The nights may be drawing in but the (in-a-just-&-fair-world-they-would-be) hits keep coming. As we approach the time when, love them or hate them, sites such as this one start to contemplate compiling their end-of-year lists it’s important that the new music released in 2018’s latter months receives proper recognition and its due. It’s not just for Christmas, you know.
With that in mind we have a suitably reflective selection of songs, welcoming back old friends, and more recent ones. In fact everyone mentioned below has appeared in a previous SWH! music review at some point, and we make no apologies for that. A couple made their first appearance just last month, but with others we go back years. It all makes for a fine selection and collection of tunes, some of which will move you, and others which will make you move.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin. The new single from The Eastern Swell has got me reminiscing hard. Look at the cover above. A child dressed as an astronaut, holding a Spacehopper (I believe taken from the cover of Andrew Crumey’s novel Sputnik Caledonia), the clock from Glasgow’s Tron Theatre, The Olympia Theatre in Bridgeton – it couldn’t be more nostalgic for Glaswegians of a certain age, and it gives you an idea of what awaits you when you put the needle on the record, or, in this case, press play.
It’s called ‘Down Again By Blackwaterside’, from the album Hand Rolled Halo, and it’s their take on, and re-imagining of, an often covered trad-folk ballad which influenced musicians from Bert Jansch through Led Zeppelin to Altan. The Eastern Swell’s version moves me for reasons I can’t quite comprehend, speaking to something deep-rooted in my cultural and musical memories. I think it’s to do with the traditional element – music from the land and of the land, story telling and song handed down through generations rather than heard on radio or TV.
Add to that the accompanying video which is reminiscent of, and may even be, an Eastern European children’s animation from my youth, and I get a kick of nostalgia writ large. Whatever the reasons it’s powerful stuff. After my first play I immediately shared the song with my brother. It is like finding an old holiday photo or childhood recording – something which can be enjoyed by everyone, but extra special to those with whom you shared those times. This is ‘Down Again By Blackwaterside’:
There have been some great Americana records in 2018 from the likes of The Gracious Losers, Starry Skies, Martha Healey, and Wesley A. Chung. It could be argued that there were two records released in 2017 which seemed to kick-start this Americana revival, Sister John’s Returned From Sea and James Edwyn and the Borrowed Band’s High Fences.
From the latter comes a new single, ‘Quoting Sagan’, and it’s a timely reminder of just what a great record High Fences is. If you haven’t yet got yourself a copy of then it will surely convince you to do so, and proves once more that this is a band who make it look easy in a manner only those who live and breathe their music can. James Edwyn and the Borrowed Band are at the very top of their game right now, either recorded or live (believe me, they are one of the best live bands around). And how cold do they look on that boat? Now that’s suffering for your art! Ladies and gentlemen, ‘Quoting Sagan’:
You may have had to search hard for good news in 2018, but learning that Attic Lights were back with new music was definitely just that. They do have quite the reputation to live up to as their debut album, Friday Night Lights, was rightly lauded as one of the best records of 2008, and they followed it up with the equally excellent Super De Luxe in 2013. Their next one is the intriguingly titled Love In The Time Of Shark Attacks and is due in the new year.
The first track released from it, ‘Never By Myself’, suggests normal service has been resumed. From the opening jangling guitar and familiar vocal harmonies, theirs is a sound which has DNA immediately recognisable to anyone who enjoys classic pop music from across the generations, from the likes of Todd Rundgren, Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, Matthew Sweet, Camera Obscura, the Wondermints, and too many others to name here, but hopefully you get the idea. Or you could just listen below and discover your own comparisons. Whatever they are I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s great to have Attic Lights back. This is ‘Never By Myself’:
How to define Barbe Rousse? To paraphrase John Bender, “You couldn’t if you tried.”. However, that’s what I’m not paid for, so here goes. Their last single to feature on these pages was ‘Elephants Don’t Suddenly Disappear’, which we said was, “..bound to bring joy, like sunshine on a rainy day.” Their latest, ‘Me And Your Mama‘, proves that we’re dealing with a band, and a man in Alasdair Kelly (for the vision is his), who have a distinct and individual pop sensibility, (in a similar manner to Luke Haines, Lawrence Hayward or Duglas T. Stewart), as well as a penchant for colourful knitwear.
