Sunday, 13 May 2012

SAY Awards - Happy Particles - A Closer Look

It's been over three weeks since The SAY Awards Long List was announced and hopefully you've been busy familiarising yourself with the unknown quantities that it threw up.  As there's also now less than twenty four hours until the all important public vote, and with the winner of said vote guaranteed a place on the Short List of ten albums, there's a lot at stake (£10,000 to be precise!)  As one of the 100 nominators for the SAY Awards, we were chuffed to see four of our five selections make the Long List.  And we've decided to give you the low-down on each of these four albums.

That isn't to say that the other 16 albums are not worthy of your vote or being the overall winner.  Indeed there's plenty of other worthy contenders in our eyes, and we'll come to them in due course.  We all have our favourites and these four albums happen to be mine.  That said the most important thing is to make up your own mind and you can do that over at the SAY Awards official site.

Without further ado, here's the third of our choices, 'Under Sleeping Waves' from Happy Particles.

Self-released on 25 December 2011, 'Under Sleeping Waves' is an album that plays great tribute to Scotland's love of the dreamy, shoe-gazing side of pop.  The influences are here, lead singer Steven Kane has a dream inducing voice that harks back to fleeting beauty of The Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser, the swooning melodies equivalent to Boards Of Canada and more recently the likes of Errors and Remember Remember.  The last band mentioned shouldn't come as a surprise as Happy Particles share some common members with Remember Remember.  There is at times even the sense that the layers of music, built painstakingly into an atmospheric triumph could explode into a full blown Mogwai-esqe sound, although the closest we get to that is towards the end of 'Come Home All Dead Ones'.

The album plays by the maxim 'less is more'. Opener 'Aerials' breezes in with little more to it than Kane's soothing vocals and an eerie translucent distortion.  'Infinite Jet' comprises of the more 'traditional' song structure, a resounding melody, steady but not overpowering drum beat ply together to flesh out the sound.  
'Slowness' demonstrates further the post rock sounds further, with careful emphasis on providing just the right amount of sounds.  Not one beat, note, string or key is out of place or unnecessary here.  Indeed it's easy to imagine the band gathered round dissecting their sound to remove all the superfluous elements.  And what's left is just sublime.

There's an air of beauty that surrounds this full album, and right at the very heart of that is 'Offline Contact', a track that has the ability to melt your heart then wrap it's arms around you all within it's 4 minutes 33 seconds.  As strong as it started the album draws to a close.  'Empty Circle' embodies the band's ability to build towards a heavenly effect; crashing cymbals, tinkling xylophones, epic strings and that ever present falsetto all intertwine and for those few fleeting moments it's as fine a collective sound as you'll ever have the pleasure to hear.

'Classes In Silence' has a prophetic name as the tracks is just as much about what isn't there as what is.  It's minimalist post rock at it's finest, and one imagines that years ago celebrated gentry may have gathered in large concert halls to appreciate music of this exact quality.  'Under Sleeping Waves' will bring you immense joy, and if you let it, immerse you in swathes of gorgeous waves of unrivalled beauty.  Case in point is closer 'AM Sky (Bleary)'.  Like it's name sake, the track has the feel of light drifting over the landscape, each note on the xylophone represents the light touching each point with it's warmth.  The warmth of this epic album will, one suspects, live well on past the end of the day.

Why should 'Under Sleeping Waves' win The SAY Award 2011?

This, ultimately, is the question that I had to ask myself when nominating the album, and one which you should ask when deciding to vote, or not vote, for it.  The answer is that in an award which focuses on the underdog that is Scottish music, Happy Particles are the racehorse equivalent of the 1000-1 shot.  Everything is stacked against them, and in any other 'traditional' award structure they wouldn't even be at the party.  The album released as a download only via Bandcamp, on Christmas day no less, by an unsigned band with little to no hype surrounding it, embodies the very ethos of The SAY Awards.  It's about championing the unsung talent, about highlighting music which may have been lost to obscurity, and rewarding the talent that exists amongst that group.  As a blogger I also see Happy Particles inclusion on the Long List as a vindication of what is good about music blogs.  'Under Sleeping Waves' flowed through the blogsphere like a tidal wave, gathering critical acclaim along the way.  This album has benefited probably more than any other (Muscles Of Joy also received the same benefit) in the attention it has gained since being long listed.  It also received a printed CD run allowing it to be stocked in high street and independent music retailers.  Winning the £20,000 prize would be the ultimate reward.

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