Yip Man is Al Nero.
ARM50 // Braw Power
Yip Man is the alter-ego of Scottish songwriter, Al Nero. The former frontman of blissful guitar slingers, Le Reno Amps and co-founder of Glasgow’s Armellodie Records, one might be forgiven for thinking that Nero has been somewhat idle, or at least focussing on running Armellodie, since Le Reno Amps bowed out in 2011. But in truth he has been undergoing metamorphosis. He’s been away. Al Nero went to China… Yip Man came back.
We could choose to imagine our hero here in sprawling dusty wastelands squinting against the setting sun, or atop snow-capped peaks in earnest conversation to stationary holy men, maybe brushing the Mongolian border astride a saddleless galloping horse. Perhaps that’s true, or perhaps he was in a bar. Whatever happened on our protagonist’s travels the resulting music displays, in the brightest of colours, Yip Man's ability to melt down a rainbow of musical possibilities into an irresistible marriage of riff & melody.
From the explosion of the lop-sided opener ‘Barnburner’ and the synth-riddled rocking of ‘Not That Easy’, to the Calypso carnival of ‘For Your Own Good’ and Pavement-esque brain-rockin' of ‘Skinny White Ghost’. The songs on debut album, Braw Power, find our protagonist wrestling poetically in the darkened shadows of his own existential ennui, whilst simultaneously sounding like a man who just found the magic beans at the end of the rainbow on the sunniest day of the year.
There is a world-weary sarcasm in the lyrics too, a black humour, and sometimes a barely withheld anger. This creeps into the music as well, and we start to hear dissonance, unusual rhythms and chromatic melody upsetting and mutating the kind of songs that might otherwise have had something of the simplicity of the Ramones.
Yip Man realises and understands the power and purpose of the pop song. They are for our hurt, our disappointment, our regret, our losses and our failures. Each tragic breakup song heals something in its listener. The best pop songs are beautiful feedback loops of empathy and pathos. Yip Man brings it all, inadequacy, lies, loss, bitterness, infidelity, empty beds and the horrible certainty that whatever he’s just got over, he’s doomed to live through again and again. It’s no accident that ‘Stuck on Repeat’ reappears as Braw Power's ominous coda.
Nero’s metamorphosis into Yip Man might not have been a gruesome Kafkaesque shift in species, but it has produced a darker, smarter and completely unapologetic writer of intelligent pop songs stuffed full of unusual ideas and fresh interpretations of trope. Grand ambitions tempered by a homely charm, whatever life throws at Yip Man, one can be sure he’ll come back with a riff and a chuckle.
Colin Reid // Vocals, Guitar
Ruth Forsyth // Bass, Vocals
Jason Sinclair // Drums, Vocals
ARM33 // The Road To Ugly
ARM30 // Body Mass Index
ARM07 // Cuddly Shark
ARM06 // The Sheriff of Aspen Bay
ARM05 // Woody Woodpecker / Bowl of Cherries
ARM03 // The Punisher of IV30
Cuddly Shark encapsulate a purist “plug in and play” ethos with a touch of ice cold rock’n’roll. Idiosyncratic lyricism and odd anti-melodies combined with a foot down pedal-to-the-metal performance.
Forming in early 2006 the band consists of two boys and one girl, Colin Reid on guitar and vocals, Jason Sinclair on drums and vocals and Ruth Forsyth on bass guitar. Born and bred in the bonnie highlands of Scotland the band found themselves magnetically drawn to the rain-soaked musical hotspot that is Glasgow to hone their sound.
Things seemed to twitter along very quickly and Cuddly Shark found themselves with a bunch of songs with winning names like ‘The Punisher of IV30’, referring to the Elgin post-code where the band members grew up and if pushed could tell you a horror story or two! In 2009 they dropped jaws with the release of their debut eponymous album.
Rock solid with the minimum of fuss, the songs on their debut are anarchic and free spirited. From the opening thrash of ‘Bowl of Cherries’, by all accounts a sonic fit of standing on your toes and singing right in your face, to the Pixies like donkey kick of ‘Woody Woodpecker’, an ode to all those people that peck at your head until you can’t take it anymore.
Debut single, ‘The Punisher of IV30’, referring to the Elgin post-code where the band members grew up, befits the contradictory nature of the band name as this lot can bark like a nutcase at a bus stop. Listen on and its clear linear song-writing isn’t on the menu with the dog-on-the-prowl nuttiness of ‘Mannybix’, and the epic 52 second ode to self-indulgence, ‘Jamie Foxx on Later With Jools Holland’.
The record was rightly praised in the national press and the singles received regular rotation on BBC Radio 1, BBC Scotland and BBC6 Music with the band getting down and dirty around their native Scotland and south of the border.
The band re-emerged in October 2012 with the release of the Body Mass Index EP, a forerunner to their second album, The Road To Ugly which was met with critical acclaim upon it’s release in January 2013.
From the opening salvo of ‘SPMG’ and ‘Overpriced’, complete with headlong thrashy guitars, low slung bass and shouty vocals shot through with pugnacious humour, Cuddly Shark reaffirmed that they will never have an ounce of pretentious hip- fat on them.
‘Broken Arm’ is rock solid and swaggeringly cool; the band prove they have more hooks than a tackle-box with recent single, ‘Body Mass Index’ and the hillbilly punk of ‘Doodlebug’.
In the sweet half hour experience that is The Road To Ugly, the band also serenade us with string-laden Celtic clatter (‘Fiddley Dee’), European-folky flair (‘The Devil In You’), falsetto-pop (‘Trigger Happy’), and country-tinged stompin’ (‘Out of Sight, Out Of Mind’). The Shark bring proceedings to a close with the heart-on-sleeve balladry of ‘Local Hero’.
Effortlessly (un)cool, chock-full of deadpan lyrical quips, manic shrieking, offbeat chug-a-lug riffing, melodic oomph and much more, The Road To Ugly is a stupendous journey and definitely worth the trip, time and time again.
Brimming with punk attitude and spilling over with melodic brilliance Cuddly Shark’s live shows have seen comparisons made to Husker Du, Minor Threat, Ween, Fugazi and Weezer. Yet Cuddly Shark are unmistakably their own entity, a blistering romp of rock’n’roll carnage firing as loud as they can from a post-rock cannon.
Chris Flynn // Vocals, Synth
Bruce Wallace // Guitar
Kieran Savage // Guitar
Ricki Thomson // Drums
ARM51 // Bloke Music
Born under Capricorn, Bloke Music are an unforgiving band of men who like nothing better than taking things apart and putting them back together again. The sound of the band is inspired by many facets of life – like the feeling a man gets when mixing Araldite, stroking one's own stubble or grouting. Cleaning music's gutters is a thankless task but someone has to do it.
Frontman Chris Flynn, previously of wonk-pop trio Bo Deadly, weaves impossible vocal melodies through an overgrown allotment of sound made by drummer Ricki Thomson (ex-Jackie Treehorn/Gastric Band) and guitarists Kieran Savage (Elastic Leg Party) and Bruce Wallace (Super Adventure Club/Gastric Band). The band's debut, self-titled EP pays homage to music that has repelled ladies for generations, like prog-rock, contemporary classical, and Michael McDonald. It’s a 26-and-a-half minute sausage-fest that will make you pout and gyrate like a pissed uncle at a wedding.
Pierre Cristofari // Vocals, Guitar
Olivier Cancellieri // Bass, Vocals
Nicholas Faou // Drums, Vocals
ARM42 // Brave Mountains
Pierre Cristofari, Olivier Cancellieri and Nicolas Faou formed Appletop in Hyères, France in 2008. Since then they’ve released a clutch of EPs in their native land, and a well-received debut album, The City Can Wait via Parisien label Le Son du Maquis/Harmonia Mundi in 2010.
Hereafter the band took to the winding roads of Europe, clocking in hundreds of shows and notching up tour supports with such indie-stalwarts as The Thermals, Wild Flag and The Horrors.
The first single from the album, ‘Twenty-Five’, (released in France on shiny clear vinyl courtesy of A Quick One Records) whetted the public's aural taste-buds and set the tone for the long-player you now have in your possession. Two years in the making, Brave Mountains draws on British and American alt-rock traditions. Ten lean cuts of appetising indie rock meat!
‘Burning Land’, ‘Johnny’s Theme’ and ‘Madonna in Love’ are the sort of songs you would want to end a summer festival with, punching-the-air with the orange sun setting in the background. Cristofari’s charmingly curious phrasing – singing in his second language after all – echoing out from the stage.
