Saturday, 24 September 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: S.C.U.M. - Again into Eyes

Choosing a band name is like choosing a partner. Get it wrong and you’re in for a whole world of pain. So, mess them both up and, well, you might as well throw in the proverbial towel, make for a delapidated drinking den and douse your liver in acrid, stomach pit burning grog. To say Ian Cohen - better known in Daily Mail reading circles as Peaches Geldof’s other half - and the rest of his S.C.U.M. cohorts have a lot to prove, then, is something of an understatement.

Contending with an appellation that smacks of hipsteratti desperation is one thing (it’s short for Society for Cutting Up Men, a term coined by radical feminist and attempted Andy Warhol killer Valerie Solanas), but finding yourself in the middle of an awkward PR-stunt conjured up by your frontman’s flavour of the month (Geldof recently gobshited to the world that she has 'no intention' of joining her boyfriend’s band) spells S.U.I.C.I.D.E. for any outfit looking to score pretention points with the chin-stroking elite early on.

Yet, S.C.U.M.’s debut LP Again Into Eyes is a surprisingly uncompromising affair that’s made of sterner stuff than the inflated brouhaha suggests. Bound in melancholy and introspection, it’s an album that steers into hopelessly bleak terrain, clearly tailored by Sisters of Mercy-era ambience and a smearing of dirt black mascara. Yet, below the slit-wristing exterior there lurks a band with an ear for tender rolls of melody and colossal soundscapes.

The gutter-scraping thrash of ‘Summon the Sound’ offers little indication of the band’s softness. A cloying, pavement-gobbing brawler, its apoplectic percussion and gyrating guitars traipse the depths of horror-shlock rock‘n’roll. ‘Amber Hands’ is equally rancid, galloping into a blackened soup of cathedral keys that converge as a clattering, snarling psychedelic swamp.

Such proto-punk blustering inevitably draws parallels with early-days Horrors. And in the scuzzy, roughed up aesthetic of basal numbers like ‘Days Untrue’ the resemblance is unavoidable. But that’s where it gets interesting. Much like the Faris Badwin’s ensemble, S.C.U.M. are at their most intriguing when shunning razor-sharp shtick for velvety sheen, purring with nuance and subtle shifts in tempo.

With more gothic furnishing than a Victorian-era burlesque house, Again into Eyes was never going to be a futuristic masterpiece. But, congealed with Thomas Cohen’s joyless intone, the band’s creaking instrumentation is deployed impressively. Opener ‘Faith Unfolds’s warming glow is chalked with a soft complexion of synths and drums, laying bare a misty-eyed anthem of grandiose range; while 'Sentinal Bloom’s austere framework exudes a brevity that stretches beyond archetypal graveyard signatures.

More captivating still is the slow-burning opulence of ‘Paris’. Awash with despair, the mournful keys carve an arctic backdrop that freezes out Cohen’s fading wails of “I have nothing”. It’s intense, thoughtful work; an ambitious arrangement of wide-angled sound and heart-gnawing atmosphere that ribbons into the record’s most graceful swoon.

Glorious album swansong ‘Whitechapel’ flips the record into one final elated throb. Built around ministerial synths and a deep, pulsing bassline, there’s more than a hint of devoted Eighties styling to the industrial disco beat. It’s an infectious, almost irresistible affair that underlines the band’s ever-evolving capabilities while it waggles its hips with the androgynous grace of Brett Anderson in a downtown brothel.

So forget the name; forget the celebrity girlfriend; forget those meticulously fringed press shots and vacuous interviews. S.C.U.M. are a band blessed with stealth, steel and, as much as they loathe it, an overarching sense of the indie mainland. Rest assured, their world of pain is being put to good effect.

Monday, 19 September 2011

A traveller's tales: a train reaction

The worst thing about my daily commute isn’t the London Tube. In fact, it’s not even the 6am start or 7pm finish. No, it’s much more macabre than that.

So far, in the seven days (including my day trip to London on Saturday, pictures of which you can see below) that I’ve been travelling to work, three people have been hit by trains. Three fucking people.

Now, this strikes me as an inordinate number of folk being pummelled by the full force of an Intercity 125 rushing from the slumber of suburbia to crawling, be-suited anthill of central London.

Surely this sort of serendipitous scorecard totting must trigger a sniff of an inquiry in one of the Metropolitan Police Service’s many out-houses, where officers have little else to do but pick up bladder-pickled street urinators?

But, no, this is just one more inconvenience to jostle the patience of daily commuters. And the worst of it is, all you care about is getting home. Or not getting home. Or just being late getting home.

