The duo involved would laugh at the notion of Gentle Sinners being a supergroup; they’d probably snort and curse too. However, in contemporary Scottish music, the love and admiration for the parties involved mean These Actions Cannot Be Undone will be dissected and replayed far more than any other low-key debut release this month.
If you were worried that James Graham (The Twilight Sad) would find a fresh and sunny outlook when working with a new partner, don’t worry, he’s still the same darkly anxious James. It works for him, fitting his vocal style and no doubt giving a voice to many who feel the same but who can’t articulate in the manner James does. There’s a reason James (and his band) have an army of devoted followers hanging on every word, and this collection of songs will fit neatly beside that output.
Gentle Sinners are maybe not a duo which should be judged on the sum of its parts; the album is unique enough to stand on its own merits. The real strength comes in the freedom the partnership creates, with Aidan Moffat (Arab Strap) unrolling a broad landscape, freed from expectations their band names carry. From tribal drums to shimmering lifts and falls, heightening suspicion and trepidation across the tracks, the instrumentation is daring yet smashing. Songs like ‘Rent Free’ take that base and pepper catchy lines that you’ll utter in disbelief when you next watch the news on TV or on your phone.
The partnership works perfectly in songs like ‘Shores of Anhedonia’. The presence of Aidan’s voice is always welcome, but it’s the nagging and repetitive wails of James before the brief jazz interlude that stick in your brain.
And just before it all starts to feel too deep, ‘Face To Fire (After Nyman)’ unfurls with a delicate yet fun take on ‘Thunderstruck’ by AC/DC. It’s a moment of light relief, with squealing guitars and moderate electro with James taking an introspective turn, even by his standards. The strings add a touch of levity, further adding to the sense that this is an album pulling you in many directions.
‘Killing This Time’ is another highlight, with a stirring background carrying a cinematic feel, but it’s a record of snapshots, earnest experiments with a varied hit-rate, and when it’s good, it’s great.
Album closer ‘Landfill’ isn’t just a cracking way to end the album, it creates a platform for discussion on this collaboration. It deserves more than being a short-lived side-project. Ideally, it should have scope for live shows and repeat offerings. Whether this is possible depends on many factors, but there’s life and legs in Gentle Sinners if they want it.