The Unwinding Hours
, August 30th, 2012 08:38
Don't know much about history. Don't know much theology. But I do know that in 2010, The Unwinding Hours delivered proof that there was life after Aereogramme, and it was heavenly life at that. The Glasgow post-rockers triggered an onslaught of bawling when they split up in 2007, but one half of Aereogramme – Iain Cook and Craig B (also of alt-rock rabble Ganger) – reassembled themselves, and their voices, and lo, The Unwinding Hours was born. From their union grew forth an eponymous debut album, with a euphoric, widescreen declaration in its opening gambit, 'Knut'.
Since then – silence. Or rather: the reverberations of that haunting long-player; the patient wait while beatific singer Craig B studied Theology, and sonic overlord Cook set to soundtracking TV and honing his fierce production chops (see: Karine Polwart's arresting new album Traces; Cook's cardinal role with impending electro-pop superstars CHURCHES). Meanwhile, their weekly songwriting communions gradually gave rise to Afterlives.
As with a band and album whose manifesto could be "take your time" (a mantra that's repeated, unfurled and explored throughout), Afterlives slowly unspools and discloses its myriad charms – sometimes forcefully (the intergalactic drive-rock of 'Break'), sometimes deceptively gently (the hymnal piano remembrance of 'Saimaa') – always with the cinematic breadth you'd expect from a duo named after a lingering film about histories, futures, solitude and ghosts (The Shining). It is roundly striking, vital and life-giving. Every beat counts. Every bass note. Piano chord. Synth peal. Kitchen sink (no, really). Silence.
Afterlives' lyrics are similarly measured and enlightening. "Question everything you can," Craig B counsels on the astral, axe-sluicing alt-choral 'I've Loved You For So Long'. "Don't place your life in my hands," he entreats on The xx-trumping space-aria 'The Right To Know' – a treatise whose drums kick like heartbeats and heartbreak (props to Jonny Scott); whose snake-hipped bass grows legs and almost learns to walk – no, dance – like we do.
'The Right To Know' also offers one of many possible nods to earthly protest ("I will not leave this beauty to the idiots"): Afterlives is mapped by environmental soundscapes. 'Saimaa' – presumably so-called after the Finnish lake – is beautiful, tranquil and disorientating ("I've lost my way"), and is as brimming with self-generating power and (endangered) life as its namesake. It's followed by a gorgeous, downbeat drum-pop anthem, 'The Promised Land', whose biblical allusions are evident (and echoed in the album artwork), but which also highlights Afterlives' pursuit of journeys, grounding and "gold horizons". What we wouldn't give for those.
Afterlives' narrative is best discerned on vinyl, with the peaceful reverie of 'The Promised Land' winding up side one, and the fired-up alt-rock of 'Wayward' re-energising the LP – and reinforcing its call-to-arms – for side two ("Take your time. Breathe in. Make it right."). 'Wayward's slicing, Sugar-y guitars conjure endless glowing vistas, and post-rock lullaby 'Say My Name' surveys more "distant shores" and "gold horizons", but lest we become too comfortable, there's a thrilling discord betwixt teeth-baring ballad 'The Dogs' and the unfathomable dread beats of 'Skin on Skin' (also notable for its urban, Blue Nile-esque shimmer).
Craig B issues a final invocation on 'Day By Day'. "Take your time. Find your place. The world is open," he assures. Some days, that is all we need: The Unwinding Hours' unhurried pace and precious words and gilded horizons, offering a timely, timeless glimpse of what a wonderful world it could be.