A bit of a roundup of demos, and what look a bit like demos but aren’t (these reviews will also appear separately for ease of internet searching and the like). Mostly received from our esteemed editor in a batch handed in at Edinburgh’s Avalanche Records during Record Store Day, which was several months ago. Sorry about that.
Press releases are the reviewer’s friend, but sometimes for the band they are the enemy within.
Ok, let me explain that cryptic statement.
Atom of Amber’s CD comes not in a box or jewel vase, but a heavy-duty purple folder which looks more like it’s part of a corporate presentation than a musical release. And its contents don’t offer much more hope. Several A4 shots of a trio of blokes shot moodily in monochrome, a business card (!) and a 6-page biography. The biog at least provides some useful info – they’ve reunited after 15 years ago forming in St Andrews and having a tangential involvement with the Fence scene.
Oh, there’s a CD in there too. Hurrah.
And the reason that – apart from setting my cynicism radar on high, that this has worked against the band, is that it has ended up in the “what the hell do I do with this?” pile, being too bulky to post out, but perhaps since the details are important, kind of waiting for a suitable handover point, as one might with a hostage, or a suitcase full of controlled drugs.
Anyway, got it. And in a sense it’s worth the wait… if only for opening track ‘Golden Shores’, a rather appealing blend of folkishnes and Smithsy psychedelia.
There are another 4 tunes, which exhibit a bit of that stripped-back acoustica, but the closer – title track ‘Lost Now Found’ – I suspect sports their trademark sound of dreamy guitars and atmospheric sweeps and swoons. Better late than never!
5 tracks, from this Stirling act… ‘Space’ builds slowly and deliberately with hints of Smalltown Boredom or slowcore acts like Karate. It’s kind of intense and despite going nowhere slowly, this is its charm. ‘Stop / Go Man’ throws some lazy singing into the equation though the meandering Pavement-esque guitar is anything but restrained, though again, ‘Sleep Deprived’ sums up the mood. ‘Airthrey Loch’ is back in instrumental mode again, pulsating electronic noises again backing up some inventive but ultimately laid-back guitar work. ‘ifrs’ is more slacker rock, I guess, with a decided Grandaddy feel to the world-weariness creeping in. Overall a very worthwhile effort, and not overshadowed by the packaging – the CD pasted onto the back of a framed photo of what looks like a gopher peeking out of a hole. Go figure.
Last Man Frees All – An Incident In The Courtyard (DFMA)
Don’t think this is a demo as such, more a complete album which I guess the guys had grand plans to release, but have eventually self-released when Mr EMI didn’t get back to them.
Recorded between 2006 and 1007 on 4-track cassette, ‘Intro (The Incident)’ is an atmospheric start which leads to ‘Future Never Told’, which has a decent-enough tune though maybe lacking depth or production, and I suppose lacking a bit of fire. ‘Speed Right On’ probably has wee bits of all the band’s influences here – declared as everything from Pink Floyd to My Morning Jacket – but low on production, it’s their songwriting which they rely on. Decent enough, but would be interesting to hear a fuller sound.
Ra Durties – Lies
One of those bass guitar drums duos that’s taking over the nation, Ra Durties – an Edinburgh act – on ‘LIES’ seem to be something of a novelty act, with some decidedly proggy overtones and growling Scots-accented vocals that tie in with the band’s name. However, ‘Punching A Wall’, augmented by glockenspeil it seems, is a very decent alt-rock tune in the vein of Biffy Clyro. Pretty listenable stuff, and crucially, the lack of other instruments is hardly noticed. Kudos also for their naming a track after Scotland’s favourite newsreader, Shereen Nanjiani.
The Spook School – History / Hallam
Another Edinburgh band, but rather than being part of the current folky crop, this lot are entrenched in the C86 sounds that originated from, well, the Shop Assistants. No bad thing of course, zipping along in a cheery and catchy manner with silly lyrics like “I’m sitting here dissecting Jaffa Cakes / While your sense of humour sinks into the sea”. ‘Hallam’ is quite a contrast then, a dip in the the previousl chipper mood and indeed like its title, if it references Hallam Foe, has that decidedly downbeat feel of both film and soundtrack. It’s a nice, slightly dense atmosphere, especially with the headphones on, with seagulls suggesting that the band are going down to the docks to do dark deeds. Come back, things are looking up!
Enter Empyrean – Fused EP (soundcloud.com/enter-empyrean)
This is nicely laid-back sleepy music, and despite the ‘band’ name, probably courtesy of singer-songwriter – at least on the evidence of ‘Fading Fuse’.
‘I Turn Around’ sports bluesy guitar and is less pleasant, while ‘Wave Goodbye’ kind of falls between the two but definitely strays onto the rock side of the divide. An act which needs to decide what they are and where they want to go – the acoustic side seems to be a likelier bet, though sounds like the full band could rock out a bit – I hesitate to use the term ‘pub rock’, but it’s a living after all….
Bribes are always gratefully accepted, so the bag of spacedust sets this CD up for a likely favourable review. A good sleeve too, so hopes are high when I slip the CD in the player, and peak with the intro: “Do you want to count this in for posterity? 1-2-3-4…”.
