Posted in SHOFT on Sunday 8th April 2012 at 10:04pm
Having relentlessly complained about having little time to write here, I find myself with the unusual luxury of a long weekend and a few extra days of leisure before my journey to Fife - and in typical style I'm finding all kinds of diversionary activities to prevent needing to actually do any of the things I ought to. Having managed to spend yesterday speeding around the country largely without purpose, and today idly breaking and fixing this computer more than once, one common theme has emerged - and that's the soundtrack to my procrastination. It strikes me as I write this that I Build Collapsible Mountains have achieved the unique distinction of appearing in both of the Songs Heard On Fast Trains end of year lists to date, despite never getting an article to themselves. Whether this is down to my inefficiency, bad timing, or the peculiarly low-key approach to releasing music employed by Luke Joyce, its very clearly an oversight which needs to be corrected with the release of this new selection of songs.
This, the third collection of IBCM material, develops the simple premise which Joyce established on "A Month of Lost Memories" and last year's "The Spectator and The Act", delivering perhaps even more emotionally charged narratives via sparse instrumentation focused on his acoustic guitar playing and underplayed, sometimes almost spoken vocals. This is of course a world away from the massive, near-orchestral post rock compositions of The Gothenburg Address where Joyce's talents have previously been put to work, but there is easily as much drama and tension bound up in these simple but often battle-scarred vignettes. The title track opens proceedings, beginning with gently strummed downbeat chords which support Joyce's sometimes laconic but always enigmatic voice. As he almost whispers "this will be my last song for you" there are hints of American Music Club at their damaged, intoxicated best in the delivery. Notably briefer than the sometimes extended tracks on the two previous releases, things shift a little more uptempo if not lyrically upbeat on the appropriately swirling "Carousel". This one is for all of us who've ever been in, or perhaps more frustratingly watched from the sidelines those relationships which endlessly repeat and recycle the same barren ground. There are points in these songs which are almost too graphically, personally harrowing and there is a particularly voyeuristic element to "The Method Actor" where a refrain of "with skin pale and hope lost/you burst like nails in me" is painfully near the bone. Echo-laden percussion is drafted in to sustain the fragile tune through to its ending, as if it too might just expire without urgent assistance.
Some of the most poignant moments here are the simplest and lowest in fidelity. With just a gentle picked guitar and a raw vocal echoing in an empty room "An Exit" is briefly, quietly gorgeous - an unravelling tale of uncomfortable conclusions with "not a word spoken for days now". But there is some wonderfully complex, proficient guitar work here too, especially in the playful and explorartory end section of "Stressing for Midnight" which is a breathlessly dizzy relief in the midst of the record, with delivery not dissimilar in style to RM Hubbert. "Double Dares" is a hark back to more expansive, traditional structures and songwriting, and as such is a reminder of the brace of collections of music Joyce has already released under the IBCM moniker - both like this one quietly, almost apologetically slipping out into the world. Detailing a range of painful trade-offs typified by the line "your beauty is the punch I take", there is a perversely gleeful turn to the melody and even a tinkling of mocking glockenspiel. And then the realisation hits that this is about as backhandedly positive as "Songs From That Never Scene" becomes. But things soon return to type, and my personal highlight "Promenades" is something very special - a bass rhythm beaten out on a single string and flecks of sparkling guitar mark out a sparse, gentle and lovelorn lament, charting the minutiae of a long and convoluted relationship. Joyce starts already battered and broken and slips further from our grasp as the song unfolds. Then when all appears utterly beyond redemption, the track closes with a short burst of joyously complex, almost flamenco guitar playing.
As the album slips away with the repeated refrain of "lets go to the sea" which closes "Swan Song", it seems Luke Joyce and IBCM are at something of a crossroads. With The Gothenburg Address emerging from a couple of years on hiatus, it's possible that this dark, lyrically rich outlet for his songwriting may possibly take a back seat once again. Whilst making us choose between these two fine projects seems deeply unfair, "Songs From That Never Scene" sits as a testament to some of the most vivid, emotionally intelligent songwriting I've heard in a very long time.
