They say the best things in life are worth waiting for and, although this review is a tad tardy, we hope you’ll find plenty to please you. It’s been a great summer of music and what you are about to hear shows that quality was maintained right up until the turning of the leaves.
There’s the long-awaited return of an old favourite, two great EPs for the price of one, a couple of bands releasing their best songs to date, brand new artists to us, well-kent friends in new guises, and even more ranging across a number of genres and styles. While there may not be something for absolutely everyone, we can guarantee there’s something for you…
Beginning with Dumb Instrument and their new album Doubt – and I think we’ve proved our point already. Dumb Instrument may be best known for their 2014 track ‘Suffering From Scottishness’, an alternative national anthem which seemed to capture a time, a place, and the feelings of many. Just this year it was appropriated by recent podcast guest Kevin P. Gilday as the title of his Edinburgh Fringe show. When you take into consideration other fan favourites such as ‘Jaffa Baws’, ‘Buckfast vs. Hash (The Battle Continues)…’, and ‘Missing Grannies, you’ll begin to realise that this is a Scottish band who are determined to define what that means on their own terms.
But even if you only know them from that one song then you know enough to recognise the poignant, tongue-in-cheek, and often laugh-out-loud lyrics which make them stand apart. The songs on Doubt strengthen that reputation and make clear that this is a band like no other. There is a strong whiff of nostalgia on tracks such as ‘High Jumper’, ‘That Stupid Wee Lassie From Elderslie’, ‘Venus In A Cardigan’ and ‘Drunk In The Playground’, but they never stray into the territory of the maudlin or mawkish. Rather Dumb Instrument play with the past, and the Scottish tendency to mythologise it. It’s what they do best, and it’s great to have them back. No ifs, buts, or doubts. This is ‘High Jumper’:
As regular readers will know, our admiration for Olive Grove Records knows no bounds. The simple reason is that they only release music of the highest quality. The artists they have worked with have impeccable musical credentials making their back catalogue a thing of beauty, and Olive Grove something of a national treasure. To that we can now add The Archipelago EPs 1&2 – Vol 1 from Jared Celosse and Vol 2 from Chrissy Barnacle (with further volumes to follow).
Jared Celosse has appeared on these pages before with his beautifully understated melancholic songs, and his EP shows what many of us have known for some time – that he is one of the finest songwriters around. When you marry these songs to increasingly interesting and intricate production and instrumentation, as happens on Archipelago Vol 1, it makes that point better than ever. From it this is ‘Wave’:
Chrissy Barnacle is another singular talent who once heard is never forgotten. She rightly has garnered a reputation as an artist who holds audiences in the palm of her hand with vivd and personal stories told through song, accompanied suitably by her physical yet intricate style of playing guitar. Great live performers can be difficult to capture on record but Archipelago Vol 2 shows exactly what makes Chrissy Barnacle so special. Her music is an attempt to reconcile conflicting feelings of hope and despair and few do so in such a magical and memorable manner. This is ‘Witches’:
Dundonian duo ST.MARTiiNS have been making classy and canorous pop for a number of years and a new release from them is always a reason for cheer. Their most recent single ‘My Girl‘ is, to these ears, their best yet capturing the essence of their music which has always married melancholy to melody. It has the feel of reverie – with Katy Lynch’s effortless and understated vocals perfectly capturing and enhancing the mood. The song is a celebration of friendship, but there’s also an underlying sadness that such friendships are increasingly rare as time passes. Or maybe I’m just feeling wistful. That’s how good ST.MARTiiNS are – able to effect your mood in just two minutes. Now that’s what I call music… This is ‘My Girl’:
But just when you thought our golden summer of pop was over, CAFOLLA turns up to postpone any thoughts of hibernation or slumber with the single 1985, rightly identifying it as a year when many things began to head south. It’s a belter of a track, like being slapped around the head with a Cameo album. There may be some poetic licence involved lyrically (my milk was snatched many years before) but you get the point clearly, and when it is made in such a catchy and infectious manner then who cares? CAFOLLA offer us a ‘Sign Of The Times’ for our times, and if we ever needed someone to bring the funk it’s now. Send the children and pets from the room, turn on, tune in, and dance as if no one is watching:
Beginning life as the outlet for the music of Ryan Buchanan, Ryan & The Limbs are a breath of fresh air to the Scottish music scene. Having witnessed them live as well as listening regularly to their self-titled EP I can promise you they offer something new, yet reassuringly familiar. Musically they are differently diverse with the influence of indie, jazz, rock, and even classical in evidence, all coming together to make a memorable whole.
Let’s take the song ‘Axis and Atlas’ (below) as a prime example. There’s guitar reminiscent of Vini Reilly one moment, Jonny Greenwood the next, there’s the most wonderful rhythm section featuring drumming to die for, and the vocals are understated and mournful in the manner of Mark Eitzel or Elliot Smith. One of the best things about writing these reviews is discovering a new favourite band, and Ryan & The Limbs are the latest to join that club. You’re welcome.
One of the most creatively active groups around are L-Space, not only releasing new music under that name regularly (and you can hear the latest example in next month’s review), but also involving themselves in other projects. Gordon Johnstone has recently made Habitus One as Emi James, Stephen Solo’s third album was released earlier this year, and now bassist Dickson Telfer is involved with a new band, Vulture Party. Remember when Duran Duran split into Arcadia, Power Station and The Devils…actually, probably best not.
But everything the members of L-Space touch at the moment is proving to be memorable, and long may this golden streak of creativity continue. Certainly Vulture Party are well-worth your attention based on the release of their single ‘New Humans’. It’s an atmospheric song which is reminiscent of the great dark-pop bands of the ’80s – early Human League, All About Eve, The Psychedelic Furs, even touching goth with echoes of Bauhaus. Downbeat and dark, and with an excellent, and suitably eerie, video from Adam Stafford, you have a feeling that Vulture Party are one to watch. This is ‘New Humans’.
And finally, Man of the Minch, aka Pedro Cameron, who recently released two singles simultaneously, ‘Undertow’ (below) and ‘Better Off Alone‘. When taken together they make the best music he has made so far, and that is saying something when you consider his album Helping Hands was one of the best of 2017. ‘Better Off Alone’ is indie-folk at its finest – a barnstorming track with melodies, hooks, and riffs all combining and building to a quite stunning crescendo. This is music to keep you warm as the nights draw in.
‘Undertow’ shows the other side of Man of the Minch – the one which doesn’t just break your heart, but rips it out before handing it to you with a sincere apology. There are few musicians who manage to convey the highs and lows of relationships as Man of the Minch can, and there are even fewer who can move me as this Man and his songs. I think this is just gorgeous, and the perfect place to end this review. This is ‘Undertow’:
There goes the summer! But before you know it there’ll be another review along soon.
While you wait, remember that SWH! now has a regular radio show on LP Radio on Tuesday nights, 7-9pm, where you can hear Ali play 2 hours of the best Scottish music around.
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.