Song, by Toad

Archive for the Scottish Bands category

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Young Fathers on Edinburgh’s Creative Environment

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I wasn’t going to mention Young Fathers’ Mercury Prize win here, because given I haven’t talked about them all that much in the past it would have felt a little bit like hypocritical attention-seeking on the back of their success to suddenly start mentioning them now that they’re in the news.

But but but but… that was before I read this interview in the Guardian in which G gets stuck into Edinburgh council for not supporting the arts in the city at all:

“Edinburgh council are really fucking bad. They shut down anything if you try to make noise. I’ve been in studios where these guys come with meters and tell you to get out. It’s a city for tourists and rich, middle-class people, it’s not made for people to be creative.”

This needs to be said, and needs to be said again and again. The Edinburgh Festival does NOT make Edinburgh an artistic city. The self-image of this town utterly ignores the artistic communities working here, spaces and venues are absolutely never supported and there appears to be absolutely no effort whatsoever to encourage what is happening here between the months of September and July . There are good things happening here, but I have never seen any sign that anyone outwith the tiny communities of dogged supporters actually gives the tiniest fragment of a fuck about any of it.

Consequently, the people actually working in the arts here are amongst some of the people I admire the most: that kind of perseverance in the face of general indifference, if not outright hostility, takes seriously thick skin and serious determination. And as for the handfuls of loyal fans who are the only ones who give us the encouragement we desperately need, well bless you all, you brilliant bastards.

Young Fathers won this despite Edinburgh, not because of it. Well done lads.

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Malcolm Middleton & David Shrigley – Music and Words

wordsandmusic Well I know nothing about this whatsoever, beyond the very basics implied by the title of the record. The pre-order link doesn’t work at all, and I’ve not seen anything in the press about it, nor has anyone been in touch asking me to cover it.

[Edit: looks like it might be just the vinyl link which isn’t ready – apparently CD and digital are fine.]

The obvious question, then, is what I can possibly achieve by simply posting up a single song with no context and no ability to really provide any.

Well, listen to it and you’ll see.

Basically it starts out sort of nice, becomes sort of weird, and by the end is, erm, well why would I ruin the surprise. Listen to it, you really do have to, there is no other way. There’s certainly no point me describing it to you, that’s for sure.

And once you’ve listened you’ll know why I have no compunction writing about this now, before they’ve really got their act together with pre-orders and before I really know anything about the album: this is going to come up again, it’s pretty certain.

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Rick Redbeard

red It seems ridiculous, but tomorrow’s Pale Imitation Festival gig is actually going to be the first time I have properly seen Rick Redbeard live.

Even more ridiculous when you think that I first became aware of his stuff on MySpace back in about 2006 or 2007.

And yet more so when you think that his debut album No Selfish Heart (buy here from Chemikal Underground) was in my top ten albums of the year last year.

I mean, for fuck’s sake, he only lives in Glasgow for crying out loud, not Singapore. But actually it’s not as bad as all that. I saw him play an open mic night years and years ago, and more recently a short set at a record fair as well.

But tomorrow night Rick Redbeard headlines our next Pale Imitation Festival gig, and I am immensely looking forward to it. Having happened across his early demos on MySpace years ago, I was a long time waiting for something formal to be released, but No Selfish Heart more than justified the wait.

Everyone whose music is dominated by vocals and acoustic guitar automatically gets tagged as folk or country or something like that, but I suppose Rick is basically just a singer-songwriter, however daft that term may be, with elements of all these things smooshed in there somewhere.

Most of those early MySpace demos made it onto his debut album, but I did actually notice one which did not: Dreams of the Trees. This has been rectified now, by Vancouver’s excellent Kingfisher Bluez label, who recently released it on 7″ vinyl. Like most of the reworkings, it’s fleshed out and cleaned up a little, but the core of the song is mostly unchanged, and it’s amazing.

As an extra treat there is a b-side which has been sitting on Rick’s Soundcloud page for quite a while now: a gorgeous, contemplative spoken-word track called Flow Like Unicorns. It’s beautiful. And I really hope he continues recording as Rick Redbeard despite the success of The Phantom Band (which he also fronts) because this stuff is just lovely.

