Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Dear Lara - Scottish Fiction Session Videos

Continuing the long held tradition of solo singer-songwriters retreating to secluded locations, Dear Lara has a knack of crafting heartfelt lo-fi songs which bleed honesty. 

Below are videos for the tracks Book ClubPenny  and Girl In My Head  which were recorded at Pulse 98.4 FM as part of Dear Lara's Scottish Fiction Session.  To hear the full show, including interview, check out the Scottish Fiction Podcast for 22nd September 2014.

And check out this EXCLUSIVE video of Darkest Before Dawn  recorded for the Scottish Fiction blog.

Album Review - The Amazing Snakeheads - Amphetamine Ballads

The Amazing Snakeheads, the Glaswegian trio who have become known for energetic and exhilarating live shows, have managed to channel that same raw energy into their debut album Amphetamine Ballads.  The band have successfully set out to create a sinisterly seductive view of Glasgow, seen from an inner circle of characters, backstreets and walls dripping with grease.  Imagine Irvine Welsh’s picture of Scotland channelled through the gritty late night tales of Tom Waits.

The pace of Amphetamine Ballads  doesn’t let up as the band rip through the first few songs.  The playing is infused with punk ideologies.  Intricate playing tracked to perfection while slaving over takes is not the direction of The Snakeheads, instead aiming to recreate their live sound.  The fluidity of the tempos on display captures the live feel effortlessly, whilst giving the band a real sense of irresistibly sleazy groove.  The songs have strength in build-up through dissonance, structure and almost euphoric sense of release rather than crafted melodies, subtleties and intricacies.

While Nighttime  and Here It Comes Again  are relentless in their energy, the latter half of the album lets up slightly.  The introduction of Every Guy Wants To Be Her Baby  evokes a perversely erotic Twin Peaks aura with sax counter melodies over loose and laid back bed of drums and eerie synths.  This, of course, lets rip into a full band outpouring overflowing with charisma and effortless swagger.

The real gem comes in the form of Memories.  An unrelenting build up which lets out to the lines “take it by both bands, and shake it if it needs it”.  The Snakeheads then proceed to shake the song to an oddly euphoric and erotic repeated saxophone line.  This melody, along with the accompanying guitar line disintegrates into a dissonant rush of energy bringing the song to a close.

The final two songs, Heading for Heartbreak  and Tiger By The Tail  epitomise the album’s title.  Ballads at heart that almost shed a layer of skin and tease you with the idea of something deeper, but never quite delivering.  The sheer effortlessness with which this is accomplished, without ever letting go of their sordid charm.  These closing twelve minutes leaves you high and dry, teased with a taste, craving more from the trio that sound like they couldn’t give a shit if you do or not, which of course makes you want it more.

- Ashley Leiper

The Amazing Snakeheads - Amphetamine Ballads  is out now via Domino Records and is available in all good record shops and online here.

Single Review - Withered Hand - Black Tambourine

Black Tambourine  is the latest single to be drawn Withered Hand's wonderful album New Gods  released earlier this year.   [check out our review here]

Having already received fine praise from Scotland’s lyrical royalty King Creosote and Justin Currie, the pretender may not yet have ascended to the throne; however it is only a few short steps away on this form.  Dan Willson is a master of words, rhymes, melodies and hooks, and all are crammed to bursting into this pop gem.  Guesting on this single are Pam Berry (Black Tambourine) and Eugene Kelly (The Vaselines), each bringing their own indie influences to the song – including the name of the track in Berry’s case - but never overpowering the distinctive vision that is Willson's.

A short drum build cuts to a cry of “I’m older now, but I feel the same” and from there we are enveloped in warmth of vocals and guitar which swoops and glides, soaring and lifting all the way to, “Light me up with your smile!”

At which point we wonder, how did he know I was smiling?  Of course you were smiling, it is impossible not to.

- Bobby Motherwell

 Withered Hand - Black Tambourine  is out now via Slumberland Records / FortunaPOP! and is available from all good online music retailers.

Single Review - Broken Records - So Long, So Late

With album number three Weights and Pulleys  and Glastonbury now under their belt, Edinburgh’s six piece Broken Records can claim well and truly to have established themselves on the indie pop scene in Scotland.

So Long, So Late,  whilst refusing to follow the catchy formula applied to songs such as Revival  or Winterless Son,  delivers a consistency of form typical of the band, breaking down near the end to deliver the title chant before a wobble bass and drums delivers us to a memorable finish.

I love this song the more I listen to it, showcasing how far the band has come and a simplicity and unpredictability of form you would expect from a tight three piece band.

- Bobby Motherwell

Broken Records - So Long, So Late  is out now via J Sharp Records and is available from all good digital music retailers.

We're Only Here For The Banter - LYLO

With trippy pysch visuals and the expansive pop dripped music to boot, Glasgow trio LYLO are making all the right waves.  Their music creeps into your pysche, with it's infectious sense of fun.  Time for a Scottish Fiction Q&A!

Hello!  How the devil are you?

Hey, we're great thanks!  Hope you're keeping well.

It's the question everyone hates, but could illuminate our readers with a little bit about your music and your influences?

Our music's sound has always stemmed from whatever we're listening to or interested in at the time.  We're always aiming to progress our sound and keep it fresh.

What's your song-writing / creative process like?

It more or less always starts by one of us planting the seed, as in, one of us will have written a melody or groove and we'll jam on it and build it from there.  Mitch writes the lyrics on top of it and voila, we have a song.

What could we expect to see from a live show?

We like to consider ourselves a live band, it's where we can really focus our passion for music!  We love jamming and improvising when we can, just giving our set some flow.  We also feel the visual aspect of our show is important so we work with our good friend to create visuals and we try and use them as much as we can to make the show more of an experience.

What else have you got planned for the rest of 2014?

We have plans to get a 5 track EP out this year and hopefully get some light touring done as well.  Except from that, we'll just be working on new songs, making music videos and trying out new instruments.

What are you listening to at the moment?

Millionaire  by Kelis & Andre 3000

Thanks for speaking with us, would you care to share a joke with us?

Okay, here's our joke:  Whats the difference between a horrible, dirty bus station and a lobster with breast implants?

