Album of the Week: The Unwinding Hours – Afterlives
It’s fair to say that Iain Cook and Craig Beaton have come a long way since the early days of Aereogramme. Contrasting moments like the snarling, roaring crescendo of Post Tour, Pre-Judgement with their calmer work under the name of the Unwinding Hours is like shooting fish in a barrel.
But regardless of their ferocity, Aereogramme’s lyrics, and sometimes even their music contained a melancholy, darkly romantic sense of longing. The rougher edges were gradually smoothed over time and their sound had shifted so much by sweeping swansong My Heart Has A Wish You Would Not Go, their natural progression was that, if the Aereogramme name remained intact, a delicate piece of work like the Unwinding Hours first album was surely the next step anyway.
And here we are with album number two from the Unwinding Hours and unsurprisingly the band remain steadfast on the same path. Opener Break is comfortably the most direct thing here – uptempo, with a locked in piano melody. Beaton’s voice is still an incredible asset. Fractured yet soothing, the man could generate genuine feeling even if was singing from the pages of something as lumpen as the Da Vinci Code.
His voice is given plenty of space to breathe. The first album, even in its more reflective moments, was tightly arranged but The Dogs and closer Day By Day are minimalist and positively glacial in comparison.
But these men made their name playing serrated guitars and thunderous drums and can’t help but explore familiar territory. I’ve Loved You For So Long will certainly please those crossing their fingers for something louder. The Right to Know drafts in some smart synth sounds before the biggest chorus on the album hits you more than four minutes in. Like the album generally, it’s inventive, involving and bloody marvellous.
The Unwinding Hours was right hailed as one of the best albums of 2010. But Afterlives feels more complete, more like a band settled in their sound. Beaton has his studies and Cook has been tinkering in other bands, but here’s hoping they need the Unwinding Hours as much as we do.
We spoke to Craig Beaton (no longer ‘Craig B’ these days it seems) this week.
What kind of approach did you take to the writing and recording of Afterlives?
It didn’t change from the way we recorded the first, actually. Iain and I would meet up every week and work on demos I had written. We would build on the original ideas or rip them up and start again. It’s a very enjoyable process because there is no pressure, or deadline. We write and record as we go along and then eventually move on to tidying things up and improving on things we feel need the work. It’s ready when we are finally happy with it.
Are there particular themes that have been drawn out in the songwriting?
I have been particularly influenced by the fact that I went back to uni to study theology and sociology. I have had experience studying theology before and find that it blends very well with sociology. They aren’t really the sexiest subjects to study and it’s usually a conversation killer when I tell people what I do but it has had a huge influence on my thinking and so these themes creep into certain songs. For example, The Right to Know is certainly influenced by sociological thinking and The Promised Land by theology.
Has it been a difficult balance between the band and other musical projects, as well as your studies?
Not really. We decided when we started the band that it wouldn’t become the main driving focus of our lives like Aereogramme, had become. I actually feel like the time and space we allow ourselves to write and record has allowed us a much more controlled and concerted way of working. We had the time to filter out any songs which might have been considered album fillers and worked until we had ten songs that we were proud of and happy to include on the album. The other projects and studies are just another part of enjoying life. It works for us anyway.
Can we expect more live shows to be pencilled in?
We are always open to playing but it depends if we can afford to do it and everyone is available. We hire in musicians who are also our friends, so playing live can sometimes be problematic but it’s something we love doing. So yes, more dates will be pencilled in but we will probably take our time arranging some more.