The Tracks Of My Year: SWH!’s 10 Best Songs Of 2019…

2019 was another year of exceptional albums, from such as Sister John, Andrew Wasylyk, Blair Coron, A Mote Of Dust, Tenement & Temple, James Yorkston, Richard Luke, Half Formed Things, Broken Chanter, Awkward Family Portraits, Dumb Instrument, Cloth, Harry Harris, Bis, Anna Meredith, and too many others to mention them all here.

Ali will be talking albums when he is a guest on Cumbernauld FM‘s Postcards From The Underground radio show on Sunday 8th December (8-10pm) discussing his pick of the year with hosts Mark and Gary (who will in turn appear on the Best Music of 2019 podcast to talk about their musical year, and which will be available this weekend).

However, traditionally on the pages of SWH! we like to concentrate on individual tracks whether from singles, EPs, albums, soundtracks, or anywhere else. So, without further ado, here is our choice of the ten best songs reviewed on these pages over the last 12 months. Think of it as a mix-tape of the soundtrack to our year, and if you like what you hear you should investigate further by clicking on those hyperlinks.

That’s enough preamble – here’s the countdown, listed in order of their date of release, and what we thought about them at the time with a few relevant updates…

Sister John – I’m The One

We are going to kick off with Sister John. Their debut release Returned From Sea was one of the finest albums of 2017, introducing a band who arrived fully-formed and who have music in their very souls.  Their latest album, also called Sister John, is released on the 25th January on Last Night From Glasgow, but from it the song ‘I’m The One’ is out now and it’s a doozy.

There’s a distinct CBGB’s/Bowery vibe going on – imagine The Velvet Underground’s ‘Rock & Roll’ sung by a chilled-out Patti Smith and you’ll have some idea. With understated rhythm and twangy guitar backing Amanda McKeown’s soulful vocals it’s a lesson that when it comes to music to move you less is almost always more. The accompanying video is a thing of joy as well. This is ‘I’m The One’ – Let’s dance!:

Lola In Slacks – Postscript In Blue 

Lola In Slacks and single ‘Postscript In Blue‘ oozes class from start to finish. You would expect no less from a band whose members include Lou Reid, Brian McFie, Lesley McLaren, Davy Irwin and Fiona Shannon, some of who have been heard with the likes of The Big Dish, Altered Images, Craig Armstrong, Mull Historical Society, The Bluebells, and more. Only an elite few can boast such a CV.

From the off it is clear that Lola In Slacks are a band who are the perfect sum of those impressive parts. Everyone plays their role to perfection, making music which is out of time yet utterly of the here and now. Lou Reid’s smoky vocals are to the fore, reminiscent of European Torch singers Francoise Hardy, Marianne Faithful and, more recently, Camille, and also of North Americans Julie London, Neko Case and Laura Veirs. The voice is perfectly matched by the playing, which is quite exquisite. McLaren’s drumming in particular is an understated thing of beauty. Listen for yourself, then go back, play it again, and listen once more. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship:

James Yorkston – My Mouth Ain’t No Bible

A new James Yorkston record is always reason for cheer, and his latest long player, The Route To The Harmonium, has been on close to constant rotation on the SWH! turntable since it appeared last month. Yorkston is one of those artists who is unmistakable and unshakeable. He plows his own furrow with a clear idea as to what he wants to create. And what he creates is always essential, and often mesmeric.

He seems to tap into something undeniably Scottish and literary, as much influenced by poetry and fiction as music, with a desire to tell stories in a tradition which follows on from the ballads and spoken word. From The Route To The Harmonium this is ‘My Mouth Ain’t No Bible’, with James coming over like an East Neuk Preacher Man – where fire and brimstone meets fear and loathing. Funny, angry, wry, and possibly rye, it could just be James Yorkston’s defining moment – except his whole career is littered with those.

Natalie Pryce – Martin Amis

It’s the warmest of welcomes back to these pages to the enigmatic and remarkable Natalie Pryce, a band who dance to their own tune, but who forcibly drag you with them on to the dance floor. I do like a band who unsettle you – I’m thinking of the likes of Captain Beefheart, the Cardiacs, Ministry, the Bad Seeds, Sons & Daughters – all of whom carry with them the threat of threats as yet unnamed, as do Natalie Pryce.

This track is ‘Martin Amis‘, and there is wailing saxophone, understated drums and bass, and whispered vocals which suggest pain and pleasure in equal measure. So hip it hurts, this improves with every play, and gets to the dark heart of its subject in four minutes far better than any biography could ever do:

Annie Booth – Magic 8

Annie Booth‘s debut album An Unforgiving Light(a joint release on two of Scotland’s most discerning record labels – Last Night From Glasgow and Scottish Fiction) is one of the most talked about in recent years – literally. More than any other I can think of, perhaps with the exception of LNFG label mates Sister John, it was the record that people discussed most often at gigs and get togethers, often in hushed and awed tones. Her latest EP Spectral (another LNFG/SF collaboration – &, by the way, more of this sort of thing can only be a good thing) shows clearly that Booth is a rare talent indeed.

There’s a melancholic and haunting quality in her vocals which, on the evidence I have seen, can silence any room, but it is in the songs themselves where the real magic is to be found. All four tracks on Spectral are memorable, but ‘Mirage’ and the single ‘Magic 8’ are two of the best of the year. I’ve been trying for a while to think who Annie Booth reminds me of (cos that’s the sort of thing reviewers do) and have realised that, among others, it’s Aimee Mann, especially in terms of marrying the songs to the way they are delivered. There’s an integrity to her music which demands your attention. During one of those gig conversations, as mentioned above, someone whose opinion I rate highly called her “the best singer/songwriter in Scotland at the moment”. Listen to Spectral and I think you’ll find it hard to disagree. From it, this is ‘Magic 8’:

Half Formed Things – The Apostate

Half Formed Things album To Live In The Flicker 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. This is the live version on ‘The Apostate’.