Ones a crusty bus station and the other is a busty crustacean.

Check out more from LYLO

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Scottish Fiction Podcast - 29th September 2014

Joining me on this week's show were two of Scotland's finest young songwriters, Andrew Pearson and Lovers Turn To Monsters.   Fresh from releasing their collaborative album Everything We Miss,  they chatted about the process of recording together and treated us to three live tracks.

And in order to sate the appetite for the best new Scottish music there's tracks from White, Jonnie Common and LYLO. Our usual features included too with a classic track from Camera Obscura, a Re-Mixing It Up track from Jo Mango via Carbs, a Cover Lover track from The Last Battle, and a vinyl play of a 2002 single from Idlewild.

Vasa - Not A Cop
Baren - Youth
LYLO - Forever, Spaced
Andrew Pearson & Lovers Turn To Monsters - "My Dad doesn't really like my interests, I can only imagine what he'd make of you" - Live in Pulse 98.4 Studio
RE-MIXING IT UP - Jo Mango - Kingdom (Carbs Remix)
blood blood - destiny stencil
Boygirlanimalcolour - Cable-tie
Deathcats - Comin' Up
Andrew Pearson & Lovers Turn To Monsters - Lavender - Live in Pulse 98.4 Studio
Marie Collins - Buddy Holly
CLASSIC TRACK - Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country
Gone Wishing - Hoist Your Head Into The Light
Behold, The Old Bear - Seven Maybe Eight
VINYL PLAY - Idlewild - Live In A Hiding Place
The Meanest Creature Ever Known - Knives - As chosen by Andrew Pearson
Andrew Pearson & Lovers Turn To Monsters - Jason Voorhees - Live in Pulse 98.4 Studio
Chrissy Barnacle - Nightride - As chosen by Lovers Turn To Monsters
Yusuf Azak - State Courage (Piano Version)
COVER LOVER - The Last Battle - You're The Best
White - Living Fiction
Jonnie Common - Shark

Subscribe/listen to the podcast via iTunes.

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Scottish Fiction - 29th September 2014 by Scottish Fiction on Mixcloud

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

STREAM: Boygirlanimalcolour - JUPITER FIST / Cable Tie

Ahead of it's official release on Saturday for Cassette Store Day, we are pleased to let you stream the debut single and accompanying B-side from Boygirlanimalcolour.

JUPITER FIST  is a cacophony of crashing drums and frenzied guitars, whilst Cable Tie  retains more of a lo-fi recording feel, with both tracks ripe with '90's emo vibes.

The singe is being released via Scottish Fiction on limited edition cassette tape for Cassette Store Day and will be available from the following stores:

Love Music, Glasgow
Monorail Records, Glasgow
VoxBoxMusic, Edinburgh
Underground Solu’shn, Edinburgh
The Pebble Records Shop, Eastbourne, East Sussex
Banquet Records, Kingston, Surrey
Wah Wah Records, Wakefield
Lion Coffee + Records, London

Boygirlanimalcolour, along with Gone Wishing and Behold, The Old Bear will be playing two instore shows as part of Cassette Store Day on Saturday 27th September.  Firstly at 2pm at Love Music in Glasgow and then at 5pm at VoxBox in Edinburgh.  Click links for Facebook events.  Hope to see some of you there!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Album Review - Bastard Mountain - Farewell, Bastard Mountain

Bastard Mountain is a collection of musicians brought together by Song, By Toad Records.  The release stays within Song, By Toad’s close knit community, most of the contributors have released on the label, and the releases usually feature appearances from, or production duties from label-mates.  Egos are left at the door, ensuring this is a collaborative album and not a super-group, and it pays.

All but two of the songs are original, Pissing on Bonfires, from Meursault’s debut, is reinvigorated for the second time this year, and Something On Your Mind was written by Dino Valenti.  For those who are familiar with collaborators’ work, a huge joy comes from recognising who wrote what.  Rob St John’s slow ballads with dronal tendencies are prominent on Meadow GhostDrone Armatrading  has a similar feel to Broken RecordsWard 3,  Neil Pennycook brings his wide dynamics to The Mill and Sparrow And The Workshop's Jill O'Sullivan's Americana-tinged individual sense of melody shines through Old Habits.  For those not familiar with each member’s previous work, the album sits perfectly as a cohesive whole, particularly with the segues on the vinyl edition, and is a testament to the artists’ like-minded and open approach.

Although Reuben Taylor and Pete Harvey are not credited with any particular song, they share the task of filling out the gaps and pulling the individuals together.  Harvey and Rory Sutherland’s string arrangements shine through becoming the backbone and, at times, the focus and emotive pull of the album.  The arrangements are simple and slow, but moments like the trills leading up to the chorus during The Mill  and the juxtaposition of scratchy cello in the verses of Old Habits,  to the confidently played, celtic-influenced counter melody in the chorus are amongst the album’s most beautiful.

The album is mildly one directional; the pace never picks up much from the start, and the songs are bleak.  However, the different writing and singing combinations for each song brings out differences in ways other than tempo and mood.  Moments of positivity, as in New Boy,  and Harvey’s rich string arrangements make this album feel like a rounded listen, even if it doesn’t seem so on paper.

Matthew Young at Song, By Toad is due as much credit as anyone else for masterminding the album, and bringing together six musicians who work so well together.  The album is imprinted as the first of the 'Magpie Series'.  Whether this is throwback gesture, much like the covers of the Song, By Toad Split 12" series, or the start of a new series of collaborations is unclear, but it is certainly an exciting prospect.  Cold Seeds, the first collaborative album on the label, featuring Neil Pennycook, King Creosote and Animal Magic Tricks, hds moments of brilliance, it suffered from feeling almost too lo-fi in content as well as production. Conversely Farewell Bastard Mountain  is superbly composed, stunningly arranged and nothing short of a delight to listen to.  This is the label’s strongest release, and one that epitomises Song, By Toad’s ethics.

