It’s interesting to write this after putting together two radio shows made solely from music featured on this year’s SAY Award Eliglible Album list (Yes, we have a SWH! radio show – haven’t I mentioned it? You can catch up with all the old shows here – SWH! on LP Radio). What it proved was that last year was phenomenal in terms of Scottish music, with a huge variety of styles and genres on show, and of such high quality it’s genuinely astonishing. It fair makes yer heart swell…
This month’s review proves that situation is not only continuing, but is arguably getting even better. Without a doubt it has been one of the hardest to compile as there was so much good new music released in the last month, and to whittle it down to eight was tough. There’s a mix of noisepop, jazz/folk, electronica, gaelictronica, singer/songwriters, American roots, and much more, including at least one album (at least one) destined to become an all-time classic. Think I’m joking? Perhaps exaggerating for effect? Read on and decide for yourself…
We are going to start with Half Formed Things. Regular readers of these reviews will probably be able to write this one for themselves as I have made it clear that when it comes to Half Formed Things it was a case of love at first listen, which would have been their eponymous EP back in 2016. Since then there are few things I have been awaiting with as much anticipation as their debut album, Live In The Flicker. Now it is with us and I can assure you, and me, that it more than lives up those high expectations.
The album opens and closes with the peal of church bells, and the songs in-between each tell their own tales, like chapters in a book, not unlike Tindersticks, or, and I don’t say this lightly, The Blue Nile – with each song working individually but coming together to create an even greater whole. Other influences I detect are David Sylvian, Kate Bush, and late-period Talk Talk, with a similar sense of space being evoked. That suggests ambience, yet the music is always insistent – it will not be ignored. There’s a sense of momentum to the album – like glimpsing scenes from a moving train, you’re not quite sure what you’ve just witnessed.
That’s what the first listen to Live In The Flicker is like, you know you’ll have to listen again, and again, to try and understand fully. From the opening ‘Flicker’ to the closing ‘The Calm’ you are taken to another place by a soundtrack which makes your head swim – with instruments being used for different purposes – drums and cymbals take the lead, piano riffs keep the rhythm, and harmonies (oh, the harmonies!) becoming an instrument all of their own.
So make room in your lives for Half Formed Things’ Live In The Flicker as it may just be your new favourite album – or maybe, for you, just a very good one. Ultimately you decide, I can only guide. You certainly won’t hear another album like it until they make their next one. Scottish Album of the Year? Half Formed Things may just have made an album for the ages.
How do you follow that? Well, what about a track from an album which has now become the most eagerly awaited of the year, and a video featuring friend of SWH! and Olive Grove Records hi-heed-yin, Lloyd Meredith, tied to a pole in the middle of nowhere. The artist is Broken Chanter and the track is ‘Wholesale’, and if it’s an indicator of the quality of the rest of the album (*Spoiler Alert – it is) then we are all in for a treat.
As anyone who has been to a Broken Chanter live show knows ‘Wholesale’ has quickly become a highlight of the set, and rightly so as it is Celtic pop at its finest, with David MacGregor’s world weary vocals (for Broken Chanter is he) beautifully offset by heavenly harmonies and a band playing at the peak of their powers. They include Audrey Tait, Jill Sullivan, Gav Prentice, Hannah Shepherd, Kim Carnie, and Emma Kupa – just about the most super-group you could imagine. If the summer starts with Half Formed Things and Live In The Flicker it could be rounded off nicely by the Broken Chanter album. Phew, what a scorcher! In the meantime, enjoy ‘Wholesale’, video and all:
What I love most about these reviews is discovering someone new to SWH! and falling hard for their music. Norrie McCulloch got in touch last month and kindly sent a copy of his latest album Compass. It is packed to the gunnels with great songs, with Norrie’s voice as smooth as a Speyside single malt.
