Sunday, 21 November 2010

[MP3] Johnny Reb - Emile (Part One)

In the past couple of years the exposure for so-called 'guitar bands' seems to have dramatically lessened. Now it seems many people are starting to claim that there is going to be a resurgence of this sound next year. While I do know or care much about that, I do know that Glasgow's Johnny Reb are a rock band with both the tunes and the talent to make a bit more noise in Scotland's predominantly folk laden landscape.

'Emile (Part One)' is one of a number of songs the band recorded with Boz Boorer (of Morrissey fame) in Portugal. It is based on events concerning the boxer Emile Griffith who murdered his opponent in the ring in 1962 after he was allegedly called 'faggot'. Musically, it is a frantic affair with thunderous drums and a singalong chorus. In a genre that can often feel homogenised, Johnny Reb have made my ears prick up and take notice for bringing a bit of imagination and life to the fold. Their debut E.P should be with us Spring 2011.

Johnny Reb - Emile (Part One)

Monday, 15 November 2010

Hooded Fang - Hooded Fang

I have been listening to a lot of pop-leaning-indie at the moment. I suppose I am kind of the whole 'hipper than thou' rhetoric adopted by a whole load of blogs just now and it is refreshing just to put on a nice pop record. You might recall I did a wee interview with Hooded Fang and they were saying the album was coming along nicely. That is has as the album has turned out to be a wonderful collection of perfect pop songs. The singer's voice reminds me of a happier Stephen Merritt which I feel really pulls me to the songs. It swerves away from being too twee that the songs become sickly and there is always substance and meat to each song. There is also a really nice feeling about the album as a whole as the ebb and flow of the songs seems to bode really well in juxtaposition to the cold Scottish weather outside my window.

It's always nice when you have been waiting for an album from a band since their debut E.P and it really delivers. A perfect remedy for all those bands with a colour followed by an animal for their name adhering to some flash in the pan genre.

Hooded Fang - Laughing

Hooded Fang - Promise Land

Buy Hooded Fang via Bandcamp.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Scottish Enlightenment - St. Thomas

I'm sure most you are the same as me in that you see complete strangers often enough that you end up feeling like you know them. My favourite couple are an elderly husband and wife who regularly get on my bus. The man is always impeccably turned out, often sporting a suit and a tie and the woman is equally well-dressed. I first started to notice something strange about the couple when the man was constantly getting flustered and confused about where he was and who he was. The woman would calm him down in a loving and patient manner, often holding him and speaking to him until the fear he was feeling subsided. It's been pretty obvious since that the man suffers from fairly advanced Alzheimer's. Now, to my point. I know a hundred reasons why I should or could adore this couple so much; the devoted love the woman has for her husband or the hope that one day someone would care about me enough to stick by me through something as terrible as Alzheimer's. However, none of these reasons seem adequate or fully sum up why I like them so much as there is just an endearing quality I can't seem to put my finger on. Maybe it is all the reasons combined, maybe it is not. I just can't say. This leads me to The Scottish Enlightenment's 'St. Thomas', an album which has the exact same effect on me as that elderly couple.

I could put my adoration of this album down to numerous things. It could be due to the faultless musicianship, the world-weary and existential lyrics, the variation and slow build of their wonderfully and carefully crafted songs or due to the immaculate production. However, just like how I can't explain the why I admire that elderly couple, none of these reasons seems to fit or fully justify why I love this album so much. There is something homely about 'St. Thomas', while simultaneously crushingly sad. Songs meander and then build to create lush soundscapes that really catch you surprise as they often masquerade as unassuming. Unassuming they are not as they seep into your consciousness and really grab hold of your attention. They have built upon their two strong EPs from this year ('Pascal' and 'Little Sleep') and they have created an album that flows almost seamlessly from start to finish. The dip in pace near the end of the album doesn't really affect the quality of the album all too much as I particularly enjoy 'The Soft Place' which makes up for my less favoured 'My Bible Is'.

In 'St. Thomas' The Scottish Enlightenment have created the one of the best albums to come out of Scotland this year. However, I am at a loss to why I find it so great or why I am so awestruck that I can't really write a proper review. To be honest I am perfectly okay with that.

The Scottish Enlightenment - Earth Angel (With Sticks In Crypt)

The Scottish Enlightenment - Taxidermy of Love

St. Thomas is out tomorrow via Armellodie Records.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Yusuf Azak - Turn On The Long Wire

As a general rule I hate using cliches like 'he has a real Marmite sound'. However, Yusuf Azak has a real Marmite sound. His rasping voice and perplexing guitar plucking is certainly an acquired taste, lucky it is a sound I more than take to and have been looking forward to his debut LP for quite some time. I actually halfheartedly tried to get Yusuf to release this album on my non-existent record label a while back, I am glad he decided not to as I reckon I would have royally fucked it up. Instead, he is releasing with the finest purveyor of good underground Scottish music, Song, By Toad Records. I think he made the right choice. Sniff, sniff.

