[2 June 2010]
The Unwinding Hours self-titled debut comes plagued with the same problems a lot of fledgling indie-pop outfits seem to have these days. Over the course of a 45-minute album, the duo of Craig B. and Iain Cook mix quieter songs with big, wall-of-sound guitar tracks. The issue is that their sound isn’t particularly distinctive, and that the songwriting isn’t quite strong enough to make up for that lack of sonic character. What’s more surprising, then, is that B. and Cook aren’t newbies just starting out, but veterans of the now-defunct Scottish band Aereogramme, who released four albums of their own in the ‘00s.
This isn’t to say that The Unwinding Hours is straight-up bad, because it isn’t. There are several standout tracks on the album that illustrate how good these guys can be when they’re firing on all cylinders. But just as much of the material is mediocre, forgettable dream-pop. The album opens with “Knut”, a slow-building six-minute song anchored by the simple refrain, “If we can / We will / We must / Get out!” The drums, bass, and piano all grow steadily in size over the first four minutes, while squalling guitar slowly draws more and more of the focus until it all explodes in the final two minutes. It’s a bracing start that combines a strong pop focus with an Explosions in the Sky-style build-up and release. That’s followed with “Tightrope”, a straightforward, angsty indie-rock song, and then “Little One”, a quieter, tender lost-love song.
By fourth track “There Are Worse Things Than Being Alone”, an even quieter acoustic lost-love song, the Unwinding Hours have pretty much squandered that promising opening with run-of-the-mill indie-pop. More squalling guitar and electronic noise creeps into the end of this fourth song, but it has far less impact than it did the first time they used the trick. It isn’t until “Peaceful Liquid Shell”, the album’s sixth track, that something interesting finally happens again. A low, loooow bass tone opens the song, quickly followed by Craig B.‘s weird, compelling lyric “Let it be known that I am well / Stuck in this peaceful liquid shell.” Anchored by a simple but rhythmically creative drumbeat, the song cleverly works in a piano countermelody and judiciously uses the wall-of-sound guitar effect.
The album’s second half is slightly less frustrating than the first. “Child” is a decently dark minor-key song with a few cool guitar lines. “Traces” moves at a glacial pace, but the lyrics at least seem heartfelt and the ethereal-sounding guitar part gives the song at least the idea of motion. “Annie Jane” is a mid-tempo track with a melancholy piano line, pounding drums, and crashing cymbals that make it sound like the album’s cathartic closer, but it’s not. Instead, The Unwinding Hours finishes with “The Final Hour”. That song starts almost unbearably quiet, with B.‘s vocals barely above a whisper, accompanied by soft guitar. And halfway through it bursts into full volume with guitars and drums pounding out half-notes. It’s an intense moment, but it’s diluted by the fact that the band has already used almost the same ploy at least twice on the album.
And so, despite writing mostly quieter indie-pop songs, the Unwinding Hours manages to leave the impression that they are a huge guitar wall-of-sound band. It’s because the big guitar songs are much more memorable than the underwritten quieter material. While the band shows flashes of potential, their self-titled debut album leaves a lot to be desired.