There is some great American influenced roots music being made and played in Scotland at the moment, and Norrie has made a record which stands alongside the best of them, and which deserves to be heard far and wide. If you like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, together or as seperates, then this is for you. If Haight-Ashbury had sat at the foot of Stirling Castle this is the music you would have heard. This track is called ‘Road Sign’ and it is the very definition of a great song. Listen once, listen again, and before you know it you’re hooked.
I have probably seen Lizabett Russo live more than any other artist in the last 12 months, with L-Space possibly the only exception, and I can tell you that she never gives the same gig twice. There have been nights of traditional Transylvanian songs, film soundtracks, folk and fairy tales, and then there is her own music which is a mixture of them all. Her latest album is Something In Movement, made with her regular musical collaborator, guitar virtuoso Graeme Stephen, as well as Pete Harvey, Tim Lane, and Tim Vincent-Smith.
It’s a fantastic collection of songs in every sense of the word, with Russo’s voice never better. There seems to be a new-found confidence in her work, as if this is the album she’s been wanting to make from the start. Be under no illusion, Lizabett Russo is the real deal, and one of the most interesting and intriguing musicians around. This song, ‘The Hunter & The Prey’, makes that point perfectly:
Another new band to SWH! are Bad Protagonist Club but I’m sure this won’t be their only appearance on these pages. This single is ‘Verdant Forest (Waiting For Me)’ and it’s exactly the sort of pop song which works its way into your life without you noticing. You get up in the morning, it’s just there! There are chiming guitars, drums battered to within an inch of their lives, vocal harmonies as much shouted as sung, and bursts of energy followed by periods of contemplation, before it all kicks off again – like a kid whose tooth-kind Ribena has been replaced with Buckfast. This, in case you were in doubt, is a very good thing. And this is ‘Verdant Forest (Waiting For Me)’:
Amy Duncan has regularly appeared on these pages over the years, and the reason for that is she just keeps on making music which lifts the heart and soothes the soul (hell, it might even soothe Bad Protagonist Club). Her latest single, ‘Labyrinth’, is no exception, although, like most of the music featured in this review, there is a twist in the tale. In Amy’s case it’s the electronic sounds and jazz rhythms which appear halfway through and turn what is a perfectly lovely song into something altogether more interesting. Amy Duncan’s music makes the world a better place, and right now we need her, and those like her, more than ever. This is ‘Labyrinth’:
Previous podcast guests WHYTE are back with a new album, tairm (following on from the acclaimed Fairich) and to say it’s a thing of beauty is understatement in the extreme. Once again composer Ross Whyte’s electronic music underscores Gaelic songs sung by Alasdair Whyte, and their marriage is magical. The songs are based in the folk-tradition, but Ross’s music, perhaps unexpectedly, enhances that feeling rather than diluting it.
It helps that Alasdair’s vocals sound like they are sung by an old soul, and he clearly has an inherent understanding of what he sings and where it comes from. I mentioned the SAY Award at the top of the page and I genuinely think that tairm has a chance of being the first Gaelic language album in contention. Put aside any doubts you may have and join in as it’s a record which deserves to be heard by the widest audience possible. That includes you, by the way.
Braemar’s Youth Team also have new music for our pleasure in the form of the album Threshhold Experience and it is the result of Angus Upton (for they are he) spending a winter immersing himself in Krautrock, the works of Brian Eno, and possibly The Durutti Column if the title of one track is anything to go by – an excellent way to spend those long nights. It’s certainly been time well spent as Upton proves again he is one of the most exciting young musicians around today, and if you haven’t yet got his 2018 album Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (an eligible album for this year’s SAY Award) then I advise you to do just that. But only after you listen to the following. Youth Team are in it for the long haul and that’s a journey you want to be part of.
Meet you here next month for more of the best in new Scottish music. But while you wait, remember that SWH! now has a regular radio show on LP Radio on Monday nights, 7-9pm. You can catch up with the previous shows, along with all the other fantastic LP Radio shows, by following the relevant links in the sidebar.