I don’t know what they put in the water in October, but selecting the best new music for last month has proved extraordinarily tricky with at least two contenders for album of the year as well as a fine selection of singles and new tracks from a wonderfully varied cast of musicians and bands. Sounds too good to be true? Well, see for yourself.
I’m going to start with an album of remixes, a prospect which may not fill you with excitement, but this is one you’ll definitely want to hear. Jo Mango’s Murmuration is one of Scots Whay Hae!’s favourite albums of recent times, something we share with many discerning music fans. The album has been revisited and remixed, as discussed on our recent podcast with Olive Grove’s Lloyd Meredith, and it is simply wonderful. It’s called Transformuration, and those involved include Adem, Joyful Lungs, Machines In Heaven, Fraction Man and Carbs among an impressive cast.
Such projects are fraught with danger as different styles and approaches from those remixing can result in a collection of individual songs which don’t work as a whole, but here everyone seems to understand and respect the original material and as a result you get an album which works with, not against, Murmuration. In fact, it’s the perfect accompaniment. Remixing folk music is not a new idea; think Beth Orton, Kings of Convenience or Andrew Bird for some of the better examples, but rarely has it happened as successfully and beautifully as it does here. This is ‘Evermore (The Cormorant Remix)’:
There’s a lot of terrific noise in the roundup this month, and the first example comes from Natalie Pryce who have fast become one of the best bands around. Taking influence from The Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds, Afghan Whigs, Husker Du and Butthole Surfers, at least to these ears, they are one of the smartest outfits in both suit and deed, making songs to accompany your nightmares, and create new ones afresh. Against stiff competition, this is the best thing they’ve done so far, with Mark Swan crooning as if his, and maybe your, life depends on it. As good as they are recorded I can’t wait to catch them play live. The latest in their series of ‘name’ singles, this is ‘Emily’:
There are few things better in this world than great guitar led power pop. It’s the sort of music that can be generic, bland and formulaic, but when it’s done right it puts a smile on your face, a spring in your step and makes everything right in the world. Enter, the Barstow Bats. On the evidence of their debut eponymous EP it was clear that they knew exactly what they were doing and what they were playing, but if you had any doubts their new EP, Partners In Crime, released on Smart Indie, will banish those. The jangling guitars, driving drums and plaintive vocals recall The Strokes at their early best. This the title track from the EP:
Next up are United Fruit, a Glasgow band who make a sound that will stay with you long after you’ve stopped listening. Their latest single ‘Open Your Eyes’ is epic, with more hooks than a night round Pinhead’s house, and is catchier than (insert topical tasteless reference here). I’ll put some money on you playing this again straight away as one listen just isn’t enough, and when you have a frontman with the lungs of Iskander Stewart you cannot be ignored. One of the singles of the year? It feels that way. This is ‘Open Your Eyes’:
I told you this month was good, and the hits keep coming. The Duke, Detroit have been getting well deserved attention for their brand of dark electro synthpop in the fine tradition of mid-period Human League, John Foxx and Japan with just enough Giorgio Moroder to keep things interesting. If you’ve ever loved the sound of a Moog then you should take a listen to The Duke, Detroit, which you can do here and now. This is ‘Accelerate’:
Edinburgh’s Vasquez are a band whose sound is quite hard to pin down, but I’m going to give it a go. On their new single, ‘Thumbmusic’, imagine a more upbeat and urgent Explosions in The Sky or This Will Destroy You with the late Jack Bruce on bass…and they are much better than I’ve just made them sound. I’ll try again; if Frank Zappa was around today and decided to jam with Prince, it would sound something like ‘Thumbmusic’. Ah, to hell with it. You decide for yourself:
Video of the month is for a brilliantly scuzzy slice of industrial pop/rock from Half of Me, ’99’. It’s a three-minute instant classic song of the type which too few people make these days. Infectious, experimental and engaging, it worked its way under your skin before you know it. This is ’99’:
I’m going to finish with the latest album from a man I regard as one of the great musicians and composers of our time. I just found out recently that Craig Armstrong, for it is he, did time with The Big Dish which perhaps explains his understanding of an understated pop hook and his ability to pick the perfect vocalist for a song. As well as fellow ‘Dish’, Steven Lindsay, he has collaborated in the past with Liz Frazer, Paul Buchanan, David McAlmont, Wendy Stubbs and Pavarotti, and if I was making a list of my favourites singers they would all be vying for a place.
His latest album, It’s Nearly Tomorrow, is now here, and god it’s good. As well as the instrumental tracks that no one does better, it sees Buchanan return for ‘It’s Not Alright’ and ‘All Around Love’, and, for me, that alone would make it indispensable, but the album also features Katie O’Halloran, James Grant, the underrated Jerry Burns, and head Suede, Brett Anderson, with the best thing he’s done since he split with Bernard Butler. You have to get your hands on this album and play it til you are a wreck on the floor. Armstrong’s music has that ability to make you feel too keenly, as it worms its way into your heart and soul and refuses to leave. Paul Buchanan once said that if you’re to fill silence then it better be with something worth hearing as silence is a beautiful thing. It is little wonder he found a musical mate in Armstrong as there are few who understand this as well as he does. This is Crash featuring the aforementioned Mr Anderson:
I don’t know about you, but I’m going back to the top of the page to start again, and November is already shaping up as more of the same, yet completely different, just as we like it.
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