Gold Day Update

So, just thought I should mention that we’ve now raised over £200 towards Depression Alliance UK.  It’s not much, but it’s something and I cannot thank the artists, and all you folk who have bought the music, enough for your support.  The more people buying the tunes the more money and awareness we’ll raise.   So please spread the word or, if you’ve not bought the music yet, buy the music.  Every little helps.  Even if, like many, you only want to buy one or two tunes, that would be great.  You can find all the tunes here.

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The Scottish Enlightenment – St.Thomas

Well over a year ago I first spoke to David Moyes, lead singer for The Scottish Enlightenment.  At that point the bands myspace page was out of date and they had been in hiding for quite some time.  I had been trying to get them to play Trampoline for some time without success and I decided to take another stab at it.  New tunes had crept on to the radar on their website, such as ‘Necromancer’, and what I heard I loved.  I also suggested to David that the songs on myspace should be changed to the more up to date tunes, something a bit more representative of their current sound.  And I finally managed to convince them to play Trampoline at last December’s all day event.  Sadly, most people in the city decided to attend the closing down of the Bowery party (yep, celebrating the closing of a venue, the irony is not lost on me) and so they played to a skeleton crowd that evening.  Quite simply, anyone who witnessed that performance, like myself, could not fail to be blown away.  I immediately asked them if they’d play The Kays album launch in Edinburgh this year – even though we had not booked any dates at that time.  That’s how much I loved that show and performance.  So, having heard them live and heard the new tunes seeping out I was very excited about them releasing their debut album in 2010.

First of all though came 2 eps.  The Pascal EP impressed me majorly.  The Little Sleep EP however was, for me, a disappointing follow up. Despite this, my hopes and expectations for this album remained high, having heard many of the tunes at their live shows already.

I’m delighted to say that I have not been disappointed in the slightest by this album.  Far from it in fact.  The Scottish Enlightenment are quite simply a band to get excited about.  A band for Scotland to be proud of.  Yes, there are serious nods in direction towards their main influences, but they are no wannabes.  They have their own identity and this record is packed with interest, diversity and quality song writing.

Despite not enjoying the last EP, title track ‘Little Sleep’ is an excellent tune.  Marching drums drive the track on as Moyes sings “all we need’s a little sleep and we’ll be fine”…you have no idea how relevant that has felt this past week.  ‘Pascal’ is a recognisable beauty from The Pascal EP but ‘Necromancer’ was held back from previous releases and is a brilliant tune – probably the album stand out for me – with a stunning guitar build…incidentally not played on guitar live!  It’s on tracks like ‘Necromancer’, ‘List Right’ and the quite simply gorgeous ‘Soft Place’ that The Scottish Enlightenment really shine.  Oh and ‘My Bible Is’, is another cracking track.  In fact, there’s nothing I really want to criticise about this record at all.

I love the honesty in the lyrics of this album.  I like the fact that there is no ego to The Scottish Enlightenment, quite possibly the nicest, most unassuming bunch of guys I’ve ever met through music.  I like this band very, very much.  The guitar swells.  The interesting bass lines.  The perfectly delivered lazy vocals. Quite simply this, along with The Phantom Bands ‘The Wants’, is one of the stand out albums by Scottish artists in 2010.  Do yourself a favour and make sure you invest your time and money in The Scottish Enlightenment.  Check them out here.  Enjoy.

Sketches For Albinos – Days Of Being Wild And Kind

Isn’t the art work for this record just beautiful?  I think it is.  Fortunately, everything else about this record is pretty great too.

A friend of mine sent me a message recently telling me that this record, in his opinion, in the world of ambient music, is a masterpiece in terms of construction.  A work of art if you like.  Given that his own music can take years to produce, and for him to be satisfied with, that was high praise indeed.   And I completely understand where he is coming from, if I’m perfectly honest.

Matthew Collings is new to our Edinburgh streets.  He moved here recently, having spent many years living in Iceland, to do a post graduate University course in music.  Sketches For Albinos is the moniker he works under, though I believe he has released music under his own name, and this is his latest offering; a 6 year labour of love, entitled ‘Days of Being Wild and Kind’.

When I first heard this record, having been introduced to Matthew’s work by Paul Elam (Fieldhead), I was genuinely blown away by the creativity and intensity on offer, if a little confused by the overall cohesiveness and impact of the record.  This is a complex, dense record, make no mistake.  And let us get this straight; it is also a very disjointed record.  Each track seems to stand on its own, with different styles and directions somehow being pulled together through the stage that has been created, upon which the tracks are allowed to perform.  In many ways it makes me think (weirdly?!) of an opera of sorts.  All the parts have a common end in site, but the component parts drift off on tangents.  Lots of different sub plots, all held together by one story.  I know, that’s a little messed up, but it’s how this record makes me feel.  It’s as much about the surrounding cast, the background, the stage set as it is the lead characters and it’s this attention to detail that pulls the record together and gives it a firm sense of identity.