I am really looking forward to tomorrow. Tickets are only a fiver, you should come down.

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Plastic Animals

Plastic Animals – Floating from Song, by Toad on Vimeo.

I know tonight at the Queen’s Hall is mostly being discussed in terms of being the last ever Meursault show, but of course opening for them are another Song, by Toad band: Plastic Animals.

I always thought of Plastic Animals as a band with real potential, but it was recording with them for the second Song, by Toad Split 12″ when I decided I really wanted to release their music more formally. I am not sure what it was about those tunes. They are shoegazey, but not that nasty. There’s a dreamy thrum to them too, which I love. I love the drum sound, and even the minimal layering that we did worked really well. It just sounded like proper music despite being recorded live in our living room.

Since then, they’ve been working on their debut full-length album, and there are only one or two bits and pieces left to get down before the mixing can start. I’ve not really heard much of it because I try not to over-saturate myself with our new albums before they are finished, mostly to avoid becoming too attached to rough mixes, but also to make sure I don’t use up all my sense of excitement before the finished product is actually in my hands.

It’s always a bit of a risk, inviting a band to record an album for you without having much idea what the material is like, but their show at the Pleasance Sessions last year was fucking great. Shoegazey, yes, but getting krauty as fucking in moments too, and a handful of new songs which gave me that ‘Oh fucking YESSS!’ feeling you get when you hear something new and fantastic.

And tonight, for what I think is the first time, they’ll be playing the Queen’s Hall. I am really, really excited to see it.

Plastic Animals – Pizarnik from Song, by Toad on Vimeo.

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Sharptooth

sharptooth I didn’t know about Sharptooth, I have to confess, before this year’s Pale Imitation Festival. I asked PAWS who else they would like on the bill for their festival-closing slot, and they recommended Sharptooth and Halfrican. Sharptooth couldn’t make that particular date, but they did happen to be around for the show last Saturday with The Yawns and alansmithee, so we took the opportunity to get them on the bill somewhere else instead.

And you know what? They were fucking ace. Really early-nineties-sounding, they remind me in some ways of a slightly more hypnotic and less jagged North American War – a band whose demise I still lament. They share a sort of flat delivery, and the constant possibility that they’re going to thrash the shit out of everything any second now.

It’s not as languid as the other two bands with whom they shared a stage, perhaps not as aggressive as other guitar bands who like their distortion, so I would maybe say that there’s a sort of cold defiance to this stuff. It’s all shattered from time to time, like the deranged screech in the middle of Invidia, or the brief squalls of frenetic guitar which boil over occasionally, such as three quarters of the way through Bonnie Blaze, and that means that as brief as these moments are there’s always the threat of something exploding from somewhere to slap you round the head, which makes the generally deadpan delivery all the more menacing.

It was more obvious live than on the recordings, but I particularly enjoyed drumming on Saturday as well. They can be ominous too, but there’s a thumping roll to them which offsets the thrum of the guitar fantastically well.  So thanks for the recommendation, PAWS. This was ace. There are only three songs up on Soundcloud at the moment, and I am not entirely sure what the band’s plans are (I probably asked, but there was a lot of beer involved) but they sounded fantastic and I am really looking forward to seeing what else they get up to.

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The Leg

leg The Leg are headlining tonight’s Pale Imitation Festival gig at Henry’s, so I thought I might as well tell you about how they slowly but surely became one of my favourite bands, because it wasn’t something that happened overnight.

As I first started to get into local music Bart from eagleowl and Neil from Meursault always used to insist that it was The Leg who were the best band in Edinburgh, not any of the newer ones I was so excited about at the time.

I genuinely didn’t get it at first. It basically just seemed like deliberately obscure mentalism to me, honestly. I did try though, given the people who kept insisting that they were great, and I am not sure what changed, but as they prepared to release An Eagle to Saturn a few years ago I remember hearing Twitching Stick and absolutely loving it.

I don’t know what the difference was, either in me or in the band, but it’s not exactly like they had suddenly become more digestible. Twitching Stick is great, but it might not be the first thing you’d play to a Leg newbie as the easiest song for them to get into, but for whatever reason I suddenly heard something in the music that I absolutely loved.

