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Album review Scottish albums

Alex Charles

Remember Magnetic North Pole? Lipsick? No? Thee Moths? Ah, ok, you’ve come to the right place.

Alex Charles aka Botten is a mainstay of the Scottish music scene, even if he’s living south of the border now. The two bands mentioned first were perhaps the most significant of many that he’s been involved with – the former a grungey alt.rock trio with a penchant for short feedback-ridden tunes, while Lipsick was a duo, if memory serves, making ragged shouty electropop.

Thee Moths, on the other hand, covered these genres as well as many more, settling on something which the tag “experimental” would struggle to cover.
Solo effort Hourse is a collection of decidedly experimental pieces, and I hesitate to use the word ‘tunes”, and certainly not “songs”. The tracks on this web download release are based around loops recorded on small portable instruments (thumb piano, violin, accordion, and “larynx” – though as I say, singing isn’t really how you would describe what emanates.

To be honest with you, this album is an acquired taste (and one, like, say, peaty malt whisky, you will either grow to love, or will shudder when confronted by). The tracks are, as I say, not even tunes in the conventional sense – opener ‘Brindley Secret is just random plinks and plonks from a thumb piano. Not a good start, but ‘Drones From A Found Accordion’ is better, as a loop kicks in, and the titiular instrument, er, drones away in a quite mesmerising way.

‘Officialy Impossible’ sounds like a swarm of robot bees fighting their way out of a tin can, while ‘Friday Chimes’ is like the opener but with, yes, chimes. ‘In The Highways’ is a kind of looped spiritual, as incongrous as anything else here but with vocals this time.

‘Test Loops’ in a sense is the unexpected pick of the bunch as it uses more than one instrument (er, thumb piano and voice I think) and there’s just more happening, a kind of anti-‘O Superman’ with none of Laurie Anderson’s craven commercialism (what with lyrics and a tune and other false improv).

‘Violin Improvisation Extract’, if it is a violin, is unlike any bowed string instrument I’ve ever heard, though maybe I need to get out more. Though I’m not sure I’d rather just draw the curtains and wait for the noise to stop. Closer ‘I Am Sitting Here’ carries on the determined direction of the release – a lot of overlapping voices with an almost hardbitten determination to make sure there’s no tune to be heard.

It should be clear by now that I’m maybe not the right person to be reviewing this. Then again, who is? I’m not sure if there’s any appetite for this kind of stuff any more, but I clearly don’t move in the same improv circles as fans of what Alex is doing nowadays. Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse pushed together noises without form or tune in the 80s and were lauded in some quarters. Maybe this stuff has further slipped out of the mainstream, but I’m willing to be proved wrong. However, I’d rather wait for his love affair with punchy 3-minute pop to be rekindled.

Available as a free download via www.alexcharlesmusic.co.uk