John Welsh has his say………….
Looking back on the year 2019, it’s fair to say the output and quality of songs, albums, reissues and compilations has rarely been surpassed in recent times. The difficulty, as always, with these lists is trying to narrow it down and it’s fair to say some records were in and out on more than one occasion! What follows, (and they are in no particularly order) is of course just my opinion but hopefully something chimes or even gives you the impetus to try out a band or artist you’ve not heard before. Here’s to 2020, enjoy!
Lloyd Cole – Guesswork
With a prodigious back catalogue across his time with the Commotions and thereafter his solo career, there’s always an exciting anticipation to what Lloyd Cole will produce next.
Early single Violins, routed in 1980s electronica, sees the tune highball to an express synth beat and sets the tone for the rest of the album. Stand out tracks include the melancholic Remains and Night Sweats where Cole laments everything in moderation, to hell with that.
The constant throughout though is Cole’s soulful voice, like an old friend, comforting, familiar and reassuring.
Former Commotions Neil Clark and Blair Cowan also make an appearance on what is, an assured album that stands up tall against anything Cole has delivered in his career to date.
Edwyn Collins – Badbea
Recorded in his own studio in the north of Scotland, the album kicks off with the melodic It’s All About You, with a catchy chorus that will have you singing along before the track finishes.
In The Morning is full of northern soul overtones, and that guitar sound Collins is known for. Add in some horns and the song soars, majestic in its execution.
Listening to the album, the lyrics hint at looking back at the past but also with a sense of optimism for the future. Glasgow To London is a case in point with regard to the past, the drum beat driven track has Collins singing “ambition drove my life, now I’m old I must admit I couldn’t give a fuck”…….”it’s in the past”. On the other hand, Beauty a stripped down, sparse acoustic ballad dripping in melancholy has the defiant message “don’t despair, fight the fight, don’t give up overnight, carry on, do your thing, look ahead, don’t give in”.
Badbea has 12 songs of immaculate craft, lyricism and a range of tunes that fits perfectly with Collins emotive vocals. It’s good to have him back.
Fat White Family – Serfs Up!
It’s fair to say that the likelihood of a third Fat White Family was somewhat dubious following the well documented implosion of the band post the 2016 release Songs For Our Mothers, with a variety of side projects popping up and other issues reported down the line.
Early single Feet is the album opener, a creeping and insistent beat leads the tune with singer Lias providing a deadpan vocal, complementing the background instrumentation to perfection. Follow up I Believe In Something Better recalls early 80s synthesizers and lurid pop which elevate the song to a grandeur few can match.
The start of Fringe Runner has a whiff of Radio Ga Ga before a bass line straight from White Lines kicks in, this is classic Fat White Family, the lyrics, as they are throughout the album, almost understated but deft enough to underpin the energy of the track, assisted by tempestuous keyboards and harmonised backing vocals.
Baxter Drury lends vocals to Tastes Good With The Money, perhaps the stand out track on the album. If Gregorian chants, a T-Rex style vocal and an insane beat are your thing, this one ticks all the boxes. Rejoice!
Jazzateers – Blood Is Sweeter Than Honey
Recorded over 30 years ago this album was shelved at the time leading the band to implode. Fortunately, The Creeping Bent Organisation has released the record this year which has seen these tunes reach acquainted and new fans alike.
Quite simply, The Jazzateers have the groove, man. All the cool bands do, Orange Juice, Echo & The Bunnymen etc. Songs like Up To My Eyes and Holding Court stand out with singer Matt Willcock providing an assured vocal while the band channel that groove, that beat, that attitude that is the sound of young Scotland. Check this album out – it deserves to be in your record collection.
Big Gold Dreams – A Story Of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989
This 5 CD box set and the period in question can be considered something of a golden age for Scottish music and this is evident from the wide array of styles from punk through to dance with a sprinkling of indie pop, jangly rock, soul, folk and garage sounds in between.
The beauty of this compilation is the evident love and care put in to “getting it right” and what a job those involved have done. A 70-page booklet accompaniment includes a wonderful introduction from Grant McPhee as well as great sleeve notes from both Neil Cooper and Tim Barr. These set the scene with what was going on musically at the time alongside pen picks on each band and a selection of photos, gig flyers and concert tickets.
There’s plenty of big hitters such as The Rezillos, Altered Images, The Bluebells, Cocteau Twins, Simple Minds, Primal Scream and The Jesus And Mary Chain though from my perspective, hearing long forgotten tracks and discovering new songs by bands I was not aware of was perhaps the highlight.
