To say we live in strange times is understatement veering towards sarcasm. I don’t wish to appear trite, but in the worst of times, for whatever reasons they may be, music in particular brings me comfort like nothing else can.
Feeling down? Listen to Smokey sing, Johnny play guitar, or Dylan do anything. It never fails me, and it hasn’t this time round. With that in mind, putting together this roundup of the best in new music from the last month has not simply been a pleasure but seriously uplifting. In short – I needed that.
First off, we have what I consider the pop song of the summer. Ette’s album Homemade Lemonade is out on the 22 July – and you really should get your order in now. But you don’t need to take my word for it as listening to ‘The Attack of the Glam Soul Cheerleaders (Parts 1 & 2)‘ will persuade you within the first 10 seconds. This is pop music at its very best, from the opening handclaps and keys, through the guitar riff which drives things alongside Carla J. Easton’s perfect bubblegum vocals, to the false ending and joyous wig-out which follows. It’s a reminder that the best pop music does not need a big production – it can spring from anyone and anywhere when the inspiration strikes. If Phil Spector had lived round our way, this is the sort of wall of sound he’d be making:
Ette headlined the Olive Grove Records Review at Oran Mor last month, which is one of the gigs of the year so far. No real surprise as it also featured Call To Mind, The Moth and The Mirror (and what a set that was) and the debut of The Royal Male, the solo venture from Woodenbox’s Ali Downer. The Royal Male’s album is Plastic Throne and the single is ‘Start When It’s Over’. Both have a wonderful mix of eclectic piano, understated horns, and a liberal sprinkling of whip-smart melodies reminiscent of Neil Hannon and Ben Folds. Having heard the whole album I can confirm it’s an absolute joy. The single alone brings a smile to my face every time I play it, which has been a lot. What say you?:
The next song is a release by new Glasgow label Last Night From Glasgow, whose timely arrival promises to be one of the most exciting developments in Scottish music this year. They proclaim to be “The world’s first crowd funded not-for-profit record label. ” That would be interesting enough in itself, but what’s really exciting is that their first release, Mark W. Georgsson ft. Katie McArthur with ‘The Ballad Of The Nearly Man’, is a quite wonderful slice of nu-folk similar to the music of Findlay Napier or Blue Rose Code, with Katie McArthur’s vocals in particular a sparkling revelation. It’s simply gorgeous.
The next two Last Night From Glasgow releases will be from Emme Woods and Teen Canteen (featuring Ette’s Carla J. Easton) which further marks them out as a label to follow and support, something you can do right here. But if you need further convincing, here is ‘The Ballad Of The Nearly Man’:
One of the best albums of 2015 was The Deadline Shakes‘ Zealots. If you haven’t yet got yourself acquainted with this record then it is never too late, and a timely reminder of just how good it is comes in the shape of new single ‘Shelters’. The greatest trick the ‘Shakes pull off is to put you in mind of all your favourite bands while remaining defiantly and unmistakably themselves. In this case I hear Echo and the Bunnymen, The Beatles and even The Cardiacs, but you are never in any doubt as to who this is, and just how good they are. If you haven’t let The Deadline Shakes into your lives, it’s about time you did:
Talking of SWH! favourites, one of the best gigs we saw in 2015 was The Begbies at Live At New Lanark where they made an already great day even better by owning the stage. We managed to have a chat with them afterwards, and it was clear that a love of ska and playing live was their uniting force. They are back with a new single ‘It’s Just The Way’, and I can’t believe there is one person reading this who is not going to have their day made better by it. Try it. What have you got to lose, except, perhaps, your dignity as you party like it’s 1981?:
As well as living in the here and now, it’s important to have things to look forward to, and one of those things is the Modern Studies’ album Swell To Great. It’s due in September on Song By Toad Records (another great indie-label), but just in case this slips your mind they have been releasing tracks to keep appetites whet. The latest is ‘Dive-Bombing‘ and it showcases their analogue chamber pop perfectly, supporting and never overbearing Emily Scott’s fragile vocals. Modern Studies music is so elegant I feel I should be better dressed in its presence. After you…
Regular readers will know how fond we are of The Duke, Detroit round these parts. Their single ‘Iconic’ was one of the songs of 2015, an infectious dance track which crossed the best of electronica with the classic disco soul of Chic. Now, The Duke, Detroit are back with the Style Over Substance EP, and although the electronics remain to the fore, this is more a “morning after the night before” affair – like Pulp’s This Is Hardcore following on from Different Class. The track which shows this best is ‘True Romance’, a mixture of hope and despair of the sort Portishead and Broadcast deal in. Every track on Style Over Substance is strong, but here is ‘True Romance’ so you can make up your own mind:
And finally, Foreignfox are a band who always sound as though they don’t just want to make music – they have to. There is an urgency and unsettling energy in what they do. Cathartic is the word which springs to mind, both for the band and their audience. This is music made to play live, and if the world is a fairer place than it currently seems Foreignfox will be top of the bill at a festival near you soon. The music drives forward in the manner of Explosions In The Sky, yet the lyrics and vocals suggest a vulnerability at odds with this, and it is this clash that makes Foreignfox an interesting proposition. Their new single shows you what I’m getting at, and it’s called ‘Monsoon‘:
That’s all folks, and don’t you feel better for it? Perhaps only pop music can save us now…