Got the new laptop. Office getting installed today and i’ll be good to go. Let’s get ready to rant!
When I posted that I’d be reviewing all of the albums nominated for the SAY Awards, my old school pal Peter Dorrington posted that Admiral Fallow’s ‘Tree Busts In Snow’ was his tip to win. I listened to the album for the first time that night and within the first 30 seconds I understood why.
My first thought when listening to it was ‘this is a brilliant album, why aren’t they huge’. When groups like Elbow and I Am Kloot finally got to enjoy their moment in the sun, you’d imagine that those fans would pounce upon an album like this, and to be honest this record is consistently better than the last Elbow album.
‘Tree Bursts In Snow’ manages to blend the epic, with catchy upbeat numbers, intimate arrangements and slow burners, and whilst you’re hooked immediately it gets better with every listen. The album was produced and mixed at Glasgow’s Chem 19 studios by Paul Savage (Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai, Teenage Fanclub), and mastered by Greg Calbi (Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, The National) at Sterling Sound in New York. There’s definitely the feel of those American acts in this album, but it still retains its Scottish voice. To lump it in with nu-folk or Scottish indie would be to do it a disservice, this is a timeless, class album that will be around for a long time.
That’s it, short and sweet, normally in a review I’d highlight the stand-out tracks, but this is an album that’s without a weak track. Check it out online then buy a copy, and pick up their first album as well. Tell your mates, and if there’s any justice, the rest of the world will catch up soon enough.
I kicked off yesterday by sorting out some weed issues, then I grabbed a few beers and went to a block party, where I stayed for hours.
There was a time where that would have been a typically wild weekend, not for this respectable 40 year old family man. Myself and Mrs Dave got up early on Sunday morning to clear our overgrown garden of weeds and an excess of herbs, as we try to get it towards being a useable space. Then in the afternoon we went to my street’s annual street party.
I’m not going to share my address with the world, but it’s a nice middle-class street on the edge of town. Whilst very much a family street, there’s a wide mix of ages, as well as people who’ve lived there all their lives, to folks relatively new to the country. We close off part of the street, set up a load of trestle tables, folks bring chairs, loads of food and booze, and all manner of stuff for the kids to do, then for about 5 hours a load of the people that live in our street just hang out and talk to each other whilst the kids run about having a great time.
When we first moved to the street a couple of years ago, we saw the flyers and were sceptical as to what it would be like, but it was a fantastic day, aided by sun and a few tipples. Last year we missed the street party as it took place during the Fringe (and I have no life beyond work during August), so when our daughter found out that we bought our new house in the same street the first thing she said was “that means we can still go to the street party.”
Most street parties tend to be for something that not everyone gets on board with, be it a royal wedding or jubilee, but this annual street party was set up simply as a way for everyone to get together and enjoy each other’s company. Due to the different times the people go about their business, you tend to see the same faces, so it’s fun to share a beer with people you don’t normally see. There is the danger that such things can seem contrived, and I’m a big old cynic, but we’ve lucked out and live in a street where there actually is a sense of community. I’m useless with names and faces, and not always the most chatty when going about my business, but it’s that old school thing where everyone says hello to everyone and people take the time to acknowledge one and other.
I know from my daughter that yesterday was something that the children have been looking forward for a long time, and actually for the parents it’s great to be able to let the kids run about more freely and know that they’re safe as whilst we all get to relax, everyone’s looking out for all the kids.
There’s no great point or message to this post, other than to say that in a world where communities and families are more disparate, and whilst people can be wrapped up in their own little cocoon, living their life online, there’s nothing better than when people get together for the sake of getting together and appreciating being part of something good. With a bunch of cold beers, and an impressive array of home cooking and baking (you can’t go wrong with Mrs Dave’s Victoria sponge) I for one am already looking forward to next year.