Too many to list but best summed up by Memphis on the track You Supply The Roses is their line, “searching for hidden treasures”. They’re in this compilation in spades, seek it out, you’ll be glad you did.
Gary Crowley’s Lost 80s
For many, the 80s were the defining musical decade, a time of do it yourself bands, differing styles and genres, a broad range of weekly and monthly music magazines, record shops, radio shows, mix tapes, ghetto blasters, gigs, clubs and of course the local disco, happy days.
But how do you bottle it, how do you capture the zeitgeist of the period for what was a diverse and extensive period? Well, look no further than this anthology. It’s clear Crowley has put this 63 track set together with careful, methodical and loving care ensuring a cool mix of familiar bands such as Haircut 100, Wham! and Depeche Mode to perhaps less known acts such as Friends Again, 23 Skidoo and Bush Tetras.
The boxset is split into 4 CDs, each with their own title, Jingly Jangly, Dance This Mess Around, F##k Art, Let’s Dance and 12” Heaven. It’s also worth mentioning the CD collection includes a 40 odd page booklet which is filled with amazing content, from photos, gig flyers and tickets, notes on each song as well as views and recollections from some of the artists and contributors.
The Media Whores – A Decade Of Defiance
Capturing the best of their 4 releases to date from 2010 onwards, this compilation from the Mercury Music Award nominees (for their 2016 release Dangerous Minds) also has the added benefit of 3 new tunes as a pre cursor to their next studio album scheduled for release in 2020. The influences are apparent with nods to the likes of Magazine, The Stranglers and Wire.
The 18 songs here continually and consistently hit the bullseye. The band are musically sharp and you can hear the songs develop across the compilation but what sets this band apart are their lyrics. Politics, social commentary, big business, greed, fracking, injustice, war and so on are just some of the topics covered in an acerbic, stinging and scathing way.
In a world where being famous for being famous is the new norm, the political landscape is shifting worryingly to the right, now more than ever we need artists to stand up, question and challenge.
The Media Whores play Dreadnought, Bathgate 04 January 2020.
The Fat Cops – Fat City
For me, this is the stand out track from The Fat Cops self-titled album released earlier this year. The album in many ways is like a modern-day NME C60 mix tape, a melting pot of tunes and styles. Fat City is a real heavyweight track that packs a punch. A tale of long-gone triumph and all to current despair played against a grandiose cinematic, orchestral backdrop, booming drums, elegant guitars, backing vocals and singer Chris channelling the ghost of Scott Walker. Splendid!
Steve Mason – Like A Ripple
Mason was listening to early Simple Minds when writing and recording this track and it’s easy to see the energy and influence of those recordings pulling through here (think of I Travel or Theme For Great Cities). This is 5 minutes of sonic beats that will make your hips move involuntarily and there is nothing, repeat, nothing you can do about it. Backing vocals from Eli (who also sings on last album About The Light, really help elevate the song, this is a belter of a tune.
Bambara – Serafina
Hailing from Brooklyn, this post-punk 3 piece released this stunning guitar led single earlier this year. Telling the tale of a meeting with a girl called Serafina this is a fast, fuzzy, lo-fi tune underpinned by Reid Bateh’s vocals. It’s a song of apocalyptic love and is the lead track on their forthcoming album release, Stray.
Bambara play Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh and Stereo, Glasgow in May 2020.
Belle & Sebastian – Sister Buddha
Taking from the band’s soundtrack to the movie Days Of Bagnold Summer, this is an anthemic and joyous song brimming with optimism, hope and love. As with most B&S songs, it’s damn catchy yet understated but still glorious!
Belle & Sebastian play Doune The Rabbit Hole Festival in July 2020.
Hinds – Riding Solo
Ah, now this is just a breath of fresh air. The indie 4 piece from Madrid are fronted by vocalist Carlotta Cosials and this early single ahead of next year’s album expected album release is just fabulous. The song itself is about the band being on the road and the individual loneliness this can bring. With influences ranging from The Pastels through to The Strokes this is definitely a band to keep an eye on.
Hinds play Classic Grand, Glasgow in April 2020.
Spyres – Otherside
THIS. IS. THE. SOUND. OF. YOUNG. SCOTLAND. 2020. WILL. BE. THEIR. YEAR. HERE. ENDETH. THE. SERMON.
Spyres play Big In 2020 Festival at Broadcast, Glasgow in January 2020.