Elsewhere, songs like the sparse ‘Nikolai’ and the dreamy in-no-rush guitar lines of ‘Portland’ show the band at their most tender. Though there’s no need to approach with caution, we’re a million miles away from emo-melodrama. There is minimal doom and gloom; instead the listener is treated to a warm and affecting scruffy pop conscious.
“It’s the same old story, told a hundred times” sings Cristofari on enticing opener, ‘Headstrong’. And maybe it is, but Appletop succeed by digging under the surface of their beloved idols – think Sebadoh, Pavement, Teenage Fanclub – and hit you warm in the gut with fuzzed up guitars, pared back production values and stick-to-your-ribs melodies.
Joel Gibson // drums
Marc Beatty // bass
Johny Lamb // trumpet, cornet
Rose Elinor Dougall // vocals, grand piano
Matthew Twaites // synths
Darren Moon // vocals, guitar
Matthew Eaton // vocals, guitar
Fusing an arsenal of expensive chords with sly self-deprecation and unpredictable lyrical left-turns, The Pure Conjecture posses a charming individuality which is both at odds with and wholly impervious to current musical trends. There are not many groups - in the UK, at least - genuinely mining the same seam that gave us Solomon Burke's 'Don't Give Up On Me', and the Daptone label, for instance. To date they have released two albums, 2012’s Courgettes and 2013’s Gendres.
A 10-piece ensemble, The Pure Conjecture is fronted by the eloquent Matt Eaton – an award winning vintner from the west country - with an impressive squadron of musical sharp-shooters including Martin Noble (British Sea Power), Thomas and Alex White (Electric Soft Parade / Brakes), Andrew Mitchell (The Hazey Janes), Johny Lamb (Thirty Pounds Of Bone), Marc Beatty (Brakes / The Tenderfoot), Darren Moon (The Tenderfoot), Steve Grainger (nada / Elevator Suite) and Julian Baker (Notable Saxophonist).
For the recording of their debut Eaton decided that, in the manner that many 'classic' sessions were committed to tape; the lush orchestral soul of his original demos should be captured as live recording performances in the studio. After a brief rehearsal the band decamped to Kemptown's Metway Studios in Brighton with Matthew Twaites (Restlesslist / Clowns) at the desk, cutting in two days the nine songs that make up Courgettes.
Candid but full of humour and perspective, the curiously named opener, ‘The Power Of The Notes Is Very Good’ concerns the responsibility that comes with self-publishing. The subject finds that as they engage with the world with an ever-decreasing recklessness, the motivation to communicate with the world in abstract terms is proportionately lessened. He or she grows reclusive, uninspired and ultimately disillusioned as they begin to realise that it's maybe enough to simply list the details of what they've had for breakfast on a social networking site. Indeed, the power of the notes is “very good”, flaunting the benefits of execution from a band that know when to show restraint and control, rather than to push their skill under your nose. Each member seeming to understand they are a piece of the puzzle.
“Broadly speaking, it seems increasingly obvious to me that the key to becoming a great player lies not in perfecting your own art, but finding your place in an ensemble and understanding instinctively the shifting dynamics within that. The musicians that make up The Pure Conjecture play in myriad different bands and projects, most of whom you'll have at least heard of, but what really shines through is the feeling that all that playing, all that experience, was simply prologue to these recordings.” – Thomas White
The Pure Conjecture’s real strength is in the sincerity of Matt Eaton’s songs, sincere like those beautiful soft rock records of the seventies and eighties. You know, the ones you're supposed to call a "guilty pleasure" as dictated by some joyless muso-hipster that can’t enjoy a Bee Gees record without doing it ironically. The Todd Rundgren-esque ‘1st Time I Saw U’ and the smooth, infectious ‘Knock Three Times’ are both sublime and compelling, shamelessly dripping with falsetto backing vocals, vibraphones, saxophones and cornets, bells and handclaps.
It’s with this spirit of sincerity that the band effortlessly covers Hall & Oates’, ‘Go Solo’. It fits so seamlessly into the sequence that if you weren’t to know it, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a Pure Conjecture original. The same can be said for the band’s glorious version of ‘What’s Your Sign, Girl?’, a relatively obscure 'soft-soul' single originally recorded by Danny Pearson and produced by Barry White in 1978. This song was more recently re-worked by Alex Chilton on his 1995 album A Man Called Destruction. The idea that the band is reaching out towards the soul music styles of Philadelphia is implicit and abundantly rewarding.
The band’s second effort, Gendres largely sticks to the same modus operandi. In Eaton's mind the year is 1973, the locus Philadelphia. Thus Gendres twinkles in the romantic glow of warm vibraphones, muted trumpets and sublime vocal harmonies.
That said, album opener, ‘Roadworks on Memory Lane’ sees the band employ wide-screen Big Star guitars with Eaton’s deadpan delivery leaving one unsure whether to laugh or cry as he sings;
“I was born at seven minutes past seven o'clock, on the seventh day of July, Nineteen seventy-seven / I weighed seven pounds, seven ounces, cos I was seven days premature / I spent the first seven hours of my life in an incubator”
Eaton’s voice compliments the introspective, melancholic and reflective nature of much of the material. Weighty songs like ‘Dictators’ wouldn't be the same without the vulnerable lived-in quality that his voice suffuses the words with.
‘I Just Want You To Love Me’ is about the simple pleasure of experiencing affection, whereas ‘Midnight Dancing’ addresses the experience of confused emotions aroused by confusing music – a rather more abstract pleasure for the songwriter.
Album closer, ‘Thought I’d Get Along With You’ is a sweet reminder that although the wonders of physical existence are gradually migrating towards the removed terrain of the Internet, a lot of the more worthwhile aspects of life will probably never change. Co-writer Martin Noble believes this song to be “the sound of i-date heartache” or as Darren Moon (the other co-writer) puts it “a tender examination of the alienating effects of technology when it acts as the primary mediator for human interaction”.
There is a concern that with today’s freedom to self-publish, the value in the art may have been degraded to near worthlessness by social media. The songs on Gendres are primarily concerned with finding a place in the constantly flowing passage of time, trying to comfortably marry personal emotional truths to a socio-political landscape littered with pithy, convenient sound-bites.
Reflected against this landscape, every shameless falsetto and soft-soul lament that Gendres has to offer is a most welcome one and as with some of the world’s most admired musicians and song-writers, a big heart beats beneath it all. Between Courgettes and Gendres, The Pure Conjecture’s have crafted a collection that is often funny, often poignant, and beautiful, the panacea to cynicism in a serious world.
Sailing gleefully under the radar and occupying his own trans-century time-period, Thirty Pounds Of Bone is one man, multi- instrumentalist Johny Lamb with a treasure-chest of storm-tossed laments and lullaby wig-outs to bedazzle.
The son of an ordained clergyman, Johny Lamb was initially raised on the Shetland island of Unst; he’s always been fascinated with the sea and the fisheries. His favourite books are Moby Dick and The Tin Drum. As a child he was once in hospital for so long that they made him go to school there, and as a result he now only has one functioning kidney. He has lived all over the British Isles, and has toured extensively throughout Europe. His life revolves around folk music and he believes strongly in innovation and change in traditional music rather than preservation of repertoire, as “a museum piece cannot be a ‘living’ tradition.”
To date, Thirty Pounds of Bone has released four full-length albums and several EPs across a scattering of labels. The first was cast onto our shores in 2006, the bold, innovative and beautiful, Homesick Children of Migrant Mothers (Drift Records), followed by the EP, And They Go Down To It In Ships (Woodland Recordings) in 2009.
In 2010, Thirty Pounds of Bone joined the ranks of Armellodie to release his second full-length album, Method, an album that seeks to explore the folksinger’s contradictory status as an outsider, often recording and touring alone, a situation seemingly at odds with folk’s suggestion of community. The result is a record fraught with geographic dissatisfaction, heartbreak, ghosts, isolation and drunkenness. Sitting uncomfortably somewhere between auto-biography and allegory the songs take in real life events and fantastical narrative concerning relationships, the dangers of being eaten by the dead and the difficulties of communicating when at sea.
Following Method, Johny sailed and worked on the boat 'Collective Spirit' throughout her maiden voyage, clocking up over 600 nautical miles around the south east coast of England, writing a song for each leg of the voyage and performing the growing collection of songs with local musicians at each stop. This collection of songs was commissioned by Lone Twin as part of their 'Boat Project', which formed part of the 2012 'Artists taking the lead' Cultural Olympiad and can be heard here.
