CD reviews: Gentle Sinners, Surface Cat, Andrew Eaton Lewis, Whin

Andrew Eaton Lewis - Tourist Information

A lot has changed since Swimmer One’s Radio One Record of the Week close to two decades ago. Indeed, ‘We Just Make Music For Ourselves’ might now not fit too well onto that station’s pop playlist.

And Andrew Eaton Lewis – one half of that Edinburgh duo – has also moved on from the smart synthpop of his former band, relocating to the Hebrides and now making introspective pop perhaps befitting his move a world away from the cosmopolitan capital.

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However, the songwriting prowess remains, albeit more studied, and largely piano-based it somehow matches the pace of island life. Although when the drums kick in on ‘Pulling Ragwort On The Sabbath’ it’s almost sinful in comparison to ‘Still’, as plaintive as its title suggests.

In all, a trip to Eaton Lewis’s new home comes highly recommended.

Surface Cat - Winter Still

‘Practice what you preach’ they say, and J Mark Percival’s debut album follows this old adage. The music academic and former radio DJ has, it seems, absorbed a lot of music into his first proper recording in a couple of decades.

He draws from Britpop, Talking Heads, Edwyn Collins, The Cure’s snaking guitar lines, and that’s just on opener ‘Do The Hard Thing’. Overall ‘Winter Still’ is a nice grab bag of influences – ‘The Light Before Dawn’ standing out with its Lou Reed drawl and “ba ba ba” backing vocal.

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Like many indie offerings it’s another excellent production by Paul Savage. Most of the reference points are of a certain vintage – The Monochrome Set loom over ‘Insects are Everywhere’ while ‘Heart of the Storm’ has a Franz Ferdinand swing to it.

That’s not to say that the album is derivative, just wearing its influences on its sleeve with each song making its own mark. Well-researched – a solid A+.

Beerjacket - Handstands

Peter Kelly’s previous album ‘Silver Cords’ came in a lavish book, each track accompanied by a short story inspired by his heartfelt lyrics.

The self-released follow-up from the Lanarkshire singer-songwriter is more of a back-to-basics affair – the minimalism even reflected in its one-word song titles, although the excellent production belies the fact that, again, the recording side is also very much a DIY affair.

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Consisting of a dozen largely pared-back slices of acoustic loveliness, Kelly’s deft guitar work stands on its own – stylistically it’s indie pop:; ‘Acting’ echoes but precedes the likes of Sam Fender, the beautifully crafted ‘Splinter’ features country-tinged slide guitar, and ‘Muscle’ draws on classic songwriting from the likes of Aztec Camera.

Although Kelly has been making music for over a decade now, he’s never sounded better.

Various Artists - Under The Bridge

The NME named 1980s label Sarah Records the “second greatest indie of all time”, but its lineup of “twee pop”acts never quite made a major breakthrough. However, a surprising number of those bands are still making music in some form today.

The Luxembourg Signal’s dreamy opener is a fine start, while Even As We Speak perhaps summarise what the label was known for – fast, punky guitars, but with restrained female vocals ringing out on top.

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Boyracer, again Sarah originals, thrash out some garage pop, while former Heavenly members The Catenary Wires return with a slightly beefed-up, Spector-tinged tune.

There are more Sarah alumni in The Orchids, who adopt dance beats while The Wake’s shoegaze sounds still seem rather current, suggesting there’s life left in the Sarah stable.

Whin - Dawn Firth

The re-emergence of Life Without Buildings guitarist Robert Dallas Gray is timely, if something of a coincidence.

His former band’s 2000 track ‘The Leanover’ was an unexpected viral sensation thanks to Beabadoobee leading a Tik Tok lip-synching craze, as well as finding a fan in Frank Ocean.Gray has teamed up with De Rosa’s Martin Henry, but the pair’s debut is quite unlike either the latter’s angular folk-tinged indie or Gray’s spoken-word post-rock act.

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Instead, Whin offer a set of contemplative guitar and synth pieces, like opener ‘June’, segueing into the menacing ‘56-21’, all ticking rhythms and urgent pulses.

‘Dams’ aside, where Henry’s vocal battles for space with Gray’s avant-garde guitar, this is an intriguing instrumental set, recalling its creators’ most experimental work.

Gentle Sinners - These Actions Cannot Be Undone

Two well-kent frontmen combine on this side project, but it’s The Twilight Sad’s James Graham who takes centre stage, his distinctive Scots burr tackling the love, loss and self-doubt in his own lyrics.

Aidan Moffat, meanwhile, is back seat driver for the album’s ten tracks creating a series of loops, beats, and soundscapes reminiscent of his own Arab Strap side project L. Pierre.

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Opener ‘Waiting For Nothing’ sets the scene, all industrial Europop with orchestral flounces, while standout ‘Let Them Rot’s industrial clatter sees Graham’s soaring vocal backed up by his bandmate, before Moffat then takes the lead on the nightmarish spoken-word ‘Shores of Anhedonia’.

‘Face To Fire, despite the nod to neo-classical in its ‘(After Nyman)’ subtitle, is the most straightforward pop banger – well, until its Rush-style guitar break. How fans of their respective bands will take to diversion from the norm is uncertain, but for both these well-loved musicians and their fans, this adventurous experiment is a chance well worth taking.