The Moth and the Mirror / Honestly, This World

Click cover art to open in Spotify

[Released 10/10/2011 - Olive Grove]

When I started this site I had hoped I might come across a few new releases that I really liked, and would have to spend the rest of the time writing about stuff that has been out for a while. However, if I’m going to be kept on my toes this much I’ll have to become a ballerina. After writing about Martin John Henry’s album I came across this, released this week on Olive Grove Records. The Moth and the Mirror have been generating more buzz in Scotland than a bumblebee using a Phillishave. Oh dear, I’ve mixed up my nocturnal and diurnal insects…not to worry. Honestly, This World is the first release from a group whose members have links with such luminaries as Arab Strap, Frightened Rabbit, Admiral Fallow, Smoke Jaguar and Reindeer Section. On the first song ‘Everyone I Know’, they start out sounding like the Delgados but by the end of the album they clearly leave their own mark. It is likely the coming together of members from different bands ensures they do not stick too closely to the singular blueprint provided by the album opener (driving bassline, spare and spiky guitars, almost tribal drums, strings, fragile but firm female vocal). Stacy Sievwright takes on the majority of the vocals here, with Louis Abbott proving an able deputy as he shares guitar duties with Gordon Skene. Kevin McCarvel is the bass driver, Iain Sandilands (awesome name) is on percussion, while Peter Murch mans the Merch stall…(not really, he’s the drummer).

Superficially this is an indie-rock album that also inhabits some rather more melancholy territory, but always with a malleable malevolence that provides salvation from sentimental introspection. There are flickers of post-rock and alt.country, ambient and modern classical; never for more than a few fleeting moments, but they are there. ‘Hope is an Anchor’ provides some of the best examples of this, and ‘Boxes’, while initially reticent and wistful, conceals an inner rage, unleashed in a wave of cathartic redemption: ‘You have to keep bad things in your head / so you understand them better later’ is the early refrain, and the second half of this 6 minute epic gives an insight into the form that process of understanding might take. Fifth track ‘Beautiful Creature’ acts as the fulcrum on which the album turns, the source of early upset becomes clear, and the trumpet that comes to the foreground along with clip-clop percussion and sparse guitar gives the real sense of a stand-off.

‘Closing the Door’ is one my early favourites, and its lyrics tell the tale of someone trying to convince themselves that they want to move on from or shut out the past, or both. There are interesting touches here – field-recordings that nicely reflect the narrative -although these run the risk of appearing a little contrived. There is a discernible thread of regret and subtle anger to be found early on in Honestly, This World, but this is an album with hopeful desire, even if in places this optimism can be seen as a veil for denial.  On the aforementioned ‘Hope is an Anchor’ (which if I had to choose one would probably be my favourite) Stacy sings as if to reassure herself that ‘he just went away / to put on his shining armour / he’ll be back to get you / in his own time’. This (perhaps misplaced) longing is reaffirmed on ‘Oceans and Waves’, as it brings the album to a close with the refrain that ‘I’ll see you again / the next life will come / we’ll be together / our hands will be one’. It’s as beautiful as it is heartbreaking, but we’ll have to wait and see whether or not this fairytale comes true.

Tracklisting

1. Everyone I Know

2. Soft Insides

3. Fire

4. Boxes

5. Beautiful Creature

6. Honestly, This World

7. Hope Is An Anchor

8. Germany

9. Closing Doors

10. Oceans & Waves

Martin John Henry / The Other Half of Everything

Click cover art to open in Spotify

[Released 10/10/2011 - Gargleblast]

I’ve been waiting patiently for the new album from Rustie to be added to Spotify. Hopefully it will be added soon, but in the meantime I discovered this album, via the good Laird Ayetunes. Martin John Henry was a key player in now defunct De Rosa (not sure if he actually played any keys though) and this is, I believe, his first offering as a solo artist. You should never judge a book by its cover, but you can get a sense of what it will be like. The same is true here, as the craggy landscape detailed above is very much alive in the music. Similar claims were made of King Creosote and Jon Hopkins’ Diamond Mine, and the evocation of place is pretty much spelt out in the lyrics of ‘New Maps’, where Henry tells us that he has ‘filled my heart, filled my lungs, with a map of where I’m from’. Sean Guthrie puts it nicely for The Herald in recognising the way that ‘flinty greys, blues, greens; the odd shaft of yolky yellow – start to bleed through the canvas’.