Last weekend I revisited my old stomping ground Shoreditch/Hoxton as myself and the gorgeous Mrs Dave popped down to London for my birthday weekend. Whilst I might have done press for the Rough Guide music CDs back in the day, I’ve never done any travel writing, so here’s a sample of my London’s best bits:
Considering that this place was cheaper than what it would’ve cost us to stay at a Premier Inn, we got somewhere infinitely cooler. Although you’d maybe think that the hotel in Hoxton would be a small boutique affair, this area is too much of a destination for that. With stripped brickwork, a gallery display from Pure Evil, macs with giant monitors for folks to use, a cool Bombay Gin, ice cream selling beer garden, an old school passport photo booth, and books and records lying about next to the lifts on each floor, it’s boutique chic but on an affordable, grand scale.
Rooms are pretty straightforward, they could’ve had more tea (always a gripe with me) but I had a coffee bag (coffee in a tea bag) and it was definitely not my last. You get a free ‘breakfast’ which consists of banana, greek yoghurt and fruit compote, and a bottle of fresh orange. You can buy a fry up, but this is a cool/cheaper/healthier option, or at worst enough to tide you over until you find a proper breakfast elsewhere, more on that in a bit…
The rooms were quiet, beds comfy and the shower was top notch; a good long shower before a hearty cooked breakfast is my favourite way to begin the day on holiday.
All in all, good place, good price, good location.
I saw the above link and was definitely intrigued, I was concerned that it might be wanky nonsense and Mrs Dave unimpressed. I am drawn towards modern/conceptual art, so whenever that is combined with music I’m there like a shot, I’ve only ever bought one book at an exhibition and that was Christian Marclay.
Lisson Gallery is off the beaten track (OK, 5 min walk from Edgware Rd tube) but this exhibition is FREE. When you go in your greeted with a series of different turntables making music with non-music needle on the groove noises; we were sure which way this was going to go…. Next room you have to change into flip flops and enter a small all-white room on your own for an unexpected audio-visual experience. The absolute highlight of the exhibition is a room upstairs with a low ceiling, walls covered in sound proofing, with a circle of speakers attached to a light in the middle of the room that indicates which speaker the note/noise is coming from. This was thoroughly absorbing, engaging, amusing, and put a smile on our face.
A short and sweet exhibition, but well worth it.
Tate Modern is on every tourist to-do list, I hadn’t been in years, and although the Turbine Hall is shut and I missed the Lichtenstein exhibition, it’s still a must see place.
Cool little shop in Hoxton with a selection of lovely bikes, cool accessories and a limited range of clothing that I’ve googled since coming home. Mrs Dave was very smitten by a pink single speed.
I booked this from Edinburgh without even realising that it was part of my hotel. As you’d expect, it’s a meat lovers place. We were seated in what seemed to be an unlikely and naff spot, but we were hungry so overlooked that.
Fillet steak was pricey so I opted for a ribeye, which was very tasty, Mrs Dave went for a cajun chicken. I followed it was a delicious warm chocolate brownie with ice cream, Mrs Dave’s banana split was enough to feed a family. We left well fed and happy.
A bit of a busman’s holiday for me. The Invisible Dot put on a fantastic selection of shows at their new-ish Kings Cross venue. It’s definitely a cooler place than The Stand, but inside was extremely cramped and I couldn’t have lasted more than an hour; it might be hipper but as a space for comedy it was very Fringey and not a patch on The Stand.
Adam Buxton was doing a Fringe work in progress, it’s what you’d hope an Adam Buxton show would be, and well worth checking out when it hits the road.
Random fact: Adam rocked up to the club on a bright pink Brompton.
Expect to queue at this first come, first served rustic, hip eatery in Hoxton, but boy is it worth it. They’ve got a phenomenal selection of delicious, fresh breakfast food of every description at decent prices. We took my sister and her husband to be on the Saturday and enjoyed it so much we went back the following day.
We went for the works, bacon, sausage, french toast, pancakes, etc, etc. Mrs Dave said that the eggs florentine was perfect. Go on, treat yourself.
