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.