At the end of 2012 Thirty Pounds of Bone released, Have Done With The Celtic Phantom (Woodland Recordings), a selection of songs from people Johny had played shows with recorded mostly for fun, but also as way of being mildly sarcastic about traditional music's claim over oral transmission.
His third full-length album, I Cannot Sing You Here, But For Songs Of Where was released by Armellodie Records in May 2013. The record sees songwriter Johny Lamb further explore his continuing theme of place. Split into four separate locations; (past place, the place of heritage, present place and the in between), the record aimed to articulate experiences of itinerancy and second-generation migrancy. Throughout these songs, Johny adopts, appropriates and abuses forms of traditional music, with the hybridity that has previously gained him much praise from critics.
In 2015, Thirty Pounds of Bone released, The Taxidermist, and where Johny Lamb’s first three albums - The Homesick Children of Migrant Mothers, Method, and I Cannot Sing You Here But For Songs of Where - all relate heavily to place and itinerancy, rooting themselves (sometimes unconventionally), in folksong, The Taxidermist marks a partial departure from Johny’s previous works.
Retaining all the hallmarks that made those other records so special, The Taxidermist is still unmistakably a Thirty Pounds of Bone record, but this time round the ratios have shifted somewhat. There are love songs and death songs, as Johny mixes acoustic folk-like songs with distortion smothered Shoegaze, analogue synth, and Salvation Army type brass. It’d be a push to say this is Thirty Pounds of Bone gone pop, but musically there’s a change of focus, and on The Taxidermist we find Johny at his most wistfully romantic.
Thirty Pounds of Bone: Facebook // Twitter
Andrew Mitchell // Vocals, Guitars
Alice Marra // Guitars, Keys, Vocals
Matthew Marra // Bass
Liam Brennan // Drums, Vocals
ARM47 // Language of Faint Theory
ARM43 // The Fathom Line
ARM26 // The Winter That Was
It’s safe to say The Hazey Janes have undergone their fair share of globetrotting in their ten years together, all the while refining their zig-zag path from country to psych to power pop.
They’ve headlined throughout the UK, played in support to the likes of Elbow, Idlewild and Snow Patrol, made two trips to the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas - where they showed their versatility by being able to open for both Susanna Hoffs and The Presidents of the United States of America.
Since 2011’s The Winter That Was, the group’s third album, the quartet have undertaken some of their most rigorous and prestigious tours to date, opening as guests for Wilco on the European leg of their world tour and, more recently, Deacon Blue - the latter culminating with a sold out performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Inspired and rejuvenated by their time in Spain, where their dates with Wilco concluded, the band ensconced themselves in the country’s South-west to record fourth album, Language of Faint Theory, returning to El Puerto De Santa Maria to collaborate with Paco Loco (The Posies, The Sadies, Josh Rouse) and John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, The Hold Steady), the team that produced and mixed their debut, 2006’s critically lauded Hotel Radio.
“Engineering skills aside, one of the main the reasons we chose Paco’s studio is the vast array of vintage recording equipment and weird and wonderful guitars and keyboards he collects. The whole session went down to two-inch tape via an old 1970s Cadac console from Scorpion Studios in London which was previously used by Queen, T-Rex, Supertramp and goodness knows how many other bands that swanned in through their doors. John then mixed down to quarter-inch tape, completing the album’s warm analogue sound, which we had our hearts set on from the start” says front-man, Andrew Mitchell.
No matter how far the apple drops from the tree, home is where the heart is, and within lead single, ‘The Fathom Line’s chiming, saturated guitar-pop and euphoric vocals is a homage to their beloved hometown of Dundee. Mitchell explains;
“For many years Dundee’s long and illustrious, if somewhat tumultuous, past has been the source of much debate and deliberation in both song and literature. While ‘The Fathom Line’ continues that tradition, weaving through tragedy and triumph of the history that hangs in the air through the city by the Silvery Tay, it observes and celebrates the plight of the underdog.”
Bassist Matthew Marra elaborates;
“While the recording of the album may have been geographically detached from the East coast of Scotland, there’s a strong narrative of our lives in Dundee running through Language of Faint Theory. The year leading up to the recording was a particularly emotional one for the four of us and that certainly infiltrated the writing process. All the songs depict events, people and places in and around the City of Dundee.”
Dan Lyth // Vocals, Piano, Guitar, Accordion, Keyboards, Percussion
Greg Bell // Drums, Percussion, Bass, Vocals
Natasha Bell // Vocals
Sarah Lyth // Vocals
Alastair MacGregor // Keyboards, Synthesizer, Glockenspiel, Percussion
Hannah MacGregor // Vocals, Piano, Percussion
ARM44 // Benthic Lines
Dan Lyth was born in the Middle East but has lived most of his life in Dunfermline, Fife. A sound designer by day, Lyth began work on Benthic Lines some five years ago, his intention to record an album entirely outdoors. On rooftops and rowing boats, in forests and high streets, mountains and quarries, ruined churches and beaches, car parks and peat bogs. Anywhere really, as long as it was outside!
Having first had the idea while on a trip to Sierra Leone, Lyth quickly realised that it's one thing to daydream of such a plan whilst in the tropics and quite another to actually attempt it back at home in Scotland.
“I think some part of me took perverse pleasure in the thought of having to undergo some real physical exertion to make this record. I have also always been drawn to creative work that has taken a considerable amount of effort, and recording an album outdoors whilst living in Scotland with its devious climate seemed to fit the bill.”
In an age when it seems anyone can produce an album in their bedroom, Benthic Lines attempts to re-explore the relationship between music and the environment in which it is created. What happens to a recording when you have no control over the surroundings? What anomalies and accidents may occur? And would it be possible to weave together the unpredictable sounds of these environments with more traditional performances to create a cohesive whole?
As Lyth’s fondness of field recording has grown more ambitious, so too has his talent as a songwriter. Album opener ‘All My Love’ is testament to this, merging the mythological with the reality of the uncertainties that are brought when becoming a father for the first time. The vivid imagery of ‘Four Creatures’, written from the perspective of someone living in Syria, draws upon Islamic and Christian eschatological imagery to startling effect.
The influence of Steve Reich is worth noting, from the repetitive female vocal sounds on ‘Standing Start’ to the cyclic piano and accordion patterns of ‘Super Nature’ and ‘Earth Broke Its Vow’, Lyth is the first to admit of his affection for Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians.
“A big chunk of inspiration came from Steve Reich’s work and one of the main aims of the album in terms of the arrangements was to try and make music that sounds electronic or programmed but is actually all live acoustic instruments.” says Lyth.
Benthic Lines are the deep sea communication cables through which the world is now connected, and communication is a recurring theme throughout the record ("the cables installed along ocean floors is where we had lived too long for sure" sings Lyth on ‘How It Happened’). How our constant use of communication technology can affect our thought processes and relationships (“We shot some video, scenes that would not be shown, think what you will but the devil’s in the pixels on my phone”, sings Lyth on ‘Four Creatures’). With recording having taken place in locations as far afield as Morocco, Australia, Turkey and Uganda, Dan is also exploring the lines of human connection and lines of ancestry.
Designed with love by graphic artist Sarah Lyth, the album arrives in a beautifully bound 60-page book and includes photos from the array of recording locations. Cover art from celebrated New York artist Matthew Cusick and an accompanying short story, Already Here, by talented Fifer Craig Rennie complete the desirable artefact that is Benthic Lines. So what has Lyth got to say for himself now that his affair with the great outdoors is almost over.
“After travelling, listening, recording and being constantly surprised over the course of four years and across four continents, what will really stay with me is not only all the wonderful sounds we heard (during the recording of Benthic Lines) but also the many inquisitive, open-minded and generous people we met along the way. But it wasn’t all romantic. It’s quite hard work transporting a drum kit to a remote derelict church or dragging a piano out of a small flat. There were broken mic stands, bleeding fingers and failing batteries. And there was rain, a lot of rain.”
Bruce Wallace // Vocals, Guitars
Mandy Clarke // Bass, Vocals
Neil Warrack // Drums, Vocals
ARM46 // Built-In Redundancy
ARM41 // Straight From The Dick
ARM16 // Chalk Horror!