Every piece of this puzzle has its place.  Every noise, every element is lovingly considered and adds to the overall atmosphere created.   But it is dense.  Believe me.   So, as mentioned, this record is not always an easy listen.  Sometimes there is so much going on it really does take repeated listens to dissect the beast.  But if you take the time and really give this record attention there is much reward in the music on offer.

The album is described by Matthew himself as being “born from a process of making tapes and attempting to record with things I didn’t understand.”  For me, this sounds like a very personal record.  It evokes thoughts of the surroundings from where it was born.  The environment of Iceland, where Matthew was living at the time, certainly, for me, comes across in the music, never more so than on album opener ‘Sorbonne Midnight’.  And a winter feel is undeniable throughout the album.   Meanwhile tracks like ‘Daniel Likes Birds’ a beautiful piece of guitar (I think) complimented by vocal backing noises rather than words, lift the record to warmer climes.

For me, the essence of this record is that it doesn’t matter which track you listen to, it feels like a huge amount of time, thought and love has been put into the construction.  Like I said, it’s evoked a reaction me like no other record I’ve heard this year.  It’s a fascinating piece of music and it sucks me in deeper and deeper with each listen.  I love it.  Give it time and I am sure you will too.  You can check out Sketches for Albinos here and buy the record here.  Enjoy.

Larkian – Un Disque Pour Ne Pas Danser

Wow this is good.  I cannot stop listening to it.  I really can’t.  It’s dense.  It’s intelligent.  It’s packed with atmosphere and intrigue.  It’s complex.  It really is just such a good ep.  Released on Catherdral Transmissions, it appears to be a 33 copy CDr release.  A really fascinating little label actually, well worth checking out if you have a minute, with some really interesting releases to its name.  Unsurprisingly, most of their releases have sold out.   Still, well worth checking out the music if you can.

The 4 tracks on this particular ep have completely captured me this week.  The intense progression of noise on ‘The Collapse’ is the perfect opening to the ep and leads beautifully into the subtle ‘She Hears Noises’.   The use of choral noise elements and field recordings on this track slowly swell to a peak and become more frantic and urgent, before fading to nothing in an instant.

‘The Astonishing Octave Switch’ is bass driven and constructed so beautifully, with manipulated guitar creating the feeling of water or certainly the feeling of drifting gently on water.  It’s a definite change in tone from the previous tracks, but is also completely in keeping with what has gone before.  The elements of this piece are so subtly weaved together that you really need to shut your eyes and let the music flow into you.  Slowly, the track builds in tension, and more and more layers are added to the noise and drone.  It never takes off like you expect it will though and, for me, that’s the beauty of this record.  The restraint shown.  The avoidance of the obvious is just perfect.

‘La Plus Sauvage’ starts as a piercing ringing before gradually, once more, elements and layers are added.  The first sign of any sort of beat to the music is introduced, to wonderful effect, and the song builds beautifully to, an all to abrupt, climax.

This is a great piece of ambient drone music.  It doesn’t feel forced.  It never feels like one element is competing with the other.  It all just comes together and creates the perfect whole.  I can’t think of a better way to describe this other than that the whole ep works as a composition, and works so well.  I’d highly recommend this record.  You can check out Larkain here.  Enjoy.

Why I Love #1

So, this is a little idea I had recently,  to add a little touch of something less musical, or possibly more musical depending on the view taken by each contributor.  Basically, the idea is that people contribute a short or long piece on something that they love.  So with me, I will probably write “Why I Love Wilco” or maybe “Why I Love a Big Mac Meal When My Hangover Clears”….you get the idea.

Anyways, the first in the series comes from Belgian songstress Chantal Acda better known as Sleepingdog or one half of True Bypass.  Here she tells us why she loves horses.

Since I was a little girl I felt more at home with horses than I was with people. The way they look at me. Their eyes being just honest and pure. I am still not able to read in the eye of a human what is really going on. A horse is my home. The moment when they allow you on their back. It can go two ways. Or they will be just ok or sometimes, really just sometimes, you will feel a huge connection and they will dance for you. Withour any pressure or without me asking anything. It makes me feel alive, accepted. It makes me live in the moment and it makes me stop thinking. Only a horse can bring me to my home.