Someone might have died. A family might have lost its only child. A child might have lost its only family. And the only thing that crosses your mind is, ‘Shit, I can’t believe I’m going to miss the football.’

It’s inevitable really. You don’t see the accident, only the repercussions. So it’s not a real person that’s had his cranium smashed to smithereens, it's just another traffic report that's causing you a disruption.

And that’s my biggest irk with commuting: there’s no compassion. Life revolves around getting from A to B. Anything that falls inbetween - from the old lady who stops right in front of you at the station to the guy who’s had enough of life and chucked himself on a track - is a hindrance.

So as I sit here on the 6.30pm London Liverpool Street train to Colchester, trying to take stock of what it means to be a commuter, I should really count my blessings. This isn’t the worst predicament. I mean, I have a cushioned seat, a nice view and the opportunity to wind down from a long day at work. What more could a boy need, right?

Yes, it seems life is good. Even if it's currently running 20 minutes late.

Friday, 16 September 2011

London loves...

Well, it's almost been a week. Yep, that's right, seven whole days have passed since I moved from my safe, homely Edinburgh town to the big bad world of England. And, y'know what, it's not that bad. Well, it's not dreadful, let's put it that way.

Living in Colchester and working in London is far from ideal. The daily commute is a drag. Realising you've sat next to the same person on the same train twice in one week is foreboding. And dealing with the pressure of having to fathom out an alternative shirt/tie combo every day is darn right debilitating at 6am in the morning.

In truth, I'm a little homesick. But, I'm not quite sure what for. How much of Edinburgh I'd trade for Essex/London is impossible to say. The homeliness of Auld Reekie probably has a lot to do with it. The fact I lived there for almost 12 years is probably even more significant.

Yet, London is not without its charms. Firstly, the people I work with are exceptional. Not just in a 'wow they're great people, I can't wait to know them better' kind of way, but in a way that makes you sit up, take stock and admire their purpose. So far, it's been impossible not to sponge up.

Secondly, the city is mental for boozing. I mean, really properly mental. These people may be garbed in tailormade D&G suits, but they'll happily guzzle a few snifters of piss-pale ale by the side of Monument as the wind away the stresses of another full throttle day.

And, full throttle it is. These people, these places do not stop. Our work canteen is open from 8am - 9pm. That's breakfast through to supper. Here 9-5 isn't the way to make a living. It's much much more than that. Thank heavens no one works on overtime - the country would be bust.

So, it's exhausting. And a bit galling. Yet, it sucks you in. The place is alive: The traffic. The people. The buildings. Even the smog. This is a city that breathes energy; that seeps gusto. You can't, in all honesty, help yourself from being swept along. I'm trying desperately hard to go with the flow.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

A decade on...

It's hard to believe that ten years ago today the western world dropped to its knees. At the time, I was working in a wine shop on Morningside Road making some money to get me through the home straight of my undergraduate course.

 The news filtered through to me from the boozehounds who would come and collect their daily tipple of a two litre bottle of White Lightning.

The scale of the catastrophe never really hit home. It wasn't until I made it back to my flat to watch it unfold on the television that I had a sense of the sheer magnitude of what was happening. 

I have still never seen anything like it in my life. My then girlfriend and I stared, eyes-agape, at the destruction and terror that had engulfed New York. It was mesmerising and utterly terrifying.

As someone who works day in day out with communications, I don't think I'll ever see a stronger message of intent. There was no ambiguity, no space for misinterpretation. This was war. 

And war it was. Or to be more specific, war it still is.

One decade on and the situation hasn't changed. The globe is split like two caged bulls eyeing each other up. Sure, Bin Laden is dead - as are many 1,000s of souls - but the fear of terror still imbues every aspect of western life, while the hatred of capitalism continues to run deep in the East.

But, for the 3,000 people who died on 11 September 2001, none of it matters. They started the day alive. They finished it dead.

It's over. It's just beginning.

I'm finally here. After all the months of crazed panic, I'm writing this blog post sitting in my spacious Colchester flat being entertained by the footballing majesty that is Fulham v Blackburn Rovers.

It's been a long slog, and the last week of goodbyes was exhausting. Leaving was never going to be easy - I love the sights and sounds of Edinburgh - and leaving so many friends only amplified my melancholy.

But that was yesterday. Today, I've been settling into my new life. I've forked out a few hundred smackers on clothes for my new vocation in London town and I've spent the equivalent of an annual Edinburgh bus pass on one month's travel to and from the UK's Capital city.