From that point on, I was sold. I don’t know what changed in my head but I suddenly saw that thing that Neil and Bart had been going on about. We released An Eagle to Saturn on Song, by Toad Records and subsequently released not only their next one as well – 2013’s Oozing a Crepuscular Light – but also their previous one, which we included in the label’s fifth anniversary box set in January this year.

I remember this happening with Tom Waits, too. I never liked his more avant-garde stuff when I first heard it, and I always thought Bone Machine was actually just a bad album. It took ten years, starting with the accessible early troubadour years, moving through Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs a few years later onto the more theatricl stuff like The Black Rider a couple of years after that, only to eventually get to the stage where I finally realised that Bone Machine is, in fact, as brilliant as everything that went before it if not better.

The same sort of happened with The Leg. After the penny finally dropped we released not only An Eagle to Saturn, but also Oozing a Crepuscular Light last year, which is bordering on being an album of show-tunes. Deranged, hooting, terrifying show-tunes maybe, but by The Leg’s standards it is absolutely full of pop music. Lionlicker, for example, might be a bit lyrically odd, but the music itself certainly isn’t scary.

And funnily enough, once we’d arrived at a position where the band were releasing music which was as accessible as anything they’ve ever done, I went back to What Happened to the Shrunken Tina Turner, an album they released before we started working with them. It’s a ferocious, snarling beast of an album and I think the first recorded work of theirs I ever listened to. At the time I pretty much just turned it off immediately, and now it’s one of the go-to albums when people ask me about The Leg. In fact, when people about me ask about the whole label.

It’s got the aggression which a lot of metal seems to think it has, except because metal follows such a template it ends up just sounding a bit tame and formulaic to me. This album oozes menace and unhinged, terrifying intensity. It’s phenomenal. I just don’t understand how I didn’t get it the first time.

A bit like metal bands, though, deliberately ‘strange’ bands can end up sounding really tame and uninteresting to me, because oddness and confusion is a goal. The Leg just make music this way naturally. There’s nothing forced or deliberate about it, this is just the way it seems to spill out of them. Alright, they’re all phenomenal musicians so it’s not just random smashing, but there’s no sense of archness or artifice, they just make pop music and this is what it sounds like.

Where the band are going next I couldn’t tell you. There are a couple of sketches and demos up on their Soundcloud page which might offer a clue, but with guys like this I tend not to look too closely. Why worry. They will tell me when they are ready with their next thing, and if they want us to release it they will say so and I will be fucking delighted to do so. But with this band I really think the best way is just to sit back and wait and see where they decide to go, and worry about what it is afterwards.

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Now Wakes the Sea

nwts Continuing with our profiles of Pale Imitation Festival bands, joining yesterday’s New Fabian Society on the bill with The Leg tomorrow (7th August) at Henry’s will be the fantastic Now Wakes the Sea.

Given my constant exhortations not to over-estimate bands on the basis of one or two songs, it’s sort of ironic that I find myself looking at the entire output of this band and thinking hang on a minute, they’ve three incredible albums, two EPs, an experimental cassette thingy and an entire re-recording of Hospice by Antlers.

It’s time to stop fucking about talking about potential here and start insisting what is patently true: these guys are without a shadow of a doubt one of the very best bands operating in Scotland at the moment. And by that I mean definitely top ten, possibly top five. This is not exaggerating for effect or careless use of hyperbola: looking at their output over the last three years or so, I can’t think of anyone who has bettered it.

It’s not radio pop, I suppose, and the use of noise and low vocal mixes probably puts it in a fairly small niche in terms of taste, but nevertheless in amongst the narcotic haze there are some really accessible pop songs.

Whilst their recorded material is brilliant, however – like the best lo-fi pop music slowly being strangled by the weight of its own intransigence – the live show is a bit less predictable. I’m not sure if it’s inconsistent personnel, predictable booking or a lack of will, but I haven’t seen the band all that determinedly out and about playing over the last few years.