Broken Chanter – Wholesale

An now – a track from an album which was one of 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 was) 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:

Anna Sweeney – Way Back When

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.

Flying Penguins – Antimony

New favourite band alert!!! Flying Penguins released their latest single ‘Antimony’, from the EP Bodies & Artefacts, and it swiftly became a firm favourite, reminding me of some of SWH!’s best-loved musicians such as King Creosote, Modern Studies, Lomond Campbell, Admiral Fallow, eagleowl – basically those bands who make classy, affecting, and poignant music which puts you in that state of musical melancholia which feels just right.

It’s rare to discover a band who feel like you’ve been listening to them for years when you haven’t, but that’s how I feel about Flying Penguins – as if they were the soundtrack to a better time, and the memory of that has just come back to me. I’m sure there is a word for that feeling, but before we all rush to find out just what that is – sit back, relax, and enjoy ‘Antimony’:

Zoe Graham – Gradual Move

New music from Zoe Graham is always met with great cheer round here. A musician who first came to our attention with the excellent Hacket & Knackered EP, she soon became a must-see live act any time she was on tour. Recently named the Best Acoustic Act at this year’s SAMAs, Graham is one of the most assured, individual and interesting artists around, with a musical style which is all her own, blending melancholy vocals with a distinctive guitar style and understated electronica.

Her latest single, ‘Gradual Move’, continues to move Graham further away from her acoustic roots towards writing increasingly complex yet carefully crafted songs which remain intensely personal. It suggests Zoe Graham is about to take things to another level and we will all be the beneficiaries of that. It just could be that 2020 is her year.

A fine selection, we hope you agree. In all honesty it could have been twice the length and more. You’ll be able to listen to our podcast That Was The Year That Was: It’s The Best Of 2019 Podcasts – (Music)… this coming weekend, and don’t forget to tune in to the Postcards From The Underground on Sunday 8th to hear what SWH!’s favourite albums of 2019 are.

We’ll be back soon with more reviews of the best new music around…

New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

As we begin to move towards the end of the year many minds start to turn to Best of the Year lists and countdowns. However there is still great new music being made and released right here, right now, and the latest review looks back at best from the last month to prove just that.

With the return of old friends and the arrival of new, it’s a heady mix which does tend to reflect the diversity and trends of the year as a whole. There’s plenty of contemplation, meditation, and good vibrations in evidence, with artists often looking back to move forward. There’s also exciting and experimental electronica, classic pop tunes, old school indie with a twist, and the continuing rebirth of the cool, all courtesy of some of the best musicians, singers, and songwriters around. Musically speaking we are living in good times. Read on and I’ll prove it to you…

New music from Zoe Graham is always met with great cheer round here. A musician who first came to our attention with the excellent Hacket & Knackered EP, she soon became one of those live acts who you go out of your way to see whenever the opportunity arises. Recently named the Best Acoustic Act at this year’s SAMAs, Graham is among the most assured, individual and interesting artists around, with a musical style which is all her own, blending melancholy vocals with her distinctive guitar style and understated electronica.

Her latest single, ‘Gradual Move’, continues to move further away from her acoustic roots towards writing increasingly complex yet carefully crated songs. It suggests Zoe Graham is about to take things to another level and we will all be the beneficiaries of that. It just could be that 2020 is her year.

And while we’re talking welcome returns, Anna Meredith is back. An enigmatic, experimental, and extraordinary musician, she had quite a 2019, not only releasing her latest album FIBS but also her score for the celebrated film Eighth Grade, and the digital album Song for the M8, two tracks from which were used on the Oscar winning movie, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. To paraphrase Mugatu in Zoolander, “She’s so hot right now!”.

But for all Meredith’s marvellous collaborative work, it is her own music which most interests me, and FIBS proves that feeling to be the right one with songs which work their way into your subconscious and set up camp there. While there are influences on show to be noted and admired, it’s fair to say that no-one sounds quite like Anna Meredith and that’s what makes her so very special. From FIBS this is ‘Inhale Exhale’.

Quiche have featured on our pages before, and there are very good reasons for that. They are a band who are hard to pin down, but that’s why you’re reading this so here goes. We called their last single ‘Grey Matter’, ” a mod-inflected psychedelic song reminiscent of The Kinks or The Zombies”, because it was. Their latest single, ‘Silhouette’, is something quite different, yet still recognisably made by the same band.

If ‘Grey Matter’ was steeped in the ’60s, this begins like a ’70s or ’80s rock ‘n’ soul ballad which could have been written by 10cc, Christopher Cross, or Paisley’s very own Gerry Rafferty, before building to a climax more reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr or The Afghan Whigs. However, rest assured, Quiche are a band who are much more than their record collection. They are making psychedelic rock music, which has a fine yet often overlooked tradition, with style and substance. If you think they’re not for you, then think again. This is ‘Silhouette’.

It’s quite common to see bands who amaze live but can’t quite transfer that magic to the recording studio, and I’m honest enough to admit I had that concern with Fat-Suit, a band so accomplished that they have to be seen to be believed. I need not have worried as Waifs & Strays, their latest album, captures what makes them so special and more.

Another band who refuse to make life simple for reviewers by being easy to pigeon hole, they incorporate jazz/funk/folk/fusion, and I’ve never written that combination of genres on these pages before. The following track, ‘Mombasa’, shows their virtuosity and vitality off to full effect and proves that Fat-Suit are musicians at the very top of their game, revelling in playing as much for themselves and each other as for anyone else. Thankfully we all get to reap the rewards.

