Song, by Toad

Archive for the Scottish Bands category

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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.

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PAWS – Youth Culture Forever

paws_fatcd129_cover Alright, this time, THIS TIME Paws’ album is bound to end up on the Scottish Album of the Year shortlist isn’t it? I mean, come on people, be sensible.

The disparity between the rest of the world’s taste and my own gets me down sometimes, but I think Paws might be the last band I really liked to come out of Scotland and actually achieve something. Their last album was great – joyous (assuming you didn’t listen to the words too closely) and exuberant, and a pretty accurate snapshot of the kind of energy, commitment and pop nous which made them such firm favourites up here, before relentless touring and the assistance of Fatcat Records introduced them to the rest of the world.

Oddly enough, for a band with such strong DIY instincts, their last album ended up sounding relatively polished. It worked just fine, but definitely emphasised the pop side of the band. This album is self-produced – a relatively bold decision, I suppose, for a fairly young band – and I have to confess I far prefer the sound. It’s denser and nastier and by the time the absolutely fucking awesome cello kicked in halfway through Alone I was pretty much punching the air with delight. In fact the whole van (I listened for the first time when on tour with one of our bands) pretty much all exchanged that ‘holy fuck, that is nasty‘ look in unison. But in a good way. A very good way.

As ‘difficult second albums’ go, in fact, this whole record pretty much laughs that whole cliché off as if the phrase had never been coined in the first place. Rather than difficult, this sounds like a band who have really worked out how they want to sound and gone about making a record of exactly that.

Oddly enough, though, I think that for all this is a better album than its predecessor Cokefloat, it may actually be a little less consistent. Tunes like Someone New and Give Up might be a bit lyrically obvious for my liking, and the trademark Paws arpeggiated chorus (whatever the technical term is) is perhaps a little too strong as well. That might actually be what makes these two of the standout pop songs on the album, but in personal terms they are possibly my least favourite.

To balance that, of course, there are some of the best songs Paws have written, not least the absolutely fantastic 1-2 which starts the album.That glee I experienced when I first heard the cello in Alone was matched when I heard Erreur Humaine as well. I’ve said it about Paws before, but it sounds quite a bit like the unfairly unremembered Marcy Playground. It’s followed by Tongues, a tune which is also relatively gentle by Paws standards, and between them they may not indicate revolution, but they definitely make it pretty clear that this is a band developing from their early material and pushing on into new territory.

When a band have a such a knack for sprightly pop tunes I am always keen to see them show that they can do more. Not that I underestimate the skill behind a good pop song of course, but if you can blend them with a bit more then you have a band with genuine longevity, and it looks like that’s what we’re seeing emerge here: a band with real depth and range.

The epic wig-out track seems to be becoming quite common amongst bands I like at the moment, and Youth Culture Forever ends with one: the rather excellent War Cry. It’s a proper beast of a song and ends with Paws doing what they do best - absolutely fucking going for it. After an album which brilliantly shows all the other strings they have to their bow, this song almost reads like and big fat fucking ‘I told you so’.

There’s something in the mentality of the band – although maybe just in Phil Taylor actually – which seems to be drawn disproportionately to the doubters and the obstacles of a musician’s life. For someone whose band is a pretty big success by comparison to most of their peers you still get the impression that just participating in the modern music industry is something they don’t really relish. What they do like, though, is making music, and by the time War Cry is over you get the impression that’s what is being said. Fuck all the other stuff, we’re a band, we make records and here is what we can do – stick that in your fucking pipe and smoke it.

After all the feelings of self-doubt and not particularly generous self-analysis expressed in the record it seems suitable to end it with something of a war cry. This is what we do, this is why we love it, and this is why I love them.

Paws play Glasgow tomorrow and the Wee Red Bar in Edinburgh on Saturday. If you can’t make it along to either of these shows you can buy your copy of the album here. You won’t regret it.

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Wozniak – Pike’s Peak

I think that when I first wrote about Plastic Animals I said that I didn’t immediately think they were great – in fact I had my reservations about their very earliest recordings – but there was still a kernel of something there which told me to keep an eye on the band, and that they were capable of doing really good things. The fact that we are currently recording the band’s debut album should tell you all you need to know about how that worked out.

Wozniak are a band I think I would describe similarly. Their first recordings, rather than bowling me over immediately, had a glimmer of something I really liked about them, and like Plastic Animals every subsequent encounter has improved upon that impression.  New EP Pike’s Peak (pre-order here) is no exception: after their first single you can hear the band slowly coalescing into something more complete.

Basically this is shoegaze music, I suppose, albeit with touches of krautrock and psychedelia. There’s a lot of good stuff operating in that vague territory these days; for some odd reason shoegaze seems to operate on a much shorter cycle than the standard twenty year recycling towards which the fashion world tends.