Sadly, it’s all downhill from here, at least for myself – I know plenty of people who will enjoy this punk-metal mix, but the tunes a la Sabs or Zep just ain’t for me. I can even hear some Husker Du in here but sadly (again), it’s more the ploddy Grant Hart stuff). Probably one to to have a listen to for yourself – at myspace.com/smnwail4u (even the url’s fun).
I feel bad now, I wanted to like it, but some things aren’t meant to be.
Three Long Words – Cold Shoulder
A teen band who recorded this last year, at Studio 24, and that info (apart from the date) may tell you everything you need to know. Or maybe not – ok, Studio 24 is an Edinburgh venue popular with teen acts especially those making angsty rock on the gothy-emo side. Which describes this pretty well, though sporting odd keyboard effects (alternating between fake glock and kind of farty rumbles). It’s powerful stuff, particularly the vocal from (I think) Meg Drummond. ‘To Get Rich Quickly’ is the standard slowie b-side which sparks into life halfway through. Plus, the thing is as teens they have plenty of time to improve. Or maybe I’m getting old…
Alan Hercher – New Leaves EP (facebook.com/ahmusic)
A four track EP from this Inverness-born singer-songwriter, opening track ‘Time’ is out of place in the current Scottish folky scene – Hercher has a curious accent, not mid-Atlantic by any means, but certainly not the overplayed and often fake Scots brogue we get from many acts (and happily, not the odd strangled duck effect that Amy Macdonald and many others seem to favour). In fact, with the odd guitar effect and keyboard, and much more strumming than fingerpicking, ‘Time’ is reminiscent of Husker Du’s Bob Mould (him again) circa Workbook, and like ‘Taxi’ shows that these songs could easily translate into a full band arrangement. ‘Don’t Forget’ somehow reminds me of Prince – don’t even ask me to explain why, but the voice grates a little here, so after all I’ve said, ‘In Good Time’ has a really nice picked intro – which gives way to a more ordinary tune, but is a low-key end to a promising EP.
Georgia Kate – Sing Sang Sung (facebook.com/georgiakate16)
Georgia is a 16-year-old acoustic singer-songwriter from the borders, and her youth shows in this recording. Fortunately it’s in a positive sense, though her influences shine through a little. KT Tunstall is an obvious one, though the purely acoustic sound is far removed from KT’s current (relatively) full-on rock sound. There is, sadly, a hint of that mid-Atlantic accent beloved of so many Scottish female singers at the moment, though it’s less contrived than most – more that kind of throaty croak that is often used to convey emotion. However, this can be ignored given the interesting lyrics: “A man in a designer suit who’s never seen the sun”, and the complete shift in time signature and mood on ‘My Swing’, like it’s two different choruses bolted together. Again, in a good way. Six tracks here, each one showing quite a bit of promise from a singer with plenty of time to develop.
Sometimes just a wee bit of drumming is enough to make your bog-standard acoustic act stand out. The voice has a feel of Craig or Charlie, only even more broad in accent; all we know is that he’s 23 and has been gigging since he was 16 and there should be an EP this summer. So all we can do is judge the music… and it’s nice actually, a strong clear voice and the lead track ‘Opened’ has a wee wordless chorus (i.e. “oooh-eee-oooh”) which quickly gets lodged in the head. Second tune ‘Sparks’ has some very pleasant guitar backing up his voice which in a higher falsetto seems to lose the strong accent and the whole thing comes across like Nick Drake backed up by John Martyn. Not bad influences to have.myspace.com/martynmckenziemusic
The Strangers Almanac – Whale Watching For Beginners
This one’s not actually part of the demo pile, rather it was a review of previous release ‘Car Boat Sail’ which tempted me to check this lot out. That album was a bit of a one-man effort from Gord Mathieson, but he’s put together a band (with fellow Dundonians Mike Lennie and Mark Keiller, of Pensioner, from plus guitarist Avril Smart) to play the songs live. They’ve also recorded this. Starting it sounds like it’s just Gordon on his own, but soon it’s obvious that their own description of “acoustic power pop” checks in as accurate, as the title track builds to a gentle but catchy crescendo. ‘People Don’t Go Out to Clubs (’til after Midnight)’ – must be a Dundee thing – is a meandering guitar tune with country overtones, and one to put a smile on the face of the most cynical listener.
Bare Bones – Unforgiving Skin
Familiar? Yes, seems that there are two bands of this name on the go, both Scottish. What are the chances, eh?
The title track (to the 4 track, er, demo) ends the EP, while the opener is their eponymous signature tune I suppose, i.e. ‘Bare Bones’. “Snap me in half and make a wish, dig me up in 500 years”, drawls the female singer in an effort that lasts a grand 30 seconds. All four tracks are similarly short (ok, not quite that short) and clever lyrically, and very sparsely recorded – the kind of thing where what’s percussion might well someone chapping on the door of their home studio.
Sadly for what I take to be the Edinburgh version of the Bare Bones franchise, they might be the ones that have to make the inevitable change of moniker as their namesakes are already quite well-known and releasing on Instinctive Raccoon – especially given that this act seem to have no internet presence whatsoever. It’d be a shame if they failed as this EP shows a fair bit of promise.
And I think that’s the bottom of the demo pile reached (though there’s another review of a ‘proper’ album but still featuring unsigned acts, from Stirling). As ever, bit of a mixed batch, but maybe enough gems in the postbag to convince me to return to reviewing more regularly. Well, maybe…