5 great Scottish albums*

* and that's Scottish as in "not like the Bay City Rollers" or including Franz Ferdinand (3 of them are English) or Snow Patrol (they're from Northern Ireland).

Boards of Canada - GeogaddiBoards of Canada – Geogaddi: Boards of Canada are one of the most highly regarded electronic music groups around. Ever since their 1998 debut, "Music Has The Right To Children" their unique brand of electronica has meant the three albums they've releasedhave all garnered critical praise. Which is pretty strange considering the band's reclusive nature and the fact fans had to wait for 4 years for their second album "Geogaddi".

Boards of Canada make really strange type of electronic music; they're not cutting edge using equipment that leaves them with crystal-clear sounds. They prefer drones, noises and drums with a degree of distortion on them. It creates a hazy, under-produced sound that really sticks in your mind. "Gyroscope" has a strange drum beat and electronic drones, coupled with a voice counting from 1-8 totally out of time with the music, make it an interesting listen. "Julie & Candy" has the closest thing to a melody on the album, just like "Alpha and Omega".

The whole album feels kinda timeless, mainly due to the use of some archaic electronic instruments. But also due some shorter tracks like "In The Annexe" and the really interesting "Dandelion" that samples a nature documentary voiced by Leslie Nilson of Naked Gun-fame. It gives the album a feeling of having soundtracked an early 80's educational program you watched at school. But it's an album that demands frequent listens, as you feel you may have missed something first time around.

Aereogramme - Sleep and ReleaseAereogramme – Sleep and Release: I don't know if it's the current trend in the music press or something, but there's a tendecy to readily label music s "prog". In various magazines I've read that bands like Radiohead, Air, Tool, Elbow, Secret Machines are all prog. (Notice none of these bands have a "the" before their name). Aereogramme have been pretty much ignored because they've been tagged as "prog", but I don't understand why. Ok, they blend hard guitar sounds with beautifully arranged strings and keyboards but that's nothing new or unique. And frankly, people are missing out on a really good band.

Their second album "Sleep and Release", focused a lot of the elements in their first album, "A Story In White". Instead of going on extended wig-outs, the songs here are shorter in length and to the point. Opening track "Indiscretion #243" has a tricky time signature and a blistering chorus, but a middle section that could almost sound like a goddammed Scottish folk group like (urgh) Runrig. "Black Path" dispenses with the heaviyness but uses strings and piano to carry the tune. "A Simple Process of Elimination" is all feedback and electronics with desperate vocals "Erase/erase us/erase this world,". "Older" starts off with a blistering guitar sound, but moves quickly into murky drums and organ sounds.

"No Really, Everything's Fine", has another awkward time signature but is held together by a powerful piano riff. There's more heaviness in "Wood", and "Yes" is a bit to short, but "In Gratitude" lifts the whole album. It's a stunningly beautiful song and one that definately doesn't deserve the disdainful "prog tag". The other two Aereogramme albums both have great tracks (especially "Inkwell" from Seclusion), but this is a ggreat rock album that shows real vision and ideas.

Malcolm Middleton - Into The WoodsMalcolm Middleton – Into The Woods: Good old Malcolm is one half of Falkirk's own Arab Strap, unofficially the miserablist band ever. But in a good way. Him and Aidan Moffat have released seven albums in only 9 years and both have relesed solo albums. As great as Arab Strap are, I think Malcolm (who does most of the music Arab Strap do) sounds really at ease singing on this album. To be honest, there's not much departure from the main themes you find in Arab Strap songs (lonliness, broken romances, self-loathing), but "Into The Woods" sound much more full bodied if you will.

Opener "Break My Heart" has Malcom singing about the ups and downs of being in love. If she doesn't break his heart, he has nothing to write about ("It'll destroy my career"), if she does, then he's happy but has to get a job, but there's a note of willingness about that ("Don't wanna sing these shit songs"). "Lonliness Shines" has a harder feel to it, with a strong riff and organ chorus, just like the angry "Bear With Me". There's mellower tracks too, like the piano-led "Autumn" and longful "Devestation".

It's not an easy album to listen to, one man's self loathing doesn't do much for your own. Maybe it's a Scottish thing, but the best track on the whole album has hateful lyrics but it's got a beat you can dance to. "A Happy Medium" features the girls from Sons and Daughters (see below) and has a great artificial drum beat and bleak lyrics ("woke up again today/realised I hate myself/my face is a disease"). All in all out of this list, I think this is the most Scottish album.

Sons & Daughters - The Repulsion BoxSons and Daughters – the Repulsion Box: making this list actually confirmed a belief that there is no such thing as a "Scottish sound". Often when there's any kinda music scene in a city or location (and yes, Scotland is a country) it tends to foster bands with a similar sound. I'm thinking of all the Detroit garage rock bands and Liverpool's psychedelic rock roots. But in Scotland the bands sound different; Franz Ferdinand don't sound like Arab Strap; Belle & Sebastian don't sound like Biffy Clyro; Boards of Canada don't sound like Idlewild. Yeah, there's a scene with bands being friends with each other (hang round Byers Road in Glasgow long enough and time how long it takes you to see someone from a bad hanging around).

Son's and Daughters are another band that sound unique. They're got a murky blues sound, two vocalists and short, sharp songs. Vocalists Adele Bethel and Scott Patterson have voices that seem to have been made to sing together, usually with Adele taking the lead as the angry, spurned lover. "Medicine" is a storming opener, and "Red Receiver" has a pacey chorus with it's lead mandolin sound, making it really catchy. "Choked" sounds really nasty, with it's vitriolic slide guitar, "Monsters" has a great story, with two lovers bemoaning what they've become. 

One of the more interesting tracks is "Rama Lama", mainly because it's got Scott doing the vocals and it's just over 5 minutes long. It's a slow track but it has a really snarling chorus. It's strangely one of the best tracks on the album along with "Dance Me In". Like most of the tracks on the album, this one benefits from being really short, and the harmony on the chorus "whoa whoa" is just great. To labour a point, it's a unique album that sounds like a companion piece to the recent Nick Cave stuff rather any newer group.

Blue Nilethe Blue Nile – Hats: now, I know what you're thinking. "That's that old group from the 80's". Yes, they are pretty much what I'd say an 80's group were. That's despite releasing an album in 1996 and 2004. Yes, they've only released 4 albums in 22 years. And that's partially why I like them. There's also the story about how they formed; the group were asked to compose a piece of music for Linn Drums, a hi-fi manufacturer. The company liked it so much they created their own record label. Their first album "A Walk Across The Rooftops" had the great single "Tinseltown In The Rain" (covered recently by the God-awful, A&R-created singer Tippi) but it took 5 years for the followup to appear.

Now most albums from the 80's that are fairly relaxed and feature love songs and mawkish, sentimental drivel. But thankfully the Blue Nile aren't like that; their songs are much more moving and get more of an emoional response through their music rather than cheesy lyrics.  It's all through atmosphere, and since it was the 80's, it's a night time soundscape all neon lights and bars that 30-somethings went to in the 80's. "Over The Hillside" has a really stirring string section, something that's carried through on all the tracks. True, there's only 7 of them, but it's another of those albums you just absorb, rather than waiting for some kick ass riff to come in.


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