We try and make these reviews as varied and diverse as possible to showcase the full range of the music on offer. However, you can’t force these things and often certain themes, styles and genres dominate, and if we want to point you in the direction of the best music – and we do – then you have to face facts, and the facts are the following…
This month’s review is bookended by two of the best, and most thought provoking, albums of the year so far. Between them you will find a righteous celebration of great pop music, songs that will go some way to soundtracking your summer. When taken together you have a perfect balance of light and shade, yin & yang, upstairs for thinking, downstairs for dancing, and…well, you get the idea with that. What we always aim to give you is the best new music to reach us over the last month.
First off we have the double-album Crow Hill from Meursault, which is so much more than a collection of songs. The titular ‘Crow Hill’ is a town full of interesting characters whose stories need to be told, with each track doing just that. It’s dark, disturbing, and completely absorbing. It’s an album to get lost in as it demands your attention and time. You can’t just decide to sit down and listen to track 2, side 3. This has be listened from start to finish as it has a narrative throughline to follow.
The music can be delicate and harmonious, then moves to discord, storm and stress, and at one point almost primal scream (but not Primal Scream). If you want a comparison then I could suggest early-mid period Nick Cave, but not just his music – I would also ask you to consider his novel And The Ass Saw The Angel. But have no doubt – Crow Hill is a singular vision unlike any other. Some may call it a concept album, but that description sells it seriously short. It’s fiction, musical theatre, poetry, graphic novel, and more. Put simply, it’s art – using the personal to make comment on the universal. I recommend you invest, make yourself comfortable, dim the lights, put your headphones on, and take a trip to Crow Hill. And it is a trip.
If ever anyone deserves praise for their name alone it is surely Edwin Organ, a Glasgow-based producer and songwriter about whom little is known. Or, to put it another way, about whom I know little. But as TV detectives tell us you begin with the clues in front of you, and exhibit A is his single ‘Gabriel’. On first listen it’s a catchy bittersweet indie pop song in the vein of Tracey Thorn, Aberfeldy, Camera Obscura, or the Magnetic Fields. But after spending time with it, and absorbing his lyrics, you soon realise that Organ is looking at modern masculinity and wider societal considerations, all through the prism of exquisite and unusual music. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship – No shit, Sherlock.
Those of you who know me well will know that there are few things I treasure more in life than a great pop song, and that’s just what you are about to hear. It is Anna Sweeney‘s latest single ‘Way Back When’ and it is one of those tracks which could come to define a summer – revelling in nostalgia for better, simpler, days in a manner similar to classics of the genre such as ‘The Boys Of Summer’ or ‘Summertime’ (or ‘Summertime’) the slick pop production carrying more than a hint of melancholy. It’s where the Jackson 5 meets Haim and they both ‘Want You Back’. Play it once, play it again – play it all summer long – ‘Way Back When’ is a song which once it has its hooks in you will not let go. Sit back, relax, and surrender.
We all love a good comeback. Be it Elvis in a leather suit, or Robert Downey Jr in an iron one, there is something to be celebrated when the good and the great return to us once more. Which brings me to The Martial Arts who are back for the first time in a long time with a new EP, the aptly titled ‘I Used To Be The Martial Arts’.
The ‘I’ in that title is Paul Kelly, well-known to many Scottish music lovers having played with, and continue to play with, the likes of BMX Bandits, Ette and Carla J Easton, Radiophonic Tuckshop and many more. If a great pop record has been made in Scotland in the last 10 years or so there’s a good chance that Paul Kelly has been involved. I Used To Be The Martial Arts is a distillation of all the music he has played on and listened to – in that sense it’s essential, and evidence of a musician with a pure pop sensibility. From it this is ‘New Performance’.
New music from Emme Woods is always worth raising a glass to. Whether with full band or solo (or any incarnation in-between) she is one of those musicians you never want to miss live if you can help it as she is one of the most charismatic and commanding stage presences around. Arguably previous recordings have not quite captured the magic of the live experience, but it if her latest releases are anything to go by that is about to change.
Recently she gave us ‘Kill Yer Darlin’ and now we have ‘It’s Ma Party’ both of which pare the production down so that Woods’ unmistakable – unforgettable – vocals are rightly to the fore. The latter in-particular is a song to take to your heart and cherish, with grungey guitar and driving drums building to a crescendo. Both tracks are co-written with another SWH! favourite, Barrie James O’Neill, and that is a musical marriage made in heaven. This is ‘It’s Ma Party’.
Once a member of the SWH! family you are never let go – a bit like the Cosa Nostra. So it was with great excitement that we received the news that Arran Artic, a podcast guest from many years ago, and once regularly reviewed on these pages, was back making music with a new band, The Map Dept. They released a new single last month called ‘Carousel’ and while Arran’s vocals are unmistakable, this is a full band collaboration with everyone playing their part.
And that playing is exquisite, as can only be done by musicians who know exactly what they are doing. The sound is clever, ethereal electronic pop music, not unlike Tears For Fears or China Crisis, or, (taking my faded ’80s t-shirt off for a moment), Empire Of The Sun or Phoenix. If this is the shape of things to come then we are all in for future treats.
I’ve been waiting for this for a while. St Christopher Medal’s 2017 single ‘Wayne, Moon Pilot’, (complete with a reading of Hugh MacDiarmid’s ‘Bonnie Broukit Bairn’) was one of those songs which have come to shape SWH!’s musical identity, one we regularly recommend when people ask, or even when they don’t. There is now an album, Hoof!, which is a collection of carefully crafted and lyrically interesting songs (Including ‘WMP”) of the kind which are all too rare.
They include the latest single ‘Fallen Angel’ which is an excellent introduction. There’s unmistakably a Neil Young feel about it, in a similar manner to The Replacments, Wilco, or Ian McNabb’s solo albums. It is said that the best things come to those who wait, and if you, like me, have been awaiting Hoof! for a long time then I am here to tell you it was well worth it. Be prepared to make way in the ‘most played’ section of your record collection for St Christopher Medal and Hoof!.
We started this review with an intensely personal and individual collection of songs, and we are going to end in similar fashion. I bought Harry Harris’ latest album after just one listen to the title track ‘I Feel Drunk All The Time’ – sometimes you just know. The album is “a guide on how to stay cool when the world is ending”, and it has the feel of a man trying to make sense of a world in turmoil. And aren’t we all? Harris’ songs are searching, heart-breaking and thought provoking. And what thoughts. Like Crow Hill it’s an album for our times, and when you consider those times then both are appropriate and considered responses.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that I made such a connection with this record when you find out who appears on it. Harris has put together a supergroup of musicians who include Martha Ffion, Rosie Bans, Pedro Cameron (Man of the Minch) and Angus Munro (among others) – favourites of SWH! one and all. It’s an indication not only of Harry Harris’ impeccable credentials, but also how seriously his peers take his music, and so should we. I Feel Drunk All The Time is the sound of a man literally fiddling (or at least having a literal fiddler) while the world burns. It just so happens that sound is spellbinding.
That’s yer whack for this month – meet you here in August 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.