From the opener 'Your Story' it is evident that Azak is hardly reinventing his sound from his first two eps. However, there is a real growth as there seems to be a new spritely exuberance and warmth about the song. What I always like about Azak's songs is that his lyrics are often semi-audiable due to his almost lisping accent, but when you listen closely his turn of phrase is as good as anyone else in Scotland at the moment. 'Time to Kill' ushers in an almost pre-war string sound to the fold which is both enchanting and rather haunting. 'Rosalie' uses two components of Azak's sound to great effect as the lush backing vocals sound best next to the juxtaposition of the sharp twang of his Spanish guitar. Now, I kind of hate myself for saying this but probably the closest thing Scotland has to a chillwave anthem (UGH!) is 'The Key Underground'. It definitely has the backbone of a dance song placed on a folky backdrop and is certainly my favourite song on the album. It sits oddly well in the tracklisting considering the difference in it's sound compared to the rest of the album and I would have been a little disappointed if it didn't feature. Next on the album is a trio of extremely strong tunes, 'Thin Air' 'Stepping Stone' and lead single 'Eastern Sun'. All are, again, so distinctive to Azak and even if I wanted to make the common blogger comparisons to other artists I really can't. I have heard Nick Drake banded about a lot when people are trying to grasp Azak's sound but I don't think that is accurate as Azak, I feel, is not as restrained as Drake and is certainly more inventive with fewer instruments.

What Yusuf Azak has achieved with 'Turn On The Long Wire' is a solid and enchanting debut album. It is not a necessarily short album but it feels like a very short listen, which I suppose is a very good thing indeed. Time flies when you are having fun. Well I opened with a cliche, I may as well fucking close with one!

Yusuf Azak - The Key Underground

Yusuf Azak - Stepping Stone

Monday, 8 November 2010

[Interview] Randan Discotheque

When I get sent music to review I seldom react with great enthusiasm. After a couple of hundred trendy bands with haircuts you get a wee bit jaded so it is always nice when you get something as refreshing as Randan Discotheque's new single 'Heather the Weather/Duke & His Orderly'. The folky opening of the ode to Heather Reid, weather forecaster for Reporting Scotland, instantly brought a wee smile to my face. However, on closer inspection the song had shades of sadness and melancholy which made it all the more enchanting. B-side sees frontman Craig Coultard weave a tale about the Spanish Civil War and Armenian cannibals. It is another refreshing song with catchy hooks and just enough sincerity to not seem overly gimmicky. The single ushers in the band's second release after last years superb 'Daily Record May 18th 1993'. With an album release penciled in for next year I felt I better have a wee word with Craig. After all, he has made me not dread reading my emails anymore!

Hi there, care to introduce yourself? Who make up Randan Discotheque?

Randan Discotheque are:

Myself, Craig Coulthard (Vocals, guitar, words)
Olly Ridgewell (bass, vocals, my brother in law)
Hugo Phillipe Laurent de Verteuil (guitar and keyboards)
and Owen Curtis Williams (drums, though the drums on the recordings are by our old comrade Doug Currier)

Based in and around Edinburgh College of Art - formed in 2005 as a solo act, this line up for the last 18 months or so.

Your second single 'Heather the Weather' is out on 7" and digitally on the 6th December. What made you write a song about the celebrated weather-woman? I always rated Gail McGrane...

'Heather the Weather' was written while I was feeling quite sorry for myself - a large group of my closest friends all left Edinburgh for London at the same time around 2005/2006, and I was struggling with the thought that maybe I had made a mistake staying in Edinburgh. I was watching Reporting Scotland, and the weather came on - I decided rather stubbornly that I was right to stay, and my friends were wrong to leave, and I started writing a song from the point of view of a regretful friend who missed home. Needless to say, they all still live in London. I feel that Heather represented a certain homeliness and familiarity, a humble attraction.
Gail is pretty sweet, but Heather had/has a certain gravitas, and a softness, a comforting look. I am glad I wrote the song when Heather was presenting - if I'd left it a couple of years it would have been about "Glamourous Gillian" Smart, and she's a little too saucy for the sentiments I wanted to express.

The b-side is inspired by Armenian cannibals and a Spanish Civil War siege. Do you find it easy to switch between light-hearted topics (weather women) and somber topic such as war?

I don't really think like that. All of these things are connected. I like to write songs that are not necessarily what they appear. To me, both Heather and The Duke & His Orderly have elements of humour and melancholy. I think music should be a reflection of the personalities who write/make it. Comedy and tragedy are pretty closely related. The other thing is that different songs aren't written at the same time, so it depends on how I'm feeling. I have always been a bit put off by music/art that suggests the same emotion time after time, song after song.

You definitely flirt with the folk genre regarding your sound. What kind of bands influence you?

When I began playing solo, I only played with an acoustic guitar, so there was an inevitable folk/country sound. Now we are a band the sound has expanded. As for influences, I always find that too big a question to answer with any logic. If you listen to our mixes on Mixcloud, that might give an idea of some of the things we like :

You hail from Fife, do you feel that Fife is often overlooked in terms of music in comparison to Glasgow and Edinburgh bands?

I'm the only member from Fife, and I haven't lived there for 10 years, though my parents still do. I think for the size of it, Fife has produced lots of great music, though I never really felt that the live scene was that healthy. The Skids for example - When I was at school there was The Beta Band, and The Skoubhie Dubh Orchestra - after that came Fence and everyone involved in that scene. I was at school with members of The Phantom Band, Django Django and Dogs Die in Hot Cars, so there's plenty of talent in Fife, I guess as is often the case, people need to leave to expand themselves a bit. I guess that's what makes Fence so special. There's no comparison with Glasgow and Edinburgh when it comes to venues and scale of musical community. However, like I say, I haven't lived and worked there for a while.

What does 2011 hold for Randan Discotheque?

2011 is the year when we will release our first album as a band - hopefully we will be able to play some festivals and raise our profile a bit. I feel that we are very strong as a band now and it would be nice to connect with more people. It's also the year in which we hope to receive our custom made suits and start a dance. There's so few new dances nowadays. Maybe a couple more vinyl releases and help some other people release their music.

Single launch is at Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh on the 4th December.