The Girl Who Cried Wolf are one of the best things to come out of 2019, creating classic pop songs with a real edge. Their previous singles, ‘Way Back Down’ and ‘Second Best’ introduced us to the dynamic duo, singer/songwriter Lauren Gilmour and drummer Audrey Tait (who had a hell of a year, also playing with Broken Chanter and St. Andrew’s Fall, two more of 2019’s outstanding bands).

The latest release, ‘Oops’, builds on that promise and suggests that they are only getting warmed up. Tait and Gilmour are also music producers and it shows – the production on the track as tight as an Audrey Tait drum, with not a note wasted or out of place. There are hooks so sharp you could do yourself an injury, understated synths and keys, drums which work both as lead and rhythm, all backing Lauren’s smooth and soulful vocals. On paper it shouldn’t really work. In reality it’s fantastic. Take a listen and take notice of The Girl Who Cried Wolf.

It’s always a pleasure to discover new bands and songs. It’s one of the main reasons for writing these reviews in the first place! New to SWH! are Etape whose single ‘Human Touch’ found its way into our home and hearts. It’s where guitar-led indie meets electronica, putting me in mind of a lo-fi Hot Chip, Foals or alt-J with a simple yet insistent riff building to a crescendo of drums, guitar and vocals. Recently to be found supporting SWH! favourites HYYTS and Brighton’s Ralph TV, Etape may just be getting started but you can’t help but feel that they are one to watch in the coming year. Keep ’em peeled. This is ‘Human Touch’

We are going to end this review with two of the finest singers at work at the moment. The first is Kohla, whose latest single ‘Gorgeous’ has the feel of Zero 7, Sneaker Pimps, Morcheeba, early Goldfrapp, Lamb – in fact many of yours and my favourite records from the late ’90s/early ’00s, but with a production, sound and attitude which makes it feel utterly of the here and now.

But what really sets this apart from the trip-hop crowd is Kohla’s voice which is melodious, moody and magnificent. ‘Gorgeous’ deserves to be heard as far and wide as possible as it will noticeably make your day better, and possibly make you better as it’s a song to help cure what ails you. Do yourself and others a favour – listen closely, and pass it on…

If you have been a regular gig-goer in Scotland over the past few years you may well have been lucky enough to have seen, heard, and marvelled at the singer/songwriter known as Kitti. A jazz chanteuse in the torch tradition of Billie Holliday, Sara Vaughan and Dinah Washington, she has a voice that speaks of an old soul, someone who lives and breathes the music she sings.

Her new single ‘Chasing The Crowd’ shows what she does to full effect, with tasteful yet essential R&B backing allowing that voice to be front and centre. Glasgow in particular has long had a vibrant and thriving jazz scene, but it’s having a particular moment right now and Kitti takes her rightful place at the very centre of it.

That’s all for now. We hope you’ve discovered something to your taste.

Our annual Tracks Of My Year list will be with you soon with SWH!’s best songs of 2019, but in the meantime you can catch up with the back catalogue of our SWH! Radio New Music Monday Playlists here, and there’s a new one to enjoy each week.

New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

So much great new music, so little time! Over the last few weeks there has been a delightful deluge of damned good tunes in many styles, forms, shapes, and sizes. By the time we hit October you can usually start to tell how a year is going to be judged and 2019, against many odds, is turning out to be a brammer.

This month we have songs from three of the finest albums of the year, one of the most intriguing and important EPs of any year, a new favourite who feels like an old friend, a local-to-SWH! band who may have released one of the best pop songs for ages, an unexpected and fine cover version, and the return of a national treasure with a tune to break your heart. Strap yourself in – it’s going to get emotional…

We have welcomed Broken Chanter to these pages before but make no apologies for doing so once again, especially as the eagerly awaited self-titled album was released last month. It’s quite simply one of the finest collection of songs this year, (or most years), with David McGregor proving that he is a writer of songs which once heard are not easily forgotten. If the name is familiar then that’s because he was integral to Kid Canaveral for many years, but this album takes his music to another level entirely.

If you want a gauge of the standing in which McGregor is held by his peers then you only need to look at those involved with this album. They include Audrey Tait (The Girl Who Cried Wolf, Hector Bizerk), Gav Prentice (ULTRAS), Jill O’Sullivan (Sparrow and the Workshop, bdy_prts, Jill Lorean), Hannah Shepherd (eagleowl, Withered Hand), Emma Kupa (Mammoth Penguins,) & more. But, for all the talent involved this feels like an intensely personal project, songs which are torn from a life lived, and not always easily. At once expansive yet intimate, it’s a record which marries hard-times to hope, and we could all do with some of that. This is ‘Should We Be Dancing’:

Oblivion & Beyond is the new EP from Distant Voices, the musical project created by Vox Liminis, which is an arts and community organisation working with people involved in all parts of the criminal justice system in the Highlands area. Distant Voices sees some of Scotland’s best songwriters collaborating with people who’ve experienced the criminal justice system in one form or another. On Oblivion & Beyond the songs were co-written by musicians Donna Maciocia, Fiskur, Martha Ffion, Raukarna, and Jill Lorean in workshops which took place in communities and prisons.

The tracks, most of which have a tie to Inverness, are about the rather intangible notion of ‘recovery’ and examines just what that means. It’s a record which is as important as it is excellent, which adds to the current discussion about crime and punishment (see also Fergus McNeill’s Pervasive Punishment project), and once again shows how music and art can aid wider discussion and understanding. This is ‘Autopilot’, featuring Jill Lorean & Lee:

Alasdair Roberts has been in a musical vein of form in recent years that few others could boast, with recent releases including What News with Amble Skuse and David McGuinness, his work with Green Ribbons, and with The Furrow Collective. Undoubtedly a proud serial collaborator, his latest release, The Fiery Margin, is a solo affair (albeit made with a one of the finest bands around), and it is arguably his best yet, bringing all his knowledge and understanding of the traditions of folk music to bare on his songs, but lending them a distinctly contemporary feel, something we have come to expect from Roberts. Nobody does it better. This is ‘False Flesh’:

Future Pilot AKA, aka Sushil K Dade, has long been one of the more experimental and interesting musicians around, and a new album from him is always a cause for celebration. So have a shower, and then phone your brother up, as that’s exactly what we have. Like Alasdair Roberts (above), Dade is a man who loves a collaboration, and his latest, Orkestra Digitalis, lets no one down.

