5 more great Scottish Albums

Jesus & Mary Chain - PsychocandyThe Jesus & Mary Chain – Psychocandy: ah the real brothers grim. The Gallaghers may have been the warring siblings that everyone knew about, but in the mid-80’s it was Jim and William Reid from East Kilbride that were the worst. Beligerant and antagonistic (they are Scottish after all), JAMC gigs would often descend into riots, the brothers playing nothing but white noise with their backs to the audience before fucking off 20 minutes into their gig. All of this would no doubt please Alan McGee, founder of Creation records, who put out their first few singles. Indeed, if it wasn’t for their seminal album Psychocandy, it would be easy to dismiss them as another McGee rock ‘n roll freakshow (McGee is currently the manager of Pete Doherty).

Psychocandy is the perfect reflection of the Reid brothers’ two loves in music; the feedback driven, primitive rock of the Velvet Underground and the wall of sound production of pop maestro Phil Spector. Opening track “Just Like Honey” is considered the epitomy of what the JAMC do: echoing drums and metallic guitars coupled with a sweet, pop melody. It’s a formula they use throughout the whole album (“Sowing Seeds” starts off sounding exactly the same as “Just Like Honey”), with their songs featuring frequent references to candy, death and motorcycles. “In A Hole” and “The Living End” are nasty, heavy songs but there’s some relief in “Some Candy Talking”, “The Hardest Walk” and “Cut Dead”. “Something Wrong” sounds almost like Joy Division and “Taste Of Cindy” has great guitar line.

The JAMC are undoubtably one of the most influential Scottish groups of the last 20 years. Bands who soaked their sound in feedback, like Dinosaur JR and My Bloody Valentine followed quickly in their wake. And in recent years Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the Raveonettes have echoed their sound. They’ve been viewed as a one trick pony type of band, but it’s a hell of a trick.

Biffy Clyro - Infinity LandBiffy Clyro – Infinity Land: the band with the silly name hail from lovely Ayrshire and comprise of singer guitarist Simon Neil and twins Ben and James Johnston on drums and bass. Fond of long names for their songs, the bands own name comes for a supposed Cliff Richards-esque biro. The mind boggles. Biffy Clyro have also been one of Scotland’s most productive bands; after releasing the EP “thekidswhopoptodaywillrocktomorrow” in 2000, the band then went and released three albums in 2002-2004, the last of these being “Infinity Land”. However despite a cult following, most magazines haven’t held Biffy in high regard, turning their noses up at their challenging heavy rock. It’s their loss.

Infinity Land shows Biffy have developed steadily into a challenging band. They somehow manage to cram about 6 or 7 different sounding segments into the one song. It’s initially distracting, but once you get used to this, it shows the band’s imagination to the fullest. “Strung To Your Ribcage” is a perfect example of this; mulitple segments, all held together with the frantic “Fucking say it” chorus. “My Recovery Injection” has a funky start with it’s wah-wah pedal guitar sound, before it delves into a darting riff. It’s not all heaviness, “Only One Word Comes To Mind” has Simon give a yearning vocal, but the tricky chords sabotage a seemingly radio friendly song. It’s not the only track that shows and emotional range, “”Wave Upon Wave Upon Wave” shimmers and “Got Wrong” is full of energy.

Best track is “Glitter and Trauma” which opens with pulsing electronic beat, before a juggernaut riff comes in. In all, it’s the most straightforward song on the album, mainly because it actually has a repeated chorus. That’s maybe unfair to the other, much more awkward tracks; this is an album that needs multiple listens. The band admit it’s challenging, but if you give it time it’s a rewarding album.

Mogwai - Young TeamMogwai – Young Team: it’s a shame, but Mogwai will alway be (to some people) as the band that issued those seminal “blur: are shite” t-shirts back in the late 90’s. The Glasgow 5-piece have never been short of slagging off bands they don’t like, but it’d be a shame if their honest opinion distracted from some amazing music. The band was formed in 1996with the aim of making “serious” guitar music. Since then they’ve released 5 albums, the most recent being this year’s “Mr Beast”. However a lot of hardcore Mogwai fans think that they’ve never bettered their debut “Young Team”. The album is a perfect example of shimmering, measured, instrumental music.

The opening track “Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home” is the quintessential Mogwai track; a delicate guitar track progresses through the song, until some heavy distortion washes over the song. The thing about Mogwai is that their music isn’t simply about a steady build up to a crescendo of noise and the inevitable come down. Their music is about texture, using the noises they create more like pattern of sounds. The 11 minute-plus “Like Herod” is a good example of this. It lasts for a while, and fuck me is it noisy, but the sounds the band create are as interesting as the thrashing noise. “Katrien” shows the band can create an emotionally engaging tune, despite the static that covers most of the track, and the short piano track “Radar Maker” is gentle and soothing. “Tracy” starts off slow and gentle and threatens to break into insane noise, but never does and it’s all the better for it. It’s all the more surreal with a sample of phone call recalling a band fight (which may or not be true).