- Ashley Leiper

Bastard Mountain - Farewell, Bastard Moutain  is out now via Song, By Toad Records and is available in all good record shops and online music retailers.  You can purchase the album here.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Scottish Fiction Podcast - 22nd September 2014

This week's show marked the return of our Scottish Fiction Sessions, as I was joined in the Pulse 98.4 FM studio by acoustic singer-songwriter Dear Lara.  The man behind Dear Lara, David Lan, chatted about his music and influences, as well as playing stunning live versions of tracks from his latest EP 'Cape North'.

There's also new music from Carnivores, Hector Bizerk, and Turning Plates; plus a classic track from Cocteau Twins, a Re-Mixing It Up track from Jo Mango via Machines In Heaven, a glorious cover version from Turtle and Eliza Shaddad, and a vinyl play of a gorgeous track from Siobhan Wilson.

Withered Hand - Black Tambourine
Brownbear - Dead Or Alive
Suspire - On A Clear Day
Hector Bizerk - The Fish That Never Swam
Dear Lara - Penny - Live in Pulse 98.4 Studio
Turning Plates - A Hymn To A Quickening
Gone Wishing - The Watchers
Behold, The Old Bear - Demons In Love
VINYL TRACK - Siobhan Wilson - Dear God
Dear Lara - Girl In My Head - Live in Pulse 98.4 Studio
The Thrills - The End of Innocence - As chosen by Dear Lara
Vukovi - So Long Gone
Blank Canvas - Your Sin
RE-MIXING IT UP - Jo Mango - The Black Sun (Machines In Heaven Remix)
The Phantom Band - (Invisible) Friends
Dear Lara - Book Club - Live in Pulse 98.4 Studio
COVER LOVER - Eliza Shaddad & Turtle - Driftwood
Boygirlanimalcolour - JUPITER FIST
Carnivores - Let's Get Metaphysical
CLASSIC TRACK - Cocteau Twins - Ribbed And Veined
BMX Bandits - My Girl Midge

Subscribe/listen to the podcast via iTunes.

Connect with us and submit any submissions via:
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Twitter - twitter.com/scotfiction984
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Sunday, 21 September 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Dear Lara - Darkest Before Dawn - Scottish Fiction Session Track

Continuing the long held tradition of solo singer-songwriters retreating to secluded locations, Dear Lara has a knack of crafting heartfelt lo-fi songs which bleed honesty. 

David Lan, the man behind Dear Lara, joined me in session on the Scottish Fiction radio show on Sunday 21 September 2014.  As well as the tracks that aired on that show he recorded this track, Darkest Before Dawn,  as an exclusive session track for the Scottish Fiction blog. 


Gig Review - Nieves - King Tut's, 20 September 2014

Nieves opted to deliver an acoustic set last night at King Tut's, and with resonant and pulsating beat box metronomity and soaring piano, vocals and guitar, they underlined the reason for the majority of the crowd tonight who turned up to see them alone.   “This is probably all my family in here tonight” Brendan suggests.  Well, not exactly. I sense a following growing for them.

With three uploads onto SoundCloud this year and airplay on BBC Radio 1, Neives could well be the embodiment of the popularist need for a indie/folk band which takes the baton from Admiral Fallow and Frightened Rabbit. 

A six song set was perfectly chorographed and arranged, and included the full SoundCloud compliment of WinterSymmetry  and newest track Straight Lines.  A performance which was beyond criticism, it was honest and wholesome, and delivered with a real sense of belief and humility which will bode well for their integrity as greater things undoubtedly come.

As a band, they have all the component parts to be something very big.  Which way the path takes them is entirely within their own hands at the moment.  A new release on the horizon and a very promising future beckons.

- Bobby Motherwell

Friday, 19 September 2014

EP Review - Song, by Toad Split 12" Volume 3 - David Thomas Broughton / Siobhan Wilson / Jonnie Common / Sparrow & The Workshop

This third Song, by Toad Split 12” compilation is anything but the 'Low Fidelity Recording' it claims to be on the front cover of the sumptuous phlegm green vinyl.  A truly diverse mix of talent plucked from the Insider Festival 2013, transported to a Georgian living room appropriating a studio and resembling the regular Edinburgh home of previous Song, by Toad Record releases, with festival constrains dictating recording conditions, this rather superb mix of sounds was let loose and recorded. 

Two tracks from David Thomas Broughton form the bookends of this compilation.  With a vocal which pastes John Martin with Damien Jurado and Edwyn Collins, Broughton delivers a sound and vocal reminiscent of a long lost gothic spirituality.  Always threatening to diffuse, detour or derail at any moment, an uncertainty which engages and compels the listener to follow the narrative.  As individual tracks, My Ageing Heart is Slowly Killed  and Drifting Snow  both ease the listener into this collection and deliver them to a conclusion which defines this Split 12” in its complexity and contrast.

Jonnie Common gets the lion share of track allocation, a man not unfamiliar with compilation album production himself, released from his Deskjob, here he gets a chance to deliver his own blend of electro/folk/poetry nodding as it does along the way to the very best of King Creosote.  Jonnie Common is a pleasure to behold, a freshness and humour which mixes genres into a cocktail of intoxicating sweetness.  Summer is For Going Places  is pure pop and could quite easily make for a summer sensation on any given year.  Mixing what would appear to be banjo and harmonica (for no one is ever entirely sure), this tune isn’t afraid of itself at all, punctuated perfectly by metronomic vocals, Jonnie delivers his summer smash!   The second track, So and So  is a brief piano accompanied insight into human love and suffering "pained by the frailty of human beings".  Too true Jonnie, too true.  And finally we have a percussive acoustic rap by the name of Shark.  No boundaries for Jonnie as the fluid lyrics sidle up to synth pop solos.  This one has teeth for sure but no need to fret "the shark won’t bite me, he’s too suburban".

A double offering from Sparrow and the Workshop begins with Valley of Death  which combines vibrato guitar, a crisp compelling vocal and a tale of love lost and contemplation too late to change.  The second track is a rather lovely, almost Cowboy Junkies version of Chalkhill Blue  by James Yorkston, which flits from melody to solemnity and back again, carrying Dylanesque lyrics on the crest of ever threatening rhythm and intermittent tempo and dark and distorted interludes.