Nine years in the making, it’s an album which was not originally destined for wide release, proposed as a one-off edition in the format of a picnic hamper, but luckily it was decided that we all deserved some nourishment. Featuring Emma Pollock, Ron Sexsmith, Robert Wyatt, R.M. Hubbert, Mairi Campbell, and Mulatu Astatke, this is a record which gives up more of its many secrets with each listen, and you’ll want to do so over and over. From it this is ‘The Art Of Good Breathing’:

New favourite band alert!!! Flying Penguins released their latest single ‘Antimony’, from the EP Bodies & Artefacts, and it swiftly became a firm favourite, reminding me of some of SWH!’s best-loved musicians such as King Creosote, Modern Studies, Lomond Campbell, Admiral Fallow, eagleowl – basically those bands who make classy, affecting, and poignant music which puts you in that state of musical melancholia which feels just right.

It’s rare to discover a band who feel like you’ve been listening to them for years when you haven’t, but that’s how I feel about Flying Penguins – as if they were the soundtrack to a better time, and the memory of that has just come back to me. I’m sure there is a word for that feeling, but before we all rush to find out just what that is – sit back, relax, and enjoy ‘Antimony’:

Ian Smith from Last Night From Glasgow got in touch last month to say that Foundlings had a new single coming out and would I like to hear it. Of course the answer was yes, as he knew full well it would be, but he gave me no further clue as to anything else about it. Imagine my surprise and delight to discover an excellent cover of ‘I Love You All’, a track from the Jon Ronson/ Lenny Abrahamson film Frank, inspired by Ronson’s relationship with Frank Sidebottom, and which has Michael Fassbender on vocals.

How do you approach that? Well, if you’re Foundlings you stay faithful to the original and showcase the song to full effect. If the above paragraph means little to you then press play below. I’m not saying all will become clear, but your life will be notably better. In the name of Frank…

I may have mentioned it before, but Scottish pop music is in fine and rude health, and the final two tracks of this review make that point perfectly. First up are Slouch, a Glasgow band whose single ‘Duplicity’ has had a couple of plays on the SWH! show on LP Radio (news of which soon) and it has been as warmly received as anything played on the show so far. It’s a song which gets its hooks into you early doors and refuses to let go. If John Hughes was still making movies this would be solid soundtrack material, most-likely playing over the closing prom scene as the credits start to roll. ‘Duplicity’ is pure pop and it makes me hugely excited about what Slouch do next. Share the anticip…ation…

When we have our regular end-of-year chats at SWH! (which we record as podcasts – doesn’t everyone?) Bossy Love always receive a mention as one of the best bands around, especially when seen live. By doing what they love to do with no apologies – making R&B inflected pop music which takes their influences and make them all their own – they are a band like no other, and it is little wonder that the devotion they inspire is so strong. Their latest single, ‘Me + U‘, is a winning mixture of strength and vulnerability with Amandah Wilkinson’s unmistakeable vocals never better. Imagine a track Prince wrote for TLC then forgot to send, with all the sadness that entails, and you’ll have some idea as to what you are about to listen to. It’s also the perfect end to this review. This is ‘Me + U’:

That’s all for this month but we’ll be back before you know it with another selection of the best new music around. See you back here soon…

New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

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.

New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

Summer 2019 continues to provide a memorable soundtrack with something for everyone’s taste, and this month’s review makes that point categorical and concisely – well, fairly concisely.

It’s a pleasing balance of old friends and new, with an album for the ages, the latest in a run of great singles, potential pop greatness, roots revival from the very best, indie with a twist, and some of the most atmospheric ambience of recent times. When brought together you have a selection of songs for most occasions.

Let’s begin. Tenement and Temple have featured on these pages before, but it would be remiss not to mention that their self-titled album is now with us as it is a thing of rare beauty – a perfect balance of strength and fragility. For those unaware Tenement and Temple are Monica Queen and Johnny Smillie, who you may know from Thrum, Monica’s solo work, and numerous collaborations with others, including currently as members of The Gracious Losers.

But it is when together that their music is taken to another level, with Smillie’s understated yet insistent guitar underpinning Queen’s unmistakable vocals. What makes this such a special recording is that it’s an album which is clearly made for and about each other. When you look back at their musical careers you can see that’s what they have always done. Thrum buzzed with the fire of youth, a band discovering their sound and themselves, full of energy and enthusiasm. Now they are making music which makes perfect sense for them in the here and now.

Tenement & Temple the album is reflective, thoughtful, soulful and sublime and could only have been made by Tenement & Temple the duo. It is the perfect example of people working together to make something greater and more meaningful than they could ever do alone, and there is a lesson there for all of us. In a world going crazy Tenement & Temple offer peace, love and understanding, and we could all do with some more of that in our lives. From the album, this is ‘Loving Arms’.

‘a long wait for bad news’ is the latest single released by wojtek the bear and proves that, without fuss or furore, they have become one of those rare bands who have found their own sound and style, and combine them to give us great songs both musically and lyrically, each feeding into the other. I don’t say that lightly, so let’s look at the evidence. ‘dead from the waist up’, ‘oil & water’, ‘trivial pursuit’, ‘tonic youth’, and now ‘a long wait for bad news’ – that’s a hell of a run of form – one that anyone would, and should, be proud of. wojtek the bear are in it for the long haul. This is ‘a long wait for bad news’.

