Sunday, 26 December 2010

10 tracks of 2010

So, that’s Christmas done then. Presents opened; meat devoured; copious volumes of wine skulled. With 2011 now looming forebodingly on the horizon, I thought I’d take a look back through my musical catalogue to pick out my ten favoured tracks of the last 12 months.

All in all, it’s been a bulbous musical year. My eardrums seem to have been drowning in glitchy electro that’s incites languid head nods rather than dancefloor limb-flinging. Despite this penchant for mother-board made bleeps and blips, there’s was a deluge of staple guitar-based bands that produced the musical goods, particularly from north of the border.

Anyway, enough procrastinating. Here are the ten tracks that stuck their pistols to my temples and demanded repeat listening in 2010 (click each title for videos)…

Honestly The Beast – John Knox Sex Club

The locally concocted hype that enshrouds Scottish bands can be as off-putting as it is intriguing. So, there was something admirable about a band like John Knox Sex Club quietly stepping into the spotlight with debut LP Blud Rins Cauld. Part demonic throb, part melancholic weep, Honestly The Beast perfectly cross-sections the band’s uncompromising tendencies. The weep of violin juxtaposed against a wild-eyed scree of post-rock is an astonishing rumble that places this thrilling Glasgow outfit amidst the creamy crop of 2010’s best.

Aidy’s Girl Is a Computer – Darkstar

I fell hard for effects board wizardry in 2010. Seriously, I spent most of the year slavering like a doe-eyed teen over any beard-sporting, Macbook-slinging electro-cat that purred its way into my lugholes. Undoubtedly, Darkstar’s North was the head pickling delight of the year’s rhythmically slinky records; a careful concoction of textured soundscapes and emotive songwriting that uncovered fresh rewards on every listen . Oddly, standout number Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer was a strange anomaly on the record’s luscious musical pasture. Awash with textured electronica, the track’s voiceless sprawl of beat-fed repetition creates a hypnotising glare of pinball machine melody that’s impossible to shake.

He Would Have Laughed – Deerhunter

Even if it wasn’t written as a tribute to the sadly departed Jay Retread, He Would Have Laughed would still moisten the most hardened tear ducts. Immersed in a tide of cascading percussion and chiming guitar, Bradley Cox’s strained intone barely breathes amongst the opening notes of this transcendental haze. But as the track’s layers slowly peel away, his pleading crow begs its way to the fore as a wallow of self-pity that gnarls away at any remaining heart-strings. It’s a stunning arrangement that deserves wider airing, but considering how unappreciated much of Cox’s work is (partly down to his own relentless output), this will likely go down as another masterful effort that gets filed away without much notice.

Rachel & Cali – Damien Jurado

Picking a track from Jurado’s masterful LP Saint Bartlett was a tough call, but the ghostly aesthetic of Rachel & Cali just about scrapes it. Built on skeletal acoustic rhythm and Jurado’s echoic, agonised vocal, this shimmering cut is testament to pure songwriting – something 2010 has strangely lacked. Jurado’s always been skilled in picking at the bones of his past and a fug of personal retrospect blankets this lushly composed lament. As tear-jerkers go, you’re unlikely to have heard anything as brittle or honest in 2010.

I Built Myself A Metal Bird – Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra

A rampaging blast of Fugazi-like guitar, this was the stand out cut from Thee Silver Mt. Zion...’s widely overlooked Kollaps Tradixionales. Admittedly, Efrim Menuck’s jarring wail is an acquired, possibly unlovable, taste but here his ear-bleeding wail falls perfectly into place amongst the rapacious whirlwind of violin, riff and percussion. What he’s warbling on about, it’s impossible to say, but this is a serrated affair that cuts its way deep through your nervous system.

The Splendour – Pantha Du Prince

Another electro-bending hypnotist who flooded my ear drums this year was German-based producer Hendrik Weber. Riding under the moniker Pantha Du Prince, Weber’s third full-length, Black Noise, was a remarkably amphibian affair. The Splendour’s arid soundscape may not seem like the most immediate number on a record that contains the infectious Noah Lennox collaboration ‘Stick To My Side’, but unravel its endless layers and you’ll find yourself embedded in a gloriously rich velodrome of perpendicular rhythm.