ARM13 // Hip Hop Hot Pot Pot Noodle
ARM10 // Avoid Zombies
ARM08// Pick Up Sticks / SAC Attack
If you are one of those avid music lovers that feel so inclined to fit everything you hear into a neat little musical box, (possibly employing the use of hierarchical tree charts and Venn diagrams to find the exact classification of a band’s chosen genre), then Super Adventure Club may fry your brain. With brusque self-confidence and stupendous musical chops Super Adventure Club stand proudly in the revolutionary vanguard of contemporary experimental music. Into the breach they go, taking with them an ever-present sense of humour and sense of the absurd.
Since their conception in 2007, Super Adventure Club have toured their blistering live show from Inverness to Cork to Bordeaux, and many hotspots in between. The band is regularly joined onstage by the horse-headed Johny B (this is not a joke - the man really has a horse's head) whose help, or hindrance, has ensured that with a clutch of well received shows and the release of three critically acclaimed albums (2009s Chalk Horror!, 2010s Avoid Zombies, and 2013s Straight From The Dick) the band garnered a cult following all over the UK and into Europe.
The debut, Chalk Horror!, was recorded live in one mammoth 48 hour session, an unpredictable, genre-busting stream of off-kilter noise-terrorism and mind-manipulating media malarky. Opening with the anthemic Chuck Berry referencing `In the Wee Wee Hours’ (all his number ones maybe?) the band lay forth their mission to re-shape the world of math rock, which incidentally is the title of track two. Bruce Wallace tackling over-thought, joyless music head on, “Our lost musicality, is on the 'e' and 'and' of one, sing along? …but all your accents are wrongs, an incessant drone in D, 13 and one half beats too long, Call this a song? …you must be having me on”.
Twisting and turning like a shaolin monk, the album maintains a zen-like focus on memorable hooks and lyrically provides charming observations on life's little anomalies, like the life-expectancy of peripheral things, breaking down on you if you so much as look at them (‘Built-In Redundancy’), or fat camp frolics, "…like Jabba The Hutt phoning Pizza Hut, drinking cheap cider watching films with Rob Schneider” (‘Sloths On T.V.’).
The band’s second album, Avoid Zombies, saw them hone their sound with the opening ballistic post-hardcore attacks of 'Hip Hop Hot Pot Pot Noodle', a tale of endurance, quips and circumstance. When our lovable super club found themselves squatting in an over crowded flat that Kim and Aggie wouldn’t dare tread for fear of catching chronic-waster-disease. There’s only really one question they could ask once the deluge of marijuana smoke had cleared, “What happened!?”
The record also included the smash-hit (yeah that’s what we said, SMASH HIT), 'Pick Up Sticks', with its hip-swinging groove gleefully referencing Steve MacQueen and Dustin Hoffman - “Papillon is building a raft!"
On their final studio album, Straight From The Dick, the band never sounded so vital. From loungey tales of culture shock (‘Hablo Espanol’), freakish ear-drum workouts (‘Fuck The Pop’, ‘9 Times’), Zappa-esque spaz-jazz (‘Dog With Two Dicks)’, and giddy brain-melting wrong-pop (‘Turns Out My Brain Was My Other Brain’), the band parley with idiosyncratic pop, and parade their ninja-jazz-rock mojo with glee.
On album centrepiece, ‘Between a Sock and a Hard Place’, Wallace sings about people who have fallen in love with things that are not human. Selvi Kumar dedicated his life to a dog after killing another dog. Lee Jin married a pillow of an anime character. Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer, 54, whose surname means Berlin Wall in German, wed the concrete structure in 1979 after being diagnosed with a condition called Objectum-Sexuality. This song is a perfect example of not only the band’s contagious and slightly deranged sense of humour, but also their enviable ability to pen a tune.
A celebratory record, tinged with sadness as Wallace sings on finale ‘Bossa Novice’, ”If I’d done half the things I’d planned to have done, there’d be a lot more done, and it wouldn’t make a difference to anyone.” A fitting sentiment, as on the eighth of August 2013, Super Adventure Club played their final show to a sell-out crowd of sweaty devotees in their hometown of Glasgow. That show was recorded and subsequently released on Record Store Day 2014 cementing their status - North of the border at least – as one of the most innovative and exciting bands to come from our shores.
Scurrying in between the cracks of Edinburgh’s genteel high society and the stink of its sordid underbelly are Trapped Mice. A five piece made up of Lucie Miller, Barry Jackson, David Friend, Brian Pokora and front-man Ian Tilling.
Together they have crafted Winter Sun in living rooms and bedrooms across Scotland’s capital. A debut album steeped in the chilly themes of longing, confusion, and a creeping sense of dread at the slow march of “progress”, all tied up in one big melancholic noose.
From the opening accordion driven motif of ‘An Ending’ and into the brazen ‘Cancel Shift’, the songs on Winter Sun take in real life events and divine narrative concerning relationships, integrity and the good fight for artistic credibility.
There’s a sense of a slightly knowing smirk behind some of the tried-and-tested themes of the album, namely heartbreak and abandonment. Be it on the wonderfully exposed ‘Dance While Winter Cries’ or the masterful, ‘Mona Lisa’, it’s hard not to be drawn in by Ian Tilling’s heartfelt lyrical muses, each song unwinding with perfect precision as a prose poem, fantastic song-craft and bared-soul performance.
With elements of the rustic tones of Okkervil River, the humour of Morrissey and the angst of Bright Eyes, this album should appeal to anybody who loves powerful songs performed with abandon. The characters are illuminating, as on ‘Hermit Point’, inspired by a man in the North of Scotland who refused to sell his house to Donald Trump to make way for his coastal leisure development. He is imagined as an old man, in a crumbling cottage by the sea, pondering what may have happened had he sold up. In ‘Quiet Place’, a middle-aged couple embark on a sordid voyage of sexual rediscovery set to some kind of scuzzy avant-folk accompaniment.
As the album plays on, it becomes increasingly obvious that Winter Sun is a glorious anthology of short stories, each one memorable, meaningful and double-edged - that is, an occasionally rusty, serrated edge. When asked about ‘Cameraman’, Tilling drolly replies, “Yeah! A spoken word track with more death and misery! Fuck it, why not?”
At its most stirring on the likes of ‘Night of Broken Glass’ and album kiss-off ‘Demons’, Winter Sun is wistful, poetic, and intelligent, There is nothing clichéd or fake. It is direct from the heart, no bullshit. 'Tis a beautiful creation, but fragile; so tip-toe towards it, lest it shatters.
Every mother is a teacher and every father is a preacher...from forth the loins of these two professions, a quartet of star-crossed musicians take their life, spread up and down the east coast of Scotland like marmite where they lay their scene. Armellodie Records is proud to introduce the arrival of St. Thomas, from Scotland’s most subterranean, ecclesiastical rock band, The Scottish Enlightenment.
The Scottish Enlightenment are quiet, but like a falling bomb is quiet, like an embryo is quiet, like the sibilant steam drifting ominously above a silent culdera. They hummmmmm melodiously like a microwave, slowly incubating their songs with the full time dedication and care of a placenta. Having debuted in 2007 with the single ‘Eyes’ - the promo video for which was picked up by MTV and played across the world on VH1, MTV2 and MTV Europe - the band then retreated into the wilderness of the provincial Scottish town of Dunfermline, resurfacing earlier this year to light up our stereos with two glorious EPs, Pascal and Little Sleep, quite rightfully considered by The Big Issue as “clever, moody, literate pop for filing next to Slint and Low.”
The band is built around the dense and persuasive song-writing of David Moyes, we’ll let him explain the band’s chosen moniker, “I know all about the philosophy of The Scottish Enlightenment period through studying at Aberdeen University for 6 years and working for a Scottish philosophy history centre up there. But I really just chose it because I thought it sounded weird for a band. But I like to prance around gobbing off about it being a mix of the local and the universal, the corporeal and the conceptual, the blah and the blah. It’s just because it sounded weird.”
St. Thomas documents a crumbling faith, the change from believing in an omnipotent being to not believing at all, like a graph where one line traces the rising intellectual integrity and the other traces the plummeting sense of purpose and worth. Along the journey relationships between people, families, friends and lovers are pondered, how these morph and change, and how time, distance, and place can form the strongest of bonds as much as they can birth niggling insecurities.
Gal Gal’s space-age arpeggios act like a post-rock estuary in preparation for the open seas of gargantuan songs about our place in the universe; Earth Angel reverberates with the sound of star-gazing guitars and sleepy rock hitting the crown of a big stone church. Named in tribute to Marvin Berry and the Starlighters – Marty Mcfly fans take heed - the song details groups of people encountering the unknown and greeting it with fear, not realising it’s the very thing they are there to seek, or celebrate, like a surprise party, when the guest of honour arrives and gets duly attacked as an intruder.