With a single contribution to the collection, Siobhan Wilson steals the show with Dear God.  Now preferring to go under the alias of Ella The Bird - for whatever reason I don’t know, but I do like it - this is a masterpiece of a song.  Siobhan (or Ella) relies on her tried and tested combination of solo guitar and sweet voice to deliver a wretched appeal for forgiveness and a cry for a mothers love to share.  With an interlude taken seemingly directly from Murmuration  by Jo Mango or any Kate Bush tragedy,  Siobhan Wilson gives us what must compare with the best of her recordings to date and sits proudly alongside the tour de force which was her live rendition of Joni Mitchell's A Case of You  at the Glasgow Concert Hall.  A stunning track and worth the money for the album on its own.

All compilation albums should be like this.  A fine mix indeed and one which Matthew, of the label, is quite rightly "really proud" of.  A true gem indeed and the best Split 12” from Song, by Toad Records yet.  Next please. 

- Bobby Motherwell

Song, by Toad Split 12" Volume 3 is available via Song, by Toad Records now.  You can purchase the vinyl in all good record shops and digital copies are available via online music retailers, or you can order online here.

Single Review - Prides - I Should Know You Better

It’s been a great year for Prides, the artsy Scottish synthpop band who appear to have done it all.  From smashing their set on the main stage of the famous Wickerman festival, to closing the 2014 Commonwealth Games in front of a home crowd in Glasgow.  But this is only the beginning for this quirky trio and from the sounds of their new single I Should Know You Better  there’s plenty more success on it’s way.

Similar to their previous releases, tt’s Prides' effortlessly honest vocals that form one of the most appealing aspects.  The unmistakeable harmonies paired alongside the upbeat percussion and synth, results in a powerful combination, emotionally overwhelming at points but nevertheless a song that will have you dancing before the first chorus.

I Should Know You Better  is a perfectly written, modern love song.  The emotionally tugging lyrics, “I know that we will live forever now but even so, I should know you better by now” are repeated throughout the track with haunting sincerity.  The urgency of Stewart Brock’s voice digs in deep, and contrasts impeccably with the buoyant synth, resulting in an anthem like sound with immense amounts of power and soul.

- Abbey-Lauren Duckett

Prides - I Should Know You Better  is out now via Island Records and can be purchased via iTunes.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Album Review - Withered Hand - New Gods

Dan Willson, better known by his indie/pop/folk moniker Withered Hand, is back five years after the release of his debut album Good News,  his return is heralded by the arrival of his sweet new record New Gods.

Willson’s signature wavering dulcet tones are back, afresh in the new LP, lending the whole thing a casual ethereal-ness.  In a departure from the lone guitars of the past, New Gods  sounds a lot fuller and cleaner than his debut.  Perhaps unsurprising, as the album was produced with the help of some savvy friends: members of the The Vaselines, Frightened Rabbit and Belle and Sebastian amongst the musical contributors.

The spearhead track Horseshoe  offers a strong, safe base from which to explore the record.  Willson picks up as if no time has passed, welcoming new friends and old with this somehow comforting ode to morality before  Black Tambourine  rolls in to carry you on an altogether more spirited wave, a fearless embrace of humanity littered with satisfying shakes of a tambourine.

The crooning Love Over Desire  seems a bit sickly sweet at first, bringing the tempo down with the repetitive main line and sprawling guitar.  The quicker verse adds truth and kudos to the song, and maybe it’s the soft side of me talking now, but this seems like a brilliant contender for one to wail out dramatically when I’m alone in my room of an evening and feeling a little heartsick.

Changing pace King of Hollywood  comes shaking in to brighten the blue mood.  Evidence of Willson’s collaborations is apparent here, as the groovy melody and light words are very Belle and Sebastian–esque.

We are taken into mellower grounds with the next few tracks.  The haunting California  is perfect for late-night street walking and bus-riding, seeming to capture the essence of sadness.  Fall Apart  is a song of comfortable and catchy remembrance; the slight relief welcomes the creeping ray of sunshine that shines through Between True Love and Ruin.  A real love song heard in Willson’s soft, tender tones – this song makes me wish I could play guitar so I could get to work serenading someone.

Lazy, bold harmonica opens up Life of Doubt  and continues to pierce the song with the tangible feeling of longing that it embodies.  New Gods  is a subtle and honest track about being better and being human, a relaxing beat that doesn’t try hard and doesn’t need to.  This emotionally wrought chapter is liberated with the gleefully happy and careless Heart Heart,  with strong cries from the hearts of joyful men and instrumentals full of life.  A song that is just a whole lot of fun.

The beautiful and brassy Not Alone  seems like the perfect adieu.  It is a celebration of life and death, as the whole album is.  Willson has a great talent for capturing feeling, as all good musicians should, through his unique voice and familiar riffs.  An exceptional songwriter and definitely one to watch, this record deserves a proper listen.  This is folk for people who think they don’t like folk. 

- Maura Keane

Withered Hand - New Gods  is out now via FortunaPop and is available in all good record shops, and online music retailers.  You can buy the album here.

Single Review - Holy Esque - Sovereign

Holy Esque join the ever-expanding alumini of Glasgow Art School alternative post-rockers and present Sovereign,  their most recent single.  Recorded in the leafy Bispebjerg suburb of Copenhagen, the Glaswegian four-piece kick off with synthetic intent and quickly descend into a foreboding guitar melody full of hooks and turns.  The dark introduction sets the tone for the opening verse, sung by the gravel-voiced Hynes.  Essentially an ersatz spoken word performance, he complements the accompanying synth cuts, four-four rhythm and staccato bass line.  The subsequent chorus is executed with discerning conviction. Sovereign’s zenith is the explosive vocal performance played out in its latter half.  The intense shrieks and shrills of Hynes are matched in severity by the stabbing guitars and heavy drums.  The distorted outro brings to an end the edgy performance.

