, is definitely one of the poppier tracks on the album, and although it's upbeat it remains anchored by those haunting vocals and the driving rhythm which threatens to break into something grandiose without ever going there. Say My Name is another track that reins things back in and verges into solemn territory more reminiscent of the first album until the guitars come back, and all of a sudden there’s a ray of light even on this track and it’s a theme reflected in the lyrics: "With each passing on the stars / light draws near." It’s a track which continues to grow and grow with wonderful shimmering guitar sounds and layered angelic vocals.
By the time you get to the final track, Day by Day, you realise that the only real negative about Afterlives is that it’s over far too quickly. It isn’t a short album by any means, but it still only feels like a glimpse of what The Unwinding Hours are capable of. I felt like this with the first album as well, and I am a big fan of that record. Afterlives seems like a big step up to me, and the fact that Craig and Iain have been writing songs together for fourteen years means that the strength of songwriting on show here should come as no surprise.
Afterlives by The Unwinding Hours is out now via Chemikal Underground.