New Ruin – Meursault

Despite the slavering attention it received elsewhere, All Creatures Will Make Merry (ACWMM) never really clicked with me. Live, Meursault are a formidable beast; yet for some reason that bombast never truly washed through their second full LP. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but ACWMM felt more like a step to the side than a step forward. But embedded within the album was a track that underscored Meursault’s live opulence. Built around a breathtaking framework of pulsing drum and cavernous effects, New Ruin strides airwaves like a gargantuan, massive in both sound and ambition. Carry on like this and Meursault could be frightening.

Girl Named Hello - Of Montreal

Let’s face it Of Montreal are a band made for fornication. Wriggling, pulsing, scratching, writhing, they frequently hit the G-spot of unbridled aural thrills. Girl Named Hello is no different. Trembling like the knees of an ageing sex pest in a backstreet brothel, this slickly coined dancefloor shuffler finds Kevin Barnes in curiously reflective mood. Sure, “If I treated someone else the way I treat myself, I’d be in jail” my not be the most intellectually stimulating line you’ve heard this year, but fed by a gyrating thrust of ass-slapping bass it’s probably the sexiest.

The Wrong Car – Twilight Sad

Where this came from, who knows. If Forget The Night Ahead was an unfocused affair, then these seven minutes see The Twilight Sad re-honing their lens with bombastic aplomb. The thing its, it’s not a new formula; Andy Macfarlane’s glum-pussed guitar still brawls alongside James Graham’s inimitable crow. But instead of churning out the same cave-friendly tumult of 14 Autumns…, this is a driving, seething affair that lacerates your synapses like a Buckfast-swilling barber.

Mexico Wax Solvent – The Fall

Led by the festering oscillations of 2010’s dirtiest guitar riff, this violent urban fuck of a track bears its teeth with typical Mark E Smith rabidity. The stand out on this year’s remarkable Our Future Your Clutter, Mexico Wax Solvent is the most obviously polished gem in the album’s cliff face of jagged, knuckle grating cuts. Not that it’s done The Fall any chart favours, mind; with Smith maniacally quavering about barbiturates, making rice with screwdrivers and governmental coups it was never likely to chime with the lightweight swarms. Still, this is one of the most exalting thumps of industrial post-punk clatter to detonate its way through my speakers in years.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Gigs of 2010: Enfant Bastard, Roxy Art House, 2 October

Y’know, of all the shows I’ve seen in the last 12 months, of all the bands I’ve witnessed storming bigger, better sounding stages, it’s Enfant Bastard’s bit-bending performance in Edinburgh’s Roxy Art House that stands out the most.

I’ve got to admit, I’d never really taken to Enfant’s enigmatic shtick. His unruly reputation always seemed like a perfect cloak for disguising some frustratingly underprepared and half-assed performances. Worse still, people didn’t just tolerate it, they loved it.

But in a 45 minute vacuum of snarling Gameboy throttling, Cameron Watt completely won me over. Gone was the introverted recluse of old; instead here was a stage-hogging showman scything his way through the shrapnel of pulsing, screw-loose electronica.

Sound-wise, Watt was absolutely relentless, pumping out sprawls of drum ‘n’ bass, happy hardcore and techno with breathless, scattergun gusto. In truth, it was spectacular: the kind of pulse-racing, electrifying show I’d never imagined Enfant Bastard was capable of.

For once, being wrong has never felt more right.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Meeting Mitchell Museum

Over the last year, Mitchell Museum have slowly pushed their way into the Scottish music scene’s spotlight. It’s been a surprising rise, given the insanity of the band’s early live outings. Each head warping affair showcased the Glasgow quartet’s definite potential, but also displayed a penchant for deranged, almost psychedelic, spectacles.

