Posted in SHOFT on Friday 24th February 2012 at 8:02pm
I can distinctly remember my first encounter with Randolph's Leap - tipped off that there was a band I might just like I stumbled across a bandcamp page packed with tunes, all illustrated with strange doodles apparently courtesy of Microsoft Paint. However, a brief listen confirmed that there was something special here - not least that rare realisation that taking everything too seriously isn't always the best option. After an excellent EP on Olive Grove Records and a single to coincide with an appearance at last years' Homegame, Adam Ross and his motley band of co-conspirators have been a little quiet of late. So this release, a limited edition of just thirty cassettes on Peenko Records - and happily a less unobtainable digital counterpart - collects together a bunch of recent recordings. There are some familiar tunes, lots of new favourites, and even a couple of demented computer game soundtrack pieces thrown in. Mostly, it's the work of songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Ross which appears here, supported by some selected guests and occasional bandmates. But drenched in the hiss of analogue reproduction, the clicks and crackles of home recording and the comfortingly old-school need to flip the tape half way, this is far more important than a mere stop-gap in the Randolph's Leap story.
Despite the relatively low-tech premise of this release, moments of genuine, poignant reflection abound which in typical style are swiftly flipped on their heads, coming face to face with sometimes slightly uncomfortable observations of the everyday. The whole thing is delivered via a stream of wordplay, punning and rhyming which ranges from the dazzling to the beautifully absurd. Opening gambit "Sunday Morning" is a distant cousin of the Velvet Underground track of the same name - an understated and gentle strum, a quietly pretty keyboard counter-melody and our first hearing of Adam Ross' affecting vocal. Stretching for impossible notes here, Ross sounds to be at the edge of his range which lends a strange and likeable vulnerability which complements the sometimes self-deprecating humour. There is an echo of gentle desperation too in "I Can't Dance To This Music Anymore" which tempers it's apparent finality with "I'll give it one last chance then I'm walking out the door". Ross manages to capture that difficult moment of knowing the right thing to do, but being utterly afraid of change. Set against a quietly lovely melody and with a choir of supporting voices joining later in the track, it becomes the perfect rallying cry for the silently frustrated among us.
Elsewhere "The Nonsense In My Head" picks up the threads abandoned by Belle and Sebastian somewhere around their third record when they finally made the leap to becoming a fully paid-up seventies cover band. Now accompanied by the full band, this sets off at a spirited shuffling pace, with plenty of twee-as-it-gets recorder accompaniment and a fiendishly addictive tune which lodges deep in the back of your skull, the addition of some solid drums and a skiffle-influenced mid section just make this all the more joyous a listen. "On That Fateful Day" seems to be performed almost entirely on woodblocks and those aforementioned recorders, giving it the strange flavour of a school music lesson until the euphoric burst of a chorus. Here we find an interesting twist in Ross's rhyming skills, in his habit of using place names. During the course of the cassette, firstly "Crossmyloof" and then "Cowdenbeath" feature in audaciously odd couplets which I won't reveal for fear of spoiling the surprise and delight when they land. Just prior to the release of "The Curse of the Haunted Headphones", a seemingly gloomy sounding tune called "Dying In My Sleep" surfaced as a taster. In fact the tune is an irrepressibly happy ode to complete irresponsibility, which had a chorus which sounds like Noel Coward, reincarnated to haunt the central belt. And just to ensure every niche is catered for, those who express concern at the preponderance of beards in Scottish music will be delighted by "The Will To Shave", a brief ditty in which the - admittedly smooth-chinned - Ross relates the tale of a character whose friends become increasingly concerned when an ungoverned growth of facial hair seems to signal some sort of moral decline. As he queries with the utmost sincerity "How could one find such a darkened state of mind/to let it grow so long?", it's hard not to laugh along with a tale which has just a hint of genuine pathos hidden in it's tangled beard.
Thinking back to those early impressions of Randolph's Leap and the ever present sense of playfulness around these tunes, it's surprising to detect a darker edge to the set of songs here - more than once Ross hints at reaching the edges of reason and sanity, of the fear of losing control or the exhausting nature of existing just on the edge of things. If you're one of those people who has found themselves feeling distinctly uncomfortable in a club you never wanted to enter in the first place, has realised that everyone else seems to have a proper adult life while you've not grown up a bit, or who perhaps wonders if laughing aloud is sometimes just the right response to music you love - then this tape is almost certainly perfect for you.