Nevertheless, despite their kind efforts to make a radio edit of El Maresme, the song at the top of the page, there isn’t a lot of pop to be had here. A lot of it is heavily dependent on noise, and with music like that I tend to find it best to do something else and let it wash over me, then do the same thing the next day, and then the next. You find out pretty quickly that way if something is sticking in your head or if the whole thing just passes you forgettably by without ever making much of a lasting impression.

The problem with this method from a blogger’s perspective, however, is that it can be really rather hard to articulate what it is about a piece of music which makes it feel like it works. Particularly this kind of music. There aren’t a lot of tunes here, per se, instead you get lots of washes and thrums, and the odd descent into little more than feedback and guitar grumble.

Paper Hat is a little lighter, which is a good thing, because you can’t just hammer away at people like this with no respite, particularly when you consider that the final track Gesamtkunstwerk is basically a four and a half minute buzz (which strangely isn’t crap). Either way, they haven’t given much ground here. Not much quarter is given to the concept of ‘pop music’ and I guess this won’t make them famous, but to me it sounds like a band who started out with some promise, and are getting better every time I hear them. More please.

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Do the Gods Speak Esperanto

tumblr_static_tumblr_lnczwpcnjs1qzvd2s There are a couple of reasons for this post, one of which is kind of self-serving and will become obvious soon enough. The other is that this music is really rather lovely and I think you should hear it. You know, like the entire rest of this ridiculous blog I’ve been scribbling away at since sometime in 2004. Two thousand and fucking four!

It’s the Bastard Mountain album launch at the Queen’s Hall (see, told you I wasn’t very subtle!), and I know that instead of a support band we promised short sets from all the musicians involved in the collaboration, as this seemed to be more fitting with the overall project. However, for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who comes along tonight, we can’t really have a Sparrow and the Workshop set so instead Jill will be playing with another project called Do the Gods Speak Esperanto.

I know a lot of people know of BDY_PRTS, her collaboration with Jenny Reeve from Strike the Colours, but where that is really rather poppy, this work with Sean from John Knox Sex Club has a far more folky feel.

I know people tend to reflexively throw the folk tag at pretty much all acoustic pop music, but in this case the phrasing and verse structure and the way the vocals interplay reminds me quite a lot more of traditional music than a lot of the stuff either Jill or Sean do with their main projects, despite both of these also having the folk tag applied to them at times too.

The Ballad of Accounting shows this lyrical style most obviously, with some call and response interspersed with some unusually traditional (by these two’s standards, anyway) protest folk singing.

And it’s gorgeously done. Ballad of Accounting is gently insistent, but the other two tunes on their Soundcloud page are light, sad, breezy and lovely. There is a little bit of string work in there too, although not that much, and mixed pretty low. Mostly it’s about the two vocals, which have just a touch of old-school cabaret about them but mostly just follow these lilting, intertwining paths with a slow, soothing ebb and flow.

So yes, these guys will be one of a couple of people (including Meursault, Rob St. John and Rory Sutherland) opening for Bastard Mountain tonight. The music will start at 8pm, so get down relatively early if you want to hear this as well as the other sets, before the Bastards play their album start to finish to end the evening.

See you there!

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Bastard Mountain Launch Shows Tomorrow and Thusrday

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Bastard Mountain aren’t going to play all that many live shows. It’s a collaborative effort and the band all have their own projects going on, so if you want to see them live then this coming week is going to be pretty much the only time to do it.

On Saturday 24th May (yes, tomorrow!) they’ll be playing the Sssh! Festival in London. And then on Thursday 29th May the Edinburgh album launch will be taking place at the Queen’s Hall. I can only make it to the latter, unfortunately, but the Queen’s Hall is pretty much the perfect venue for this kind of music and I am really excited about the show. We’ll have all the tables and candles out too, so it will be proper sophisticated, likes. None of the usual scruffy shite you’ve probably come to expect from Song, by Toad gigs over the years.

The response to this album has been fantastic. The reviews have been brilliant, and we’ve had great support from our pals Vic Galloway up here, from Gideon Coe and Tom Ravenscroft on 6Music, and we’ve had a couple of daytime spins from Lauren Laverne this week as well, on Monday and Wednesday. On Monday she played the Rory Sutherland (Broken Records violin player and Toad Sessions recording engineer/cameraman) song Drone Armatrading then on Wednesday the gorgeous, Rob St. John-penned Palisade.

In fact, the response has been so good that our distributor has sold out already, and I am nervously eyeing the remaining boxes here in the office and wondering if we can really afford to send them all the extra stock they’ve asked for when we have two launch shows coming up. I think we may end up re-pressing this only two weeks after the bloody release date, which is both great news and something of an indictment of my ability to plan things properly.

