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.

Beat The January Rhythm & Blues: A Preview Of Celtic Connections 2019…

“January, month of empty pockets! Let us endure this evil month…”, to quote the French writer Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (currently appearing at a cinema near you). This may be a touch dramatic, but you know what she’s getting at. For me, a year doesn’t get going properly til Celtic Connections begins. A festival that never fails to deliver, and which continues to grow in terms of number of gigs, breadth of music, and stature.

This year’s headliners and more well-kent attendees include Blue Rose Code, Judy Collins, Mariza, Sharon Shannon, Mull Historical Society, Rachel Sermanni & Jarlath Henderson, Seth Lakeman, and Karine Polwart, Kris Drever & Scottish Chamber Orchestra. There are also nights featuring or celebrating musical legends, including Ronnie Spector & The RonettesVan Morrison, John Martyn, Loudon Wainwright III, and, covering many of your favourite songs, Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook.

However, and as ever, we’d like to point you in the direction of lesser known gems which can be found at the festival. Some of the names below you may recognise from our regular music reviews, and they all are deserving of your attention. Each one promises an unforgettable night, and what more can you ask for in these early days of 2019?

You can peruse the full programme at your leisure at Celtic Connections, and receive all the up-to-date news by following the festival on Twitter, and Facebook.  But before you rush away here is the Scots Whay Hae! guide, (complete with links to further details + tickets). We’re calling it ‘the best of the rest of the fest’…

GOOSEBUMPS: 25 Years of Marina Records (Krach Auf Wiedersehen!) and Fenella

A Wesley Chung and Caitlin Buchanan

Last Night From Glasgow: The Gracious Losers and L-space (acoustic)

The Sweetheart Revue and Headcloud

Zoe Graham and John Edge & The Kings of Nowhere

Withered Hand

Broken Chanter and Jill O’Sullivan

Henry & Fleetwood

Carla J. Easton and Mark McGowan

Andrew Wasylyk and support

Olive Grove Records Showcase: Chrissy Barnacle, Pocket Knife, Moonsoup, Circle Meets Dot and Jared Celosse

Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert with Marry Waterson & Emily Barker

Hope to see you at at least one of the above…