The limited edition cassette release of "The Curse of the Haunted Headphones" on Peenko Records is already sold out, but you can purchase the download from Bandcamp alongside a variety of other, previous Randolph's Leap releases.
Randolph's Leap - I Can't Dance To This Music Anymore
Posted in SHOFT on Thursday 24th February 2011 at 8:02am
There are times when I wonder if I've done the right thing by trying to write about some of the music I stumble clumsily across. Of course there is always that fear that others have said it all before and better - but then I hear things which make me want to jump up and down and tell people to listen. That's exactly what I used to do in fact - but these days, the prospect of me jumping anywhere is a fairly alarming one, and there just aren't so many people around me who are interested in music. So this at least provides me with an outlet for those moments of enthusiasm.
First hearing People, Places, Maps... was just one of those moments. I was always going to be intrigued of course by a band with a name like that - my long-held conviction that music and place are intrinsically linked, all wrapped up in a single band name. It's perhaps a tricky name in some ways, awkward to write and hard to say quickly. But it sums up the songwriter's art, and the wide-angle range of this debut EP comprised seemingly of recent demo recordings. I've been listening to this for a couple of weeks now - mostly when on trains or walking around town - and the sense of movement and momentum in these songs is summed up perfectly by the title it seems.
People, Places, Maps... originate from Dunfermline - a place I know little about beyond once applying for a job there. Its one of those places I imagine, not unlike home here, where the gravitational pull of nearby large cities with their dizzying eddy of venues and oversupply of average bands makes getting heard a struggle. Credit then to this talented bunch for getting their music heard via this collection of songs which is freely available from their bandcamp. Kicking off with the melodic jangle of "Plans" which sets out the band's stall ably - assured and lyrical pop music with a deceptively catchy guitar line weaving in and out of the track until it reaches a noisy, life-affirmingly epic conclusion. Next up "Hotel Room" strides off with a nod to the tradition of Scots Americana which has always been done so well in the central belt. The emotional pull of the vocals harking back to the theme of place with the desperate sounding cry of "I walk down the same old streets..." as a well-placed violin joins the track. It's easy to do strings badly - too much, too often or just in the wrong place. People, Places, Maps... avoid this - deploying them where they belong to maximum effect. "Splinter" goes on to ground the band in the growing group of slick, professional melodic rock acts which Scotland is producing - alongside Make Sparks and Trapped in Kansas among others.
The stand-out track for me remains the wonderfully understated "Sarah's Song", starting with a gently strummed acoustic guitar and centred on a vocal duet, the song tackles the raw and difficult subjects of grief, powerlessness and remembrance. The violin returns in the company of piano to accompany the male and female voices which spin a truly affecting tale. With this subject matter, what is essentially a pop song could easily be clumsy and trite - but the band avoid this with an openness and honesty which seems to mark them out lyrically from other similar acts. If this bunch of songs are really just tentative demos put out to get the band heard, then this is clearly an act to watch carefully because the skill and sensitivity deployed on this small but near-perfect collection of songs is going to produce some remarkable results in future.
You can read an interview with People, Places, Maps... at Peenko.
People, Places, Maps... - Sarah's Song
Posted in Updates on Sunday 24th February 2002 at 12:00am
Finally got gtkdial 0.4.1 out. Uncertain where to go next with it - I'd like to forget the horrible mess of old code, but then again people keep sending patches and translations, which keeps me interested. Hmm. Last night, went to Burnham and saw Tim & Paul playing at the Crown - including a quite stunning bass solo which completely caught me unawares. Afterwards, was introduced to W.B.Yeats' Ephemera, which was strangely relevant. Preparing for tomorrow's job interview - trying hard to be calm, but the desperation of the situation is more than clear to me.
Posted in Updates on Saturday 24th February 2001 at 12:00am
Massive updating going on courtesy of Red Carpet. Lots of bits and bobs I'd probably not have grabbed had it not been for the novelty. Overnight building goes well. Entire new Mogwai album has arrived on Napster several months before release. The bits I've grabbed so far are predictably amazing, if a little more subdued than previously. Absolutely knackered after yesterday. Vague memories of weird cocktails and a bloke claiming to be either Dave or Harry??
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.