Sometimes a song finds it’s way to SWH! and blows us out of the water. That’s what happened with Galileo’s Fan and the title track of their forthcoming album I Won’t Be Found. It’s new music with an old soul – a song which lulls you into a false sense of perception, at once epic yet understated, with the vocals and music working together to offer a dreamy sound not unlike SWH! favourites L-Space and OK Button. It promises great things from Galileo’s Fan and I’m already eager to hear what they offer next. Play it once, play it again, and I’ll guarantee you’ll agree.

Another band new to SWH! is One Nine, who have just released their single ‘Difficult Days’. Up front and in yer face, yet laid back enough to stay the right side of anthemic, it’s a track bound to appeal to music lovers – immediate, memorable, and as hooky as that ‘Roll-ex’ you bought on holiday, all in under three-minutes. That’s how you do it – arrive, make your mark, and leave before people know what hit them. You get the feeling One Nine are only getting started. The future is bright.

Not just one of the songs of the last month, but with one of the most memorable videos of the year, Awkward Family Portraits‘ latest single ‘Ring Ring Angus!’ shows once more that they are one of the preeminent bands around, keeping the rock ‘n’ roll and roots tradition alive and thriving. Their album is out later in the year, and it is among the most eagerly awaited of 2019. Few bands live and breathe their music as Awkward Family Portraits do, and that is palpable whether recorded, or on stage. If you get the chance to see them play live then for goodness sake grab it as there are few finer, but in the meantime this is ‘Ring Ring Angus!’.

It’s been a summer of perfect pop, and Quiche‘s new single ‘Grey Matter’ adds to that list. It’s a mod-inflected psychedelic song reminiscent of The Kinks or The Zombies, but also the music of Matthew Sweet, Evan Dando, and Buffalo Tom. What comes over immediately is that this is a band who love playing music whether you like it or not, which, as is often the case, only makes you like them more. What’s that all about? While you ponder I suggest you listen to ‘Grey Matter’ and make time for Quiche. You may not know it yet, but it will all make sense in the end.

SWH! regulars L-Space’s last album Music For Megastructures was described as “a score for a city which does net exist yet”. It’s a fantastic record which I urge you to seek out, but it seems that band member Gordon Johnstone has even more urban landscapes and spaces to soundtrack. Under the name Emi James he has released Social Capital, an EP which works perfectly as an accompaniment to Music For Megastructures, and more. Possibly inspired by Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports, it makes you think about how music is used, could be used, and why.

I’m going to suggest what you are about to hear is the perfect end to any review. As Emi James, L-Space, Youth Team, Richard Luke, and others are proving, there is some incredible instrumental and ambient music being made in, and about, Scotland at the moment, and stanleystanley (Jordan Russell-Hall) further makes that case with his album beside myself.

It’s a wonderful marriage of electronic sounds and more conventional instruments which, echoing a point made in the review at the top of the page, sounds both intensely personal, timeless, yet perfect right now. It’s not a record to stick on in the background while you go about your day. It works best as an interactive album, one in which to lose yourself, but you have to want it. Put that down and pay attention at the back – this is stanleystanley and ‘palace of steam’.

That’s yer whack for this month – meet you here in September 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.

New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

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.

New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

Live In The Flicker cover – credit Louise McLachlan

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’:

Animation by Tracy Foster

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.

New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

New music review, ahoy! At the time when voting for this year’s SAY Award opened (and you can nominate your favourites here) it’s heartening to reflect on just how much good music there is at the moment, in all shapes, forms and sounds. But before you head off to add to the list, here’s the latest review of the best new music to reach SWH! in recent recent weeks.

There’s a nice balance this month – at least we like to think so – not just in terms of the return of well-loved regulars and warm welcomes to the new-to-us, but also in the way that, as with the best stories, it has a beginning, middle, and an end. The perfect soundtrack to your weekend? It’s that and so much more, starting with…

..The Pearlfishers – and a long-awaited new album in the form of Love And Other Hopeless Things, the first since 2014’s Open Up Your Colouring Book. If you aren’t familiar with their music, boy are you in for a treat as this is a band steeped in classic pop. You can detect the influence of Bacharach, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, Paul Simon, The Carpenters, Steely Dan, Prefab Sprout, and – well, you get the idea with that. Suffice to say that this is a band whose standards are set sky high.

This is in no small part down to David Scott, one of the finest songwriters/arrangers around. He appears to live and breathe music, as anyone who has listened to his essential BBC Radio Scotland series Classic Scottish Albums will know. Scott is the main driving force behind The Pearlfishers, and from the opening chord to the last his influence is clear in every note. Have I convinced you yet to investigate further? Then perhaps this will seal the deal. From Love And Other Hopeless Things this is ‘Could Be A Street Could Be A Saint’. Sit back, relax, and enjoy:

While we’re on the subject of Scotland’s finest, there’s a new single from Tenement & Temple, who are Monica Queen and Johnny Smillie. It’s called ‘Loving Arms‘ (the second single from their forthcoming album which can’t come quickly enough) and it is a thing of fragile beauty with Queen’s heartbreaking vocals and Smillie’s understated guitar proving the perfect partnership.

This is appropriate as, while the two regularly collaborate and work with others (to great effect), Tenement & Temple feels intensely personal, a statement of who they are individually, but, more importantly, who they are together – making music, and creating an ambience, which is theirs alone. ‘Loving Arms’ is a song which can’t fail to move you. Are you ready to be heartbroken…?

Andrew Howie contacted SWH! last month to suggest we listen to his latest music, and we couldn’t be happier that he did as his new single ‘Fragile‘ is really something special. That slightly unwieldy term ‘folktronic’ sprang to mind on first listen, but the song needs further explanation. As its title suggests, it’s a song which is delicate, but it’s also insistent – creating an atmospheric sound which demands repeated listening.

