Monday, February 10, 2014

Scottish Jams

By the time you read this, I will be in Scotland. Sarah and I have taken the week off work and gone away to the land of her fathers, where thistles and white heather flourish on the banks of Irn-Bru rivers.

In celebration of this much-needed holiday, I thought I'd take a little meander through the Scottish portion of my The Album Wall. Bonnie Scotland has contributed a surprising amount of smashing music to my collection over the years, and it's high time I acknowledged that fact.

Mogwai are the obvious starting point. The first 'Gwai album I bought was Come On Die Young - you may remember that I blogged about it back in January - and since that happy little slab of sunshine first disappeared into my CD player, I've enjoyed a long and lusty affair with the band's music (I'm actually listening to Rave Tapes, their latest album, as I type this). Seeing them at Cardiff's Coal Exchange on the Mr. Beast tour was a truly monstrous, mammoth experience; thinking back, I'm kind of surprised that my ears ever stopped ringing after Glasgow Mega-Snake.

But Mogwai are only the tip of my Scotrock iceberg! Arab Strap are almost as well-represented on my CD rack, and that's a pretty inspiring achievement given that the first AS album I heard was purchased on an uninformed whim. I remember picking up The Last Romance from a record shop in Inverness (or possibly Aberdeen...this was quite a while ago) because I wanted to sample the local music and I though TLR's cover art looked pretty cool:

I was instantly a big fan of that album, especially the neckbreakers (Speed Date and If There's No Hope For Us), which still rank among my most-beloved Arab Strap tracks of all.

After The Last Romance - which, fittingly, turned out to be the final Arab Strap album - I leapt into the band's past, starting with the career-spanning compilation Ten Years of Tears and gradually picking up their studio albums when the chances presented themselves. Philophobia is my favourite now, with its slow-burning arrangements and Aidan Moffat's lyrics at their hilarious, brutally honest best.

Of course, Moffat continued to make music under his own name, and I've got two smashing post-Strap Aidan Moffat albums on the rack: Everything's Getting Older and How to Get to Heaven from Scotland. They're both real gems; I've already written a track-by-track dissertation on what EGO means to me, but How to Get to Heaven... is equally close to my heart, so be sure to check that out if you haven't before.

Also of note: Aidan Moffat's astoundingly funny relationship advice column.

Looking somewhat further north, we come to Colin MacIntyre, a.k.a. Mull Historical Society. I first got into MHS because Loss, MacIntyre's first album, seemed to be on every Amazon list I encountered (Listmania was an important source of good albums in my early days - OK Computer, for example, was purchased off the back of many, many Listmania recommendations). I got it cheap off eBay, and I strongly suggest that you do the same; MacIntyre's peculiar brand of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Hebridean pop is irresistible, and while the albums that followed are very good too, Loss remains his magnum opus.

Of course, if we're talking about my 'early days', we must touch upon Travis. I loved Flowers in the Window long before I knew what a Radiohead was, and their Singles compilation was one of the first things I thought of once I'd decided that, yes, buying CDs was something I did now.

Like The Great Beyond by R.E.M. and Sitting Down Here by Lene Marlin, Flowers in the Window was one of the songs that really caught my ear when it was in heavy rotation on Radio 2 back in my primary school years. Happily, Singles turned out to be one of those albums where you're familiar with more songs than you realised - neither Coming Around nor Why Does it Always Rain on Me? were new to me, and they sat quite nicely along cool new discoveries like Re-Offender (love the chorus), The Beautiful Occupation (love the verses), and Happy (love it all over).

Sticking with the theme of early discoveries, let's talk about Idlewild, baby. The Edinburgh outfit were the first band I ever saw live (they supported R.E.M. at the Millennium Stadium back in 2005), and while my mind wasn't exactly blown at the time - I was very, very far away from the stage, in my defence - I grew to love them soon enough. I got The Remote Part for Christmas that same year, and loved it from top to bottom, from the first snare drum crack of You Held the World in Your Arms to the last, stunning chords of epic closer In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction.

I eventually arrived at the noisier end of Idlewild's catalogue, where 100 Broken Windows and Hope is Important reside. It's hard to choose a favourite from Idlewild's first three albums, but I feel like 100 Broken Windows might edge it; it's the perfect combination of chaotic, punky Idlewild (as captured on Hope is Important) and big, skyscraping Idlewild (who came into their own on The Remote Part).

It's been a while since Idlewild put out an album, but the band's constituent members have done some good stuff too. Guitarist Rod Jones has a band called The Birthday Suit, who are pretty excellent:

Roddy Woomble has done some solo stuff, too. I don't actually have any of his albums - packed with folky loveliness though I'm sure they are - but I did see him play in Aberdeen shortly after the release of My Secret is My Silence in 2006. That gig was remarkable enough, with virtuoso backing musicians and cool, stripped-back versions of some Idlewild favourites; however, the support band made it even better.

I don't think Foxface are still a going concern, but that's certainly a shame if so. They had this sort of angry folk-rock thing going on - their album is called This is What Makes Us, and I'd definitely recommend it. You can get it on bandcamp - click here if you fancy.

The last band I'm going to talk about are a far more recent find. Last time Sarah and I were in Scotland, we went to a record shop in Glasgow called Love Music. I asked the guy what he recommended, and he introduced me to Woodenbox with a Fistful of Fivers. His description of them (I don't remember it word-for-word, but it involved the words 'gypsy' and 'trumpet' in fairly close quarters) was enough to sell it to me, and fortunately, my faith was rewarded:

As per usual, I can't find the best songs on YouTube (ugh, what a hipster I am), but take my word for it - Home and the Wildhunt is a great album that deserves your attention. The best ones, of course, are the ones that push the trumpet to the fore, like spaghetti western suicide song Hang the Noose and the strutting, self-assured Twisted Mile.

It seems a shame to stop this blog post now, with so many great Scottish acts left unmentioned. This has become quite a long one, though, and so the likes of Camera Obscura, Frightened Rabbit, Belle & Sebastian, The Murderburgers, The Aliens, Errors, Cosmic Rough Riders, My Latest Novel, Kid Canaveral, The Pictish Trail, Edwyn Collins, Franz Ferdinand and Alasdair Roberts will have to wait until the next time I go to Scotland. In the meantime, I'm off to see what's new at Love Music...

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