As Plato acknowledged “the unexamined life is not worth living” and The Scottish Enlightenment is only too happy to attest this on Taxidermy Of Love, where choral hums and the beautiful sounds of the Clarsach provide the foundations of a prayer song, authored by someone who feels unable to change themselves, looking for some divine stuffing with lines like, “Make what cuts you need, slit the torso side, like curtains part the skin, take out the crap inside, fashion lungs of steel, program the heart to care, a mind that will not wander, and paint it like I can bear.”
Mountainous crescendo-oeuvres unfurl with punch-the-air guitars and propulsive drumming on Little Sleep and Necromancer’s murky space-rock, a twisted love song in which the song’s persona loves someone despite everyone believing they are dead; they believe that they will awake. Are they the sole faith-keeper, resolute and sacrificial in their love? Or are they, like, mental?
At their most fragile on Pascal and The First Will Be Last, the band strip back to the bare essentials: slow tempos, conversational voices, powerful lyrics, and minimal instrumentation. The emotional heft is breathtaking with Moyes at his most confessional on the latter, a sad tale of the son of manse turned apostate, a mantra for struggling with personal demons - “Bible in hand, I changed my plans and it fell on the floor, I still went to church with anger and mirth, I taught Sunday school and my cup was full, my spirit is blackening fast”.
Elsewhere on The Soft Place living donor transplant surgery is pondered with characteristically understated melodies atop a mélange of tumbledown drums, subtle tremolo guitars, funerary cornet and heavenly glockenspiel, and on List Right, we are treated to a waltz of sorrow where low frequencies rumble and a menacing piano resonates with stirring effect like something out of a dark version of Death on the Nile.
Beautifully observed and unnervingly honest My Bible Is provides a triumphant conclusion to the record with ambient textures, eerie tension, and the organic build of genuine emotion when faced with believing something false, and doubting something true. Given the scarcity of genuinely affecting music nowadays it’s a milestone that should elevate The Scottish Enlightenment to the highest ranks of Scotland’s gifted breed of songwriters.
“On a human level the truth is that I saw Church to be filled with the best of things and the worst of things - just like any other group happening really. And the loving, compassionate, self-giving people I know from Church makes me wonder why it is they seem to have a different core to them than I do. And the small minded people make me wonder how they can be so long on the earth and not have learned better. But if anything, this song is supposed to be a level headed realistic account of what Churches are, and what religion is. As such, I don’t expect it to chime with either Richard Dawkins or Keith O'Brien. The main problem with writing songs about big ideas is you inevitably sound like a knob when asked to talk about them. You write the song so you don't have to talk about them. Scunner.” David Moyes
St. Thomas is an intensely rewarding and poetic triumph from a band that has resolutely pursued its own unique vision and grown immeasurably in stature as a result. It's a rare thing to have an album as lyrically provocative as it is musically intrepid; Lingering long after the ghostly instrumental coda Cogito has vacated the stereo. It’s delicate and it’s fractured. It has one foot in this world and one foot in some supernatural place. It’s heavy, powerful and evocative and for those of us who have lived any kind of life with all its misgivings, moral dilemmas, emotional crossroads, regrets, and loves it is a record that should be cherished.
Bruce Wallace // Guitar, Synth, Loops
Cameron Cullen // Guitar, Samples, Keys, Loops
Jack Weir // Guitar
Ross MacPherson // Drums, Percussion
Ricki Thomson // Drums, Percussion
ARM37 // Party Feel
Lugs at the ready? Brain initiated? Let’s get a sweat on...
Scotland’s Gastric Band are not for the faint-hearted but get wise to this serious noise dear fellows and fellettes.
The band have released one album to date, "Party Feel". The song-writing is dynamic, and the music is rich and diverse. Even at its dirtiest, heaviest points the hooks are memorable and the music is abundant with melody.
Bruce Wallace (Guitar, Synth, Loops), Cameron Cullen (Guitar, Samples, Keys, Loops), Jack Weir (Guitar) and Ross MacPherson (Drums, Percussion) formed Gastric Band in Edinburgh at the beginning of 2011. Bruce just happens to be the founding member of similarly off-kilter spazz-jazz rockers Super Adventure Club.
That four-piece soon blossomed into five with the addition of Ricki Thomson (Drums, Percussion) joining in 2012.
Citing the likes of Steve Reich, Robert Fripp, and Bill Bruford as influences, Gastric Band channel the taboo-breaking spirits of Frank Zappa and Karlheinz Stockhausen into their music. There's no time to get settled, no time to relax and no time to wonder what it all means as melody butts heads with rhythm through unexpected arrangements.
"Party Feel" opens with the vaguely lounge-core noodlings of ‘It’s Good But It’s Not Right’, jouncing from B52s/Talking Heads post-punk guitar to electro pop to avant-rock within the confines of six minutes. Disruptive, challenging, unhinged? Undoubtedly.
‘Dustin Binman’ sees the quintet launch forth a gut-tightening onslaught of progrock-chamberjazz-electronica that paints a mind vision of Nels Cline and Autechre jamming soundtracks to futuristic underwater movies. It makes for one hell of an exciting listen, set to fry your mind faster than you can say, “ring modulation”.
‘Brad Shitt’ and ‘Sexy Grandad’ wreak more aural havoc and the tech-heads out there are sure to be floored by the blistering, top-shelf guitar work. Free-jazz aficionados and jam-band acolytes will be drawn in by the free-form sonic exploration. These tracks are intense, original, and anarchic with a bloody-minded coherence of purpose.
Album closer, ‘Under a Glass Table’ is the most subtle song, and perhaps the album’s pièce de résistance, with effortless innovation and musical destruction sharing the stage with childlike wonder at the oddness of the world.
Gastric Band is operating with one freakish mind, like a drug-addled 5-headed Cerberus of rock and roll. The five schizophrenic grooves that make up Party Feel provide a lasting warped cuddliness, an intoxicating and fearful mix of intricacy, subtlety, brutality, flippancy, and seriousness. Each song burrows its way under your skin and fires electrical impulses down the axons of your nervous system.
You will surrender. You will submit. You will shake your whole, entire body.
Neil Insh // Vocals, Piano, Guitar
Emma Jane // Vocals
Lila Matsumoto // Violin
David Fothergill // Bass
Mark Donaldson // Drums
From the northern gales of the Highlands to the peaks of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, The Douglas Firs is the brainchild of Neil Insh, born and bred in Aberdeen before de-camping to Scotland’s capital.
A gentleman on a journey of sonic discovery with steely determination and a resolute vision, The Douglas Firs have produced two albums to date, 2011's Happy as a Windless Flag and 2012's The Furious Sound.
Happy as a Windless Flag is a beatific triumph of a record, created not by technical skill, but from a synaesthetic love of pure sound. Nurtured throughout its 7 year gestation (yes that's right, 7 years!) the results follow themes of delusion, loss of senses, blindness, loss of youth, death and rebirth channelled through the lush and complex arrangements with fervid imagery of flags, moths and sleep.
Happy as a Windless Flag tackles the melee of giving in to growing old, articulately dissecting and mournfully celebrating the different ways of dealing with the maxim that life’s apropos is coming to terms with death, whilst making every effort to avoid cliche of expression.
Central to the record is 'The Quickening', a fascinating mixture of intriguing field recordings, harmonious choral singing, rolling drums, ambient guitars, fiddle, accordion and piano, with Insh’s gentle croon nestling in amongst the festivities pondering the unquestioning, blind optimism inherent in youth until it diminishes and is replaced by fear. The simplicity of the craftsmanship belies the musical complexity, bursting with atmosphere and melancholy as Insh sings, “You know how the last sad rays of daylight die”.
Recorded in various churches, bedrooms, sheds and local halls over the last 7 years Insh humbly admits, “It only took so long to record the album because of bad luck with technology, in that I break most things I own", says Insh.
For the band's second album the band delved deeper into eerie choral arrangements and sparse instrumentation, to produce The Furious Sound. An album loosely based around the East Lothian witch trials of 1590. Seventy persons, mainly women, were tortured, tried and burned for their supposed involvement in witchcraft.
Met with a host of critical acclaim the record is an investigation into outsiders, madness, extreme internal states, physical degradation and the brevity of human life. Many parts of the record were improvised, inspired by the locations used. No fortuitous sounds leaking onto the tracks were excluded.
