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  • Alistair Braidwood

January Jonesing: The Best New Music From Last Month…

Some of Scots Whay Hae!’s favourite bands brought out brand new material last month, many of whom have appeared on these pages before, but I make no apologies for this…although even typing that sentence feels like doing just that.

In the last few years January has become a surprisingly good month for new music, when previously it was hard to find. Whatever the reason for this, it’s good news for the soundtrack to cold winter nights. In this month’s roundup there is music to match the weather, some to get you through the arse end of winter, and even some with a reminder of what summer’s all about; something to match all moods and tastes.

First off, we have a new solo record from Alasdair Roberts, (with a fine portrait from fellow Alasdair, Gray, on the cover). In recent years, Roberts has probably been better known for his collaborations with the likes of The Furrow Collective, Robin Robertson, R.M. Hubbert, and many, many more from what must be a substantial phone book. Last year he featured on the Scots Whay Hae! podcast with another collaborator, the composer Ross Whyte, and you can still hear their chat here.

But his solo work is, I would suggest, his most consistent and reliable (although, he always has impressive ‘special guests’). His latest, eponymous, album is a collection of simply gorgeous acoustic traditional folk that doesn’t bend to unnecessary production, which allows his precise guitar playing to star. A pleasure from start to finish, if you like your folk then Alasdair Roberts is a must. From it, this is ‘In Dispraise of Hunger’:

More beautiful, mournful, music to make your day. Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells announced their latest album will be out in March, called The Most Important Place in The World, but as a teaser here is ‘This Dark Desire’ which is as noir as music gets. Over some plainful trumpet and rhythmic piano, Moffat makes like a Scottish Mickey Spillane, relating a narrative about his city and those who share its secrets. It is similar to early Tindersticks in its marriage of jazz inflections and deadpan voiceover, but for a more left-field comparison, if you are familiar with the opening scenes of Woody Allen’s Manhattan (and you really should be), imagine Moffat as Isaac Davis, and Glasgow replacing Manhattan, and if you can make those leaps you’ll have some idea of what your about to hear, as well as an excellent image to conjure with:

There are other big names to mention before we finish, but the music I have played most in January is Passion Pilgrim, an EP by the Jon Cohen Experimental, who appeared before on these pages back in 2012. He is a one-man New Order, which would certainly save on fall outs, legal bills and black eyes. Why do I like it so much? His music reminds me of more than a few of my favourite things, such as lo-fi disco, early House, Captain, 1989, Ben Lee, Eno, and so much more. This is ‘In Order To Survive’, but I urge you to check out the EP as every track is worth your attention; one listen and you’re hooked:

More classy sounds from the indie disco. The perfect companion to the Jon Cohen Experimental comes in the shape of The Duke, Detroit and their latest single, ‘Iconic’, which is not out till March but is too good not to mention right now. Drum machines, snare, handclaps, bass-lines to die for, and a guitar break that could have come from Nile Rodgers himself; what’s not to like? They’ve been good before, but this is the best thing I have heard from The Duke, Detroit yet and they are quickly becoming one of those bands whose new music you can’t wait for. You won’t be able to listen to this and not have something move when you least expect it:

That’s enough dancing for now; it’s time to rock. Rollor are back with the brilliantly titled Isthmus of Panama, a mostly instrumental album that is as ambitious as it is admirable.  If your like noise there’s something for everyone, with fast and furious tracks that clock in at 22 and 40 seconds respectively, titles such as ‘Atrophied Brain Matter’ and the excellent ‘Worms on Used Hooks’, and it’s all finished off with the 21min 36secs ‘Dread Pirate Robins’. Serious music that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it demands multiple listens, and could just end up being one of the best albums released this year.

And now for another shift in tone. Paisley’s Michael Cassidy is one of Scotland’s better singer/songwriters, and you may remember his appearance in Scots Whay Hae! back in 2013. It’s taken a while, but his album is now with us. It’s called My Electric Heart, and if you like quality songwriting which wears both its Scottish and American influences proudly (from Ferguslie Park to Memphis, anyone?), then this is for you. This is the new single ’15 Years’, and the video is a cracker too:

There were other albums released which in January which you should investigate, including Strange Friend from The Phantom Band and Modern Blues from The Waterboys, but I’m sure you’ll hear more about those else where. As you will with Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, the latest from Belle And Sebastian. Some have called it a return to form, but I’m not sure they were ever out of form. It is more outright pop than they have been before, and that includes Dear Catastrophe, Waitress, but that’s fine by me.

An alternative title could have been What We Did On Our Holidays as there are pop influences from Ibiza, Costa Del Sol, Italy and Greece in evidence; and how you view this embracing of Europop will probably depend on how you view Belle and Sebastian; you either trust them by now and love what they do, or you don’t, and I’m not going to convince you here. After the hit and miss project that was God Help The Girl, it’s great to hear the full band back doing what they do best, but in a way that is fresh enough to remain interesting. Below, as a special treat, is a link to the whole of Vic Galloway’s excellent interview with the band as well as the accompanying sessions (which is only available for a short while) followed by the single, ‘Nobody’s Empire’:

That’s yer whack for January. I’m off for another dance, and yes, I am asking…


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