So this week will be an experience. I'm excited to be working in a different environment and with different people. Compared to two years ago when I started my first job in internal communications, I'm more confident about where my future lies. The skills are all there - now I just need to show these London-types what I can do. Easy, eh?

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Rabbiting on about lists

There's now less than a week before I leave Edinburgh. Tomorrow I begin my final week of working at Royal London. Almost all the key milestones of the Big Move have been struck. Suddenly, my flight to London Stanstead is getting dangerously close.

In the last week or so since I posted here, a lot has happened:
  • I moved out of our flat of almost three years in Roseburn
  • I moved into a flat in Leith with my friend Catriona
  • I befriended a bunny rabbit called Honey
  • I drank whisky (on the rocks, not neat - I'm not that brave yet)
  • I wrote my final Drowned in Scotland article
  • I watched my boss captain a dragonboat down Leith Docks
  • I said my first goodbye.
This week, my pre-departure date itinerary is equally expansive:
  • Have a final pint with fellow scribe/music cynic Nick Mitchell
  • Work on handover notes for my current job
  • Read handover notes for my new job
  • Meet some old work colleagues for lunch
  • Absolutely gut my work desk - a task which will probably include two years worth of cleaning and scrubbing
  • Leave my flat in Leith and say goodbye to Catriona and Honey
  • Move into Johanna's flat in Dalry
  • Take current work colleagues out for leaving night bevvy
  • Meet age-old friends in Calistoga for d-day lunch/wine/cheesecake
  • Get a flight from Edinburgh to London Stanstead
  • Move into my new life
In some ways, writing it down like this makes it look a lot more manageable. But I'm pretty sure I'll be running around like some sort of headless lunatic for the duration of the next six days. As much as I'll be sad to leave Edinburgh, I really cannot wait for this whole episode to be over.

Friday, 2 September 2011

My last Drowned in Scotland...

Over the last month or so my life has been consumed with boxing up my Edinburgh flat, job interviews and frequent visits to my soon-to-be new home in Colchester. In almost a decade of writing about the Scottish music, I can’t remember a time I’ve been more disconnected from what is going on in Scotland’s music scene. Somewhere along the line, adulthood has come into play; the inevitable move to England is finally happening.

Now, normally, with this being a column focused on the sporran-sporting sounds from north of the border, such total detachment would mean I’m no longer qualified to pulpiteer my way through the various goings on in Scotland over the coming month. But with this being my last ever Drowned in Scotland feature, I’m indulging myself (while covering up my lack of direct involvement of late) by taking a slight sidestep from the norm.

So this month I’m going to walk you through (what I consider to be) the bands, labels, media and promoters currently propping up the grassroots of the Scottish music scene. Given my stingy 1,000 or so word count, this won’t be a lengthy dissection of the country’s movers and shakers. Instead, it’s an excessively hyperlinked guide through the belly of the Scottish music scene which you can explore at your leisure.

The bands

Bronto Skylift

There aren't too many more superlatives I can lavish on Bronto Skylift without repeating myself. Almost every month I seem to drool over the duo’s head-rattling, sewer-scraping punk thrashing. Built around the machine-gun pummelling of sticksman Iain Stewart and Niall Strachan’s jarring guitar squalls, witnessing Bronto up-close feels like being caught up in the middle of deafening street brawl without any escape. An absolute tumult of a band.

Cancel the Astronauts

Scotland may be steeped in indie pop tradition, but it’s been some time since any jangle-friendly tunesmiths have stretched beyond the drudgery of local prisms. ArmeLinkd to the teeth with candy-wrapped melodies, Cancel the Astronauts may well be the band that finally reignites the trend. Both literate and epidemic, their ebullient musical wares sport a hint of fellow shmindie-dancefloor fillers Pulp and James. And with whiffs of tune like that, what’s not to like?


Discopolis initially passed me by like a whizz-ravaged Jenson Button on the autobhan. Rather than submerging in my ear-sockets, the Edinburgh trio’s hyper-driven beats and bleeps swirled around for a few minutes then scarpered off with minimal impact. Give or take a few months and Discopolis are everywhere: on the BBC, on the wireless, in magazines and at every indie-disco north of the border. And d’you know what? Turns out this mass-saturation technique works. Discopolis really ain’t too shabby at all.

John Knox Sex Club

The slap-bang-brilliantly monikered John Knox Sex Club (JKSC)’s debut LP Blud Rins Cauld was largely ignored when it hit the shelves in 2010. The pity for all those who missed it is JKSC served up the most majestic slab of post-folk-rock tuneage released in Scotland last year. Launched this week, follow-up Raise Raven continues down this path of throat-throttling, parochial soundscapes. This time, surely, some needs to listen.

