Going underground: the best of Scotland's underground, DIY and self-released music scene
- Stewart Smith
- 8 November 2018
Featuring releases from Bell Lungs, Kapil Seshasayee, Still House Plants, Aby Vulliamy and Fritz Welch
Kapil Seshasayee – A Sacred Bore ★★★★☆
The first part of a planned 'Desi-Futurist trilogy', Kapil Seshasayee's A Sacred Bore is a powerful and ambitious art-rock album exploring the issue of caste oppression in India and the diaspora. Born in the Tamil Nadu city of Ramnad, but raised in Clydebank, Seshasayee offers unflinching portraits of the violence carried out in the name of the caste system, from the honour-killings of 'Ligature Hymnal' to the brutal attack on a North Indian protest singer in 'Ballad of Bant Singh'. Seshasayee's twisted guitars fuse the microtonal inflections and intricate rhythms of Carnatic music with math-rock and post-punk, but as complex as the structures can be, the songs are notably punchy and concise, almost anthemic in places. The arrangements are relatively sparse, with the dense weave of guitars occasionally supported by harmonium, electronics and beats. 'The Agitprop' opens with electronic jabs and hisses, before bursting into a galloping chorus, while 'Exemption Hum' takes on a psychedelic folk feel thanks to Diljeet Kaur Bhachu's flute.
Bell Lungs – Phosphodendrophobia ★★★☆☆
There's a bit of a physics and biology theme running through Phosphodendrophobia, multi-instrumentalist Ceylan Hey's debut tape as Bell Lungs. With this in mind, I found myself entertaining the notion that the title track is a sonification of a bacterial culture under a microscope. Whatever the inspiration, it's an evocative piece, teeming with detail. Keening wisps of high-pitched viola and analogue electronics swim around the sonic field, as alien radio transmissions flicker in and out of earshot. The microbes come out to play on 'Listeria Hysteria', a spoken-word fairytale accompanied by spindly psychedelic folk loops and dark viola groans. Built around round the dreamy swirl of the Omnichord (a cult 1980s electronic instrument), 'Omnidrone' is a deeply lovely drift through the cosmos, with Hay layering shooting star vocal loops and electronic twinkles over a slowly phasing drone. Halfway through, she adds vaulting vocal incantations, bringing an urgency and focus that steers the track into the beyond.
Still House Plants – Long Play ★★★★☆
Since they first emerged in 2015, Still House Plants have been Glasgow's most exciting and unusual guitar band, reimagining song through skewed repetition and free improvisation. Long Play is their full-length debut, released on vinyl by new London label bison records. Building on their two tapes for GLARC, the album sees the trio of Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach (vocals), Finlay Clark (guitar, piano, violin) and David Kennedy (drums), delivering their scratchy pop minimalism with a renewed focus and urgency. 'You OK' has the familiar SHP elements of dreamy R&B-inflected vocals over jazzy slow-core guitar, with Kennedy's drums pulsing and fluttering like a sentient machine. Hickie-Kallenbach's vocals are more creative than ever, the raw inflections and smeared phrases only intensifying their emotional impact. 'Spit' and 'Left Brake' are among their most abrasive songs to date, with jagged guitar and drum patterns that collapse in on themselves, but they retain an oddly reflective quality. The group's willingness to experiment is evident in their violin and drum instrumentals, but their most tantalising new discoveries are the piano songs like 'Is It?', where they grasp towards their own form of free jazz balladry. A genuinely challenging and beautiful album.
Aby Vulliamy – Spin Cycle ★★★★☆
Aby Vulliamy has been a vital presence on albums by Nalle, Bill Wells' National Jazz Trio Of Scotland and Sound Of Yell. Having found her songwriting voice, the Yorkshire artist's debut solo album explores 'love, life and parenthood', drawing on pop, folk and experimental forms. The title track is a short vocal about domestic drudgery, while 'Rock Me Tender' depicts the late-night loneliness of the breast-feeding mother over piano and melodica, finding comfort and hope in an extended coda of viola and musical saw. 'This Precious Time' is the album's centrepiece, Vulliamy's vocals and piano supported by trombone and double bass, while 'Good Enough' confronts misogynist assumptions through slanted piano and rumbling percussion. A strange, gorgeous and deeply personal record.
Fritz Welch – A desire to push forward without gaining access to anything ★★★★☆
In addition to his skills as a percussionist and visual artist, Glasgow's Fritz Welch has developed a singular vocal practice, which he explores on A desire to push forward without gaining anything, his new LP on Radical Documents. Each piece is carefully constructed, with Welch working over phrases and duetting with himself via overdubs. 'Square Teeth Non-Linear Conference Room' sees conversational mutterings morph into falsetto, followed by a burst of jacking hip hop beat-boxing. Welch pitch-shifts his voice into the stratosphere, before he sits down to dinner, smacking his lips appreciatively and singing to himself. Minimalism meets Looney Tunes on 'The Donald Judd vs Elmer Fudd Inner Space Crisis', as Welch modulates his voice into vocal wobbles and hovering drones, before exploring a series of mumbles, gasps and choked utterances. There's a rigour and intensity to Welch's absurdism that ensures it's never merely wacky. And on 'Tamio's Prison Song', he enters into political commentary, contrasting beautiful haiku-like imagery with the horrors of the carceral state.