So a massive thank you to all who have written about this album or played it on your podcasts and radio shows. It is a properly gorgeous album and I am really, really proud of it. Well done Bastards!

 

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New Monoganon and Yusuf Azak Videos

Videos are pretty much the new singles these days, which makes for something of an odd circle. Singles were just singles, then they were videos because of MTV, and then MTV stopped doing music so they became mp3s, then they became streams as the technology caught up, and then people realised that a stream pays nothing whereas YouTube pay at least token royalties so they became videos again. All of which makes it rather frustrating how bad we are at actually making them for our own releases. I am just not a maker of music videos I guess, so it’s harder to embrace that ‘just get the fuck on with it’ ethic we try and live by when it involves asking for favours from other people.

One technique I’ve seen embraced rather a lot is using stock and archive footage and editing it together to fit the song. We’ve done it before ourselves, and Yusuf Azak has done the same thing for the new song Silver Rose (below), which is the first single from his new album Peace in the Underworld, out now on vinyl on Gerry Loves Records. The album will be instantly familiar to all fans of Yusuf’s previous work – his voice pretty much guarantees that – but there is a lot more use of drums, electronics and drum machines on this record.

Monoganon (above) released one of my favourite Scottish albums of 2013 (and along with Sparrow and the Workshop and The Pictish Trail were criminally overlooked by the SAY Awards nomination panel) and have also just released a new video. Not a new song, this is from that album, which is called Family and is available on vinyl from Lost Map Records. It’s basically a fuzzy indie album in the early-nineties sort of vein, if you want a hyper-superficial one-line description, but the melodies are ace throughout and the album as a whole is a fantastic listen. Grumbly but warm.

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Now Wakes the Sea – Bildungsroman

Bildungsroman_Cover_bigA couple of years ago, when I first started writing about Now Wakes the Sea, I rather flippantly referred to them as ‘the best band in Scotland that no-one’s ever heard about’. I didn’t take it all that seriously at the time, as they’d just released a glitchy, mumbled record of morose lo-fi songs – the absolutely fantastic Fluoxetine Morning – and I accepted that that wasn’t exactly the kind of music to spread like wildfire through the blogosphere and automatically elevate an artist to stadium-stuffing levels of fame.

A couple of years later and we’ve seen a couple of absolutely fantastic EPs, and now this brilliant new album, Bildungsroman (buy here), and suddenly the whole thing seems like a little less of an amusing throwaway comment and is starting to feel like a genuinely vexing question. Seriously, why aren’t this band better known? Admittedly, they haven’t had a fortune thrown at their marketing, and their live shows are rare and a little unpredictable, but beyond a small handful of other enthusiasts, people have shown little to no interest – particularly the press. I am becoming as annoyed with the ‘best band no-one’s ever heard of’ tag as I can only assume the band are at this point.

This music is weird, distorted, foggy and lost, as well as being that perfect combination of genuinely interesting and eminently hummable. This is a varied record in every sense, from instrumentation to mood, coherence to incoherence. It can be experimental and lo-fi and it can be, by this band’s standards anyway, relatively chirpy and brash. It is, in short, excellent. Why the fuck are they not being reviewed everywhere.

Admittedly neither the band nor their label are famous, but when that leads to even relatively small-market music publications completely ignoring their efforts to promote the album, the fault starts to seem to lie with the press and not the music. Are they too busy trotting along behind be-haircutted hipster buzz garbage in the hopes that a small scrap of acknowledgement might be thrown their way? Are they scrambling around trying to cover the same fashionable nonsense that everyone else is covering in some desperate bid not to be seen as having missed a particular boat, or missed out on the pageviews that they think they’ll get from being the 1000th fucking site that day to repost some particular video? Do they actually not have the courage to have opinions of their own and the confidence to write about good things simply because they are good, not because the zeitgeist might nod a perfectly-sculpted eyebrow their way?

The short answer is yes. The state of the fucking music press is absolutely fucking woeful at the moment. Herd-instinct at its most contemptible, endless PREMMY-AAAAIRE! click-baiting, scrambling to scent-mark the cool kids and writing faux-controversial, worthless fucking ‘thought-pieces’ (one of the most grating terms in modern writing), and completely neglecting the one thing which above all else gives you integrity and credibility as a music writer: finding good music and writing about it. And writing well.

It reminds me of why blogs were such a breath of fresh air when they first emerged, but as more of them are pulled into the mainstream and others regress to a sort of Twitter-max stream of links and embeds on Tumblr, we are left with very few bloggers who simply do it for the pleasure of finding unusual and obscure music and spending some time to write about it.