By coalescing music, art and pseudo-religious statements Holy Esque are being feted by assuming millennials looking for the latest crossover sound.  In spite of this, the Glaswegian four-piece are somewhat inexact.  The quasi-religious connotation of their name and shadow-casting cross logo has been keeping indie music bloggers searching for “the greater message”.  Hynes’ sometimes inaccessible vibrato is perceived as a charming imperfection.  There is an all-embracing sense of alarm with Sovereign  and an impatience that will help the quartet in their defence against the abrasive and fleeting nature of the modern day indie subculture.  Holy Esque are in fact quite profane and hidden beneath all the style and pomp is real substance.

Andrew Kidd

Holy Esque - Sovereign  is out via Beyond The Frequency Records and is available to download for free here.

EP Review - Wozniak - Pikes Peak EP

Looking at the cover art for Wozniak’s Pikes Peak EP – a barren, almost lunar hilltop photographed at dusk – the listener is given a visual hint that there will be an introspection and distance to the forthcoming sound. This is obvious from the outset with El Maresme,  a hypnotic opener comprising slow crescendos of bass, drums and reverberated guitar.  The delivery and melody are sombre and the female vocals create an otherworldly detachment.

Paper Hat  is the second track and the undoubted highlight.  Like the title would suggest, there is a celebratory edge to the intertwining melodies and harmonies played out by the Edinburgh four-piece.  The track is a credit to their synergy.  Delivered with sanguine anticipation, the reverberated guitars create a bittersweet sound and melancholy reminiscent of the haunting Oomingmak  from Grangemouth’s Cocteau Twins.  The structure of the track is somewhat more traditional, utilising the fabled strophic form.  That said, the sound remains original and congruous.

The heavier and more urban sound of Kreutzburg  follows.  Like the forward thinking Kiez after which the track is named, there is an abrupt and unabashed arrogance that underpins it.  The hypontic bass which featured so heavily in the first track is obvious and the listener is immediately brought back into the sobering and industrial sounds of the cityscape.  Every note and time signature is deliberate.  The track cascades into a dark crescendo of distortion and noise finally climaxing at a beautiful moment of clarity, allowing the listener to pause.  The broken piano in this outro reveals the melody that was hidden by the overarching buildings and dirt of the city.

The EP quickly moves on to the suitably named Colombo’s Car,  a track filled with plenty of distortion, driving bass and rolling drums.  This showcases the heavier side of Wozniak and features an excellent psychedelic breakdown followed by more distortion and bass-heavy riffs.

The concluding chapter to the EP is Gestamtkunstwerk.  Ambient and through-composed in design, there are similarities in sound to Glasgow’s Fragile X.  The track is full of subtleties, discordant echoes and dark movements.  The title translates as 'synthesis of the arts', representing totality in design and creation.  When German composer Richard Wagner coined the idea he was envisaging art of the future, a foresight of the unification of all kinds of arts.  One cannot help but think that naming the final track on this EP after this concept was deliberate.  Rather than being an overbearing and pompous aesthetic spectacle, Pikes Peak  represents true integration of all the elements of a performance and is consistent in both sound and structure.  Vasilly Kandinksy famously referenced Wagner’s principle stating that song should “harmoniously combine music, colour, plastic and word”.  Wozniak have achieved this with dramatic effect.

- Andrew Kidd

Wozniak - Pikes Peak  is out now via Morning Side Young Team Records and available to download here.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Album Review - Honeyblood - Honeyblood

The first thing to be said of this album is that it certainly does not sound like a product of its environment.  As I listened to this album in my dingy flat, just outside of Glasgow, I felt transported to a much sunnier location.  This album could (and should) be the soundtrack to any beach bonfire, hosted by the achingly cool youth of today.  It summons images of California grunge and beautiful indie kids relaxing in the most rebellious of ways.  But, as we know, this album is, in fact, made by two women who live not more than an hour from the dingy flat I sit in, and this makes it even more enchanting.

Opener Fall Forever  introduces the album with a flurry of guitars.  It is a heavy start and it sets the tone for the rest of the album.  The combination of rocky guitars and drums, contrasted with the sweet vocals of Stina Tweeddale is what makes this album so lovable.  With this song, the listener is instantly drawn into the world of Honeyblood.

Next up is Super Rat,  which is definitely a strong competitor for best track on this album.  Again, the vocals start off sounding so innocent and pure, whilst the lyrics discuss the seemingly strange subject matter of rodents in underground passages.  But then comes the amazing snarl of, “You are the smartest RAT in the sewer,” moving immediately into the much grittier part of the song.  With lyrics like, “I will hate you forever,” and the chanting of, “Scumbag, Sleeze, Slime ball, Grease,” this really does start to sound like the break up song that Taylor Swift and Adele were just too afraid to write.

The hostility felt in Super Rat  is starkly contrasted in the song that follows.  Anywhere But Here  provides us with one of the more gentle moments on the album.  A coming of age story about wishing to flee your hometown and spend time with your sweetheart, set to the backdrop of grungy-pop tones, which invite in the previously mentioned sunshine.

Although there is no massive suggestion here of trying to cram in a variety of music genres, there is definitely a mixture of influences on display, as is so often the case with the best of music these days.  Bud  hints towards a more folk-ish style that sits perfectly within this record.  My mind’s eye can picture it being played on a bright day at Glastonbury, whilst bohemians make daisy chains, hold peace signs in the air and sing along lovingly.

The next four tracks represent some good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. Killer Bangs  is a fun, up-tempo song that could easily be found on the album of the indie bands making names for themselves in the UK just now.  It sounds current and fresh and would make a great single for the band. Biro,  Choker  and No Spare Key  are a little bit slower but manage to combine a bit of a nostalgic vibe with a contemporary sound that aligns it perfectly with the alternative scene in the UK at the moment.

This string of tracks is followed by Joey,  which starts off as a very sweet tune.  The instrumentation is happy-go-lucky and the vocals are amongst the best on the album.  The harmonies featured are so clean and pure sounding, really highlighting that Stina is a very talented singer.  Towards the end the vibe changes, though.  Guitars and drums get heavier and the last 20 seconds provide yet another great rock ‘n’ roll moment.  Fortune Cookie  also appears to wear its influences on its sleeve, sounding like a beautiful little slice of Americana pop rock.  This song wouldn’t sound out of place on the radio in a '50’s style diner and that makes it all the more fun.