This isn’t landscape as something to look at though, as Henry takes you on a journey that moves with rather than alights upon his musical terrain: ‘Wherever your feet fall, I’ll measure the rainfall…every last drop’ he sings on ‘I Love Map’. This distance from the pastoral landscape is evident in second track ‘Span’, which has the effect of a takeaway container nestled in a patch of thistle, all gaudy artifice run through with spiky beats, something that jars with the remainder of the album (I much prefer the remix by Malcolm Middleton featured on the The Other Half Remixes, available here). That said, you can’t expect 11 morose Munros, and at least it keeps things interesting. ‘Ribbon on a Bough’ is probably as similar to this as the other tracks get, making use of the electronic toolkit to craft a catchy little number that focuses on something or someone out of place. I have a lot of time for most of the stuff here, ‘Seventh Song’ reveals Henry to being ‘used to regret […] used to feeling upset’. It’s a shame for him personally, but it makes for a great song, a single picked acoustic (later electric) guitar backed with the odd wave of strings and cymbals softly crashing onto the shore of his sorrow.

Henry also has a few tricks up his sleeve: ‘Choose Your Words Carefully’ lulls the listener along before it rounds a corner to reveal its dark side. Of course what evokes place more than anything is Henry’s voice, brittle and weathered it carries the majority of the album’s emotional heft. That said, the variety of instruments and song structure affords him a rich palette from which to create his musical landscape, and the vibrancy and dark beauty of tracks such as ‘There’s a Phantom Hiding in My Loft’ and ‘Only Colour’ are the result. Is the former some kind of response to the aforementioned KC’s ‘Bats in the Attic’? One can only wonder. Then again, I’m sure King Kenny would be proud to put his name to many of these tunes himself.

Tracklisting

1. Breathing Space

2. Span

3. I Love Map

4. Ribbon on a Bough

5. Seventh Song

6. Choose Your Words Carefully

7. New Maps

8. Only Colour

9. First Light

10. A Perfect Landing

11. There’s a Phantom Hiding in My Loft

The Short Waves / Stutter

[Released 29/06/2011 - Bandcamp]

I recently got turned onto this release over on the Scotified twitter, and after checking it out on the artist’s bandcamp page found that it was also available on Spotify. Keith Scott is the man behind the moniker, and here he does everything bar the drums, which are ably thumped by Kenny Miller (not that one….or is it?!). Stutter provides a neat introduction to the assemblage of different sounds that The Short Waves seem capable of. ‘Infinitum’ gets things going with stabs of celestial synth and a breakbeat that is layered deep and crisp and even. A nice electric guitar melody helps craft a song that fits somewhere between Errors and Remember Remember. Things change-up on second track ‘Alarm Bells’, as Keith’s voice joins the party and the rhythm shifts to something more like conventional indie. Its rather more representative of the remainder of the EP, the vocals softly spoken, cynical and tentative in places but with enough variation and interesting wordplay to hold the attention.

‘Perseverance’, as the title suggests, keeps things going in this vein, although the song itself is aimed at targets other than consistency of sound!  Things roll along nicely on ‘It’s Getting Better’, where neatly picked strings and the odd bit of glock (or it is xylophone?) herald Keith’s promise that he will ‘dry your eyes / with my shoulder, where you can cry’. My favourite track is probably ‘What I’ve Done Since’, which reminds me a lot of Low’s lighter moments (not an oxymoron if you’re a fan), but with a distinctive voice of its own, a nicely layered acoustic number which is simple but effective.

The EP was self-recorded, and is self released, so if you like it why not visit the Bandcamp page and download (on a pay-what-you-want basis). Given its bedroom origins, the results are impressive and I think it shows a lot of promise – and irrespective of the EP’s title, it’s far from a stuttering start. Will keep my twit-ear close to the ground for more lovingly-crafted tunes from The Short Waves, and I hope the next release is as varied and interesting as this one.