Since then Mitchell Museum have steadied the ship. Their illuminating debut album Peters Port Memorial Service was released to a tide of acclaim north of the border, while their live set has been honed into a well-drilled, hi-octane thrill of good-time sound. And, when those abstract predilections do shine through, they’re put to remarkable use – the self-produced video for latest single 'Tiger Heartbeat' is a fantastic acid-trip of beer guzzling robots.

We caught up with singer Cammy MacFarlane to find out what sort of impact the city has had on one of its most exciting new bands...

Since this chat’s part of DiS’s 10th birthday celebrations, let’s start with an on-topic question: 10 years ago what was on your stereo?

CMF: In 2000 Dougie was listening Sonic Youth’s Dirty, Raindeer [drums, vocals] was regularly spinning the Smashing Pumpkins, I was big on The Eels and Kris [bass, vocals] spent his mornings listening to John Lee Hooker.

An eclectic mix from you boys. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. So, how do you think the city’s music scene has changed over the last year?

10 years ago we were just young kids living in fields and didn't really know much about any music scene. We were still playing in our very first bands and it seemed very exciting to be coming to Glasgow to play a gig never mind actually being part of a scene. These days jeans are tighter and haircuts are sillier.

Glasgow always quite a few jealous looks from other cities in Scotland - what do you think it is that makes the city stand apart, musically?

We think it is a bit of a fallacy that there is the Edinburgh /Glasgow divide in music. We've always had a good time when playing in Edinburgh and playing with Edinburgh bands in Glasgow. It seems more like a created tension to drum up some rivalry and hopefully a bit of inspiration. There are as many good bands outwith Glasgow as there are in it. Meursault from Edinburgh, Miniature Dinosaurs from Stirling, Fence collective from Fife, Copy Haho from Stonehaven for example.

Good point. But what kind of opportunities do you think being a young band, much like yourselves, in Glasgow gives a band?

We got a bit of a break winning the King Tut's [Wah Wah Hut] Your Sound competition when we first started out. Things started to pick up and we got a few shows down in London and some record label interest and generally a bit of a buzz was built around the band. Opportunities like this and the sadly now defunct The Mill gigs for new acts has really helped us out in the early days.

How much of an impact has Glasgow had on shaping your own sound?

Our inspirations come more from American and Canadian bands so we don't feel a massive influence is apparent to our music, but having lived in Glasgow for many years we are all very pale.

Not sure that’s just Glasgow affliction. Anyway, there’s seems to be an amazingly varied musical community in the city, but no real ‘scene’ to put a finger on. How important do you think this is in creating the thriving subculture that Glasgow has become?

There are lots of weird and exciting new sounds going on at any given time. Friends of ours involved in the Glasgow noise scene and are running their own label and releasing some very interesting stuff. There is also a thriving hip hop scene with Loki, Big Taj and Kobe Onyame. It's not just pale wee skinny boys singing about the rain.

So where do you think Glasgow sits in comparison to city’s like LA, Seattle, Manchester et al?

It's hard to pin down a particular point in time where the Glasgow scene has had such obvious influential effect like the Manchester Factory records era, but it has had various different success stories over a long period of time. It does feel that every now and then one particular Glasgow band gets picked for superstardom but there has always been a continuous flow of good music that is there for people to find.

Finally, in ten years time when DiS is setting foot in its twenties where do you think Mitchell Museum will be?

We'll be sitting in a slightly bigger van than we are in right now celebrating our tenth birthday, eating an oaties biscuit or whatever the futuristic equivalent will be. Hopefully we will an invite to your birthday party. If not, why not?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Scotland round-up: November - December

If ever a month highlighted the gaping divide between Edinburgh and Glasgow’s music scenes it was November. While Auld Reekie rued the capitulation of another musical hub (with the possibility of more to follow), its west coast rival has been launching a new label, hosting a music industry convention on the future of digital music and watching a member of its most prominent promotion team take to the nation’s airwaves.

So, let’s get the rough stuff out of the way first...

