Sometimes the music seems to fit the month, and last month’s selection had the shimmer of the summer sun and the melancholy of the unexpected downpour, and even touched the colours of the inevitable rainbow. Can you tell I’ve been walking to work a lot recently? There is the comfortingly familiar and the genuinely surprising, and one collaboration that heralds the arrival of a new (Neu!) record label which features one of my musical heroes.
First off is the latest album from Meursault who were always going to intrigue an old existentialist like me with their Camus inspired name. Pretentious, moi? Oui. Sue moi. The album is Something for the Weakened and while it retains the fragile strings and electronics of previous fare it is a more complex and richer sound with some tracks adding a discordant edge which is unexpected. To my ears this is a real step forward and there are many more successful bands who would surely kill to make music like this. When I first heard that unwieldy term folktronic this is the sort of music that it promised. Record of the month, and perhaps more. Although this is an album of collaborations, and what collaborators, this is still Neil Pennycook’s vision. Here’s a gorgeous version of Flittin he recorded for Location Music. TV:
Keeping things very stripped back, I received this from someone who has been making music in the city outside of my window for years and who again I’d never encountered. Broadening my horizons is only one of the selfish reasons for writing this blog. The man is Owen McAulay, formerly of Smackvan, and he has a solo album out which is his first release for seven years. The album is called Time, and this is the first track Not For Me. It is simple and gorgeous, or simply gorgeous if you prefer:
Another solo album from a former member of a favourite band of mine is out later this summer. Allan Swan played guitar for the sadly missed You Already Know, aka YAK, and to say this is the surprise of the year so far is an understatement. If you knew YAK then you’ll know they confronted you with a fantastic noise, and left your ears ringing and your bits vibrating for hours afterwards. But the best musicians refuse to be constrained by other people’s expectations and Allan has certainly confounded mine with the first track Black and Blue. It’s electropop, but as prime Depeche Mode or The Pet Shop Boys would have played it, with an unexpected dark side. Have a listen for yourself:
Some of the best music made of the last couple of years has come from Randolph’s Leap who reside at the increasingly impressive Olive Grove label. I’m sure you’re aware of what they do and I’ve mentioned them a few times on these pages. But if you haven’t, or even if you want what they’ve done to this point in one handy package, then July saw them release Introducing… Randolph’s Leap, a compilation of all they have released so far as well as some bonus songs. 21 tracks of impressive consistency and effortless melody, this feels like they are tying together their first chapter before embarking on the next. This is the first track Counting Sheep:
Last month saw the launch of Neu! Reekie! Records, the latest addition to the Neu! Reekie! stable and their attempt to spread the word about the best in contemporary Scottish culture. Their first release is a double A-side which has high heid-yin Kevin Williamson doing a spoken word performance of his poem In A Darkened Room, backed by the music of Graham McInnes and then there is The Caterpillar Tango by Jesus, Baby!. They can be described as a bit of an indie supergroup (The Coral, the brilliant TeenCanteen) and they fronted by the apparently ever youthful Davy Henderson. I’m expecting great things from Neu! Reekie!, but I’m guessing not as much as they are. This is The Caterpillar Tango:
And finally… There is an album which slipped my attention in the last couple of months and it is too gorgeous to ignore. It’s a concept album in a way, but don’t click away yet. About a decade ago Icelandic music was everywhere with bands such as Mum, Gus Gus, Emiliana Torrini, Benni Hemm Hemm, Leaves and Sigur Ros. Often their music reflected their country’s landscape, conjuring images of wide spaces, glacial plains and a quiet awe at where they live.
Following that template is Orkney Symphony of The Magnetic North from The Magnetic North, who are Erland Cooper from Erland and the Carnival, ex-Verve and fellow ‘Carnie’, Simon Tong and Hannah Peel (whose 2011 album Song From the Sea I highly recommend). This is music to travel with, literally or otherwise. It transports you to another place. There’s something about island life that produces strong artistic repsonses (see You Have Been Watching… Man of Aran) and this is particularly the case with Orkney. Here’s a couple of clips to give you an idea. This is Stromness followed by Bay of Skaill:
This month, a lot of the time will be spent in Edinburgh so if you’re playing there, particularly between the 16th and the 22nd, let me know and I’ll try and make it along. And if anyone would like us to record a podcast about what’s happening in Orkney, then you only have to invite us. Just a thought…