Similarly to Super Rat,  All Dragged Up  comes across as a bitter hate piece, possibly aimed towards relationships of the past, or is it perhaps towards themselves?  “Why won’t you go grow up?,” the girls ask, whilst delivering the message in a fierce pop-punk angst fashion.  It certainly works for this song, but it is also a genre synonymous with rebellious teenagers, suggesting that they are maybe the ones who are struggling with the idea put forward in the lyrics.  And why wouldn’t they be?  I think most of us have, at one point or another.

The last (listed) song on the album is Braid Burn,  and I believe it is fair to say that the album’s closer is its most epic moment.  It starts off softly, guitar and vocals alone.  Even when the drums do come in, it is still gentle, as Stina sings about the environment around her.   A charming song indeed, seemingly about the place where they grew up.  This may be coincidence (or even over analysis) but it also seemed to be the first point where you could detect the Scottish accent in the vocals.  Even more so when the second part of the song kicks in.  It becomes much heavier and the vocals become aggressive and passion filled.  “In this valley I will do my haunting when I become a ghost,” again, insinuates that this is a love song for their hometown, and what a perfect way to end the album…

Although it isn’t really the end.  If the listener does not switch off too hastily, they will be rewarded with a hidden track, which sounds quite different from the other tracks on the album.  For starters, it is the only song to replace the guitars and drums with a piano.  Stina sings about making a wish on a shooting star.  The beauty of this song is in the simplicity.  It is over almost too quickly but it adds another level of depth to the talent of this band and is certainly worth holding on for at the end.

For me, this album brings together just the right amount of genres and themes.  The ladies successfully show us what they are about and what they can do, without sounding as if they are trying too hard or using every trick they have at their disposal.  At times, it is hard to imagine that such an amazing noise is being made by two females alone and this makes the album even more exciting.  The potential on display here is phenomenal and the anticipation for album number two has been put in place already.

- Gillian Parfery

Honeyblood - Honeyblood  is out now via Fatcat Records and is available in all good record stores or via all good online retailers.  You can purchase the album here.

Album Review - The Phantom Band - Strange Friend

I was once driving to a Scouting reunion weekend away back in March 2009, two months after the release of The Phantom Band’s debut album Checkmate Savage,  when I impaled my car on a perfectly spherical boulder.  I had bought the album in Aberdeen’s lamentably now gone One-Up and had intentionally kept the album for the three hour lone drive down south. I was also, for the first time, rather erroneously using my then brand new iPhone 3G for sat nav and, as I drove deeper into the countryside and hills of Perthshire, my phone’s signal gave up.  A few moments later, I found my car stuck atop a large stone boulder in the middle of someone’s driveway, two kilometres from where I was aiming to be.

Thankfully, the owners of the house, driveway and boulder were more bemused than annoyed, helped me dig the boulder out from under the car and sent me on my way.  I arrived to the reunion late, covered in mud and a bit embarrassed about having gotten lost.  I bring this up because, throughout the whole drive, Checkmate Savage  had been playing and I had become entranced by it.  To my ears, it sounded like nothing else.

For the rest of 2009, I found it difficult to dissociate the events of that evening with the album – the whole weekend was a bit of a bust, as I later found that I’d pretty badly damaged my car when I tried to drive back to Aberdeen at 40mph with no rev counter.  The album still, to this day, reminds me of that night - the smell of the clutch, the sound of the boulder, the weight of the gravel.

The same can be said for its follow up, The Wants – I had just moved to Houston, Texas, when it was released and it soundtracked that shift in my life as well.  Even now, having just become a father, listening to the band’s third album, Strange Friend,  I am bemused at the way time has barrelled along.  Indeed, the four year gap between album two and album three is a long one for a band who left only 20 months between their debut and sophomore releases – a gap partly explained by Rick Antony’s foray into a solo guise of Rick Redbeard and the release of the spellbinding No Selfish Heart.

Strange Friend is, however, another leap for the band – where Checkmate Savage had been built on deconstructing the ‘folk’ influence and adding in electronic flourishes, as well as instrumental tracks and long passages of tension building repetition, The Wants  had been more sly-eyed, with a sexy feel and a dark theme.  Strange Friend  moves the band on once more, adding new electronic squelches and a more tongue in cheek feeling, one that admittedly isn’t new for the band’s sound.

Opener and lead single The Wind That Cried The World  feels like a boot up tone for the album – it re-establishes what The Phantom Band do and sound like and is followed by the direct and pulsing Clapshot,  which, with its wavering vocals on the chorus, stuns as it makes almost every part of my body tap along with its frenetic pace, something not seen from the band before.  It’s part of an opening one-two-three that is one of the strongest thirds of any album I’ve heard this year, as Doom Patrol  comes into view. Clapshot’s stand out moment comes halfway though as the frenetic pace dies down and Redbeard croons, “Over the Ocean’s broiling swell…,” slowly, over a lilting acoustic guitar line, before the rhythm section kicks back in and the track rises again, mimicking the, “rises to the surface air,” of the lyrics.

Doom Patrol,  an undoubted highlight on the album, is another on the record that sounds like nothing before, but still like The Phantom Band at heart.  It stands tall as the most anthemic moment of the album.  But, as someone who likes to think that previous tracks like Folk Song Oblivion  and O  are the band’s best, No Shoes Blues  rides in on a dark, slow and spooky sounding collage that stumbles and rumbles its way through its running time, sounding every bit like the band’s self-promoted title of ‘robo-folk’.  It has a hopeful air to it, unusually for the band, and it props up the latter half of the record well.

Another shift in the band’s machinery is Women of Ghent – another toe tapping, mid-tempo track with the rather sad, “no-one’s noticed you’ve gone,” lyric, which might explain why, after the astoundingly strong start, the back end of the album feels lightweight on first listen.  But, after a few replays, the catchy melodies uncover themselves, like stars in the sky that appear the longer you stare at them.  If I was to say that there was a weakness, it would be this sequencing, but that is a nit pick that I hate to level at albums.  Some parts of the latter half of the album remind me of Throwing Bones,  the penultimate track on Checkmate Savage,  in all honesty, which has a similar electronic pulse and fast pace throughout.

