Phew, what a scorcher! Not the weather, obviously, but this summer was a season featuring some fine music of varied shapes and hues. Great pop music lead the way, as it should during these months, but the left-field, the quirky, and just plain classy were also in evidence. Great summers have great soundtracks, and this made 2016 unforgettable.
Aside from those you’re about to hear there has been memorable music, as previously mentioned, from Ette, Starless, The Royal Male, and the Duke, Detroit, and there were also excellent albums by Teenage Fanclub, The Pictish Trail, Kid Canaveral and King Creosote (and what a night round at Jools’ place that line-up would make), as well as the beautiful Lost Songs Of St Kilda – but the following are the musicians and songs which have soundtracked and summed up our summer of 2016.
Actually, the first album I’m going to mention came out in March, but didn’t reach Scots Whay Hae! until July. Lizabett Russo is an artist who it is almost impossible to pin down, and those are the people who are the most interesting. At times there is the pared down fragility of Kathryn Joseph, at others the vibrant Eastern European folk similar to that of Lorraine & the Borderlands, but then Russo will lead you down somewhere completely unexpected with dark jazz-tinged ballads which bring to mind the Tindersticks, Nick Cave or later PJ Harvey. The album is called The Burning Mountain, and each one of its 14 tracks is a treasure. If you’re like me then one listen will not be enough, and you’ll go back ago the beginning straight away. This is the title track:
Another early contender for album of the year, never mind the summer, was Errant Boy’s A Wayward Mirror. We talked to Sean and Stephen from their record company Errant Media back in April on the SWH! podcast, just before A Wayward Mirror was released, and there was that understandable sense of excitement and apprehension as to how the album would fare. They need not have worried as it is a standout, made with the care and craft which only comes from those steeped in music and determined to share their vision. There will be further mention of such people below, but Errant Media are a great example of the current DIY aesthetic which is not only helping the Scottish music scene survive, but thrive. From A Wayward Mirror, this is ‘Decades’:
I don’t think there has been a debut album more anticipated in the last few years than Teen Canteen’s Say It With A Kiss. I first saw them play back in 2012, and their defiantly personal brand of pop was impossible to resist. Four years later and time has not withered their effect one iota. You might imagine that making a record over a lengthy period could cause some of the spark which fired the original music to diminish (I’m looking at you, Stone Roses), but these songs are as fresh as the summer sun, and as equally nourishing. Love, life, family and friendship are the themes running through Say It With A Kiss, with the songs, perhaps unexpectedly, reminding me of early Bruce Springsteen in their attitude, pop prowess and joie de vivre. See if I’m not wrong. This is ‘How We Met’:
While we’re talking classic pop, David McKellar, who goes under the moniker McKellar, rounded the summer off perfectly with a new single, ‘Just A Man’ and an appropriate video to boot. I am a massive fan of a quality singer/songwriter, with shelves of albums from the likes of Aimee Mann, Neil Finn, Boo Hewerdine, Josh Rouse, Ron Sexsmith, etc; and these are the folk that ‘Just A Man’ puts me in mind of. A panacea for all that ails you, if this fails to raise your spirits I would seek medical help immediately, cos yer no well. Just what the doctor ordered:
A band who always surprise and delight are Thirty Three Connection, and they’re back with a new single ‘In The Rain’. As with all their music, it’s a song which reveals something new with each listen, but this is a step up in terms of production and playing from what went before. Previous releases have hinted that there were great things to come from Thirty Three Connection. Well, ‘In The Rain’ is that great thing – a slice of power-pop which never goes quite where you expect it to. At just under 6 minutes, it’s the sort of epic song that too few even attempt these days, never mind pull off. So impressive. This is ‘In The Rain’:
However, the album which has had the most attention round our way is Modern Studies Swell To Great, which, through judicious single releases throughout the year, had been well-trailed – increasing our expectations every time. Sure, we’ve mentioned it before, and no doubt we will again before the year is through, but now you can hear the whole it all makes perfect sense. Every song works on its own, but together they take on new meaning and strength. Swell To Great sounds like nothing else you’ll hear this year, but yet feels awfully familiar – as if you’ve been listening to it all your life.
That’s because its influences are impeccable, like the record collection you wish you had. The result is a beautifully crafted record by musicians who not only know how to play but how to play together. I don’t think I can praise this record further without it getting embarrassing for everyone involved, so, although you should take my word for it, here’s the most compelling evidence yet. This is ‘Swimming’:
Finally, we don’t like to look back too much without also looking forward, and perhaps the most welcome return of the year is from (I Build) Collapsible Mountains. When Scots Whay Hae! began reviewing new music, (in 2010, I think) the discovery of their debut album, A Month Of Lost Memories, was one of the main reasons for continuing. I fell in love with it and wanted to spread the word, and not just by drunkenly ranting at parties as had been the case pre-SWH!.
Now known as Collapsible Mountains, Luke Joyce (for it is he) is back with Sophie Adams joining him, and together they have made a wonderful new record, A Fire Will Start. As the years have passed Joyce’s rasping vocals have deepened to the stage that at times it sounds like you could be in danger of starting a fire just listening to him. Adams’ is the perfect partner in that their voices in harmony match the understated and sparse beauty of the music. Think of the collaboration between Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, but with the threat of violence removed, and you have some idea of what’s occurring, but that doesn’t really do it justice so best make your own mind up. This is ‘A Fire Will Start’:
Listening to Collapsible Mountains got us thinking about the amount of great music that we have reviewed since 2010. It has been life-affirming and inspirational as week by week, month on month, and year by year Scots Whay Hae! discovered new music which we felt compelled to share. The unifying factor among all of our featured acts in this roundup, and all the others over the years, is that everyone involved does what they do for the love of music; both the artists and their record companies, such as, among many others, Song, By Toad Records, Errant Media and Last Night From Glasgow. Spread the word and support your local musicians. We’d miss them like crazy if they weren’t there…