Union Sound Set

To The Wolves

Written by: TL on 31/07/2014 17:23:21

Being a devout Fightstar fan it's always been a (perhaps weirdly) obvious thing for me to keep up with both main man Charlie Simpson and his equally musical siblings, and hence I was also onboard when middle brother Edd's artistic vessel Prego was re-christened to Union Sound Set for the latter moniker's 2010 debut album "Start / Stop". That album married Edd's affected vocals to post-rock inspired soundscapes, culminating for me with the tremblingly sentimental "This Will Change Us", but that was four years ago, which is time enough these days for fans to wonder if their favourite bands are coming to a halt.

With "To The Wolves" however, Union Sound Set proves that such is not the case here, having taken the time to build their own studio and record a sophomore entirely on the band's own terms. The effect is a sound that feels like a more detailed development of the otherwise faithful post-rock tones that served as foundations on "Start / Stop", bringing bands like Moving Mountains, Our Lost Infantry and/or The Unwinding Hours to my mind as relevant points for comparison. It's largely the same arsenal of noises brought to bear, but somehow the tremoloing guitars and added strings and horns all sound just that little bit fuller that four years of extra experience and technological know-how will tend to bring to the table.

So far so well, "To The Wolves" sounds as pretty as a picture alright, but the question always was how well Union Sound Set would prove to resolve post-rock's often dreamy and cinematic elements in songwriting terms, and if we start with the good, the title track provides an obvious highlight via a charming, recurring guitar scale that runs beneath the verse, and persistent horn notes that lift the elated chorus in a great dynamic. Beside that however, the good details seem to come hand in hand with detrimental ones that I can't help but notice along the way. "Two Lives" centers around a dazzling but almost too brief fireworks display of searing guitar for instance, and "Our Open Books" does excellently at increasing gradually and patiently all the way from lullaby to a storm of "kingdom come" -style noise, but is halted so abruptly that you're almost shocked when the following "A Grounded Few" starts.

Perhaps most tellingly though, a song like "Letters" would be quite excellent with its restrained and classy instrumental side establishing the perfect platform for Simpson to shine on vocally, yet inevitably leaves me thinking that the frontman's hazy, falsetto-happy delivery lacks diversity of expression, and while the singing is clearly above average, I honestly feel that it sounds mundane compared to the delicacy that the instrumental backdrop conjures up. Simpson plainly sounds ordinary to me within a musical universe that's anything but, and it doesn't really help when songs like "A Grounded Few" and "Birds Of Passage" adds unnecessary lyrical profanity in a starlit musical setting one would have presumed immune to such things. I suppose the grime is supposed to make for a form of contrast, but it does not work like that for me at least.

The long and short of it is that as a construction of sound, "To The Wolves" is accomplished and gratifying to expose yourself to, but subjected to close scrutiny, its obvious qualities are only slightly more obvious than the areas that feel a bit uneven. And when the songwriting impact somehow fails to peak quite as high for me as it formerly did with "Here's To You", "My Current State" or "This Will Change Us", well, don't get me wrong, "To The Wolves" is a good record, but I had dared to hope for a great one.


Download: To The Wolves, Letters, Our Open Books
For The Fans Of: Moving Mountains, Our Lost Infantry, The Unwinding Hours, Fightstar
Listen: facebook.com/unionsoundset

Release date 19.05.2014
Mighty Atom

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