At a time when every new second in the world spawns gigabytes of data, tweets and twats, blogs and blaggers, when people can carry their entire musical collections on electronic devices barely bigger than their IQ, when multi-tasking is the new relaxing, sometimes it’s hard to focus, to take the time and actually bask in the good stuff for fear of missing out on something else or God forbid not documenting the moment.
The Douglas Firs are a band to savour, to stop and give your undivided attention. Daring, lively and tender, anyone who has ever tried to dig their way through avant-garde, post-rock, experimental or improvised music will know that it can at times be a little dry – The Douglas Firs themselves claim they would be verging on prog-rock if they could play their instruments, and didn’t like Buddy Holly so much – but when executed with this attention to detail, music can be the most wonderfully inspiring art form.
The Douglas Firs: Website
Chris Devotion // Vocals, Guitar
Colin Reid // Guitar, Vocals
Michael Wright // Bass, Vocals
Graham Christie // Drums, Vocals
ARM45 // Break Out
ARM27 // Amalgamation & Capital
ARM25 // A Modest Refusal
ARM19 // I Need Your Touch
Chris Devotion & The Expectations - or CD/EX if urgency is your prerogative – are fond of a little savage rock’n'roll and a pert frolic with the classic pop song. Coming together in perfect harmonious, lyrical and mathematical order for an average running time of 2 and a half minutes, these songs have the power to align planets. Part swaggering hubris, part relationship-confessional, these songs remind you of the joyful existence of your reproductive organs, while at the same time the bitter knowledge that you’ve just been dumped…again. Yeah, you know the ones.
Chris Devotion’s story is as wired as his music and there’s a strong sense that there’s no such thing as glory for this man unless it is by the most riff-slaying of means.
Based in Glasgow, Scotland, Devotion cut his teeth executing riotous performances in such glamorous locations as a disused nunnery and a fetish club, garnering ringing endorsements from rock and roll peers - John Reiss of Rocket From The Crypt fame and Titus Andronicus have openly declared their admiration - along the way.
At the turn of the decade Devotion employed the illustrious expertise of The Expectations, a trio of suited-and-booted thrashers, to bolster the foundations of Devotion’s own high octane rock and roll template.
Since the release of their rapid-fire debut in 2012, Amalgamation & Capital, the band have taken to the road with such indie-rock pin-ups as Quasi, Social Distortion, Ultrasound and Hookworms as well as having brought their brand of no nonsense power-chord prowess to festivals up and down the country.
Returning to the studio with producer Andy Miller (Mogwai, Life Without Buildings, Arab Strap). Break Out retains all the showmanship and melodic charm that made the 4-piece so alluring in the first place. Devotion’s burly croon firmly fixed on love, jealousy and betrayal to the point where he describes the story of an entire marriage in the opening verse.
"It started when we were still ravers, out on a Saturday night. It ended in lawyers and papers and a cold goodbye" Devotion sings in opener, ‘Saddest Thing’.
“If there’s a main theme to this record then it’s honesty, with one's self and others. Most of the characters in these songs are usually coming to a realisation about themselves and whatever situation they find themselves in. Those that are able to be honest with themselves can attempt to move on with their lives without repeating their mistakes – “break out” of their trappings one could say. There are also some songs about fucking. I’m nothing if not a renaissance man.” [Chris Devotion]
For all the vibrancy and lack of any musical pretension, Devotion and his clan never sound obtuse, evident by the contrasting vibes of the album’s two preceding singles, the fired up and bitter ‘Don’t You Call On Me’, and the more contemplative pop of ‘When The Girl Comes To Town’.
Sonically this is CD/EX’s big guitar album, An existentialist record you could play while driving a convertible in LA. So it’s somewhat perverse that the band will be taking to the M1 in a white van for the remainder of the year bringing Break Out to the people.
Hailing from “the largest village in England” and brought up to work hard and play hard Kill the Captains are an industrious bunch of buxom comrades. To date they have released two full-length albums, an EP and a single via Armellodie Records, all of which are largely steeped in elements of drone rock, new-wave pop, suspense-filled Rock’n’Roll, shout-along choruses, fizzing dual-guitars and propulsive rhythmic skulduggery.
The debut album, Fun Anxiety, released in 2010 opens with a bestial themed couplet, ‘Santino’ and ‘Spot the Leopard’ - the former a true story about a chimpanzee that briefly became a minor scientific phenomenon. It was observed that he gathered objects from within his enclosure in a Swedish zoo, and whittled them into missiles that he could direct at the daily crowds who gawped and pointed. Scientists who studied him professed that his ability to plan demonstrated distinctly human characteristics: he was methodical, he scheduled his attacks, he sought to maximise the deadly potential of his weapons of choice. He was castrated for his initiative.
The album scales dizzying proportions on 'Cellar Dweller' when a measured sermon in the opening verses soon spills into prophetic declaration and the band unleash the 4 horses of apocalypse, galloping and converging into a crescendos beneath layer upon layer of ever thickening blankets of sound, but what less would you expect from a song written from the perspective of a survivalist ensconced in his underground panic room, ruminating on the impending destruction of the world.
Closing with the stunning 'Harper’s Call', this is the kind of song you imagine couples coming together, gazing at each other adoringly. Management then turn the lights on but the DJ lets it play out. The couples dance. The music ends. Eyes are locked in their embrace.
Three years later and with a line-up change in tow the band returned with the triumphant, Sounds Mean, exploring such themes as dance floor puppet masters, sado-masochistic rumpy pumpy, corporate greed and - shrouded in geo-political metaphor - love.
The album bursts opens with a bee in its bonnet. Picture a glutinous rich man in a Michelin-starred restaurant. Let's say he’s an investment banker (they're evil aren't they?) stuffing his face on course after course of perfectly sculpted pan-continental cuisine. He’s picking the bits caught in his teeth with the frail bones of a pensioner who lost their life savings as a result of the financial collapse he created. Throw in a smattering of Dick Dale and a pinch of Marr - that's ‘Umami’.
Hot on its heels is ‘Refutenic’, the album’s meanest slice of thrumming basslines, rumbling drums, thrashing guitars and spat out prose. There's a new guy in town, and Kill the Captains don't like the cut of his jib. Not one bit. Despite what everyone else thinks about this silver-tongued cavalier, the Captains won't be having any of his nonsense.
Fusing indie-laced XTC-ness with chugging krautrock-esque goodness, ‘The Trial’, demonstrates the band’s imaginative, left of centre intelligence and enviable way with a tune. Leon Carter wryly announcing;
“Your prescription is ready make your way to the waiting room. Your feedback is valuable we'll swipe your loyalty card. It was tested on animals, with near matching DNA. If you have a reaction, use the survey to have your say. See you next time, enjoy your medicine, it will cure your contempt if you do what you're told.”
A satirical musing on conveyor-belt consumerism, easily digestible products channelled straight to the mouths of sloth-minded consumers. Unchanging bass and driving drums reflect the relentlessness of the machine.
Progressive in nature, ‘Share the Load’ blends Leon Carter’s distinctive and piercing vocals with melodic guitar-lines to create a real sense of tension, before exploding with duelling guitars and spine-tingling bass lines. Ambiguous in its lyrics, it can be read as a devastating power struggle between superpowers, or as a love-song cloaked in a geo-political metaphor. Either way, the outcome is mutually assured destruction.
The album’s lead single, ‘Disco Nazi’, is a bass-driven stomper with an insistent beat that will get even the rhythmically challenged amongst us grooving. Sometimes whatever you do is never quite enough to satisfy the dance floor puppet masters, with their dance-floor dictatorships, sending out dictats to a room full of bodies who would happily dance without the extra encouragement. As the beats pump and the grooves swell, the tail grows like a Nokia snake chomping an unending supply of pixels.
Elsewhere, ‘The Taking Of’ - a song about loss - provides the album with its most affecting piece - down-tempo and world weary.
‘Nowbiter’, however pummels home a fierce excursion in schizoid jangling power pop with svelte, progressive guitars married to a buzzing bass line.
Ending the album on a high note, ‘Safety Words’ puts the ‘’umph’ into triumph with a sensitive musing on the confusing politics of lusty, sado-masochistic rumpy-pumpy. Kill the Captains could never say no to the noose – so long as it’s not tied too tight!
Kill The Captains: Facebook
Conor Mason // Vocals, Guitar, Piano
ARM28 // Standstill
Born and raised in the old walled city on the banks of the River Foyle, Conor Mason has been brought up swimming in musical heritage with both his parents heavily involved in local choirs and music jamborees in his beloved hometown of Derry, N. Ireland.