There’s also a strong flavour of Paul Simon and Scotland’s own Aberfeldy, on this track in particular – everyone named having a winning way with a melody in common. ‘Me And Your Mama’ is a song so uplifting it should be free on the NHS. I’m beginning to think that Barbe Rousse could just be the band we need right now:
Although the same could be said for OK Button. They appeared in last month’s review with their debut single ‘The Message‘ which we described as, “..ethereal electropop with a sting in the tale, and reminds me of some of my favourite records of the ’90s and ’00s”. They have another track, ‘Beds’, released this month which easily cements their place as one of the best new bands around. But it does much more than that. With it a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of OK Button’s identity.
The music, and Amber Wilson’s ice-cool vocals, may sound as if they should be played in the best bars in town (and they should), but there’s a darkness – an anger which lies beneath – which is palpable, and which gives their sound unexpected energy and emotion. If ‘The Message’ was a demand for respect on an individual level, ‘Beds’ looks at much wider issues, calling for culpability and responsibility globally. Agit-pop for our age, OK Button are an iron fist in a velvet glove. This is ‘Beds’:
It’s another warm welcome back, this time to The Van T’s who have always made the most glorious noise, but their latest single ‘Suis-Je Cool‘ seems like a great leap forward, sure to please their fans, but destined to win them many more. I could write things such as it sounds like The Go-Gos meets Kenickie, or if Elastica had hung out in Cambuslang instead of Camden they wished they sounded like The Van T’s, or if The Slits and Bis had fallen into Seth Brundle’s telepods The Van T’s are the band who would emerge on the other side… I’ll stop there, and simply urge you to check out their back catalogue, but not before you’ve listened below. Suis-Je Cool – that was never in doubt:
Another to make an appearance two months running are Vive La Rose. We have already proclaimed their album For She Who Hangs The Moon one of the year’s finest – indeed we like it so much there’ll be a podcast with Vive La Rose’s David Luximon-Herbert with you shortly. The last single was ‘Schiehallion‘, and it is followed by the double A-side release (if that idea still holds) of ‘The Watchmaker’ and ‘Interior Rules’. We offer you a listen of the former which demonstrates fully Luximon-Herbert’s distinctive vocals which speak of a life lived, and not always easily.
Keeping with the wider themes of the album, it’s a song of love, regret and reflection, but with an eye to the hope the future holds. For She Who Hangs The Moon is the perfect soundtrack for the wee small hours of the morning, when thoughts turn to times past, both good and bad. Do yourself a favour and get familiar with Vive La Rose. You’ll thank me for it:
I’m going to finish with the latest record featuring the legend who is Karine Polwart. There is a belief that you can judge people by the company they keep. If that’s the case then Polwart is as good as they come as she only seems to work with the most interesting and inventive musicians. Last time round it was with Pippa Murphy on the SAY Award shortlisted A Pocket Of Wind Resistance , and now she’s back with regular collaborators, her brother Steven Polwart, and the fabulous Inge Thomson, on Laws Of Motion.
It’s been a while since I have played an album over and over and over in the manner I did with Laws Of Motion. It’s an irresistible force of nature, a record which will not be denied made by musicians who know exactly what they are doing, where they are going, and where they are from. If I can link it back to The Eastern Swell review at the top of the page, this is timeless music which speaks to something deep inside – but in this case the cultural memory is national rather than personal. It’s similar to reading the poetry of Kathleen Jamie, or an Andrew Greig novel – utterly contemporary yet timeless, and with a link to the land which is unashamed and undeniable. This is the title track, ‘Laws of Motion’:
See you back here very soon as we still have a lot to share before the end of the year…