I Build Collapsible Mountains - Promenades
You can buy "Songs From That Never Scene" exclusively via the I Build Collapsible Mountains Bandcamp page, and its predecessors can be found via US label Burning Buildings Recordings. Luke Joyce is currently in the midst of a number of Scottish live dates, taking in Ediburgh's Pleasance Theatre on April 11th, The Captain's Rest in Glasgow on April 12th and Dundee Doghouse on April 29th.
Posted in SHOFT on Wednesday 4th April 2012 at 10:04pm
I continue to blunder through a strange period of having very little spare time to sit and think - and ultimately, therefore to write very much. But in this frustratingly busy period, I've found myself saved by a constant trickle of music in the form of singles. Whilst in previous singles columns I've looked for themes to link the releases I've chosen to consider, this time it's more about a contrast - simplicity versus complexity perhaps? Or even professional recording versus good old fashioned DIY releases. Either way, what these two releases do have in common is both a fairly unique approach to music and recording, and also the sense of a great project completed.
"Shells" tumbles in with a brighter melody which contrasts with the rumble of wind and tide which can be heard in the distance. The lyrical territory explored here seems to be obsession - collections are counted, catalogued and stored away for future reference. The vocal here is a little more raw and ungoverned, as TishyTash stretches to find notes to express the yearning for the seaside. The approach is pretty unique, sometimes almost discordant, and it takes a listen or two to fully appreciate what's going on here, but when it clicks into place this is all rather beautiful. Finally the record closes with "The Thomas Song", introduced by one of Taylor's friends ranting about the pointlessness of social networking, and railing at modern culture in general. Meanwhile, TishyTash appears to be singing a love song to a favourite duvet, which is perhaps not such a strange proposition in some ways. As that venerable violin groans into life once again, themes of ageing and passing wisdom between generations are explored.
In a world of singer-songwriters which is sometimes deadly serious and dutifully dull, TishyTash is all about the delight in creating something, sharing it with friends new and old, and most importantly in doing it all your own way. That, in itself, is worthy of your attention.
The second section of "In A Glasshouse" is pure, unabashed and unadulterated rock and roll. A stuttering, shuddering beat and sheets of razor sharp guitar underpin things, while a relentless guitar solo slinks between the beats. There are flashes of proper, old-fashioned heavy metal among squalls of punk rock noise while Watson's voice changes too, shifting from it's contemplative register to a rasping, metallic scream - sometimes within the space of a single phrase. Then for a strange, pensive moment there are just handclaps, urgent gasps of breath and sparse piano chords before the vocals arrive again to close the mammoth eight minute track in a quietly reflective, rather sombre mood. I'm not really sure what's just happened - but it feels like it could be very, very significant.
White Heath - In A Glasshouse
"In A Glasshouse" is part of a curious and intriguing multimedia project with Edinburgh-based artist Emily Hair. You can discover more - and download the track - at the website. I confess I explored the rather fine artworks and scraps of wonderful music without really finding out what was happening, but it is certainly worth your while spending a little time in this slightly dizzy and fantastically unhinged digital world.
Posted in SHOFT on Tuesday 20th March 2012 at 9:03am
I seem to be surrounded by single releases at the moment, and catching up on them is a huge pleasure - but inevitably means that I'm going to keep writing these increasingly lengthy 'catch up' posts about seemingly random collections of music. Today however there are a couple of potential themes - firstly all three of these acts have some connection with Edinburgh. While not always quite as productive or dynamic as Glasgow which houses the machinery of the Scottish music industry, there is a sense of something stirring on the east coast among a clutch of young bands just seeing their first releases. Secondly, these releases are by bands which are right at the start of their journey - a fragile and eventful time which often produces some of the most interesting recordings of a band's career. All of these releases deserve a listen, and ideally for you to part with the few quid necessary to get hold of them. They may just become little pieces of pop history after all!
