There's a restlessness amongst Scotland's indie-folk artists of late. The Pictish Trail (aka Johnny Lynch) has shacked up with London alt-folkster Adem for the 80s-referencing dance dynamics of Silver Columns; Lynch's Fence Collective co-founder, King Creosote, recently collaborated with Edinburgh's Meursault and Brighton's Animal Magic Tricks on the Cold Seeds album. And now Creosote, real name Kenny Anderson, has emerged again as a member of The Burns Unit, a supergroup of sorts also featuring ex-Delgado Emma Pollock, Karine Polwart, Sushil Dade/Future Pilot A.K.A. and more. But while these relationships may seem rather incestuous, there's no doubt that the system's getting results.
The Burns Unit is a more complete, slick-sounding offering than KC's Cold Seeds. Whereas that record, released in July, was a largely improvised affair, Side Show will slip nicely beside those old Delgados records you don't play nearly enough. It's supremely polished of first impression, but also offers a far deeper experience than collaborative albums of its kind typically do. This stems from the detail in the songs contained - though several players appear throughout, half of these tracks are written by just a pair of musicians, really opening up each piece's heart. The exceptions are usually more rambunctious and loose of feel, all eight members lending input to the toe-tapping Send Them Kids to War - the track is one of three to feature MC Soom T, who's previously worked with The Orb and Asian Dub Foundation.
While Side Show's tracks are varied of style, the boisterous often bookended by arrangements of tender emoting, drummer Mattie Foulds' production keeps every potentially distracting diversion in check with a mix (done at Chem 19, alongside celebrated producer Paul Savage) that allows highlights to shine but never detract from the enjoyment of this album as a whole. Consistency, it seems, is paramount, and while The Burns Unit's members don't quite chip in evenly, everybody's contributions are given the space they need to sing out from these never-cluttered compositions. Worthy of singling out, though, are a couple of real show-stoppers: Future Pilot A.K.C., which sees Anderson and Dade weave a tapestry of engrossing melancholy, and the Pollock-fronted You Need Me to Need This (written with Skydiggers' Michael Johnson), perhaps the most perplexingly beautiful-yet-bombastic number she's sung on since the days of The Great Eastern.
Excellently conceived, brilliantly executed and splendidly presented, Side Show is a little wonder that's considerably more than the sum of its admittedly excellent parts. Fingers crossed that its makers turn their occasional live performances into a proper tour, soon.