I managed to put them on as a full band once, and it was ace, but they’ve appeared solo, and done entire sets of abstract noise too, so I think it can be a bit erratic. Who knows though. We have a full band set waiting for us tomorrow, and some of the finest songs I’ve heard in ages. So pretty much whatever the outcome I am highly looking forward to this.

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New Fabian Society

nfs Throughout August I shall mainly be blogging about bands we’ll be putting on at the Pale Imitation Festival.

The festival itself is pretty much a live extension of the blog, I suppose, with me basically just booking a bunch of bands I myself most want to see, and that’s basically what I do here with writing, really. Although with the Pale Imitation stuff I do make a specific effort to keep it local.

Anyhow, on Thursday we have our second gig of the festival, with The Leg, Now Wakes the Sea and New Fabian Society. Tickets can be bought here, and *cough* you should come.

The New Fabian Society released a handful of EPs up to about the middle of last year, but have been a little quiet since. In that scenario the best bet is usually that they’re working on their debut album, but you never know, they could just be being lazy. In any case, I’m really looking forward to seeing how they’ve progressed in the interim.

For a two-piece they make an absolutely furious fucking racket, these guys. The first time we put them on in Edinburgh they sounded not unlike a denser, more industrial version of Interpol actually. You know, the Interpol which Interpol could have become after Turn on the Bright Lights but didn’t.

This stuff is so much less stylised, though, and so much more intense, it has that proper ‘clean out your brain and singe your eyebrows’ quality to it, particularly live. They’ll be opening the show on Thursday and I think it will get people’s heads in the game nice and early – no talking at the bar, motherfuckers, unless you think you can talk over this!

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Deathcats – All Hail Deathcats

deathcats In some ways I feel like a bit of a pillock writing a review of an album you can all stream for free simply by scrolling to the bottom of the page. I mean, it does seem a little redundant doesn’t it.

Still, fuck it, that’s the nature of media in the 21st Century I guess, and I write this blog because I enjoy writing it (yes, still, even after ten years) not because I particularly expect anyone to really read it or care about it. It’s just fun to do.

I love Deathcats, I have to confess. It’s funny when you find a band you like, sometimes you just jump in head-first dribbling about how they are TEH MOST AWESUMEST EVA!! but in this case, as sometimes happens, I thought ‘yeah, oh wait woah steady there, oh hang on no they really are ace’. If you, er, know what I mean.

You’d think that after ten years of writing about music I really would be a bit better at it by now, eh.

But my initial enthusiasm for the band was tempered a little as I tried to figure out exactly what they were all about. Initially I just heard the latest hipster guitar band out of Glasgow, basically. That’s no criticism, I happen to love hipster guitar bands as you well know, but it is still a fairly definite pigeonhole, and one which it turned out they didn’t entirely fit – just enough to be deceptive, though!

Initially I heard nasty, surfy garage rock all drenched in reverb. It was well done, with some absolutely ace tunes and an awesome live show, but the retro mixture informing a lot of these tunes has a slightly different makeup to a lot of the other hipster guitar music I am into, and that is British 90s indie influences. People think of British 90s indie as being mostly Britpop, and I suppose to a large extent it is, but it is most definitely not cool to be a Britpop revivalist.

But in amongst the surf and the typical US indie influences, these guys seem to have absorbed a healthy dose of British indie rock from that period as well. Ian, who helps me run the label, said to them after a gig a year or so ago that they sounded really quite like Ash at times, before hurriedly pointing out that in their early days Ash had done some really good stuff, and he wasn’t trying to criticise them.

I was maybe at my most uncertain about the band at that point, but then they released The Raddest EP a few months ago, and it was absolutely ace. A couple of their most ebullient pop songs and a surfy instrumental jam hinted just a little about where the band were going, and subtle variations of style aside, the EP contained plenty of strands which have come together so well in this album.

As well as Deathcats usual boisterous pop tunes, All Hail Deathcats is actually a really well-assembled album. There are two-minute belters like the awesome Danny Dyer – the kind of thing we know them for already – but then there are sludgey wig-out instrumentals, and the music drifts from surfy tunes to more British-leaning stuff like the album opener Solid. These variations mitigate the fact that the songs are all really short and pretty much all delivered at full throttle, preventing the album sounding a bit samey and making sure it doesn’t wear out your ears.