“My da ran a choir (as his father did before him) and they used to rehearse in our home, my ma sang in the choir too and I used to listen in from the next room. Then around the age of 8, after my parents heard me playing by ear the music of an Irish mass my da had written, they dutifully sent me off for classical piano lessons. They were both music lovers, to the extent that even the small boat my da would take me and my brothers out fishing in was called ‘Iolanthe’, named after the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera.”
Standstill is in fact the third album from the Irish songwriter, with two previous offerings, Let It Unfold (2007) and When It’s Over (2009) suitably home-recorded and self-distributed freely through cyberspace, earning Mason a solid reputation in his native land with a host of television and radio support from BBC Northern Ireland. Standstill retains the mellow, home-grown, quality perfected on those records albeit with some new found scope, inherently familiar whilst always remaining fresh and extrinsic.
When the opening bars of ‘Misunderstood’ complete with muted trumpets and unhurried acoustic strumming make way for the driving rhythm and rumbling piano, there’s a glowing immediacy before the first lines leave Mason’s lips, “made more sense, behind closed eyes, we were making plans and not taking advice”, sang in an unashamedly colourful yet seductively subtle brogue, the song boasts an alluring punch-the-air quality without ever sounding forced.
‘Lights’ reinforces this plaintive but hopeful raison d’être, and on ‘Words’, Mason’s gorgeously nuanced vocals, fragile but beautifully phrased, are particularly well served by the production, sitting right in the centre of the mix, every subtle inflection clear to the listener.
“Standstill represents the big race up the hill of self-actualisation, some get to the top no sweat and some get so far and plateau, others are constantly going back down to begin the climb again”
With a crisp vision of beautifully arranged dynamic landscapes Mason excels on the album’s sparse title track – an acoustic version of which is available on vinyl from Never Records - lending a clarity to which his vocal hooks are delivered with sweet sincerity. He floats over simple and compelling melodies, intricate instrumentation and whimsical, but never trite choruses with an ease bordering on ambivalence.
It’s with this gentility that Mason comes over so charmingly genuine as on the harmonica led, ‘Out of the Blue’, an ode in itself to sincerity and what it means to people (“somewhere between the head and the heartache sincerity hides / somewhere between the heart and the headache sincerity hides”), and the breezy pace of ‘5AM’ where swirling synthesizers enter into the fray and delicate brass enrich the sonic template, complimenting Mason’s mellifluous vocal.
Lush flowing melodies continue to take flight on the introspective lullaby-like ‘Sundown’ and the startling ‘Last To Leave’ with it’s minimal but wonderfully transcendent sound leaving plenty of room for a melody so natural sounding, it glides along with a touch of class.
Understated and refined Standstill doesn’t reveal all of its treasures at once, the songs augmented with tastefully layered instrumentation and playful, inconspicuous production. Unperturbed it plays out in no rush, possessing a relaxed, pastoral feel comparative to that of The Shins or Badly Drawn Boy’s finest work.
The final two songs, the lilting waltz of ‘In The Doorway’ and the contemplative ‘A Picture of Farewell’ reiterate the themes that permeate the record. That of the cyclic humdrum that hypnotises so many, and the niggling insecurities and attachments - be it a lover, a family, a town or a job - that so often thwart people from seizing the day.
“All this stillness, and all this steadiness, has left you here alone”, he sings before offering up some hope with the closing lines, “now we set out in search of a sign / we set out in search of an explanation” as the gorgeous harmonica coda-line takes over, the record befits it’s moniker and comes to a standstill, downbeat but affectionately uplifting.
It may seem somewhat foolish to be peddling a press release for an artist that proclaims, “I don’t need a stamp of approval from anyone, you can take it or leave it”, as Conor Mason does on opener ‘Misunderstood’. Yet despite this strident declaration, the quality and warmth of Mason’s voice and the obvious care taken in his song-writing serve only as a counter to his claim, instead revealing a tunesmith with a collection of songs so tender that they could turn even the most cold hearted cynic into a hopeless, desperate romantic.
Something Beginning With L are a bewitching trio made up of Lucy Parnell (Vocals, Guitar), Jen Macro (Vocals, Guitar) and Jon Clayton (Bass, Keys). The band juxtaposes scuzzy electric guitars and buzzing synthesizers with acoustic fragility and electro-beats, guided into the light by the salient crystalline vocals of Lucy Parnell and Jen Macro who offer bliss-out close harmonies, melancholy and absorbing over the band’s encapsulating dream-pop.
Opening with the zoned-out burr of ‘Poster Croc’, delicate and restrained but alluring with melodic goodness, the scene is set for Beautiful Ground, a quiet treasure of a record. Recorded in Jon’s own One Cat Studios - an old converted paper mill in Brixton – and produced by the band themselves, Something Beginning With L nurtured the songs through their many guises and transformations, experimenting with the natural reverbs on offer in the hidden nooks and crannies of the old building.
“The songs seemed to evolve and change from week to week as we found our feet as a trio and experimented with Jon’s toys. It was a bit of a journey, sometimes we were stuck in traffic on the M1, but mostly it was like a road trip across America” says Jen, and it’s a trip you’ll want to take again and again.
With the uncomplicated pop proficiency of ‘Last Night's Party’, a hopeless love song based on a wonderfully romantic connection - “loose-limbed in the back of a taxi, something in his heartache attracts me” sings Macro – but alas it cannot last as both protagonists are pretending to be someone they are not in order to win each other’s affections, and ultimately, they know it. The sweet synthesizers and playful rhythm do little to soften the sadness-tinged admission that the song bows out on, “this person is not the person that I wanted you to leave with, she’s a liar, she only said those things to catch you, and now she’s gone.”
That feeling of unease - especially in one’s own skin - spills over into ‘Hobby’, with Macro confessing, “I need some hope to replace this crippling fear, are you going to deny me or are you going to give in?”. It shows remarkable vulnerability and highlights the bands talent for arranging and tastefully layering instrumentation, to transport the listener from a simple picked lullaby to a widescreen shoegaze marathon.
It’s not all sweetness and light however with ‘Sound’ acting as a bit of a hate crusade, borrowing from the famous line by Lauren Bacall in the classic 1944 film, To Have and Have Not – “you know how to whistle don't you Steve? You just put your lips together and...blow” – but instead of whistling for a booty call, Macro is pleading for an individual to suck it up.
‘Sound’ is also the first of three tracks on Beautiful Ground to be augmented by the titanic talents of sticks-man, Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey, Anna Calvi) who also provides the backbone for ‘Say’ – a song of desire, angular but not clichéd, disenfranchised but not sloppy, apathetic but still fierce – and ‘Mean’, which layers up adventurously, and culminates with Ellis dominating the tank-rumbling outro like an eight-armed stick-wielding ogre, dead-set on causing a bowel-shaking earthquake.
Elsewhere ‘Elephant pt ii’ is a gorgeous slice of surreal melancholy - “me and my sisters at the edge of the world with our toes in blue” sings Lucy – leaving the listener in a trance-like state.
“Around 1994 my parents saved and saved and took my sisters and I to a beautiful beach in France, it could have been on the isle de ray but I can't be sure. As we arrived we parked our small red plumsoles and newly obtained, not quite fashionable hi-tech neon hi topped shoes on the sand, and we played all day in the water. But when the time came to put on our shoes and go home we discovered our shoes had been stolen by the tidal water. We will keep an eye out for our lost shoes forevermore. My uncle Roger and auntie Denise definitely kept an elephant next door.” Lucy Parnell.
The latter stages of Beautiful Ground find that band at their most transfixing with the exquisite guitar work and effects on ‘One Knee Two Knee’ nothing short of sublime - listen close and you can hear a ticking clock in amongst the swirl of sonic jollies - all glued together by those irresistibly louche female vocals.
The intricate layering and perfectly structured quiet-loud-quiet sound the band possess are instilled in Overcoat, a song that manages to balance lyrical fragility with raucous musicianship, the choppy rhythms and squelch-blips providing a foundation for Lucy and Jen’s stunning close harmonies to rally, “I’m sat in this overcoat feeling very small, hope that I grow into it before I wear it out”, they sing as the song swells into a blissful cinematic crescendo.
“Overcoat Is about a coat I got from my nanna. She died on xmas day when I was 7, and all her presents to us were still under the tree. Mine was this burgundy and cream puffy jacket thingy. I cherished that coat, it was a bit too big but I wore it everywhere, and hoped that I’d grow into before it fell apart. So I guess it’s metaphorical as well, about becoming who I’m supposed to be before I… y’know… die ” Jen Macro.
