New Musical Success: A Review Of The Best In New Music…
The evocative seasonal change from summer to autumn needs a suitable soundtrack to match, and I think SWH! can provide just that. It’s another strong selection which once again proves that we are living in good times when it comes to Scottish music. We have the return of old friends under new names, debut appearances, new discoveries, and the reissue of a lost classic. Coming from all over Scotland there’s electronica, indie pop & rock, Americana, country, soul, harmonies and heartbreak, and some of the finest songwriting you’ll find anywhere. If any or all of that appeals to you, read on…
Allan J. Swan has been making music for many years in various shapes and sizes, not least with the mighty, and much missed, YAK. His latest release comes under the wonderfully monikered Bang Bang Cannoli. The album is called Something Better, and this first release, ‘Oblivion Now’, is a taste of what’s to come. An old school electronic track which gently builds, adding strings and drums as it does so, with Swan’s understated and plaintive vocals, it’s where Vangelis meets Aidan Moffat, or if Tangerine Dream were fronted by Stuart Braithwaite. Swan identifies himself as “..one of many bald beardy suicidally depressed men that has blundered about in the Glasgow music scene for the last 20 years.” There may be many, but few make music as good as this. This is ‘Oblivion Now’:
As the autumn moves into view it’s the perfect time to reflect on those heady salad days of summers past. So it’s a warm SWH! welcome to Anton & The Colts with their debut single ‘The Summer Which Can Never Be Outdone‘, taken from the album No End Of The Line. There is no doubt Americana is having a moment in terms of Scottish music, with recent releases from the likes of Starry Skies, The Gracious Losers and James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band among the best records of the last year, (and there’s more to come – see below). With this record Anton & The Colts more than deserve to be in such company. It’s a little bit country with a lot of soul, and with harmonies to warm your heart. If you are a fan of Jayhawks, Drive By Truckers or Golden Smog then this is going to be for you. If you aren’t aware of those bands then take a listen anyway – I promise you’re in for a treat:
Talking of making music the American way, Martha L. Healey has a new album out on October 5th, Keep The Flame Alight, (which she launches at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe on October 6th). Written and recorded in Nashville, the first single is ‘No Place Like Home’ which feels like it’s influenced by, among others, Lucinda Williams, Kathleen Edwards and Gillian Welch. However, Healey’s heartbreaking vocals, and the use of squeezebox and fiddle, lend it a distinctly Celtic feel, reminiscent of Gemma Hayes, Lisa Hannigan or the mighty Karine Polwart. I do not make such comparisons lightly as the musicians mentioned have made some of the finest records I own. Martha L. Healy looks set to join them. Take a listen and see if you agree. And if you don’t, with the greatest respect, you’re wrong:
Do you know what the world needs now? It’s the return of Arran Arctic. Back in 2012 his song ‘Covers’ was one of SWH!’s tracks of the year (a list well worth revisiting!). Arran also guested on podcast 17, as well as writing for the sadly short-lived column ‘Lost In Music’ about Linda Perhacs’ album Parallelograms. Suffice to say we consider him part of the SWH! family and, like the prodigal son, he is back, this time as a member of The Map Dept.
They have a four-track digital album out now, Demos, which I cannot recommend highly enough, although I’ll give it a go. With chiming guitars, driving drums, subtle harmonies and distinctive vocals, this is indie rock at its finest and, importantly, most subtle. Think Woodentops, Microdisney, or XTC. Come and see them live at Glasgow’s Ivory Black’s on Sept 27th or at Nice & Sleazy’s on Oct 3rd to see for yourself. The Map Dept could just be your new favourite band. In the meantime this is ‘Midnight On The Beach’:
Another of SWH!’s favourites from the not so distant past are The Lotus Project who were singer/songwriter Marie Claire Lee and ace percussionist Signy Jakobsdottir. Recently Lee has been making waves as Seil Lien, and we reviewed ‘A Little While More’, taken from the EP of the same name, back in June. The latest track sees her reunited with Jakobsdottir, and that is not only noteworthy but a real cause for celebration. The song is ‘Chase The Devil’ and it once again proves that in Marie Claire Lee we have an artist who is to be treasured as they don’t come along very often. It’s not easy to make music this special, but Seil Lien makes it seem effortless. This is ‘Chase The Devil’:
This summer has seen some great debut albums released, strengthening the feeling, as mentioned at the top of this page, that Scottish music is in fine, fine fettle. Many of them have featured on these pages, and to that number you can now add Trookers’ The Temporary. Claiming to be “UK’s most northerly melodic pop rock indie quartet”, they could be described as a Shetlandic supergroup, with members from The Revellers and First Foot Soldiers, among others.
This is a band clearly steeped in music. You can detect the classic pop and harmonies of The Beatles, Teenage Fanclub and Super Furry Animals, as well as pastoral sounds and imagery which bring to mind Wild Beasts and Mull Historical Society. They also tap into the classic Scottish indie tradition of The Beta Band, Ballboy, The Delgados and many more, but they wear those influences lightly to make music which is all their own. The Temporary is a record which screams quality and class. Here’s the title track:
Finally for this month we’re going to feature a reissue. In the latest SWH! podcast with Carla J. Easton (which will be with you soon), she talks about the documentary she is working on with Blair Young which will focus on the women pioneers of Scottish pop. One of those is undoubtedly Rose McDowall, one half of post-punk pop legends Strawberry Switchblade who are still best know for their classic hit single ‘Since Yesterday‘. However, as Easton points out, McDowall is one of our finest songwriters, one who should be better known and celebrated.
It just so happens that Night School Records have re-released McDowall’s 1993 album Under The Yew Possessed which she made with her then husband Robert Lee under the name Sorrow, and which backs up Carla’s claim. It was a real shift away from her indie post-punk roots, tapping into the then new musical movement which looked to embrace traditional folk music as well as being influenced by the pastoral pop of Nick Drake and Tim Buckley, and which also inspired bands such as The Lilac Time, Eliza Carthy, Mojave 3, and mid-period XTC, and which can still be felt in the work of Alasdair Roberts, The Unthanks, and Trembling Bells. In part due to the timelessness of the music it is a record which feels fresh and new, at once universal but, when you listen to McDowall’s lyrics, clearly deeply personal. From the album, this is ‘Forgive Me’:
That’s all for this month, but keep a look out for that Carla J. Easton podcast as it’s not to be missed. See you back here next month for more great music…