For SWH! regulars I’ll go with some familiar references. It’s the place where Blue Rose Code meets OK Button, or if Findlay Napier were remixed by L-Space – and hopefully you’re beginning to get the idea as to what Andrew Howie is about. Of course, the easiest way to do that is to listen to ‘Fragile’ right here, right now:

Also new to SWH! are HYTTS, whose single ‘Car Crash Carnivore‘ is one of those dance tracks that has the people who say they don’t dance out of their seats and on the floor before they even realise it. It’s a belter of a tune – falsetto vocals, finger clicks, disco beats, and a pop production which is pitch perfect. It was then no surprise to find out that Gary Clark (of Danny Wilson/King L/Sing Street fame), has been a musical mentor to HYTTS as few know their way around a pop song like he does. ‘Car Crash Carnivore‘, like much of the best electronic music (and the best clubs, come to that), hints that something dark is going on, and is all the better for it. Are you dancing?

With each release wojtek the bear get better and better, adding new ingredients to an already winning formula. The latest single is ‘tonic youth’, a wry reflection on, and ironic paean to, so called wasted youth and the long-lasting influence of those ‘wonder years’. There are few bands better at marrying acerbic lyrics to a deceptively upbeat and melodic soundtrack, in the long and fine tradition of Jimmy Webb, Elliot Smith, The Beta Band, and far too many others to mention here. Prick up your ears – while you were looking elsewhere wojtek the bear have become one of the best bands around. This is ‘tonic youth’.


This review sees the return of many of SWH!’s favourites from through the years, and that certainly applies to PAWS, who initially won us over with their 2012 album Cokefloat!. Last month saw the release of Joanna‘, the first single from their new album Your Church On My Bonfire – also out now. It can be double-edged to suggest that a band have ‘matured’ in terms of their lyrics and music, but believe me when I say that in the case of PAWS it is absolutely meant as a compliment.

If their first three albums were the riotous soundtrack to the mother of all parties, Your Church On My Bonfire is something different altogether as it picks up the pieces and reflects upon what comes after, with Phillip Taylor’s songs examining life’s more sombre and sobering challenges and the way we try, and often struggle, to deal with them. It’s a record which reveals more with each listen, and it’s shaping up to be one which will stay long in the hearts and minds of those who hear it as it makes you reflect upon your own lives, loves, and losses. In all honesty, I can’t recommend Your Church On My Bonfire highly enough. This is ‘Joanna’.

Discovery of last month for me was the music of Glasgwegian composer Richard Luke, his collaboration with Scottish Chamber Orchestra violinist Amira Bedrush-McDonald, and the album Glass Island (and thanks to the legendary Jockrock for bringing them to my attention). It’s an achingly beautiful record where classical meets electronic music and they make each other better – the perfect late-night/early morning listen when you want to immerse yourself in sound that makes everything in the world seem alright, despite contrary evidence.

Out now on Canadian label Moderna Records, Glass Island could just be the record we need right now. If you’re a fan of the likes of Murcof, Nils Frahm, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, (and if you’re not, you should be) then this is your next favourite album. From it this is ‘Everything a Reason’, but believe me one track is not enough – you need the whole for full effect.

Long terms visitors to SWH! will know the high esteem in which we hold Siobhan Wilson and her music. After the well-deserved critical success of her 2017 album There Are No Saints she is back with new songs which prove she isn’t going to stop now. She is one of those musicians who carry with them a guarantee of quality and confidence in her music and songs.

Exhibit A is ‘Marry You’ with understated grungey guitars and drums supporting Wilson’s effortless vocals, reminiscent of Kristin Hersh or early Cat Power. It suggests that the forthcoming album, The Departure, is going to cement Siobhan Wilson’s reputation as one of those musicians whose records are essential – with no collection worth its name truly complete without them. While you wait for its release on May 10th, this is ‘Marry You’.

Meet you here next month for more of the best in new Scottish music. But while you wait – 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.

New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

Without wanting to go in too heavy in these days of storm and stress, music becomes increasingly important to help make sense of, comes to terms with, or just forget for a while, the world and its woes. The future may be uncertain but against such a backdrop 2019 is proving to be a rich, varied, and exciting year in terms of Scottish music, as the following review will evince.

Some may say that’s small and insignificant comfort, but they are wrong. It’s important and necessary comfort, and we hope time spent with the music featured will make your day, and give it an appropriate soundtrack. There’s understated anthems, songs of fragile beauty, experimental compositions, exciting collaborations, the personal, the political, the melancholic, and the uplifting. If you don’t find something to love then we have failed you and ourselves…

First off, it’s a case of “say hello, wave goodbye” as A Mote of Dust release their new album A Mote Of Dust II while simultaneously announcing their, and musical maverick Craig b‘s, retirement. As I’m sure you’ll know, Craig b was an integral part of Ganger, Aerogramme and The Unwinding Hours before recording as A Mote Of Dust, and it’s a quite remarkable musical legacy with nary a bad song to be found from the beginning to the (in this selfish reviewer’s opinion) premature end.

The album launch/farewell gig at Glasgow’s Mono recently showed clearly just how much Craig b is respected and loved as it was packed not only with fans but also many of his musical contemporaries. I doubt anyone else was reviewed in Glasgow that night judging by the number of music writers and bloggers also in the room. So it’s a fond farewell and bon voyage to A Mote Of Dust and Mr b. If you want to show your appreciation, or discover just what all this fuss is about, get yourself a copy of A Mote Of Dust II. To convince you further, this is ‘Slow Clap’:

Annie Booth‘s debut album An Unforgiving Light, (a joint release on two of Scotland’s most discerning record labels – Last Night From Glasgow and Scottish Fiction) is one of the most talked about in recent years – literally. More than any other I can think of, perhaps with the exception of LNFG label mates Sister John, it was the record that people discussed most often at gigs and get togethers, often in hushed and awed tones. Her latest EP Spectral (another LNFG/SF collaboration – &, by the way, more of this sort of thing can only be a good thing) shows clearly that Booth is a rare talent indeed.

