Not much music has been exciting me of late if I’m honest. I’ve read with interest as bloggers, journalists, djs and music writers across Scotland proclaim Scottish music to be in a strong state, with exciting new artists apparently appearing left, right and centre. This has, in all honesty, really surprised me as I can think of very few albums or artists in 2010 that have genuinely made me sit up and go “wow.” In fact, if I’m honest, not many records have got me excited at all this year and not many forthcoming releases are making me think that I want to part with my money to have them. Most of the things I have been sent, or heard, have left me feeling nothing more than confusion as to how some of these bands have the support they do, frustration at how lazy, boring and sloppy a lot of the music is and disappointment that such mediocracy is being championed by so many. Of course, a lot of this comes down to personal taste, but it kind of depresses me that there are so few artists that genuinely excite me these days.
Before people attack my view; the view that music in Scotland is, for the most part, mediocre I would suggest that it’s nothing new. I’d also hope that a little bit of honesty might be considered refreshing in a time where not many people seem willing to say anything bad about Scottish music. After all, nobody achieves anything by constantly being told how great they are. A little bit of constructive criticism and honesty, I feel, is very important in any profession. I think the problem with working in music in Scotland is that it is just far too small at times. People are often afraid to put their head above the parapet and say what they really feel because of the backlash that they will face or for fear of upsetting somebody they know or respect. It’s fair enough. The backlash can be horrible and is more often than not unjustified and rude. Everyone should be able to handle criticism (including me). In fact, everyone should thrive on it. After all, constructive criticism is the only way that you improve in anything you do. I guess the biggest problem is that a lot of criticism tends not to be constructive and lacks real clarity of thought. Saying something is shite without a reason is not useful to anyone.
I remember being at uni, doing my masters. Every essay I wrote came back with red pen through it. Lots of good comments. Lots of bad comments. All constructive and all of it helped me become a better writer and to think more about how to write a cohesive essay. That’s how it should be and I think everyone who writes about music should be free to say what they think and more importantly that artists should learn to take it on the chin. The simple fact is, just cause I don’t like you, doesn’t mean you’re not good. It just means I don’t like you. So I’m going to say what I think from now on. That’s not to say I will destroy artists on my site because that’s not what I like to do. But I will be honest.
Despite this lull in quality, I am looking forward to The Phantom Bands second record, which I don’t doubt will be packed with creativity, at the very least, and, despite a disappointing second EP, I am really looking forward to the debut record from The Scottish Enlightenment when it’s due. Small Town Boredom, a criminally over looked band from Paisley, also have a second record due for release soon. At just 6 songs in length it really is a brilliant piece of downbeat miserbalism. Reminds me of Arab Strap at their very best in many ways. I’m also looking forward to FOUND’s new record when it comes out next year on Chemikal Underground and of course the debut from Conquering Animal Sound will be out in 2011 as well and is sounding brilliant. Unfortunately, that’s about it if I’m perfectly honest.
In the meantime, I guess I’ve been looking out with this country for inspiration and I was lucky enough to find some recently, when I stumbled across a couple of new records from the USA, which have firmly grabbed my ears and made me want to write about music again.
Goldmund is better known as Keith Kennif and otherwise known as Helios. Helios provides him with an outlet for his more complex guitar based electronic ambience. Goldmund on the other hand allows him to explore the simplicity of the piano and its make up, and on this new record I think I have stumbled across one of my favourite piano records ever.
Everything about this is perfect. I was speaking to somebody just last week about the differences between listening to a recording of an instrument and to somebody playing an instrument live. A real upright piano, more often than not, has creaky pedals and noises associated with the actual playing – a finger nail hitting a key for example. More often than not, these creaky pedals and glitches are removed from a recording, or recording techniques are used to ensure these noises are not picked up during recording, to give a cleaner, clearer sound to the end result. Kennif, however, embraces these sounds, these existant noises, that make the recording real, sound alive and add wonderful texture and interest to the pieces. Why should these “imperfections” be a distraction? They really do make the music come to life. They act like a pause in a phrase, each phrase punctuated by this need for the instrument to breathe. They are very much a part of the song. As they should be. And for me, the beauty of Kennif’s work is that he never over does anything. His songs can be short. His songs can be simple. But they are always real. And they are never anything short of beautiful.
Of the Goldmund records I own, this is by far and away my favourite and, I also feel, by far and away his most accomplished to date, both in terms of playing piano and the overall sound of the record. I put this on this morning on the bus and my sense of dread of another day suddenly disappeared. I was calm. I was taken to a beautiful place. This record will do that for you. I promise. Check out Goldmund here. Enjoy.