Not a troupe that could be accused of lethargy by any stretch of the imagination, Lucy, Jon and Jen are a diligent bunch of comrades, having all earned their stripes as part of South London noiseniks Stuffy/the Fuses, Lucy and Jen can also be found flaunting their considerable talents in The Graham Coxon Power Ensemble, the band that recorded and toured the Blur guitarist’s most recent solo offering, The Spinning Top. The pair have also lent their sweet tones in support of ex-Soft Boys front-man and esteemed solo artist Robyn Hitchcock, what’s more, Jon and Jen both performed in former Ash guitarist, Charlotte Hatherley’s touring band, and you thought you were busy…
The album draws to a close with ‘Unwittingly Beautiful’, the only song present to have featured on the band’s recently released Listed Building EP, dense and carefully constructed, the chords chime and shimmer with enduring resonance, allied to Jon’s pulsing bass line and intricate electronic percussion, abstract and eerie as a love song can be and all the more life-affirming for it.
Finishing on the largely improvised ‘73’ playing out like a dying ember with its trippy, zoned-out sounds reminiscent of those that opened the record capturing the essence of Something Beginning With L. As sweet as honey yet ominous and spooky. A pretty spine-tingling mess, a quietly shining treasure, ladies and gentlemen, Beautiful Ground.
Surely the finest trio of grizzly-cheeked rockers ever to roll their amps out of Gourock, Inverclyde. Mark Macphail (vocal/keys), James Eyland (vocals/guitar) and Ruraidh MacLeod (drums) are the impenetrable, Galoshins.
Together with Iain Macduff - unofficial fourth member and studio guru – the band has been following their own esoteric and single-minded path since their formation in 2009.
With their furiously buoyant whirlwind of psych, prog, freakbeat, aggro-pop, whatever-it-is, the band originally come to the attention of Armellodie Records in 2010 and were invited to perform at the label’s own ‘Barmellodie’ monthly residency club night in Glasgow. The ball was set in motion for Armellodie to release this double-whammy of EPs, documenting 11 of the group’s sonic adventures to date.
Recorded as separate entities in July 2011 and April 2012, EP1 and EP2 complement each other, whilst documenting the band’s many muso-tentacles.
Moving from wonderfully jarring dischordia to sublime poppiness - sometimes in the same song - Macphail’s whirring organ and stream of lyrical musings pepper the EPs like slippery eels, just eluding you but leaving traces of goo in your ears.
Whether he’s demonstrating the art of manliness as on ‘The 4th Chord’ (“What you been saying about ma burd!?”), or inquisitively attempting to re-assure the listener as on ‘Mink’ (“It seems to me like we’re having a good time?”), there’s an off-beat charm to Macphail’s often undistinguishable shriek.
With Eyland’s spiky guitars and MacLeod’s bombastic drum-flurries, Galoshins can be a feral proposition. Yet no matter how frenzied or hectic things appear, each and every song is besieged with hooks so that even the most casual listener can keep swinging.
Max Syed-Tollan // Vocals, Guitars
Muir Steele // Bass
Eliot Waterhouse // Trumpet
Fraser Gibson // Trombone
ARM40 // Saint Max is Missing and the Fanatics are Dead
An adolescence spent in the depths of the South West Scottish countryside has left this particular prophet with countless songbooks bulging with wry observation, unfettered passion and pop melodies which refuse to be shaken off. The sound is undeniably contemporary, with sprinklings of artful nostalgia.
Recorded at Glasgow’s all-analogue Green Door Studio only a few months after their formation in 2012, the self-released debut EP Saint Max and the Fanatics won support from luminaries including Steve Lamacq, Jim Gellatly and Vic Galloway (who included the band on his list of 25 bands for 2013). Landing unsolicited in our inbox, the EP immediately pricked the ears of Armellodie Records and we snapped up the young poet for a full-length player.
Returning to Green Door for their debut album, Saint Max is Missing and the Fanatics are Dead was recorded by Emily MacLaren and Stuart Evans (Optimo, Domino, Creeping Bent). Saint Max’s sound is born to an eclectic family of influences, harking back to artists as varied as Bowie, Madness and Morrissey. It is bound together, however, by a razor sharp delivery which simply cannot be ignored.
The rhythmic frenzy of album opener ‘Soul Surrender’ melds mariachi horns with molten adolescent angst, whilst the ruckus wails, screeches and yodels of ‘Afraid of Love’, march to the beat of sexual frustration. The defiant chorus line "Don't hold me down!" screams with the vital energy of youth, whilst paying homage to all species of angular pop music.
A cynical meditation on modern living, ‘A Life Worth Living’ is a catchy pop gem with a profound internal commentary. The Fanatics create the storm with angular guitar, trumpet and trombone. In the eye of the storm stands Saint Max, underpinned by an airtight rhythm section there is no confusion in the chaos they create.
Having performed at a masked ball in a 14th century castle, a medieval fort (for the Doune the Rabbit Hole Festival), and flat parties up and down the country, The Fanatics have shown their brand of ADHD-Pop can be as surreal as it is accessible.
The punchy horn chops and rhythmic execution are ever a match for Saint Max’s lyrical finesse. ‘Let ‘Em Have It Sunshine’, ‘Glasgow’, ‘Conduit’, and ‘T-Shirt’ hit the spot time and again like shots of musical serotonin.
Displaying a capacity in his songwriting for conveying genuine depth, ‘Sadsong’ and ‘She Sings a Lovely Lullaby’ provide the inevitable comedown to the frenetic mania of the preceding tracks; the former a mournful lament on unrequited romance, the latter, as wistful as it is wilful, an almost anthemic climax to an insidiously catchy album.
The kiss-off here is ‘Book Review’. A lilting critique of modern values, the band in an ephemeral, stripped back arrangement. It all serves as a pensive conclusion to an emotionally charged debut album: Saint Max - musing to an offbeat-groove.
Watch Saint Max and the Fanatics live in session at the BBC.
Born of sorrow in the Highlands of Scotland, Le Reno Amps have been tugging at heartstrings and assaulting eardrums with their taut melodies, close harmonies and sharp sardonic lyrics for some time now. Always indifferent to the current musical fashion, Le Reno Amps don't buck trends, they aim to start them.
Le Reno Amps aka Scott Maple and Al Nero have been gifted with the wonderful ability to conduct their business within an assorted intricacy of genres. A 'lazy-Sunday' reviewer's worst nightmare, their song-writing has always been impossible to pigeonhole, being an unashamedly upbeat and melody-strewn rampage of aggressive guitar pop, with flecks of rockabilly, country, mariachi, blues and punk glittering through.
To date they’ve made four albums beginning with 2004s LRA LP, self-released and limited to 500 copies. Following that the band released 2007s downbeat but (rightly) praised So For Your Thrills..., then came the energetic, hard-rocking glory of 2009s Tear It Open, and lastly, 2011s playful, Appetite. The band is currently on hiatus with Al Nero having relocated to Foshan, China in September 2011.
Having once been described as “the Everly Brothers teaming up with The Pixies, whilst Tom Waits and Weezer try and get a word in” (Vic Galloway, BBC Radio Scotland), it’s easy to see why Le Reno Amps music has such a broad appeal. The more you dig the more layers you unravel and the more dimensions you find to each song. The hidden melodies, the arrangements, the love-lorn, log cabin kitchen sink narratives. Le Reno Amps mix all of this real life observation into something that can at times, be sad, funny, relaxing and invigorating all at once. As quickly as they disregard fashion, they also have no time for the constraints of genre. The songs romp gleefully through the entire histories of rock, indie, metal and country.
The over-arching feeling is one of big tunes backing up an underlying melancholy that is cosseted, cherished and wallowed in until it is just beginning to turn to a new day. Songs are sadness-tinged explorations, picking at the scabs of old emotional wounds set to jaunty tunes, sorrowful yet sweet, uplifting, humorous and soulful, with some art-rock weirdness thrown in with fervent enthusiasm.
Self-confessed workaholics Le Reno Amps have released a handful of EPs and singles in amongst their full album releases. On their third record, Tear It Open, the band crafted a video to accompany each song on the album and as a result they were rewarded for their efforts with a Scottish BAFTA nomination. They also found the time to found rock’n’pop cavalry, Armellodie Records, which as you know if you are reading this, has steadily manifested into one of the most exciting independent labels in the UK.