Edinburgh art/music venue The Roxy Art House has closed its doors after parent company, Edinburgh University Settlements (EUS), went bust to the tune of around £4m. Not bad for a charitable organisation. There’s a shovel of questions still to be answered, like just how did EUS survive so long haemorrhaging £300K a year and what the hell was ex-Hibernian chairman David Duff, a convicted thief, doing acting as an adviser? But for Edinburgh’s music scene, the repercussions of the Roxy’s demise are particularly weighty.

With one less venue, the city’s bands are simply running out of places to play. Over the last few years Edinburgh’s subculture has blossomed, thanks mainly to the full force of electro-beard outfit Meursault and a persuasive posse of online advocates. Given there’s around five dedicated, local-level venues left in the city, how much longer the scene will continue expanding is questionable. A single positive to the EUS disintegration, which has also slammed the gate shut at grassroots art hangout The Forest CafĂ©, is that it’s got various local luminaries riled and proactive (You can read some of their musings here, here and here). As the old adage goes: what don’t kill you, only makes you stronger.

One Capital-based institution making its way back into the fore is seminal caterwaulers Scars. The announcement may not be as keenly greeted as Pulp’s recent reformation, but after creating one of the Post-Punk records of the 80s, Author! Author!, the band’s return after 25 years should perk up those with an ear for jagged guitar stabs. So far only a ‘one-off’ reunion show with TV21 and Josef K/Orange Juice axeman Malcolm Ross has been announced (Edinburgh Picture House, 29 December), but presumably the attendance of a sizeable crowd will spawn a follow up tour in 2011. If not, then it’s a show not to be missed.

This month’s cockle warning news comes from the other side of the M8. Two prominent Glasgow bloggers Lloyd Meredith and Halina Rifai have compounded their musical noggins to launch Olive Grove Records. Billed as an ‘innovative independent Scottish DIY label’, Olive Grove’s inaugural release came from Indie-Folk sextet Randolph’s Leap, with the promise of much more to come. Here’s what Meredith had to say of the label’s reason for being: “We decided to join forces to create a label that gives an organic platform for chosen artists to release their material. Neither of us have gotten into to make money out of it, our aim is that any profits made are given straight to the artists. This might seem a bit nuts, but that's the plan.”

Talking of a bit nuts, Ally McRae, one half of stellar Glasgow promoters Detour Scotland, will be espousing his northern brogue all over the Radio 1 airwaves from January. Proving that Auntie isn’t quite as off the pulse as the employment of Edith Bowman suggests, McRae is taking up the reins of The Scotland Show from the departing Vic Galloway. By focusing on ‘under the radar’ music from around Scotland, the show seems perfectly aligned with Detour Scotland’s mantra of promoting the country’s best new music. A clearly delighted McRae said: “I'm beyond excited to be joining Radio 1 and taking the reins of a show that is so vital in promoting the vast amount of cracking Scottish music being produced from this wee country.” If you can’t wait a few months to hear McRae’s tones, you can check them out on Detour Scotland’s regular podcasts.

Fabled Glasgow venue King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut – y’know, the place where a certain Neanderthalic Manchester act was ‘discovered’ by Alan McGee - is playing host to a 70-band extravaganza early next year. Limply named New Year’s Revolution (seriously, who picked that title?), the 14-night soiree provides a stage for many of the country’s finest acts, including French Wives, Endor and lughole-raping scuzz punks She’s Hit. The festivities start on 3 January and, with the promise of four bands a night, it’s sure to bring an aurally impressive start to the post-festivity blues.

Further up the rungs of the Scottish music scene, Selkirk quartet Frightened Rabbit have hop-scotched their way from FatCat to revered major label Atlantic Records. Singer Scott Hutchison said: “It feels very special to be part of a label with such a great history and we're really looking forward to working with everybody we have met to this point. We also feel it's important to mention how great the past four years have been with FatCat and although it is time to move on we are greatly appreciative of the amazing job they've done.” It still feels strange to say it, but the F’Rabbit boys are now sitting in the same stable as Kid Rock, Plan B and Toni Braxton. The cynics will no doubt decry ‘sell out’, but let’s hope this next chapter in the band’s career is as listenable as the last one.