I love a bit of outsider art, but wasn’t really familiar with the Japanese stuff, so this was quite exciting. They’ve a cracking selection of the great and the good of the scene, ranging from drawings on a par with my daughter’s rather leftfield creations to some absolutely stunning pieces that are all the more amazing as these artists are completely self taught and do it primarily for the love of art.
We also checked out the medical museum with some fascinating stuff Mr Wellcome’s collection.
Opened at a time when people were proclaiming the death of the independent record store, Rough Trade opened a big and bold shop right in the heart of Brick Lane area, full of vinyl, books, performance space and a coffee shop. We did some stuff there for World Circuit, and even though it’s not a cheap shop, it’s hard not to leave there lighter in the wallet.
A mecca for single speed and fixies, a cracking shop jam packed with beautiful bikes, for someone like me it’s out and out cycle-porn. If I won the lottery I’d demand a loyalty card for this place. They also had some cool clothes at pretty decent prices; their range with H&M had some cracking stuff but it sold out before I got paid and annoyingly they’ve not followed it up with a permanent range. I live in hope.
Kingsland Road is the place to go for Vietnamese food in London, and Viet Grill was where we took Mr Rock and his soon to be Mrs. For some reason most of the places on the street are known for having great food but awful service; we got there and the place was rammed, but on this occasion the service was good and very quick. Vietnamese beer was pretty generic but the spring rolls were lovely and my red duck curry was a first for me and something I’ll definitely try again. These places were the food of choice at World Circuit and it was good to be back.
Mr Rock has Brewdog shares and he hadn’t been to this one, so as ale lovers and with a man with a discount card it was the obvious choice. Unlike the Edinburgh Brewdog this one has more space and wasn’t as rammed.
Purists turn their noses at Brewdog, but they’ve gotten a new generation interested in different beers, and although quite strong, the selection we sampled was right up our street. The staff were nice and knew their stuff, they gave us tasters and made good suggestions; if you’re a fan of good beers then I’d pay it a visit.
So as I was living it up in the big smoke over the weekend I missed the announcement of the SAY Awards shortlist, whilst there are maybe one or two albums I’d have swapped, they’ve made a pretty decent job. That being said, the remaining 10 albums in the longlist are still pretty damn impressive, so to allow us to focus on those albums still in the hunt for the main prize, I’ll review the others all here.
Calvin Harris ’18 Months’
Some folks were none too pleased at the inclusion of this album from the Dumfries born global dance superstar. As the SAY website itself states – Calvin Harris is one of the hottest DJs and hit makers in the world right now with numerous #1’s under his belt – not least the worldwide smash ‘We Found Love’ with Rihanna – and over 500,000 albums sold in the UK. His seemingly unstoppable takeover of the US has continued with the single ‘Feel So Close’ now reaching over 1 million downloads.
This is unashamed dancefloor filler poptastic, radio friendly music; 18 Months has even surpassed Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ record of 7 chart hits. The record is chock-a-block with collaborations, Kelis, Rihanna, Ne-Yo, Example, Florence Welch, Tinie Tempah, and Ellie Goulding. This isn’t my cup of tea, but I can appreciate that if this sort of thing is your thing then Calvin Harris is the man, and the track with Rihanna is pretty damn good. My favourite tracks on the album were actually the solo tunes, ‘Feels So Good’ is cool, and funky instrumental ‘School’ reminds me of early Money Mark.
Ultimately, it is what it is, and whilst I think it a bit snobby for folks to turn their noses up at its inclusion, it was the right move to have it bow out of the race at this stage.
Dam Mantle ‘Brothers Fowl’
Artist and electronic producer Tom Marshallsay has been releasing 12” and EPs for a number of years, but this is his debut album release. I’m not genre expert, so I’ll call this ‘intelligent ambient’, and being as I’m old enough to have bought Orb and Aphex Twin albums first time around, this was right up my street.