The band have had their quieter moments on previous albums, like Goodnight Arrow on The Wants,  and Atacama  acts as a gentle tease with its acoustic guitar to start, but opens up into the darker corners of the band’s mind, like a knowing wink to the rest of the album.  These moments aren’t as common on Strange Friend,  but closing track Galapagos  features discordant percussion, ambient drones of electronics and wistful, almost confessional vocals from Redbeard.  As it fades away, it acts as a coda for the album, for the mood, for the feeling.

I’ve yet to impale my car or move to Texas whilst listening to Strange Friend,  but, as a return, it is most welcome.  While it might not graft new converts to The Phantom Band ranks, it will please the band’s pals and fans for sure, whilst adding nine new tracks to the band’s catalogue. Strange Friend  feels just like that - a friend you’ve not seen in years that you remember being a little eccentric, but as loyal as you’ll find.

- Mark Shields

The Phantom Band - Strange Friend  is out now via Chemikal Underground Records and is available in all good record stores or via all good online retailers. You can purchase the album here.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Gig Review - TeenCanteen - Broadcast, 13th September 2014

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TeenCanteen are a very unique four piece group, forming a perfect mash up of folk music with their flawless all girl harmonies, and blending this with a '70’s vibe both in sound and appearance.  Paired with a knack for writing insanely catchy songs, TeenCanteen are a truly enjoyable affair.

Having played various festivals across the country this summer, tonight's headline gig is aimed at giving their fans one last performance before they disappear into the studio to record their debut album.  As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that the venue was jam-packed with people digging the TeenCanteen vibe. 

Support came from fellow capital dwellers Birdhead, a wonky pop duo with Krautrock tendancies who offered a different musical style to our headliners, drawing material from their much acclaimed album Pleasure Centre.  With Birdhead having thoroughly warmed the crowd up, TeenCanteen took over, continuing in a equally strong fashion.  Perhaps it was Saturday night, perhaps it was TeenCanteen's pop sensibilities, or more likely a combination of both.  What ever the cause the crowd lapped it up, with one jovial man encouraging the rest of the crowd to join his dancing.  

Whilst being well versed in providing marching beats, and swaying pop melodies, TeenCanteen also know how to pen a great song, with lead songwriter Carla Easton displaying a knack for clever word-play and intelligent story-telling.  Paticular highlights include You're Still Mine  , the band's second single released in June earlier this year, and the sugar-sweet How We Met (Cherry Pie).  The latter simply so infectious it is guaranteed to nestle in your head all night.

On the basis of tonight's showing and with the girls now retreating to work on that aforementioned debut album, the next time TeenCanteen are gigging will mark a must-see.  All we ask is that they don't keep us waiting too long!

- Words by Martina Salveta, pictures by Hannah McMillan

We're Only Here For The Banter - Best Girl Athlete

Hailing from Aberdeen, Katie Buchan makes sweet indie-pop music under the name Best Girl Athlete.  Having grown up around, and participated in, the music of her father CS Buchan, Katie has a grounding not afforded to many other young musicians.  Having caught the ear of many with her music, I caught up for a good ol' Scottish Fiction chat.

Hello!  How the devil are you?

Hiya, I’m doing great thanks!

It's the question everyone hates, but could illuminate our readers with a little bit about your music and your influences?

I guess I would describe our music as indie-pop, it’s been said that our music is quite similar to Camera Obscura.  As for musical influences, I’d say I find influence in other young artists like Birdy and Gabrielle Aplin, both major favourites of mine.  Their music is just so relaxing and laid-back, I remember when I bought Birdy’s first album I just sat in awe, and I would say they inspired me to start writing my own songs!

What's your song-writing / creative process like?

I usually start with a guitar chord sequence and work around that.  Next comes lyrics, followed by bass, drums and sometimes strings.  We have an amazing string arranger called Pete Harvey, who adds such a different tone and definition to our music.  Being able to hear a finished piece after starting with 4 or 5 chords and some lyrics is such an amazing feeling.

What could we expect to see from a live show?

I think we have come a long way with the live shows since we started in terms of confidence but they are still usually a bit shambolic but a lot of fun.  We don’t have a band as such and just call on some very talented friends that play in other bands (IndianRedLopez / The Little Kicks / Tryptamines) when we have gigs.  Funnily enough we don’t really ever rehearse but it somehow works!

Tell us about forthcoming album Carve Every Word.

It’s been such an exciting process, never in a million years did I ever expect to be releasing an album, and as cheesy as it may sound it’s such an honour to be releasing it with my Dad.  The songs that will feature in Carve Every Word  will vary from songs about hamsters to songs about the weather in winter, so I’d say it’s a bit of an all-rounder on the songwriting spectrum!

The album is being released through US label Minty Fresh Records.  How did that partnership come about?

Minty Fresh picked up on Leave it all Behind through a song placement agency, and got in touch to ask if we had any more songs with me singing on them.  The more tracks we sent, the more they became interested and that’s sorta how the album came about.  We ended up with the luxury of having about 20 songs to choose from for the album.

What else have you got planned for the rest of 2014?

We had hoped to travel over to America to promote the album in October but funding has proved rather difficult to secure for this, and finding a band to tour with was also rather difficult to get, so at the minute nothing much.  Saying that, the album will likely be released in late October and if nothing comes up for us in the States, we will probably look to do a short Scottish tour so keep your eyes peeled for that!

What are you listening to at the moment?

Ooh that’s quite a tricky question for me because I’m always listening to new and different music, but I’d have to say my favourite album at the minute is the Submarine  EP by Alex Turner, even though it’s not new I have only recently discovered its existence and I have to say when I first listened to the EP I felt like I had entered into heaven.  Also I have been really liking Foster The People’s new song, Best Friend.

Thanks for speaking with us, would you care to share a joke with us?

Unfortunately I don’t have any jokes, but luckily for you I went to see Richard Thompson a few nights ago at Aberdeen Music Hall and he had a joke for the audience when he had to change a string. This is how it went:

I had to take my wife to the hospital last week because she fell into an upholstery machine.  But it’s okay, she’ll re-cover, and the doctor said she’s comfortable.

