I’ve never really thought about how the changing seasons affect the music you listen to, but one of the interesting things about following the year through Scots Whay Hae!’s Tracks Of The Year Spotify list has been to see what the 2016 trends have been, and how they change.
It does seem that as the year has progressed the upbeat has slowly been replaced by more reflective and contemplative fair. I could try to come up with a clever reason for this, but the truth is this is the sort of music I like to have accompany me on cold, dark nights. So there’s melancholia as well as melody in this roundup of reviews. There’s even a mention of “mortification”. However, there’s also one tune which will be essential at any self-respecting Christmas night out. You’ve got to have an exception to prove the rule.
We begin with something magical and moving. it is something to have been is the new EP from Olive Grove Records, and features songs from Jo Mango (‘Wisps Of Something’), The State Broadcasters (‘I Am This’), The Son(s) (‘Mississippi’) and Call To Mind (Hole In The Heart’). Available on download and on beautiful green vinyl, it’s a reminder, as if you needed it, that the name Olive Grove has long been a guarantee of quality. They simply refuse to release anything other than the finest music, and, although each track on it is something to have been works individually, together they make one of the most significant and memorable releases of the year. Olive Grove’s Lloyd Meredith has gathered a fine family of artists around him, and it is fitting that this EP honours the memory of his late father as it’s the perfect summation of where Olive Grove have come from, and how strong they stand today. Buy a copy for someone you love. They’ll thank you for it, perhaps more than you’ll realise:
I discovered the work of Malmo in late summer and have been listening to them on a regular basis ever since. Anyone who knows their music will be unsurprised by this as they are influenced by the likes of Massive Attack and The Blue Nile, (particularly the latter’s first two albums which are among the finest records ever made, as any fule kno). There are also traces of Prefab Sprout, Bryan Ferry, Scritti Politti and The Bathers, at least to these ears. November saw the first new track from them in a while, and if you, like me, are late to their exquisitely tasteful party then this is the perfect place to start. It’s called ‘Dust’:
Half Formed Things are an Edinburgh three-piece who have a new EP on release, also called Half Formed Things. They describe themselves as “cinematic & mortific”, and while I understand what they mean – there is a sense of dark unease about their music – I don’t think it does them full justice as it only scratches the surface of what they offer. In only three tracks we have soaring vocals, off-kilter melodies, relentless drums, sublime piano, driving guitars, and even a little finger-clicking. There’s some David Sylvian, Kate Bush, Tindersticks and Nick Cave evident in their sound, to give you some notion of what’s going on, but the best idea is for you to listen for yourself. If you’re not smitten by the time track 3, ‘Swami’ finishes then go back to the beginning and start again because you’re just not working hard enough. But don’t worry; I promise it will be worth it:
When SWH! first started regular music reviews Meursault made me want to continue even when no-one knew if anyone was reading or taking a blind bit of notice. Here was the perfect example of what SWH! aimed to do – discover something new to us and shout about it as loud as possible till people listened. Enough history; suffice to say that Meursault (who are essentially Neil Pennycook and friends) have a fond place in our hearts, so their return is a reason for celebration. The new EP is called Simple Is Good, (released by Song, by Toad, while we’re mentioning favourite record labels) and judging by the title track we are back in safest of hands with a band who will break your heart and mend it again all in the space of one song. Pennycook’s plaintive vocals are backed by piano, strings, gentle drums and unobtrusive electronics, allowing the song to come to the fore and affect you almost without you realising. Understated beauty in musical form:
One of SWH!’s favourite acts of the last decade are The Bird & The Monkey, and there is something of their experimental sound in the music of The Eastern Swell, who also put me in mind of All About Eve and Trembling Bells. You could describe them as prog/folk/rock, if you needed to do such a thing. There is certainly something dark at their heart, as the single ‘Muckish Mountain’ suggests, but in the best possible sense. It’s the perfect song for a reflective New Year’s Day walk, at least it is if your Hogmanays are anything like mine. Their album One Day, A Flood received rave reviews on its release, and it looks like 2017 could be their year. Hear for yourself:
Another label which guarantees quality is Last Night From Glasgow. So far this year they have released music by Mark W. Georgsson, Emme Woods, Stephen Solo, Teen Canteen and Be Charlotte, all of which have been highlights in what’s turned out to be a hell of a year for music. To that we can now add ‘Mould Me’ from BooHooHoo. I was lucky enough to see them support Teen Canteen at the latter’s album launch earlier in the year, and they damn near stole the show. They make electronic pop music to lift heart and soul, and ‘Mould Me’ is a prime example of what they do best. Joyous, uplifting and as hooky as an ex-New Order bassist, BooHooHoo are guaranteed to make your life better. And, if the accompanying video doesn’t make you smile, ask a friend to check for a pulse. This is ‘Mould Me’:
I’m going to finish with a contender for album of the year. Lomond Campbell will be known to some as FOUND’s Ziggy Campbell, but a move from the urban to the rural has prompted a change of name and a solo career to match. The result is Black River Promise, a collection of songs which range from evocative instrumentals, through pared down laments, to songs which are altogether more complex and grand. Going back to my original point at the top of the page, it is the perfect soundtrack to autumn/winter. The production in particular is judged perfectly, at times sounding as if it was recorded in an abandoned building (which it basically was) but always concise and clear.
Mention must be made of the string arrangements by Pete Harvey which lift Campbell’s songs to new heights. This is an album which sounds fresh and intoxicating, and while there are definite nods towards the music of King Creosote, Lone Pigeon and James Yorkston & The Athletes, it also feels out of time, bringing to mind other famous pastoral records such as Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter or Five Leaves Left, John Martyn’s One World or even a darker take on Astral Weeks. I’ve been listening to it for the last fortnight daily and am quite comfortable to place it in that hallowed company. See if I’m not right. Here’s the title track:
The next music review will be a best of 2016, and that’s going to involve some tough choices. Any thoughts? Fire them our way…