Tracklisting

1. Infinitum – Intro

2. Alarm Bells

3. Perseverance

4. It’s Getting Better

5. What I’ve Done Since

Out of Aktion / The Delgados

The Delgados were probably the first Scottish band that I got into, and I was devastated when they decided to call it a day in 2005. However, it gives me a good reason to introduce the first feature on Scotified: Out of Aktion. This picks out 5 of my favourite songs available on Spotify from the back-catalogue of now defunct bands. The Delgados were named after the cyclist Pedro Delgado (Delgado is also Spanish for ‘thin’) and their first two albums Domestiques (1996) and Peloton (1998) kept the two-wheeled references spinning. They found their typical sound early on: the back-and-forth vocals of Alun Woodward and Emma Pollock, clear and driving bass lines (courtesy of Stewart Henderson), lush strings, dinky piano and woozy synths, smatterings of woodwind and electric guitar that veered between fuzzy and spiky, all backed up with the crisp, rolling drums of Paul Savage. Their lyrics, and delivery, were undoubtedly Scottish in their tone and candour (‘How can I find what’s right / In truth our lives were shite’ – Child Killers), and all the more effective and affecting for it. 2000 album The Great Eastern was Mercury nominated, although this critical recognition was never wholly replicated by commercial success.  Hate (2002) and Universal Audio (2004) followed, and the latter heralded moves toward a more commercial sound.  Also available on Spotify is The Complete BBC Peel Sessions, released in 2006, which features a number of intriguing session tracks, providing unique takes on album tracks as well as covers and otherwise unreleased songs. The band members continue to run the Chemikal Underground label.

Top Picks

Knowing When to Run (The Great Eastern)

Child Killers (Hate)

Pull the Wires from the Wall (Peloton)

American Triology (The Great Eastern)

Parcel of Rogues (Peel Sessions)

Fallout

Some of the band members have gone on to release solo material or formed or worked with other bands. Here are their collective efforts:

Emma Pollock – Watch the Fireworks (2007); The Law of Large Numbers (2010)

Alun Woodward – Lord Cut Glass (2009)

Paul Savage – produced for numerous bands

Stewart Henderson – efforts with Chemikal Underground detailed here.

Also worth checking out is the 2007 album Ballads of the Book, a synergistic work of Scottish writers, poets and musicians which features Delgados members.

Remember Remember / The Quickening

[Released 26/09/2011 - Rock Action]

I first read about this release on Drowned in Sound / Drowned in Scotland for October and discovered it was on Spotify yesterday. I didn’t hear the first, eponymous, Remember Remember release – which was a creation of then sole member Graeme Ronald. Now with an expanded roster of musicians the sound is full and varied. Though loosely a post-rock instrumental album on the Rock Action imprint, this doesn’t have the loud-quiet-loud dynamic of many Mogwai numbers, but shares their infectious hooks and way with a humorous song title (witness the pop-inflections of closer ‘John Candy’). I am particularly drawn to ‘Ocean Potion’ and ‘Unclean Powers’, both integrating subtle brass instrumentation into an overall woozy soundscape of glockenspiel, electric guitar and light drums. With a cinematic atmosphere (for what kind of film I’m not sure) this is a perfect one to listen to on an empty train rolling through the city at night.  Recommended.

TRACKLISTING

1. White Castle

2. Ocean Potion

3. Scottish Widows

4. Hey Zeus

5. Unclean Powers

6. A Larger Demon

7. One Happier

8. John Candy

Mogwai / Earth Division

Click cover art to open in Spotify

[Released 12/09/2011 – Rock Action]

Another EP, following the release of the very popular album, Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will. This collection of four songs will surprise many Mogwai listeners, although if they meet the music on its own terms then they are in for a real treat. Opener ‘Get to France’ begins as a foreboding synergy of piano and strings before introducing its beautifully redemptive hook. It’s all wrapped up within 2 and a half minutes, followed by more piano and this time harmonica in the opening to ‘Hound of Winter’. A sparsely picked acoustic guitar combines with shuddering strings and plaintive vocals. After this rather atypical duo, ‘Drunk and Crazy’ opens with 2 minutes of madcap distortion before sobering strings and piano suddenly arrive on the scene. These elements combine in the second half of the track to create something weirdly beautiful and captivating. Final track ‘Does this Always Happen?’ could be an overture of what has gone before, a 10 note electric guitar hook acts like a call and response to more beautiful violin, while loose stabs of piano precis and react to this engaging interaction.

 TRACKLISTING

1. Get to France

2. Hound of Winter

3. Drunk and Crazy

4. Does this Always Happen?

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins / Honest Words

click the cover art to open in spotify
Released 19/09/2011 - Domino Records

Having enjoyed the duo’s June release I was pleased to see this EP hitting the virtual shelves last week. The EP contains 3 tracks, two newly released and one a re-working of the awesome Bats in the Attic. This triptych acts as an extension of Diamond Mine rather than a radical change in sound, which is no bad thing as many complained that the album was rather short to represent the culmination of many years’ collaboration-at-a-distance. After catching an awesome live show in the Union Chapel I’ll be looking forward to what KC and JH might have in store for the future.

TRACKLISTING

1. Honest Words

2. Aurora Boring Alias

3. Bats in the Attic (Unravelled)