In contrast “Summer (Priority Version) is dark and deliberate, starting strongly and breaking into blistering distortion, which is made all the more stronger as it’s one of the shortest tracks on the album. “With Portfolio” is a strange, almost ambient track which breaks into a swirling mess of electronic noise. “R U Still In 2 It?” features Arab Strap vocalist Aiden Moffat and backing vocals from the Mogwai guys, and is a haunting, nocturnal piece. ” A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters” maintains the low-key vibe at the end of the album. Closing the album is the amazing “Mogwai Fear Satan”, a fan favourite and an amazingly intense bit of music. Most Mogwai fans think the band has never bettered this album, but that’s not quite fair. This is the rawest Mogwai have ever been and an excellant place to start if you’ve never heard them before.

Idlewild - 100 Broken WindowsIdlewild – 100 Broken Windows: In the last few months Idlewild have been dropped from their racord label, after their fourth album “Warnings/Promises” failed to sell to the record companie’s expectations. It’s a sad fact that labels don’t allow artists and band to develop which is what Idlewild were doing. Their first album and EPs were scratchy, hardcore punk that was indebted to American 80’s underground bands like Dinosaur Jr and Husker Du. By the time “Warnings/Promises” came out Idlewild were on the verge of becoming heirs to R.E.M. But my favourite album is their second, “100 Broken Windows”. It’s an album that blends the heavy guitar noise of their early work and the heartfelt melodies of their later albums. It’s a wonderful mix that throws up so many great songs.

Opener “Little Discourage” is anthemic but heavy too, just like “I Don’t Have The Map”. “Idea Track” is deceptively low key, until it breaks into a roaring riff on the chorus. It ends on a fading violin line, that shows the band have more to offer than frantic riffing. “Roseability” shows Roddy Womble’s knack with lyrics, namechecking Gertrude Stein amongst heavy feedback. ” Listen To Me (Sleep Next To The Mirror)” is a slower paced song, but that just allows Roddy and guitarist Rod Jones to show off their tremendous harmonies and a sensitive ending. “Listen To What You’ve Got” is maybe the only bum note on the album; it’s too quick and one-dimensional. “Actually It’s Darkness” starts off fairly quiet with a jumpy drum pattern before exploding into a blistering chorus. “Rusty” is a claustrophobic song and darker than the rest of the album, echoing the band’s 80’s hardcore influences.

“Mistake Pageant” is the track that most resembles the early R.E.M. tracks that the band are so closely tied to. It’s got more great harmonies on the chorus and shows the band can create something really uplifting. The album ends on two slower tracks, the jaunty “Quiet Crown” and melancholy “The Bronze Medal”. It’s rare to get an album this consistent, even the one or two “lesser” tracks work well when you listen to the whole album. Idlewild would soften their sound to an extent over their next two albums, but “100 Broken Windows” is maybe the purest Idlewild you can get.

Teenage Fanclub - Grand PrixTeenage Fanclub – Grand Prix: it seem’s bizarre, but Kurt Cobain was a champion of Scottish indie rock, most notably the Vaseline’s. Nirvana recorded three covers of the Edinburgh band’s songs on two albums, “Insecticide” and “MTV: Unplugged In New York”. It bought the band a new generation of fans and put the spotlight on other bands that Cobain enthused about. One such band, were Bellshill’s Teengage Fanclub. Two albums into their carreer they found a vocal fan in Cobain whose influence got them signed to Nirvana’s label, Geffen, in the US. Their third album “Bandwagon-esque” was a commercial hit and was voted album of the year in 1991 in Spin Magazine, beating off Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and R.E.M.’s “Out Of Time”. The followup “Thirteen” saw the band suffer backlash, as the album was crtically mauled and sold poorly. Perhaps wounded by this, the band went back to their tried and tested sound with “Grand Prix”, ditching the rockier sound of “Thirteen”.

The strenght of Teenage Fanclub has always been it’s three songwriters and vocalists; Gerald Love, Raymond McGinley and Norman Blake. Each has their own take on the band’s power-pop sound, but the album always sounds like a complete work, not three singers trying to have their own way. Which is even more impressive as each songwriter gets an equal share of the album’s 12 tracks. The country-esque “About You” is pure Teenage Fanclub”, a catchy guitar riff and wonderful harmonies. “Sparky’s Dream” was a mid-90’s indie classic that was the theme for the rather crappy BBC sitcom Game On. “Mellow Doubt” is a slower acoustic track, that harks back to bands like the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. “Don’t Look Back” has a deceptively medium-paced verse that breaks into a (fairly) heavy riff for the chorus. “Versamilutude” shows offs Raymond MaGinley’s wry lyrics, (I always feel the need to profane/I’ve always said fuck when I thougt I could) whereas “Neil Jung” could almost be a Neil Young song, with it’s heartfelt vocals and focused guitar work.

“Tears” is a slower, piano led-ballad that’s never mawkish. The band build up the layers and harmonies until it melts your heart. “Discolite” is a great harmony led track that you could probably dance to. “Say No” and “Going Places” slow the album down a notch or two, but are still two strong tracks. The album pace stays slow until the end of the album and it would have been nice to see a track like “I Gotta Know” dropped in place of another track like “Sparky’s Dream”. But on the whole “Grand Prix” is all about the expert songwriting of three of Scotland’s best: it’s not a record based on riffs or “wow” moments. It’s all about songs and Teenage Fanclub have those in spades.


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