Title track "Can't Go Back" has a pensive feel, a strange eastern European flavour adding to the air of paranoia. The guitars skitter playfully around the strangely foreign sounding tune as the lyric relates a tale of anonymity and flying under the radar - with Harrison claiming "I don't want to be seen/for reasons I just can't explain". Finally "Mines, Mills and Factories is a clever and measured post-industrial hymn to lost empire, forgotten prosperity, and dissolved pride - the work of "ignorant minds with reckless hands". Like most political songwriting this could all be very clumsy and dogmatic, but it comes across as gently human and considered, with Harrison expressing regret and frustration but never slipping into impotent rage. The churning guitars and complex basslines drive the song on with quiet insistence, just like the message here. The ability to write intelligent, captivating lyrics about something beyond love and lust is rare, and to couple it to deftly played, addictive tunes is a triumph. There may well be some changes coming up in the Morris Major camp over the next few months with members of the band scattering to the winds, and I can only hope that somehow, the inventive songwriting at the heart of these gems continues and that they resurface in some new form soon. In the meantime, download both this and their previous EP and marvel at how beautifully direct pop music can still be exciting and relevant.
Morris Major - Intrepid
The "Can't Go Back EP" will be available at Bandcamp from 1st April. Morris Major also appear at Edinburgh's Wee Red Bar on Friday 23rd March and Bannerman's on 4th April.
"The Halfway House" is heartfelt, chest-swelling stuff with a lyric which switches from tiny, detailed observations to sweeping descriptions of places and journeys, the opening few lines in particular being a masterclass in scene-setting - but I'll leave those to delight you on first listen as they did me. As such this is darkly pretty, stirring and sneakily catchy stuff. You're going to see those terms crop up a lot in reviews of Letters over the next year I'm sure - but it's not lazy journalism, it's just about the best description I can string together of this gem of a song. Any early concern that Letters palette was limited by their approach and their reliance on the cello is unfounded - they have the ability to conjure with moods and tones which makes me long for the EP and eventually the album to finally hear what they're capable of. If the point of releasing these songs is to hook us in, then mission accomplished.
Letters - The Halfway House
You can buy "The Halfway House" for just a pound on iTunes, the proceeds of which will help Letters to record their debut album. If ever there was a musical cause worthy of your quid, this is probably it. Letters are touring right now with Where We Lay Our Heads, appearing at The Captains Rest in Glasgow on 22nd March before heading into the Highlands.
"Rooftops" is a quieter proposition, delicate and restrained, but delighting in some of the most intricate guitar work to be found here. This showcases perfectly the variations in tone, pace and colour which Radials can achieve despite taking the form of a fairly traditional trio completed by Matty Saywell's guitar and Al Baker's almost superhumanly deft bass work. Finally "Dashboard" manages to deliver that most elusive of things - an English road song. The Americans have always had this cornered with their long straight highways and epic coast-to-coast journeys but Radials were built for this, with tarmac and tyres embedded in their name. A rumble of distorted bass and Sarah's regret at reaching the edge of the city and losing the open road see this fade into the distance. It's easy to forget that Radials have only existed since last Autumn, and in that time seem to have become an industrious three-person arts collective with beautiful DIY sleeves and posters, and now this EP packed with tight, complex and spiky tunes. I can't wait to hear more, and I hope I manage to see this band play live very soon.
Radials - Ships In The Night
Maintaining the DIY ethic, each CD is hand-painted and comes in a 7" single sleeve with a fold out print cover featuring four separate artworks - one for each track. Time, thought and effort have gone into producing this - from the cover, right through to the intelligent pop music which graces the disc. It seems only right you buy a copy soon, by visiting the bands online store. Radials are playing all over London, and will be appearing an Manchester's Night and Day Cafe on April 19th, and Sneaky Pete's in Edinburgh on April 20th.