So it’s a really well-done album, this. And not just musically, but in every sense. Deathcats have never really been embraced by the Scottish musical establishment really, but instead of hopping up and down waiting to be noticed, they’ve just kept right on doing their own stuff and putting it out themselves. This is released on Fuzzkill Records who have also worked with Fruit Tones, Future Glue and CLEAVERS, but I think the label is just basically a pal of the band’s from uni.

So after ploughing their own furrow with a genuine sense of not giving the slightest shit about who else took notice, they’ve now gone all the way and released a really, really good album  as well. And finally, after GoNorth, I had Vic Galloway turning up at the Paws album launch in a Deathcats t-shirt telling me how awesome they were in Inverness, and asking if I had heard of them.  ‘Yes Vic,’ I said, ‘I’ve put them on in Edinburgh twice now. You should come to more of my shows.’

You should all come to more of our shows. They’re awesome. We put on bands like Deathcats.

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Broken Records – Weights & Pulleys

BR weights Broken Records, like Paws, are my pals, and I have been following their respective careers pretty much since the start, so while I try to not to just blindly lavish them with praise you should also not expect an objective review on these pages. Not that any music reviewing is objective, no matter what the pretensions of the writer, but I thought I should at least flag them up early.

But you know the rules around here, if you’re my pal and I don’t like your record I just won’t review it, so the only reason this is hear is because I think it’s awesome.

Broken Records albums have always intrigued me, in the sense that I’ve always found myself wondering if it would reveal that I had significantly misjudged the character of the band. Listening to a band’s artistic touchstones at least suggests something about who they think they are, even if interpreting them is a bit haphazard.

In the case of their first album, we’d waited so long for it, and in the case of the second the rather extreme reactions to the first one (both from the press and, if I’m honest, from within the band) meant that I was truly intrigued by what I was about to hear.

In this case the three year gap since its predecessor has seen a lot of changes. Band members have come and gone, a record label – and a significant one at that – has come and gone, and the individual members of the band have seen some pretty significant life changes.

Opting for a self-release this time is not perhaps as big a jump as it might seem. I remember the first time I interviewed the band being told that Broken Records had originally been conceived as a sort of collective-cum-label, and I do know that a couple of members of the band also have their own solo projects, so this is something which must have been at least vaguely in the back of someone’s mind since the beginning.

So after a three-year break, who are Broken Records these days, then? Well the jump from album number one to two was pretty significant, but this feels less drastic. They’re a moody indie band now I suppose, in the broadest of terms, embellished with violin, piano and trumpet. Generally though it’s the rhythm section which controls the pace and feel of the songs, although that sounds like a rather redundant statement.

Still, if you listen to it, while there’s not really any shoegaze in the music per se, you can hear washes of what I am going to *cough* elegantly refer to as shoegazily played guitar – all shimmers and textures. It is the mood of the drumming and the density and darkness of these guitar textures which really seem to define the feeling you get from the music more than anything else – such as the light, borderline jauntiness of You’ll Be Lonely (in a Little While), the momentum of second single Winterless Son or the sense of yearning which permeates the gorgeous Toska.

Take a bit of time with this as well, because the first few times I heard this I thought little more than a generally positive ‘yep, this is good’ but on subsequent listens I like it more and more. Subtler parts start to really stand out too, like the rise and fall of the excellent guitar part at the forefront of So Long, So Late. or the touching vocal delivery of the lovely closing tune All Else Can Just Wait.

I suppose if I were to nit-pick I’d say that the choral vocals aren’t always entirely my cup of tea elsewhere on the album, although funnily enough, one of my other favourite moments is the big vocal end of Nothing Doubtful, a song which seems to hark back to earlier times. There are a couple of tracks like I Won’t Leave You in the Dark, I guess, which are decent songs but perhaps not much more than that, but in general this is a really good album with barely a weak spot, made by a band who seem to be on a remarkably even keel considering all the changes over the last couple of years.

They never got as big as people expected them to, and they never went away when people expected them to either, and now when people have stopped expecting anything at all they’ve come out with a fantastic record. You can buy one here, if you like.