The brainchild of producer and composer Paul McGeechan, Starless have finally delivered the follow-up to their 2016 self-titled debut. Formerly a member of Glasgow alt-pop legends Friends Again and funk-rock stalwarts Love and Money, McGeechan has a wealth of experience to draw on. As it is, Earthbound is a sweeping, cinematic and audacious follow-up to its noticeably less polished predecessor.
As on his debut, McGeechan calls on the talents of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and a host of guest vocalists to round out his keys and electronics. The list of vocalists on Earthbound acts as somewhat of a who’s who of Scotland’s underground music scene, including Emma Pollock, Karliene, Steven Lindsay of The Big Dish and Hipsway’s Graeme Skinner. The most impressive contribution comes from McGeechan’s former Friends Again band-mate Craig Thomson, who delivers two distinct high points on the album in the form of Spellbound and Calvary. On the former in particular, Thomson’s baritone swells with the sort of range which Nick Cave would be proud of. His treacle-thick voice perfectly complements the lush strings and heavy keys which accompany him. Equally, on Calvary, where heavy keys are replaced by the more buoyant twangs of guitars and synthesisers, Thomson copes just as well, delivering restrained, pitch perfect vocal support to McGeechan’s ambitious compositions.
Lead single Paper, this time featuring Emma Pollock, is closer to McGeechan’s New Wave roots than anything else on this album. The clean, luxurious strings on Spellbound and Calvary now fight for dominance over thumping synths and sharp percussion. The results are dramatic, exhilarating and altogether entrancing. Breakdown follows suit, as Steven Lindsay lends his vocal talents to an energetic and expansive power ballad of sorts.
McGeechan, greatly to his credit, manages to distil the multitude of sounds, styles and contributors which make up this album into a cohesive, sweeping and polished soundscape of cinematic strings, sombre keys and diverse electronics. Earthbound is a remarkable accomplishment if purely for the fact that, on the whole, it manages to deliver on its ambitions – a commendable achievement considering they have been described in press releases as a mix of David Sylvian, Cocteau Twins and The Blue Mile. Whether its clean-cut sounds appeals to you or not, it is objectively impressive and well worth investing in.