What I love about this album is that all because of the presence of a couple of wonkily upbeat numbers with cheery keyboard refrains – notably Original Bone (see video below) and The Shore & the Coastline – it feels like Now Wakes the Sea have written a surprisingly expansive pop record. They really haven’t, though. This may be more of a band effort than the introspective, solitary Fluoxetine Morning, but there is still all sorts of scattered, fascinating mess on the album.

The wobbly, distorted strum of Photoautomat is fantastic, and reminds me of the kind of stuff we released on the Cold Seeds record. ‘Oooh, yes but that’s why it’s not done as well as you think it should’, you might say, ‘that’s too lo-fi and strange for a mainstream audience’. But then almost that exact same technique is used to underpin the glorious Bring Me Simple Men by Timber Timbre (see here), and for all they aren’t huge either, they aren’t exactly doing badly. People can stomach this stuff, but I sometimes get the impression that if we expect weird music then that is what we will hear, whereas if we just assume that what we’re hearing is normal and we aren’t primed to be shocked, then we can be much more accepting than we think.

There is more weirdness here too. Pictures Stay the Same is a textured, almost entirely instrumental drone with what sounds like a looped, heavily treated sample providing only a vague, unsettling gesture as a vocal part. It’s gorgeous though, and probably the murkiest depths to contrast with the highs of the album’s pop numbers. Ending with “To listen to your message again, press one.” is genius, giving the whole thing the terrifying feeling of being some sort of sonic horror story. Or maybe a close friend trying to mumble through a medicated fug about why they just can’t face this life any more, while try as you might, you just can’t understand a thing they’re saying.

The shifting sands of Prefab Houses is brilliant, and oddly enough another tune which slightly evokes Timber Timbre, as it descends from an almost industrial keyboard racket into an echoey, ambient decline. We get one more pop song after that, then something a little gentler and more melancholy, before the final bilious racket of Shining Bright O’er Land & Sea brings things to what feels like a final, angry, almost contemptuous conclusion. Fuck you, it seems to say. You’ve had the tunes, and I’ve tried my best, but fuck it, this is what’s really inside my head.

The song is not, I suppose, the kind of music I myself could have handled eight or nine years ago when I was probably in my most populist phase, but at this stage in my life this is a triumphantly discordant ‘fuck you, I’m done here’ and a brilliant way to end an album which manages to use some genuinely weird and fucked up noises and still have the feel of a fantastic pop record. Or at least, a pop record in the kind of universe I often wish I inhabited.

People are idiots.

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Broken Records, Book Group and Virgin of the Birds – Live This Weekend

Music in Edinburgh is bubbling along nicely at the moment, isn’t it. Gold Flake Paint recently relocated here, bringing their blog and now their label with them. Lost Map Records are based here a lot while their state-of-the-art new modern HQ is being built on Eigg. We have the bands to pretty much lay claim to being the home of the very slackeriest of slacker rock in Passion Pusher, Nadnerb and iLLsHORE. And this weekend a couple of the city’s more established bands have launch nights for new releases, and I will be attending both.

Broken Records have a new album which is officially being launched at the Queen’s Hall in August actually, but they are putting on a small event at Summerhall tonight for which they have just released some more tickets. I’ve not had a chance to really listen to the new album yet, but the songs from their Toad Session sounded great and Toska, above, which is the title track of their recent EP as well as finding a home on the album itself, is absolutely great.

Book Group may be less established as a band, but as musicians they have all been around since I first got involved in music in Edinburgh. Their EP Tantrums is being launched tomorrow night at Henderson Hall down in Leith, and joining them on the bill will be Song, by Toad Records’ own Virgin of the Birds, who is visiting Edinburgh for the first time since he came over to play our first ever New Year’s House Gig back in 2009.

So it’s a good weekend ahead, and one which will include our first ever Toad Session in the new house. Exciting times.

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New Deathcats Video: Danny Dyer

Is it fair to call this my favourite tune on the new Deathcats album? I think so – it’s certainly there or thereabouts anyway.

With tunes like this, I Wish it Was Summer and TROLL TROLL you wouldn’t call Deathcats the most cerebral band out there at the moment, but they can probably out-fun most stuff coming out of Scotland at the moment. But they aren’t just a superficial good-time band of course, and their last EP, The Raddest (buy here), gave a pretty good idea of the band’s breadth, inhabiting a territory which spanned catchy-as-fuck surf rock through to nasty psychedelic instrumentals.

I’ve not listened to it extensively yet, but the new album sounds like it’s taken a turn for the nasty, after that early stuff. There’s a lot more of the aforementioned psychedelic instrumental meandering, for example, all with a nice, nasty rumble throughout, and the rock songs are sounding really fucking horrible – in a good way of course. But I’ll have more to say about that once I’ve had the chance to have a really good listen.

In the meantime, however, here’s a listen to their fantastic new single Danny Dyer and if you like it, which you should, then you can pre-order the album here, which you should.

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