 

Rafael Anton Irisarri – The North Bend and Live @ Nice N’Sleazy’s, November 2010.

Mmmmm, where to start with this record?

Well, I guess the best starting point would be to side step a little and make a comment on how seeing music performed live really can dramatically change your perspective on somebody’s work or a specific piece of music.  By this, I simply mean that I was really struggling with this new EP until I went to see Rafael Anton Irisarri play on Sunday evening in Glasgow.  It’s weird how hearing music in a live setting, at volume, can really change your relationship with an ep/album.

I think this is especially true with this style of music and I’ll tell you why.  Watching ambient music live really is a strange experience.  Normally, at gigs you have both the aural and visual experience to engage with.  Bands tend to have a lot to watch on stage.  There’s a lot to drag you in to a performance if you know what I mean?   I guess the key word in all of this is performance.  Quite simply, although on Sunday Rafael Anton Irisarri was literally performing, there’s not much visually to drag you into the music at an ambient show.  So it kind of leaves you at the mercy of the aural.  However, such is the power of this music live that equally as important as the ability to hear, is the ability to feel.   The music quite literally starts from the ground and builds its way up through your body layer by layer until your heart is rapidly pounding and your head is spinning.  Sometimes it can be too much, it can make you feel a little on edge, a little sick.    Now, I know that it’s true that at most gigs you will feel the vibrations of the music through your body, but I think with ambient music it is even more pertinent simply because you have more to grab hold of when there are vocals or when there are 5 or 6 people on stage creating a visual spectacle.  I mean, Irisarri did have a visual element to the performance with a digital projector firing images onto a screen.  However, these were located on the far side of the stage away from him and really acted more like a distraction than as an additional element to the performance.  In the main, he stood on stage with only his laptop and an electric guitar, black hoody up over his head, barely moving for the 35/40 minutes.  In this time, he created something quite brilliant, completely moving and something which has made my appreciation of his new EP increase greatly.

My biggest criticism of the EP is that it’s hard to hear the changes in tone, atmosphere and texture when you listen to it at first.  It’s very droney and repetitive without ever shifting dramatically or giving the listener something to break up the noise.  Electronic motifs subtly modified, without ever changing pace throughout.  On first listen, it lacks the sprinkling of something different, which his previous work, which I am familiar with, has had.  However, within a live setting, the subtleness of the EP is really brought to life.  With the large sound system of Sleazy’s to work with the music has a stage from which to perform and it really starts to breathe.  You could hear and feel every nuance of change in the music, especially if you shut your eyes and let the music wash right through you.   There is noise and there is build and there is real definition of tone and content and structure.  It’s all there.  It perhaps just needed a better stage from which to be heard than my ipod headphones!  So yes, my initial reaction to this record was lukewarm but the fact the man is a brilliant artist and brought the whole thing to life in front of me the other night has really changed my opinion and relationship with the record, and I love when that happens.

Anyways, Rafael Anton Irisarri is well worth a listen, which you can do here.  Enjoy.

Things That I Love Today #94

“Somebody asked me: “What do you do? How do you write, create?”  You don’t, I told them. You don’t try. That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it” – Charles Bukowski

Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

If there is one thing I’ve come to learn about Sufjan Stevens it’s that you must never expect what you believe you should expect, but rather brace yourself for the distinct possibility of something quite unexpected.

Certainly, of late, Stevens work has been a refreshing progression and a complete masterclass in diversity, without ever losing identity.  I’ve written on this blog before about the importance of pushing yourself as an artist.  Of attempting to work with new technologies, new instruments.  Of stepping out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself as a musician and I think, no matter what you think of Sufjan Stevens, he is one artist who is not afraid to test himself and embrace the tools at his disposal in this modern world.

The BQE, Stevens last release, was a completely lovely record but its importance was lost on many simply because the vocal element had been removed and possibly because it was, in truth, an ode to a road!  That said, were you to turn it on and listen to it, it really is obviously the work of Stevens.  The flowery orchestration,  the over the top theatrics of the work couldn’t be anyone else, and I would argue that the same applies to this record.  Put simply, I love this.  Whilst I won’t argue that this is anywhere near his best work to date, it does contain some tunes right up there with anything he’s done previously.

Electronic beats are not something you’d associate with his previous work, granted.  However, once again the songwriting on this record is simply stunning, something that should come as much of a surprise to those familiar with his work.  Stevens creative output is really extraordinary actually when you think about it.  ‘Come On Feel The Illinoise’ really was a gorgeous record.  ‘The Avalanche’ – an out takes and B-sides record from the same sessions, was equally amazing.  I think this totalled about 40 tunes in all.  Incredible.