Proving that music in Scotland’s not solely owned by the Central Belt’s twin towns, Dundee promoter Robin Murray has set up his own label Verses to showcase the surprisingly high number of quality electronic acts the city has to offer. Verses kickstarts into life with an 11 track compilation containing effects-board inspired tuneage from the likes of Esperi, Edward Shallow and Nomogram. Murray explains: “Finding more and more young producers eager for an outlet, Verses began as a means to tie together a few loose knots... Electronic music is always on the margins, always underground working against the norm. Equally, the label aims to bring opposing viewpoints together just to see what happens. Finally, Dundee is always seeking to be heard over its bigger - but not necessarily better - neighbours.” Wonder who he could be talking about?


With the festive season on the way, there’s a sackload of music-related Christmas parties going on around Scotland. Here’re five of the finest mince-pie munching shindigs for you to shake your sleigh bells to…

Song, By Toad Christmas Party 16 December, Charlotte Rooms, Edinburgh
Edinburgh stalwarts Meursault are propped up by lusciously toned Rob St John, Inspector Tapehead and Jesus H. Foxx in this sure-to-sell-out festive jamboree.

Eagleowl’s Christmas Party 17 December, Pilrig Church, Edinburgh
A Christmas party with myriad local bands and a Stars in your Eyes theme? Not exactly what you’d expect from Edinburgh whisper-folksters Eagleowl, but it should result in some fine pre-Xmas japery.

Kid Canaveral’s Christmas Baubles 18 December, The Lot, Edinburgh
Rammed to the brim with high-end Scottish tune merchants, including King Creosote, ballboy and impressive local janglers Cancel The Astronaut, this all day extravaganza promises mince pies, mulled wine and “a healthy dose of festive cheer”. Best get in quick for one of the hottest tickets in town.

Electra Fence Records Xmas Party 19 December, Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, Glasgow

With illuminating indie-popsters Mitchell Museum billed alongside Seventeenth Century and Glasgow curiosities Behold, The Old Bear, this promises to be one hell of a Chrstmas cracker from worthy local label Electra Fence Records.

Olive Grove Records Christmas Party 22 December, 13th Note, Glasgow
This newly born label is getting in to the party spirit with a reel of Crimbo-speckled sets from local songsmiths Esperi, Randolph's Leap and RM Hubbert.



Anyone familiar with the pavement-gazing splendor of Edinburgh/Glasgow electro poppers Swimmer One is in for a compelling end of year treat. With solo-project Seafieldroad, band frontman Andrew Eaton has conjured up a heart-breaking beauty of a debut LP in There Are No Maps For This Part Of The City. Built upon a foundation of weeping piano, his extra-curricular activity is the polar opposite of Swimmer One’s coruscating textures. Introverted and almost entirely reflective, Eaton’s brooding intonation washes across a sea of mournful laments to create a soundtrack that’s perfectly attuned to winter’s lonely, dark nights. Probably not a Christmas party starter, mind.

There Are No Maps For This Part Of The City is out now through Biphonic Records

Lady North

Edinburgh’s Alt-Folk acts may be hogging the limelight these days, but buried away in the city’s underground is a barbarous, experimental scene bursting to break out. And right at the forefront of this volumised revolution is Lady North’s skull-busting, Math-infused rattling. A torpedo strike of twitchy fingered time signatures and rampaging percussion, the apoplectic outfit conjure up bastardised rhythms that contort like Lazarus Gitu in an electric chair. They may still be cutting their teeth in the bowels of the city’s underbelly, but this young trio are already turning heads and bursting eardrums. Check. Them. Out.

You can catch Lady North playing Versus in Edinburgh on 25 November. They’re also supportingh Glasgow noise-mongers Bronto Skylift in Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh (12 December) and Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, Glasgow (13 December).