I’m not saying that this is a retro album, but rather that it shares sensibilities with the pioneers of that genre. ‘Brothers Fowl’ most definitely paints from a sophisticated pallete, most definitely noir-ish/cinematic, there’s subtle drum and bass, and jazz undercurrents, quirky little electronica touches, and much more.
It’s unlikely to change your opinion on ambient, but if you’re open to that then immerse yourself in this album, it’s a good un.
Emile Sande ‘Our Version of Events’
Emeli Sandé is arguably the biggest female star in the UK, and her star is rising around the world, in fact, at a younger age she wrote songs for Rihanna and Alicia Keys, who if she continues at this rate will be considered her equals soon enough.
‘Our Version Of Events’ was the biggest selling album of 2012 in the UK, and tracks like ‘Next To Me’ and ‘Heaven’ seemed to be absolutely everywhere last year, and whilst it’s easy to knock the successful, they are cracking tunes. Sande does have a fine voice, and it’s a remarkably assured debut album.
Most of us are curious to see how she follows it up, and hope that she doesn’t go all slick and American on us, although the slight Sheena Easton-esque twang she seems to have adopted doesn’t bode well; that being said, she’ll probably win a Grammy.
Errors ‘Have Some Faith In Magic’
Glasgow trio Errors are signed to Mogwai’s label, which doesn’t really come as a huge surprise. This is their third studio album, and nine years after they started, continue to develop their sound.
This album could simplistically be described as atmospheric electronica, but plenty of guitars, and rather haunting vocals. There’s all manner of sci-fi and computer games sounds, which tips it’s cap to a certain era, but as such effects weren’t used in this kind of music back then, shows that they’re doing something a little different.
One can pick up on the Talk Talk and Cocteau Twins influences, but that’s no such bad thing. This album would be the perfect soundtrack to an 80s sci-fi soundtrack, made in 2013, and although it’s not wholly successful, is definitely worth checking out.
Konrad Wiszniewski & Euan Stevenson ‘New Focus’
Every award that tries to be taken seriously has to have a folk and a jazz album, and whilst the folk album got shortlisted, the jazz album didn’t. I’ve got plenty of modern jazz albums in my collection, but they tend to be jazz-funk, hip-hop or electronica influenced, and so on; I’ve got very little straight ahead modern jazz.
My main beef with modern jazz is that it tends to be overly produced, lacking in soul, uber technically proficient, and so on, the sort of thing that you can appreciate without it actually moving you.
Being Scottish, this album has a lot more warmth and feeling than its European counterparts; first off I am a total sucker for the bass, and the track Intro is basically a jazz bass solo, so I was hooked right there. They’ve described the album as: “Taking the classic Stan Getz with strings album ‘Focus’ as a point of departure, ‘New Focus’ consists of genre-crossing original compositions by Wszniewski and Stevenson, blending jazz with classical and Scottish folk idioms.”
With a rather unconventional string quartet meets jazz quartet (plus harp) this album provides a rather distinctive soundscape, it’s certainly cinematic, atmospheric, and other words ending in ‘ic’. Having enjoyed the album I’m very curious to see how the present it live, where I reckon that it’ll sound even better. One of these days I hope a jazz album scoops the big prize, maybe next time…
Miaoux Miaoux ‘Light of the North’
For some reason I had assumed that Miaoux Miaoux would be some generic indie band, but when there’s a Get Carter-eque motif right at the start of the opening track, I realised that I’d got them all wrong.
This is an album chock full of warmth and emotion for an electronic album, with cool little melodic touches and interesting sounds and textures. Whilst I’m not 100% convinced by the official blurb “an irresistible concoction of beats, grooves and choruses assembled with a restless invention, it’s an intelligent, kaleidoscopic road trip of an album,” this is an album that I’ll give repeat listens.
PAWS are the lo-fi sound of young Scotland, so I kinda wish I have a youth correspondent to review stuff that they’re more likely to properly love. I appreciate their raw energy, but the garage band, lo-fi, diamond in the rough style isn’t really my bag, BUT…..PAWS aren’t just a bunch of generic young indie hipsters with a style aimed at the cool kids.