Personally, I’m delighted that he keeps pushing the boundaries, keeps challenging himself, keeps producing records that, whilst retaining the Sufjan Stevens(ness) actually incorporate new ideas, new ways of working, new technology to create something totally different from what came before.  It’s basically Sufjan Stevens, just dressed up in a different and more interesting way than the last time out.

The record doesn’t start with anything to surprising or challenging as ‘Futile Devices’ sounds like it could have been taken straight from ‘Seven Swans’, but when ‘Too Much’ kicks in, it’s time for things to get interesting.  As the album progresses, the flamboyant Stevens that I’ve grown to know and love is in full force.  The theatrical nature of previous outings is in evidence without question.  Sure, there might be a lot more clicks and bleeps and noise and weirdness, but essentially, this is just Sufjan Stevens at his most creative and exciting.  For me, it’s a great change of pace.  It’s not too confusing and it clearly retains his identity whilst placing a marker down as to where he can go next.

Let’s face facts.  Radiohead did it.  With Kid A, they fucked with their sound.  At the time, many peoples gut reaction was to criticise or be confused as to why they never made another OK Computer.  I expect there will be a lack of understanding about this record.  I expect people will listen and be confused.  For me, it’s perfectly clear.  This is one of our generations most important and inspiring musicians pushing himself and challenging his established sound without losing his identity in the process.  Not only do I admire this record, but I actually love it.  I think it’s brilliant.  It’s a complex, compelling listen and, if you give it time, you will be rewarded over an over again.  I’d love to go through each track one by one but for me ‘I Want To Be Well’ and ‘Impossible Soul’ are stand outs.

Sufjan Stevens never seems to disappoint me.  This, like his previous work, is dense, it’s complex and it’s intelligent and it leaves me wondering just where the man can go next.  I can’t wait to find out.  Check out his work here.  Enjoy.

The Phantom Band – The Wants

Imaginative, creative, diverse, interesting, quirky, and many, many more adjectives could be used to describe the debut record ‘Checkmate Savage’ from The Phantom Band.  ‘The Wants’, their follow up, continues in the same vein and confirms The Phantom Band as one of the most interesting and imaginative bands in Scotland and possibly the UK at the moment.

I’m sure there will be many people left disappointed by this record, mainly because they will assess it solely against its predecessor.  It’s the old problem of the difficult second record I guess, especially when your first was critically acclaimed in your own country.  Those who loved the debut will undoubtedly have grumbles about this record not being anything particularly different or challenging or the usual “yadda, yadda, yadda.”   Me personally, I loved the first record and I think this record is brilliant also.  It’s refreshing and it hits the mark in a year where records that I have hoped and expected to be great have left me, for the most part, hugely disappointed.   I completely believe that artists should evolve and grow.  I think change is good.  I think challenging your established sound and principles is a good thing.  I think stepping out of your comfort zone as a musician is essential.  However, for a band like the Phantom Band, who have only one record to their name prior to this and are only just establishing a following/fanbase, I see no need to dramatically change what they do at this stage.   Often, listening to people too much is as dangerous as not listening at all and what you end up with is a band that loses all the things that made them so good in the first place.  For me, The Phantom Band have got it spot on and this album is packed with more ideas and creativity within the first two tracks than most artists out there manage in a whole record.  So I won’t grumble about this record because quite frankly it’s brilliant.

Tracks like ‘The Glamour’, ‘O’ and ‘The Walls’ are real stand outs for me, but the band are equally as good at quiet and interesting as they are at big ballsy, bluesy riffs that drive this dark affair onwards.  This is perfectly highlighted on tracks like ‘Everybody Knows It’s True’ and ‘The None Of One.’  There is a definite folk sensibility to the Phantom Band.  It’s in there underneath all the madness and it holds the record together beautifully.  These tracks for me all stand alone with confidence but come together to create another quality piece of music from start to finish.

If I’m perfectly honest, I think ‘The Wants’ is a step forward from the debut album.  It’s stronger in terms of songs and structure and I personally like it more as well.  It connects more instantly whilst retaining the identity of the band created by their debut, something which I think shows a maturity in the band.  One thing is for sure, it once again showcases The Phantom Band as one of Scotland’s most exciting new artists.  A band we can truly be proud of and should shout about loudly.  Hopefully ‘The Wants’ will bring them the full on success that ‘Checkmate Savage’ warrented.  If this one goes unnoticed worldwide it will be a tragedy.  Spread the word.  Check out The Phantom Band here.  Enjoy.