Posted in SHOFT on Wednesday 14th March 2012 at 11:03pm
It hardly seems like a year has passed since the mysterious and much anticipated debut album from The Son(s) appeared to an expectant crowd of bloggers who seemed to have been talking about it for a very long time. In that year, having lived with the record through good times and bad, there are songs which have stood the test of longevity with ease, and most often it's those which were perhaps the more downbeat on that otherwise glossy slice of pop perfection which have aged best of all. Way back then I hinted at a touch of Americana in those more wistful, considered pieces on the record - and interestingly considering it's birth in a frozen Edinburgh winter, its hard to find a mention of "Leviathan" which doesn't make some passing hint towards America. This is I suspect, because we just don't make this kind of wide-screen, technicolour music here between our cramped, uneasily polite shores. But if last years debut was the sound of the self-assured west coast, this is the Midwest of broken and deserted places. The glamour here is faded and bitterly contemplating its grand past at the bar, and there are moments where the near-anonymous vocalist and multi-instrumentalist K.P.Son sounds worn down by life and heavily burdened by experience. In short this is another side to The Son(s) which we've perhaps only glimpsed so far. And it's nothing short of wonderful to behold.
Beginning with bright guitar chords and swooning backing vocals, "Roaring Round The House" relates a tale of battening down the hatches and hiding from the world over an incongruously optimistic musical backrdrop. As the tune shuffles gracefully into its stride, I find myself drawing comparisons with The Pernice Brothers quietly soulful finest moments. The songs here are on the whole, surprisingly brief affairs which manage to span a dizzying range of styles and instruments. Delighting in one of the finest song titles yet coined, "If I Hear You Talk Apostrophes Again..." is a wholly different beast. A relentlessly pummelling bassline and knife-sharp guitar slashes support a menacingly troubled Son, apparently out for revenge. It's all swaggering, bravado and implied threat hovering just out of the picture. After a keening guitar solo which has arrived directly from late 70s AM radio, the song closes with a malevolent chant of "When I'm king, you're first against the wall...". There is a return to the shimmering beauty of that debut album on "Cocksure Boys", where Son croons through a tale of the kind of man "who likes taking things apart/but can't put 'em back together". A plucked ukelele, dabs of brass and exotic percussion build the kind of detailed, lovingly constructed soundscape which made The Sons(s) eponymous debut an absolute must-hear on it's release.
Some kind of accommodation is achieved with "Half Lived" where the cracked Americana collides with assured, slick classic rock sounds to produce a slowly simmering anthem of frustration and dismay. Peppered with echoing guitar breaks and swathes of atmospheric keyboard, it's hard not to imagine this soundtracking a lonely night-time driving scene in the movie for which this should undoubtedly be the soundtrack. The more downbeat "Shot Out A Cannon" is a perfect showcase for the range and fractured beauty of the vocals, which climb to seemingly unscalable heights around a sparse arrangement which ebbs and flows gently from the song. Mercurial and lyrically complex, this is the longest piece on the record by virtue of an extended instrumental end section centred on flecks of simple but very effective guitar. By "There Is No-one To Thank" Son sounds redeemed, in control and with his resignation channelled into a bitterness which suits this brief, mostly acoustic finale. Gut-wrenchingly sorrowful guitar lines twine around the vocals, as finally a gentle glockenspiel seems to tap out the closing theme from "We Have All The Time In The World". This is music as last refuge in the style of Mark Eitzel, and as such it is painfully lovely - and so this all too brief EP ends with a tense ache and a sonic shrug of the shoulders as you reach for the bottle and hit play once again.
It's inspiring to hear the progression that "Leviathan" demonstrates, seeing The Son(s) comfortably growing into their unique, layered and detailed sound. But there is a darker twist to the raw material behind these songs, and a sense of disenchantment and regret which lingers around them. For us though this is no bad thing - and while it sounds somewhat uncharitable perhaps, Son's loss is our gain in the form of these six wonderfully crafted, slightly bleak compositions.
The Son(s) - There Is No-One To Thank
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.