Looking back, as is everyone’s wont at this time of year, two things in particular are striking about 2016 in music. There was the continued rise and success of the independent record label, especially Last Night From Glasgow, Song, by Toad, Olive Grove Records and Errant Media, and it was a year of classic albums, from the triumphant return of Teenage Fanclub, Mogwai, King Creosote and Kid Canaveral, through the mostly excellent SAY Award nominees, to those released by the artists below.
These are our choices for the 10 best songs reviewed on these pages this year. As ever, it’s a list which focuses on individual tracks, but if you like what you hear you should investigate further as most of them are to be found on equally awesome albums.
If you aren’t sated by what follows you can discover more of the new music we covered on Scots Whay Hae! by listening to our Best of 2016 Spotify list.
But enough preamble, here’s the countdown listed in chronological order and what we thought about them at the time, with a few relevant updates…
Errant Boy are another who have recently featured on those pages. That’s because we like to be surprised and delighted, and it appears that the ability to do both is in Errants Boy’s DNA. This is their latest single, ‘Black Dress, Black Cab’, and it demands repeated listenings as it takes you to different places every time. The song moves from menace to magic and back again in a single line, with layered acoustics and vocals which seem to pull you in opposite directions. It reminds me of The Woodentops in the sense that what you are listening to is way more complex than you initially believe, and that’s a great thing. I feel I could write a short essay on this song. I’ve been listening to it a lot. Can you tell?
“Steve Mason is back with an essential record”, could be the least surprising sentence you read this year. We know he makes interesting and memorable music, but he has also become one of my favourite and most reassuring singers, with his soft, melancholic vocals matching the lyrics and music perfectly. I’m working real hard not to gush here as it would be embarrassing for me, for him, & let’s be honest, a little bit for everyone. Suffice to say after listening to the album Meet The Humans solidly for the last week if there is a more enjoyable collection of songs released this year I will be ecstatic. And if there’s not I’ll still be ecstatic, I just won’t be surprised. This is ‘Planet Sizes’:
It’s only March, and already we have been discussing some great records. Another is the new album from Adam Stafford, consistently one of the more interesting and original musicians around. That is certainly true of his latest album, Taser Revelations. You know someone is out of the ordinary when they remind you of influences you haven’t thought of in years. He’s like audio therapy, allowing you access to memories of long forgotten favourite records. Devo, Thomas Dolby and The The have been dug out on the back of listening to Stafford’s latest, but as I write this I’m listening to Taser Revelations once more, which I hope tells you all you need to know. There’s something magic going on here, I just can’t put my finger on exactly what it is. But then that’s part of the man’s charm. This is ‘Phantom Billions’:
Kris Drever is best know as a member of Lau, but you should check out his solo material as it is equally fine. You now have no excuse not to do so as he has a new album out. It’s called If Wishes Were Horses, and it shows off all of his considerable musical gifts. Rightly lauded as a fine musician he is one of my favourite singers – his is a voice you want to go for a pint with. Somone once described Kris Drever to me as Scotland’s answer to Ryan Adams. Ryan Adams wishes. This is the title track from If Wishes Were Horses, and it’s a record which gives you more with each listen. Sheer class from beginning to end:
Starless is the latest project from ex-Love andMoney man Paul McGeechan and has, among others, The Bathers’ Chris Thomson, The Lotus Project’s Marie Claire Lee, Julie Fowlis and Paul Buchanan singing vocals on various tracks, each one of whom are among my favourite singers.
However, the real treat for me is the overdue return of Gwen Stewart, singer in legendary bands such as Wild River Apples and Sugartown, and who is in possession of one of Scotland’s great voices. She sings on the 2.03 minute ‘Yellow Midnight’ and it’s hugely exciting to have her back, if only for a such a short while. With that line-up Mr McGeechan is spoiling us, and every one should realise it.
I could have written this month’s roundup on Starless alone, breaking it down track by track, but that’s not what we’re here for, and there is other great music on its way. However, I wanted to get across why this album means so much to me and has touched me so profoundly. It’s not just that as a collection it is reminiscent of Craig Armstrong at his very best. It’s not purely because every track is unforgettable but, when taken together, works towards a much greater whole. It’s not as simple as those singers and the songs, even. It’s because this is the sound of my music – it’s in my bones. Always has been, and always will.
Featuring the heavenly voice of the aforementioned Chris Thomson, this is ‘Misty Nights’, and if it makes you feel as it does me, we’re going to get on just fine:
Next we have what I consider the pop song of the summer. Ette’s album Homemade Lemonade is out now on Olive Grove Records – and you really should own a copy. 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:
As well as living in the here and now, it’s important to have things to look forward to and one of the things that kept me going this year, from the moment I heard the first release ‘Ten White Horses‘, was the promise of the Modern Studies’ album Swell To Great. It’s out now on Song By Toad Records, and the result is a beautifully crafted record by musicians who not only know how to play but how to play together. Through 2016 they released tracks to keep our appetites whet. The finest was ‘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…
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 (Cherry Pie)’:
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. It is the perfect soundtrack to autumn/winter and a contender for album of the year. 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:
We end 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’). Now technically that’s four tracks, but house rules rule. 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:
That’s yer whack for another year. Bubbling under were Lizabet Russo, McKellar, Half Formed Things, De Rosa and Vukovi, to name just a few. Of course the obvious thing is to make the list longer, but we’re sticklers for traditional ways. Anyway, we hope you find something of which you approve. Bring on 2017…