T.S. Eliot may have claimed that April is the cruelest month, but surely January has got to be up there, and this one more than most. Sometimes only music can make things better, and that’s certainly been the case over the last month with memorable gigs and exciting new releases providing some shelter from the storm.
The latest review features both albums and singles, with the welcome return of favourite bands, unforgivably overlooked talent, further examples of the healthy state of Scottish pop, amazing artists who are new to SWH!, and others who are living up to their early promise. We’ll leave it to you to work out who is who, but we are sure there is something here to make everyone’s life a little easier.
If ever an album was going to appeal to SWH! on the title alone it would be The Private Memoirs and Confessions of The Just Joans, referencing James Hogg’s classic 1824 novel, one of the finest ever written. It proves to be apt for The Just Joans‘ latest collection of songs which, as long term fans of the band have come to expect, are not only confessional, but clearly personal, yet they will be relatable to many if not all. This is not an easy trick to pull off, but few do it as well as The Just Joans.
These are tales of growing up and growing old, and discovering that both are more complicated than expected, with the pull of the past a strong one. Walking the line between poignant and sardonic, and with a dark humour that lifts them above most others, the songs are comparable to The Wedding Present, early Pulp, Ballboy, or The Delgados, but they sound like no-one else but The Just Joans, and to have such a strong identity is rare. This is an album to immerse yourself in, with songs to make friends with and welcome into your life. Never has Confession been better for the soul. This is ‘Dear Diary, I Died Again Today’.
Although we try and cover all the best new music in these reviews, sometimes essential albums slip through the net. One of these is undoubtedly Angus Munro‘s Mirror Man, an astonishing record which came out last year. Although familiar with the name, Munro didn’t fully come to our attention until his recent appearance at Fat Suit’s Celtic Connections gig/album launch where he, among others, took the roof off when he joined them on stage at Glasgow’s Drygate with a performance, and a voice, which literally drew gasps from the audience.
That prompted immediate and urgent further investigation, and the purchase of Mirror Man which has barely been off the SWH! turntable since. A singer/songwriter in the vein of Tom McRae, Ben Folds, Ron Sexsmith, Josh Rouse, but with a voice to blow them all out of the water, Angus Munro is someone very special indeed, and his music will not just make your life better, but that of everyone you know. Is that hyperbolic overcompensation for not bringing him to your attention sooner? Not at all – as ever we mean every word, but listen below and you can decide for yourself. This is ‘Equaliza’:
Last year was a golden one for great pop music and that trend looks like continuing in 2020, with notable single releases already from Kohla, Tamzene, Tongues, Cloud House, KLEOPATRA, Mark Sharp & the Bicycle Thieves, among more than a few others. You should check them all out, (and you can by going to our New Music Monday playlist archive), but one track which could just be among of the finest you hear all year is Alice Bentley‘s ‘Come Up’.
It’s an utterly joyous song which cannot fail to lift your spirits. There’s crashing guitar, driving drums, hooks which could cause damage, and a production which understands exactly what makes a great pop record. ‘Come Up’ is a song which deserves to be heard far and wide, and is exactly the sort of track which should be heard blasting from open windows of all shapes and sizes. There is no better way to soundtrack your day.
2020 has got off to a hell of a start when it comes to great album releases. Another example arrives in the fine form of Power Pose from Human Pyramids, an orchestral ensemble lead by Scottish composer Paul Russell, and it’s most likely the most uplifting and affecting music you’ll have heard in some time.
With all kinds of strings, electronics, indie, folk, electric and classical guitar, drums, keys which range from harpsichord to synths and everything in-between, there are so many influences and styles in evidence that it could have been overwhelming, but Russell manages to incorporate them all wonderfully, and the end result is something far greater than its parts. It’s the soundtrack to a film which has yet to be made, but it’s already one of your all-time favourites. What the hell does that mean? Best thing to do is find out for yourself. This is ‘Lullaby’.
The constant search for the best new music always throws up interesting stories, but few are as compelling as that of Jill Brown, who you may recognise as a former presenter on STV news, and who puts on gigs for people others often overlook, including prisoners, the homeless, and recovering addicts, marrying her journalistic interest in social affairs and her musical life to great effect. You can find out more about her work in this area here – Every Contact Leaves A Trace.
Her new single, also called ‘Every Contact Leaves A Trace’, is a dark pop song reminiscent of Tricky, Sneaker Pimps, or Lamb, with a discordant rhythm and deep southern sound which brings to mind American folk and blues, and even the songs of chain-gangs, with Brown’s vocals smooth, soulful, and sorrowful. There’s an ache at the heart of the song which is genuine and true, and it invites repeated listening – in fact it insists on it.
Great new music is what we endeavour to bring you in these reviews, and that’s exactly what we have next in the shape of Scottish/Hungarian duo Navali. Every so often we get sent music which just blows us away, and that was the case with Navali. Their album is City of Stairs and it is an achingly beautiful collection of songs, with Michael Steele and Ildi Marko’s vocals working in harmony together, and with their acoustic instrumentation, to prove once again that less can often be so much more.
Putting us in mind of the darker side of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, the Handsome Family, The Innocence Mission, Trespassers William, and Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan’s collaborations, it’s almost as if Navali have looked through the SWH! record collection and know exactly what was our musical sweet spot – and I haven’t even mentioned the occasional Leonard Cohen vibe. This is music which is simultaneously fragile yet enduring, fresh but also timeless – it’s everything you could want in an album. Sorry, it’s everything we could want in an album, but we’re fairly certain you’ll feel the same way. This is ‘Moon’.
Yakima are a band we have loved for a long time at SWH!, with their track ‘Wabi Sabi’ one of the Tracks of the Year for 2017, so it is with a warm heart that we welcome them back, and they return in some style. The new release is ‘It Helped’, (for their forthcoming EP Go Virtually), and it is a fine slice of jangle/indie pop which is part west coast of America, part west coast of Scotland with echoes of Pavement and Modest Mouse as well as Teenage Fanclub or Camera Obscura. It’s a deceptive ray of sunshine which has arrived with perfect timing. Yakima are back and that’s reason for cheer, and we all need a bit of that these days.
We’re going to round up this month’s review with new music from Salt House, whose approach to folk marries together the old and new as few others manage. With ancient ballads reborn sitting beside new compositions which still manage to sound timeless, their approach is a two-way conversation between the ages, and the results are inspired.
A bit of a trad-folk supergroup, Salt House is Jenny Sturgeon, Ewan MacPherson and Lauren MacColl, and they bring all their musical knowledge, talent, and experience to bear on the music they make, as evinced on their previous album Undersong which was praised far and wide, and rightly so. Their new single is taken from the forthcoming, and eagerly-awaited, HUAM, it’s called ‘Fire Light’, and it’s 3 minutes of perfection.
That’s yer whack for this month, but we’ll be back before you know it. In the meantime you can keep up with the best new music on a weekly basis with the SWH! Radio New Music Monday Playlist which is posted every Monday, 5pm. Always good, and often great, it’s the soundtrack your week deserves.