In this writer’s opinion, 2017 has been a belter for Scottish music with exceptional albums from Mark W. Georgsson, BMX Bandits, Blue Rose Code, Findlay Napier, Stephen McLaren, State Broadcasters, The Miss’s, Annie Booth, Quick, Storm The Palace, The Sweetheart Revue, Best Girl Athlete, Campfires In Winter, Sun Rose, and many more (some of which feature below). Here’s hoping for more of this sort of thing in 2018.
But before we get ahead of ourselves – you’ll more than likely have had yer fill of ‘Best Of The Year’ lists , but if you can fit in one more, small but perfectly formed, this is our annual choice of the 10 best songs reviewed on these pages over the last 12 months. 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 or EPs.
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 2017 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…
There are times, and these are times, when you need a band and a song who will sort things out for you, and, at least for a short while, make everything all right. Yakima are that band, and ‘Wabi Sabi’ is that song, taken from their single Medicine For Family Entertainment. Sounding like the cooler young cousins of The Afghan Whigs, or a less cynical Buffalo Tom, this is a song guaranteed to brighten your day or your money back*. I suspect Yakima have an excellent record collection from which they have learned some important lessons and used them to make something brand spanking new and all of their own:
*(This is clearly not a binding promise – clearly).
Teen Canteen release their latest EP Sirens on Last Night From Glasgow, and I can guarantee you it will rank among our favourite records of the year (telt ye – AB). It builds on the brilliance of their debut album, Say It All With A Kiss, to take the music to another level. From Sirens this is ‘Millions’, and it’s reminiscent of so many records while being unmistakably Teen Canteen. It’s classic pop made by people who understand intrinsically what that entails, and which manages to lift you up while at the same time breaking your heart. A shock of hair and a trip into space? This is what it sounds like:
We are currently blessed in this country with great singer/songwriters. Rachel Sermanni, Mark W Georgsson, Michael Cassidy, and Conor Heafey to name just a very few. Siobhan Wilson deserves her place at the top of any such list. Her latest single ‘Whatever Helps’ hints at even greater things to come (which it did in the shape of the excellent album There Are No Saints – AB). Reminiscent of some of my favourite singers – Kristen Hersh, Liz Phair, Natalie Merchant, and Louise Quinn – the music is indie-power pop at its finest. While ‘Whatever Helps’ is without question a fantastic track it is only part of the story, as anyone who has seen Wilson play live will attest, and is further proof that Siobhan Wilson is one of the most interesting and engaging musicians around:
From time to time you discover a band and their music reminds you why it’s important to always search for something new (which I hope we help you do). You may think you’ve heard it all, but then a record will come your way which will unexpectedly and violently remove your hosiery. Such a record is The Great Albatross’s album Asleep In The Kaatskills. It immediately sounds like a release from one of your favourite bands, then you realise you now have a new one of those. It’s got an Americana feel, as the name suggests, similar to the music of Will Oldham, M. Ward, Richard Buckner, and Howe Gelb in places, and you’ll rarely hear me give higher praise than that. I love this record so much it almost hurts me to share it in case it doesn’t mean as much to you. But I have faith:
There are many exceptional electronic bands around at the moment, but few have the inherent style and vision of L-space. There is a winning understatement and languor to their music which allows your head to swim with ideas as well as sounds. It is expansive, and “Space” is the key word, not only in terms of the physical and the audio, but also that between your ears. Their latest, ‘Space Junk’, is a contender for song of the summer, marrying Giorgio Moroder and John Carpenter with St Etienne and Stereolab. If Nicolas Winding Refn is looking for a band to soundtrack his next movie then he should look no further:
Every year there is a band who make a claim to take their rightful place among your well-established favourites. Half Formed Things are more than half-way there already. Their eponymous EP is one of the best things I’d heard for some time, and the following track, ‘Embers’, didn’t even make the cut for that, (although it is now included on the recent re-press). It highlights what they do so well – make atmospheric music that slowly builds, but also ebbs and flows, leading you in unexpected directions. At first it may appear sparse and minimalist, but listen closely – theirs is a complex and layered sound which gives up more with every play.
As with much of the best music the reason it affects so strongly is difficult to fully explain coherently as it is as much physical as it is intellectual – a problem for any reviewer. The only thing I can state with authority is that Half Formed Things make music which is very special indeed. I can’t wait to hear what they do next, and if you get the chance to see them live grab it with every available limb as watching them with an audience adds another dimension again:
To kick us off, it’s our album of the month (September), and one of the best of the year. It’s Sister John’s Returned From Sea, and it’s a delight from start to finish – a proper album where each track feeds into and enhances the rest. Comparisons can be made with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, but I was also put in mind of Conor Oberst, Micah P Hinson and even Joan Baez. If the music which has become known as Americana is your sort of thing then Sister John are the band for you. But you don’t need to take my word for it – this is ‘He Came Down’:
As regular readers will know, SWH! are huge fans of Errant Boy, a band who always seem to make the music we need to hear just when we need to hear it. They are back with arguably their best single yet, ‘Means’. It’s a treat and a treasure for indie kids of all ages, bringing to mind Postcard alumni Josef K, The Jazzateers, and The Go-Betweens, but also The Secret Goldfish, Felt, and Echo and the Bunnymen, but with Sean Ormsby’s unmistakable vocals making it unmistakably Errant. It’s a song to fall in love with and to – simply thrilling, honey. This is ‘Means’:
There are few things better than the joy of the new, and Out Of The Swim are new to SWH!. I could have picked other tracks to feature, so go listen to their Soundcloud page for more, but I’ve gone for ‘The Change’. If you know the work David Sylvian did with Mark Isham and David Torn then you’ll have an idea as to what you are about to hear. If you don’t, you should. ‘The Change’ is not only unlike anything you’ve heard this year, it’s more then likely better than anything you’ve heard this year. I’d put money on it:
We are going to end in Glasgow’s Necropolis, the setting for the video for Tenement and Temple’s single ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow.’ They are Monica Queen and Johnny Smillie, and they continue to make beautiful music together, just as they have since their days in Thrum. In this reviewer’s opinion, Monica is quite simply the finest singer around, and every home should own her solo records Ten Sorrowful Mysteries and Return of the Sacred Heart (produced by one J. Smillie). I could tell you how beautiful it is, probably using words like “ethereal”, “dreamlike” and maybe even “hypnagogic” if I’ve had a glass of wine or two, but instead you can listen for yourself right here and now:
The perfect end to a very good year. Bubbling under were Boo Hoo Hoo, The Color Waves, Wayne Moon Pilot, Yorkston/Thorne/Khan, Looper, and Shards, to name just a few. Of course the obvious thing would be to make the list longer, but we’re sticklers for traditional ways. Anyway, we hope you find something of which you approve. Bring on 2018…