There’s a melancholic and haunting quality in her vocals which, on the evidence I have seen, can silence any room, but it is in the songs themselves where the real magic is to be found. All four tracks on Spectral are memorable, but ‘Mirage’ and the single ‘Magic 8’ are two of the best of the year. I’ve been trying for a while to think who Annie Booth reminds me of (cos that’s the sort of thing reviewers do) and have realised that, among others, it’s Aimee Mann, especially in terms of marrying the songs to the way they are delivered. There’s an integrity to her music which demands your attention. During one of those gig conversations, as mentioned above, someone whose opinion I rate highly called her “the best singer/songwriter in Scotland at the moment”. Listen to Spectral and I think you’ll find it hard to disagree. From it, this is ‘Magic 8’:

Citizen Bravo is the latest musical project from Matt Brennan, one-time member of the much-missed Zoey Van Goey. He has his debut album, Build A Thing Of Beauty, released on Chemikal Underground but that is only part of the story. It is also part of, and soundtrack to, Brennan’s research project which includes a film, The Cost Of Music, and an incredible one-off interactive musical sculpture called the SCI★FI★HI★FI, which will tour as part of a series of public lectures in 2019.

It’s a fascinating undertaking, one which should be of interest to any music lover as Brennan looks to the history of music making, and consumption, to better understand the present and even the future. But while that is important, it would mean little for this review if the album wasn’t quite extraordinary. With a lyrical wit and insight reminiscent of Neil Hannon, a band made up of some of the finest musicians around, and a judicious use of samples, you have a record unlike any other you are likely to hear in many a year. Inform, educate, and entertain – Citizen Bravo ticks all the boxes. From the album this is ‘Limbs and Bones’:

In the space of just a few singles OK Button have proven themselves to be one of the most exciting new bands around, one who aren’t afraid to mix the political with the often intensely personal, and all to the most exquisite soundtrack. Their latest, ‘Grenade’, is arguably their finest yet, but then I previously said that about ‘The Message’, ‘Beds’, and ‘Flesh & Blood’. Suffice to say that their debut album is shaping up to be something rather special and one off the most eagerly awaited of recent times.

The band’s atmospheric electronica, and Amber Wilson’s heavenly vocals, lull you into a false sense of security and before you know it you’re floored. OK Button are going to be playing Aberdeen at The Tunnels with SWH! favourites L-Space on July 27th which promises to be a musical match made in heaven, so I recommend grabbing your tickets while you can. While you mull that over, this is ‘Grenade’:

Josephine Sillars featured recently on these pages as guest vocalist on Frog Costume’s excellent ‘A Daydream’ which, while a treat, made you long for new music from her all of her own. Luckily we didn’t have to wait too long. Her latest single ‘Skeleton’ sees Josephine reunited with The Manic Pixie Dreams, and features Spring Break’s DJ Butterscotch. It’s a winning combination of ska-inflected pop, hip-hop, and Sillars’ velvet vocals, with a social-political message at its heart that has never been more relevant. It’s a fine example of the sort of agit-pop song which is all too rare these days in that it makes you dance and makes you think simultaneously. More of this sort of thing:

Next up, it’s the welcome return of Sacred Paws, last seen riding into the sunset clutching a well-deserved SAY Award for 2017’s Strike A Match. How do you follow such a success? Well, if the first single from their forthcoming LP Run Around The Sun is anything to go by Sacred Paws are going to do what they did before only better. As soon as it starts up ‘The Conversation’ (for that is its name) puts the listener at ease with the unmistakable drum and guitar sound that we have come to know, love and cherish. Sacred Paws are back with a vengeance and the world is a far better place for it:

How you feel about the next song will depend how you feel about the music of the mid-late 1980s. If, for you, it was only ever The Smiths, The Wedding Present, The Cure, The Woodentops, The Fall – and many other artists with the definite article – then move on, nothing to hear here. But if you had space in your life for Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, New Order, and even, god help us, Alphaville, then Michael Oakley takes you back, way back, to that time and place. Oakley’s latest single is ‘Left Behind’ (from the album Introspect) and it is as nostalgic for the ’80s as Max Headroom drinking a can of Schlitz. If you’re going to go with Michael Oakley’s ‘New Retro Wave’ then you have to embrace it fully. Go on, try it – what have you got to lose?:

And finally…it’s the Sonic Bothy Ensemble with their album Fields – a record which almost defies definition, but here goes. It’s an experimental, at times unnerving, surprising, and always exciting composition. If you like your ambient music more challenging than chill out – think Harold Budd, Philip Glass, Tim Hecker – then you’ll love Fields. It’s an album which has you believing it’s going to be one thing, then pulls you in a completely different direction altogether.

Whereas many ambient albums are little more than aural wallpaper, Sonic Bothy Ensemble force you to listen, encourage you to engage, and never allow you to settle. It’s quite the most intriguing, hypnotic and thought provoking composition I have heard this year and I’ve been returning to it most nights (often late at night) since that first listen. If you want to know more about Sonic Bothy Ensemble then click here, but I would suggest you first settle back, relax, open your ears and mind, and expect the unexpected:

We told you it was good. Meet you here next month for more of the best in new Scottish music. But while you wait – 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.


New Musical Success: The Best New Music From The Last Month…

..although it’s more like the best new music from the last six weeks as this review is long overdue. But, working to the saying “better late than never”, we are offering you eight examples of the quality, diverse, and sheer magic music which found its way our way in recent times.

There are old friends and new, presenting instant classics, indie pop, rock, folk, electronica, and many other random words which could also be crammed into a sentence such as this. Never mind such clumsy attempts at description, it’s all about the music, and what sweet music it is.