Boom boom!

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Gig Review - A Night For Scotland

The Usher Hall in Edinburgh has played host to many a crowd.  The rows of seats and grand decor are used to the shuffle of anticipation and the pangs of excitement.  Perhaps though, it has never quite experienced the sea of belief and hope swept through on Sunday evening.

A Night For Scotland featured an array of Scottish musicians, drawn from across genres and eras.  There's not many occasions when one finds Amy MacDonald sharing a bill with post-rock titans Mogwai, yet there's a sense that tonight music and political celebration are intertwined.

What follows therefore is not so much social commentary and not so much live music review, but an acceptance that this evening was both of these things and none of these things all at the same time.

Having been around the political game a while, Eddi Reader is no stranger to a well placed slogan.  "I love all the No voters too.  I love them so much I want to give them a country" she gushes amidst a well chosen set of new song Named We Are Everything,  the sentimental Wild Mountain Thyme  and the optimistic Perfect.

First half compére Ricky Ross, a man who has to be admired for airing his politics in public despite his weekly slot on BBC Radio Scotland, joined forces with his wife Lorraine McIntosh for a short set as McIntosh Ross, before perhaps the most overtly political band, in terms of their music, is introduced on stage.

Hip-hop arguably overtook folk music as the musical vehicle for protest some decades ago, and Edinburgh's Stanley Odd have continued the tradition in the finest of manners.  Front man Dave Hook, a.k.a. MC Solareye, explains that their three song set represents his, and the bands, journey to a Yes vote.  Anti-heroics  kicks off, armed with the astute observation that "putting an X in the box says you're watching back", whilst a round of "Bed tax!  Fuck that!" gathers pace during second track Chase Yirsel.  It's the emotional charged ode to Hook's one year old son Son I Voted Yes  which gets the biggest reception of the night on a political basis, striking right to the heart of why many in the crowd are here tonight.  It's also the one song I felt which drew together this Bombay mix of an audience musically too, the hipster youth, the elder statesmen and women, and as Fred Durst would say the rockers and hip-hoppers.

Following Stanley Odd were Mogwai, famously a band of few words, a least in a live sense.  Clad in a 'peace sign' t-shirt, front man Stuart Braithwaite keeps his political observations to a minimum, claiming people are hear to listen to music not people talking.  For me as a Mogwai fan that was true.  For the few older people covering their ears during Mogwai Fear Satan  and shitting themselves at the reprise, perhaps it was not quite the music they expected!  The band are every bit as ear splitting, bombastic and powerful as expected, the noise of their set perhaps a well placed metaphor for the noise being made by grassroots Yes Scotland campaigners.

After a short interval, we're in the hands of actress, comedian, and prominent Yes campaigner Elaine C. Smith, fresh down the road from Stirling and a BBC Referendum Debate.  Having played her part in a fair share of pantos over the years, she knows how to score points with the audience, and expectantly gains boos by mentioning the 'baddies' Douglas Alexander and Ruth Davidson.  The next act Amy MacDonald, returns things to an acoustic level, playing through a small set including her hit This Is The Life  and a freshly penned song about optimism and change. 

What was the purpose of the evening you may ask?  There may well have been a few undecided voters, perhaps even the odd No voter there purely for the musical delights on offer, but by and large this was a partisan crowd, their minds already focused and made up.  The true purpose of the evening I believe was a celebration, of all that has been achieved so far, and of all that can still be gained.  That feeling was evident as Glasgow's Franz Ferdinand took residency of the stage.  The band embody the phrase 'shut up and play the hits', running through tracks like Take Me Out,  Michael,  Do You Want To  and Dark of the Matinee  in a blitzkrieg flurry of angular guitars and punchy drums.  It shouldn't be lost on the crowd that three of Franz Ferdinand are native born Englishmen, who have called Glasgow home for some time.  Taken with the multi-lingual and ethnic crowd drawn from all walks of life, this should show that this evening was not a misty eyed tartan draped love affair, but in fact a celebration of culture from wherever it hails.

With one last rousing interval speech from Elaine C. Smith, it's time for our evenings headliners, Frightened Rabbit, to bring things to a close.  The band speak of their pride at being here, and their hope of what can be achieved before launching into another hit packed set, firing out Living In Colour,  The Modern Leper  and Swim Until You Can't See Land  to a receptive crowd.   Lead singer Scott Hutchison notes that on occasions like this, songs can take on different meanings before playing Old Old Fashioned  with the line, "back to how things used to be" illustrating his point well.  Scottish Winds  although less well known, is an apt addition to a passionate set, and while Frabbit don't quite have the same mainstream appeal and hip-shaking riffs that Franz Ferdinand do, they manage to close the evening with a heart swelling version of The Loneliness & The Scream  culminating in a mass singalong which even Elaine C Smith can't resist.

Perhaps I'm being picky, but my only quibble with the evening would be the name.  'A Night For Scotland' is all well and good, but this night was for Yes Scotland.  There should be absolutely no suggestion that the music on show is not for those of a different political persuasion, or that those who do vote No are not part of the future that will involve us all.  Inclusivity is what we need, especially that this juncture, and while all should respect the will of artists to make political statements should they wish, music must always transcend and be something that all can enjoy. 

There were two notable events in Edinburgh this weekend.  Both involved mass crowds and both involved music.  Up to 15,000 Orangemen marched past Holyrood displaying in their words, the 'passionate' case for the union.  3,000 people gathered at the Usher Hall to celebrate in a different manner, for a different cause, and a different future.  I'm not equating one with the other, and most certainly would not suggest that Yes voters are progressive indie music loving liberals, whilst No voters are steeped in Protestant tradition.  The only observation I wish to make is that all too often music is the forebearer of real social change.  Look to any major political or social change over the last 100 years, and you'll find songs by Woody Guthrie, or Bob Dylan, or Public Enemy, or The Specials, or Billy Bragg.  Notably missing from the songbooks of history are the songs supporting the status quo.

- Neil Wilson

A Night For Scotland can be streamed again via Kiltr.

For more information on why Scottish Fiction supports a Yes vote read here