CD Reviews: Gentle Sinners, Surface Cat, Andrew Eaton Lewis, Whin
Andrew Eaton Lewis – Tourist Information
Much has changed since Swimmer One’s record of the week on Radio One nearly two decades ago. Indeed, “We Just Make Music For Ourselves” might now not fit very well into this station’s pop playlist.
And Andrew Eaton Lewis – one half of this Edinburgh duo – also left the smart synthpop of his former band behind, settling in the Hebrides and now making introspective pop, perhaps fitting with his move away from the cosmopolitan capital.
However, the songwriting prowess remains, although more studied, and largely piano-based, it somehow matches the rhythm of island life. Although when the drums kick in on ‘Pulling Ragwort On The Sabbath’, it’s almost a sin in comparison to ‘Still’, as plaintive as its title suggests.
All in all, a trip to Eaton Lewis’ new home is highly recommended.
Surface Cat – Winter Still
“Practice what you preach,” they say, and J Mark Percival’s debut album follows that old adage. The music scholar and former radio DJ has, it seems, absorbed a lot of music into his first real recording in a few decades.
He taps into Britpop, Talking Heads, Edwyn Collins, the serpentine guitar lines of The Cure, and that’s only on the opener “Do The Hard Thing.” Overall, ‘Winter Still’ is a nice bag of influences – ‘The Light Before Dawn’ stands out with its Lou Reed drawl and “ba ba ba” backing.
Like many indie offerings, this is another excellent Paul Savage production. Most of the reference points are from a certain vintage – The Monochrome Set dominates ‘Insects are Everywhere’ while ‘Heart of the Storm’ has a swing of Franz Ferdinand.
That’s not to say the album is derivative, just carrying its influences on its cover, with each song making its own mark. Well documented – a solid A+.
Beer – Handstands
Peter Kelly’s previous album, “Silver Cords”, was presented in a lavish book, with each track accompanied by a short story inspired by his heartfelt words.
The Lanarkshire singer-songwriter’s self-released follow-up is more of a back-to-basics affair – the very minimalism reflected in his song titles in a nutshell, although the excellent production belies the fact that, yet another times, the recording side is also a do-it-yourself affair.
Comprised of a dozen slices of largely pared-back acoustic beauty, Kelly’s deft guitar work stands out – stylistically, it’s indie pop :; “Acting” echoes Sam Fender but precedes it, beautifully crafted “Splinter” features country-tinged slide guitar, and “Muscle” draws inspiration from classic songwriting like Aztec Camera.
Although Kelly has been making music for over a decade now, he has never sounded better.
Various Artists – Below Deck
The NME named 1980s label Sarah Records the “second greatest independent of all time”, but its lineup of “twee pop” acts never really made a major breakthrough. However, a surprising number of these groups still make music in one form or another today.
Luxembourg Signal’s dreamy opener is a great start, while Even As We Speak perhaps encapsulates what the label was known for – fast, punky guitars, but with restrained female vocals that resonate on top of that.
Boyracer, again Sarah’s originals, deliver garage pop, while former Heavenly members The Catenary Wires return with a slightly boosted, Spector-tinged melody.
There are more of Sarah’s alumni in The Orchids, embracing dance beats while The Wake’s shoegaze sounds still feel rather current, suggesting there’s still life in the Sarah stable.
Whin – Dawn Firth
The re-emergence of Life Without Buildings guitarist Robert Dallas Gray is timely, if anything a coincidence.
His former band’s 2000 track “The Leanover” was an unexpected viral sensation thanks to Beabadoobee leading a Tik Tok lip-syncing craze, as well as finding a fan in Frank Ocean. Gray teamed up with De Rosa’s Martin Henry, but the pair’s debut is quite different from the latter’s edgy folk indie or Gray’s spoken-word post-rock act.
Instead, Whin offers a set of contemplative guitar and synth tracks, like the opening “June,” which continues into the menacing “56-21,” all ticking rhythms and urgent pulsing.
Aside from “Dams,” where Henry’s vocals battle for space with Gray’s avant-garde guitar, this is an intriguing instrumental ensemble, reminiscent of its creators’ most experimental work.
Gentle Sinners – These actions cannot be undone
Two well-known frontmen combine on this side project, but it’s James Graham of The Twilight Sad who takes center stage, his distinctive Scottish slurring addressing love, loss and self-doubt in his own lyrics.
Aidan Moffat, meanwhile, is the pilot for all ten tracks on the album, crafting a series of loops, beats and soundscapes reminiscent of his own side project Arab Strap, L. Pierre.
Opener ‘Waiting For Nothing’ sets the scene, all industrial Europop with orchestral ruffles, while the remarkable industrial slam of ‘Let Them Rot’ sees Graham’s soaring vocals backed by his bandmate, before Moffat then takes the lead in the nightmarish spoken word ‘Shores of Anhedonia’.
‘Face To Fire, despite the neo-classical nod in its ‘(After Nyman)’ subtitle, is the simplest pop banger – well, until its Rush-style guitar break. How fans of their respective bands will stray from the norm is uncertain, but for these beloved musicians and their fans, this adventurous experience is a worthy chance.