We begin with Lola In Slacks and their single ‘Postscript In Blue‘ which oozes class from start to finish. You would expect no less from a band whose members include Lou Reid, Brian McFie, Lesley McLaren, Davy Irwin and Fiona Shannon, some of who have been heard with the likes of The Big Dish, Altered Images, Craig Armstrong, Mull Historical Society, The Bluebells, and more. Only an elite few can boast such a CV.

From the off it is clear that Lola In Slacks are a band who are the perfect sum of those impressive parts. Everyone plays their role to perfection, making music which is out of time yet utterly of the here and now. Lou Reid’s smoky vocals are to the fore, reminiscent of European Torch singers Francoise Hardy, Marianne Faithful and, more recently, Camille, and also of North Americans Julie London, Neko Case and Laura Veirs. The voice is perfectly matched by the playing, which is quite exquisite. McLaren’s drumming in particular is an understated thing of beauty. Listen for yourself, then go back, play it again, and listen once more. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship:

Sometimes a band come along and knock you sideways, ticking so many of your musical boxes it’s as if someone has been rifling through your record collection. That was the case with the first listen of ‘Atrocities‘ by Dundee’s Stoor. There’s XTC and Wire in there, followed by what sounds like the Psychedelic Furs if they were produced by Rick Rubin, before the appearance of glam rock riffs so bold Marc Bolan would have pinched them without batting a heavily mascaraed eyelid. Then it starts all over again and you pick up something completely different. Taken from their album Fleam, this is ‘Atroctites’ – prepared to be dazzled

The last few weeks saw the 3rd birthday of record label Last Night From Glasgow, who regular readers will be very familiar with. Suitably they celebrated with a party which featured music from Annie Booth, Cloth, Sister John, and Foundlings, one of their most recent signings. Their EP, also called Foundlings, is out now and it is a great introduction for the uninitiated to their angular and instantly memorable pop songs.

Exhibit A: ‘Enemy’, which sounds like a lost Cherry Red Records’ classic and is a must have for any discerning music lover. That’s right, I’m talking to you – you wouldn’t be reading this otherwise. Everyone needs some Foundlings in their life, it’s just most don’t know it yet. Listen below and prove me right:

A new James Yorkston record is always reason for cheer, and his latest long player, The Route To The Harmonium, has been on close to constant rotation on the SWH! turntable since it appeared last month. Yorkston is one of those artists who is unmistakable and unshakeable. He plows his own furrow with a clear idea as to what he wants to create. And what he creates is always essential, and often mesmeric.

He seems to tap into something undeniably Scottish and literary, as much influenced by poetry and fiction as music, with a desire to tell stories in a tradition which follows on from the ballads and spoken word. From The Route To The Harmonium this is ‘My Mouth Ain’t No Bible’, with James coming over like an East Neuk Preacher Man – where fire and brimstone meets fear and loathing. Funny, angry, wry, and possibly rye, it could just be James Yorkston’s defining moment – except his whole career is littered with those.

Dead Fiction came to our attention last year with the release of their eponymous EP which announced them as a band to take notice of. Actually, you couldn’t ignore them if you tried as their epic rock sound makes them stand out in what is a crowded field. As if to prove that very point they are releasing three singles simultaneously on March 29th, ‘Modern Primitives‘, ‘A Plot or Spine‘ and ‘The Crux‘ out on Meraki Records, which may seem to be showing off, but as it promises to “mark the end of the current sound and line-up” you should make the most of them in this form while you still can. This is ‘Modern Primitives’:

It’s the warmest of welcomes back to these pages to the enigmatic and remarkable Natalie Pryce, a band who dance to their own tune, but who forcibly drag you with them on to the dance floor. I do like a band who unsettle you – I’m thinking of the likes of Captain Beefheart, the Cardiacs, Ministry, the Bad Seeds, Sons & Daughters – all of whom carry with them the threat of threats as yet unnamed, as do Natalie Pryce.

This track is ‘Martin Amis‘, and there is wailing saxophone, understated drums and bass, and whispered vocals which suggest pain and pleasure in equal measure. So hip it hurts, this improves with every play, and gets to the dark heart of its subject in four minutes far better than any biography could ever do:

Frog Costume are new to these pages, but I have a feeling they’ll soon become regulars, certainly if their single ‘A Daydream‘ is any kind of indicator. It’s aching and understated pop which breaks your heart as only a great song can. Deceptively simple, yet packing an emotional and affectionate punch, ‘A Daydream’ is one of the best new songs I have heard this year and it makes me desperate to hear more. And any song which features the vocals of Josephine Sillars of The Manic Pixie Dreams fame is alright by us:

In these times of turmoil it’s good to have constants in your life, and Vukovi are definitely, and defiantly, one of those. Since first gracing these pages in 2015 with the single ‘Boy George’ they have regularly presented us with classic upon classic, and they are almost single-handedly responsible for restoring my faith in the heavier side of rock music (along with the late & lamented You Already Know).

They keep that run of success going with their latest release ‘C.L.A.U.D.I.A‘. All the elements are in place – imposing guitar riffs, driving drums, thumping bass, and Janine Shilstone’s soaring yet soulful vocals which add real feeling to their music. If you haven’t encountered Vukovi yet, then this is the perfect place to start:

That’s yer whack for now, but the next review will be with you before you know it as we try to catch up. If you have sent music expecting it to feature here dinnae panic – there’s every chance it could be included next time round. Thanks, as ever, to everyone who sends their music our way. It all gets listened to, and we couldn’t do it without you…

SWH! now has a regular radio show on LP Radio on Monday nights, 7-9pm, and you can catch up with the previous shows, along with all the other fantastic LP Radio shows, right here –

LP Radio – Live

LP Radio – Previous Broadcasts on Mixcloud