Whilst the music is student friendly rock/punk, it’s definitely aimed at the thinkers more than the drunken headbangers. With heartfelt lyrics of loss, breakdown, families, bullying, and despair, PAWS wear their heart on their sleeve.
PAWS have been signed to Fat Cat Records, and if that label’s output is anything to go by, they’ll be given the support to develop their sound and take it in interesting directions, and whilst this grumpy old man might not join them on the journey, for those that will it could be a fun ride.
The Unwinding Hours ‘Afterlives’
From the epic, propulsive opener ‘Break’ this is what I was expecting from a SAY Award nominated album, a sort of thinking man’s Snow Patrol, but delve deeper and this is an extremely varied and interesting album. Actually, you could say that it offers a snapshot of where Scottish music is at right now(ish); as it says in the official blurb “With influences as diverse as The Flaming Lips, Max Richter, The Cocteau Twins and even Laurie Anderson, The Unwinding Hours’ album flits effortlessly between the minimal and the cinematic.”
Consider this cliché time, but the album is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride that requires repeat listening and sitting back in a comfy chair with your headphones on and for want of a better word ‘unwind’.
The debut solo album from Blue Nile frontman Paul Buchanan is a beautiful little album. When a review call something ‘little’ it’s often dismissive, but not in this case. ’Mid Air’ is very much an intimate work with short songs and minimal instrumentation, and is genuinely stunning.
If you want a simple comparison it’s a late night Tom Waits meets Tindersticks, with hints of Sinatra. There’s 14 songs of just vocals and piano, with minor subtle orchestration, but the songs are so moving, with masterful heartfelt vocals that it never seems monotonous or lacking; in fact, the sparseness adds an extra layer of emotion to the proceedings.
‘Mid Air’ was for want of a better word, inspired, by the death of a close friend, and unsurprisingly the album is full of loss, longing, love and life. This is an album that should be listened to in its entirety, which considering its length should be too tricky, sit back and appreciate the vocal imagery, and the albums heartfelt beauty.
At 56 Paul Buchanan is a master of his own talent, a lesser artist would have been tempted to add more to the record, but that would have taken away from what it is. I’m happy to discovered this album, and will go and check out some Blue Nile as a result. You can pick up a copy for about 6 quid, and I urge that you do.
In a soundbite: undertstated beauty from a master of his craft.
As Willy Wonka himself said “you’ve got to go back in order to go forward”, and the first album from Malcolm Middleton’s new project Human Don’t Be Angry does exactly that, and it works a treat.
Middleton is the former Arab Strap guitarist, turned acclaimed solo act, and this project is as joyfully quirky as you’d hope it would be. Human Don’t Be Angry’s name (‘Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht’) is the German translation for the board game Frustration which in itself signals that Middleton’s 1980s influences are more likely to be Human League rather than Hungry Hippos. Simply put, he put on his Frankie t-shirt, flexed his musical muscles and relaxed.
The album kicks off with ‘The Missing Plutonium’, what The Orb and Dave Gilmour could have been. ‘H.D.B.A. Theme’ starts like Metallica’s ‘One’ but ignores the epic angst in favour of computerised vocals. Although largely instrumental, Middleton does contribute a few vocals here and there, including ‘First Person Singular, Present Tense’ spoken through various effects.
There are some rather lovely tracks like ‘After The Pleasuredome’ and ‘Monologue_ River’, whilst ‘1985’ is a rather more interesting than most pop from that year. ‘Askliipio’ is an atmospheric epic and any album that concludes with a track called ‘Getting Better (At Feeling Like Shit)’.
As the SAY website explains, ‘Human Don’t Be Angry’ is “Incorporating electronica, live drums, loops and a myriad of intertwining guitar lines.” Why would you not want to get yourself some of that, and for fans of CDs and vinyl, the artwork is fantastic.
In a soundbite: The Mighty Middleton goes Back to the Future