Lady North

On record, it’s hard to get a sense of just how extraordinary Lady North are. But fleshed out on stage, garbed in underpants and sodden in sweat, it’s crystal clear: the Edinburgh trio’s guttural, math-infused, android-funk is the most exhilarating, eardrum pillaging sound in Scotland today. Once they hone their studio craft, the fresh green pastures they’ve been exploring in recent months will only get fresher and greener.

The labels


You’ve got to admire Armellodie. A tiny label it may be, but that certainly doesn’t quell its ambition. Tooled up with a roster containing the Scottish Enlightenment, Super Adventure Club, Le Reno Amps andKill The Captains, the Glasgow-based label’s ‘anything fits’ policy has pulled off some superb stops, pushing it into the fulcrum of the country's aspirational wave of DIY labels.

Fence Records

It’s impossible to mention Scottish record labels without bringing up Fence. Much more than just a distributor of records by the likes of King Creosote, FOUND and James Yorkston, the Fife-born label is the blueprint for every aspiring label in Scotland, creating a loyal community from the foundations of good solid music taste. Today, Fence’s reach stretches far beyond the Scottish border, yet with sublime events like Haarfest and Homegame it’s found the perfect way of keeping the locals happy.

Gerry Loves

Over the last year, Gerry Loves has become one of the most potent indie labels in the country. A spewing of split single releases cottons on to the Scottish music scene’s recent swing towards collaboration, providing an admirable playground for forward thinking acts like Lady North, Paws, Japanese War Effort, Miaoux Miaoux and Wounded Knee to test their mettle on gloriously shiny vinyl. Combine this with some boisterous showcase nights across the central belt, and you’ve got a label pounding to the pulse of Scottish music today.


LinkThe media

Glasgow PodcART
Glasgow PodcART embodies the internet in all its glory. Based around a swear-box filling rant of a weekly (or so) podcast, the site has become one of the go-to haunts of local bands trying to climb the rungs of the music industry's ladder. Far from perfect in execution, the emotional and utterly subjective tone of the site’s head honchos is what makes Glasgow PodcART such a compelling proposition.


Say what you like about the man’s music tastes, but Popcop knows how to sniff out a story. Instead of blurting out archetypal blogosphere hype, the Popcop has made its reputation by ‘patrolling the beat of the Scottish music scene’. As horrific as the MO sounds, the site's regular in-depth features on the issues affecting music in Scotland are persistently on the button and Linkthought provoking.

The Skinny

What The Skinny has done for Scottish music in the six years since it started is almost immeasurable. Through the magazine’s ink-smudge pages have swanned a decorated roll-call of bands, writers, designers, promoters, media vagabonds and general chancers who’ve gone on to shape the country’s music scene and is surrounding subculture. What The Skinny has achieved on such a consistent basis is, truly, nothing short of astonishing.

Song, By Toad

Inflammatory, outspoken, passionate. Three words could not describe Song, By Toad (SBT) more succinctly. Over the past few year, it’s been an entertaining ride watching Matthew Young’s personal music blog transform into an influential media-rich community of like-minded, and equally opinionated, souls. And just for good measure, SBT has turned recording stable for the likes of Meursault, Trips & Falls and the magically intoned Rob St John). A true testament to persistency and perseverance.


Notable others

Detour Scotland

Kings of the guerrilla gig, the Detour boys – David Weaver and now Radio 1 DJ Ally McCrae - _raison d’ĂȘtre_ is to showcase Scotland’s finest new bands in as enterprising a manner as possible, including band hijackings, streetside shows and guided musical walks. Littering their site with blogs, podcasts and videos, Detour’s unending quest for innovation is as infectious as it is awe inducing.

Ten Tracks

Ten tracks for £1. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Created by local music entrepreneur Ed Stack, Ten Tracks is an effortless (well, for the user) venture that lets punters pick from hundreds of quality MP3s by local (and sometimes not so local) bands at a knock down price. Conceptually it’s an interesting idea, but, as ever, convincing the masses to part with spondoolas for music poses more challenges than Anneka Rice on an assault course.

The end

And that’s it. My final paragraph in my final ever Drowned in Scotland. Fortunately, you’re being left in capable hands. Delightful west-coast wordsmith Elaine Liddle is taking on the tartan-speckled reins from next month. As for me, that’s it. Thanks for reading my monthly ramblings on the Scottish music scence.You can catch me here on twitter if you’ve any interest in keeping up with my sojourn south. Now, I’m off to start researching my first Drowned in Colchester column. Oh…


For more on the latest happenings on the Scottish music scene check out