Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Burns Unit - Side Show

With a photo in my hand and a CD ready to be played, all I can think of is eight Scottish homeless hipsters coming together to create a traditional Folk album. Now some of this is true, I'll leave you to decide on the 'homeless hipster' comment. The Burns Unit is a collaboration between six Scottish artists and two Canadian artists. All coming from different scenes of music, most notably Emma Pollock, the very intelligent Indie Rock writer who released an album on 4AD in 2007. We also have King Creosote, the Alternative Folk artist who had released more albums than your Dad's odd socks.

Without going into too much detail. This is a collaborative effort between several independent artists who met at a songwriting festival. they came together and starting writing songs together as a band. They all play different instruments and one member is a producer and a drummer, so they have all the ingredients without any external help other than funding and distribution. The later being absent. One thing to note whilst listening to this is the sheer volume of instruments which make an appearance. They really go all out in creating an extensive piece of Folk Rock.

The opener 'Since We've Fallen Out', starts with light drum work and various guitar extracts before settling on the left sided guitar and a simple, basic bass. The vocals are very clear which is surprising because Scottish music tends to be very hard to interpret. The songwriting team have obviously spent a very long time writing these songs because this track features some amazing lyrics, such as "Since we've fallen out, spiralled out of existence". The back half features strengthened vocals and an impressive drumming. It makes for a great introduction to the band, allowing the following track 'Trouble', to leave a similar effect. This song isn't as long as previous, but features some pretty standard instrumentation, before improved structure and key, strong lyrics. The opening lyrics, "Trouble hangs around my head, It's safer not to leave my bed", leave a fixated image in my mind. As do most lyrics on this album, but this song specifically had many short, vocal segments revealing miniature stories within the lyrics.

Without a doubt, the strongest track on the album is 'Send Them Kids To War'. With it's stylistic acoustic guitar riff and progressive bass riff. It allows room for a great vocal which is, very fast and even harder to understand than degree level mathematics. The incredibly speedy vocal leaves a great effect after many, many listens. The first listen is the worst at understanding Scottish singing, but as time goes by, so does the degree of difficulty. I am able to pick certain words out, but periods are just a complete blank. This song does have amazing supporting vocals and a solid guitar riff, but the lack of understanding in the vocals just brings my respect down for the song in general.

'Blood Ice and Ashes' features lovely piano work with a great structure and a solid, left/right drumming sequence. The strong drumming track 'Future Pilot A.K.C' has predictable bass but a strong vocal. The drumming here is amazing and features minimally reverb and delay. The beautiful, dark, piano track 'You Need Me To Need This', sounds like a Kate Bush song on first impression, but the vocals are very basic and feature a lack of character. This track does actually end well, with Celtic like instrumentation and a sped up vocal delivery.

Vocal delivery is really poor on this album. None of the members really excel in vocals apart from King Creosote who can give a very heartfelt vocal, however this album is not a sad album in general. The final three tracks are all very good, the Raga like 'Majesty of Decay' has a neat vocal and clear piano recording. With the acoustic guitar and percussion on he left, with the sitar being payed over the centre. The ska instrumental of 'What Is Life?' is exciting to say the least. With the same kind of vocal and instrumentation as Send Them Kids To War, this track has great bass and varied percussion as the song progresses. The vocals are again hard to understand, but the chorus is very strong when backup singers take effect. I don't mind the messy vocals because it's clearly intended. The obvious verse/chorus/verse structure shines bright, as does the keyboard work during the final segments of the song.

The album closes with 'Helpless To Run'. This has a keyboard riff as its base. Over this we hear a very light acoustic guitar riff and sparse drumming. The vocals are clear and as the song picks up, so does the vocals with King Creosote giving a great vocal. Drumming increases in aggression and the song ends nicely, it's a solid collaborative end to the album.

This is an all round, solid album. Nothing really stands out other than What Is Life? and Send Them Kids To War. So because of this, I cant give the album a good scoring. If you haven't listened to this album, I do recommend it because it sums up Scottish independent Folk music. This album isn't exactly Folk however, it's more of an Indie Rock / Folk hybrid, so Indie-Folk without the bullshit. This is an honest album, the lyrics are well written and each member plays his/her role. I just cant see a follow up, but I'd like the band to tour because it would be interesting hearing Send Them Kids To War in front of a live audience.