Going underground: best of Scotland's new underground, DIY and self-released music
- Stewart Smith
- 4 February 2019
Featuring Cucina Povera, Luki and Graham Costello's STRATA
Cucina Povera – ZOOM ★★★★☆
How to follow a debut as beautiful and fully-formed as Hilja? On ZOOM, Cucina Povera, aka Maria Rossi, shrugs off the weight of expectation by releasing 'a verité collection of situational recordings'. Far from being a stop-gap set of audio sketches, ZOOM is closer to Rossi's live sets, using little more than her voice, a loop pedal, and room acoustics. Everyday objects such as Coke bottles form loops and percussive textures, while a lone synth conjures minimalist stabs and overtone heavy organ sounds. Rossi's hypnotic melodies and layered vocals evoke everything from Finnish folk songs and medieval chorales to the modern composition of Stockhausen and Meredith Monk. The longer tracks give Rossi the chance to stretch out. 'Zoom 06' is particularly striking, as a hymnal melody and staccato phrases gradually emerge from a babble of vocal loops.
Quinie – Buckie Prins ★★★★☆
Buckie Prins sees Quinie, aka Josie Vallely, digging deeper into Scottish Traveller song traditions, excavating an imaginary Old Weird Scotland in the process. While Quinie's eponymous debut was largely a capella, here she is accompanied by Ailbhe Nic Oireachtaigh on viola, Oliver Pitt on guitar and Neil McDermott on fiddle. Vallely makes the most of the Green Door studio's famed reverb on opening track 'Wagtail', singing the melody over her own layered vocals, bouzouki and viola. Her voice is stronger than ever, with a presence and control that only intensifies the emotional impact of her stark, flinty tone. The arrangements incorporate snippets of traditional fiddle tunes, Loren Connors-like guitar atmospherics, chordal drone and dissonance. The sonics occasionally distract from the bleak beauty of the tunes, but more often than not, Vallely and her collaborators strike the right balance, renewing the source material for the 21st century.
Luki – Wisps ★★★★☆
This intriguing song collection from Lucy Duncan, aka Luki, inhabits an uncanny realm, where the English mysticism of Kate Bush and Angela Carter meets jazz and world cinema. Duncan's witchy soprano, elegant piano and synth create a sense of time and place out of joint, as if Delia Derbyshire and Brian Eno had set up shop in an Edwardian parlour. The inspired song selection ranges from English ballads like 'Sweet Suffolk Owl' and 'The Lover's Ghost' to American Songbook classics like Kurt Weill & Langston Hughes' 'Lonely House', and the Italian waltz of Nino Rota's 'Gelsomina'. The highlight is 'Tiānyá gē (The Wandering Song)' a beautiful song from the 1937 Chinese film Street Angel, sung exquisitely by Duncan.
Public Service – I'm Gonna Kill That Man ★★★★☆
Brought to you by Glasgow's Anxious Music collective, Public Service's first EP is a glorious blast of gothic punk snarl. The crystalline hooks recall Siouixie & The Banshees, but there's a punk dynamism to the music that takes this way beyond goth pastiche. Most striking of all are Katy Coterall's vocals, which are as inventive as they are expressive. 'O/Sabine' bursts out of the crypt in a concatenation of corybantic howls and slashing guitar. The rhythm section kicks in and we're galloping through an apocalyptic cityscape. 'O/Desire' and 'Panic/Healing' are equally powerful: a deliriously exciting debut.
Tony Bevan & Neil Davidson – Pitch ★★★★☆
Recorded at the Old Hairdressers in October 2017, Pitch is the second vinyl document of Tony Bevan's regular improvised music session, Help Me I'm Melting. Guitarist Neil Davidson has been one of the saxophonist's key collaborators over the past couple of years, and the duo language they develop here is both lyrical and prickly. Davidson complements and subverts Bevan's modal jazz excursions with spindly dulcimer tones and clanging abstractions, while his nagging two-note figures and dissonant plunks provoke everything from Evan Parker-like spirals to staccato pecks and raspy braying.
Flo & Spicey – Flo & Spicey's Tea Set ★★★☆☆
As the singer of Glasgow lo-fi faves Gummy Stumps, 'Spicey' Colin Stewart came across like the lovechild of Alex Harvey and Captain Beefheart. On Tea Set, a collaboration with Diana Jonsson, aka Flo, he sublimates his gruff surrealist rants into a delightfully skewed collage of space-age pop and Mondo Trasho aesthetics. Creepy nursery rhyme vocals reminiscent of Lubos Fiser's Valerie soundtrack, fuzz bass, and rinky dink organ are thrown into 'Kitchen Sunk', while the sardonic 'Wah Wah' lays samples of crying infants over doom-laden Shangri Las pop. There's a lurid streak of kink through tracks like 'Sex Excerp', with its sleazy Tom Waits polka and B52s organ. Pervy pop fun, like the Residents and Broadcast jamming in John Waters' sitting room.
Graham Costello's STRATA – Obelisk ★★★☆☆
On STRATA's second album composer-drummer Graham Costello assembles a crack squad of young Scottish jazz talent to create a muscular contemporary sound that draws on rock, noise and minimalism. Fergus McCreadie's piano is a dominant voice, with his Phillip Glass-on-steroids cycles powering many of the compositions. The horns deliver punchy riffs and reflective melodies, with Harry Weir's tenor occasionally breaking loose into overblowing and multiphonics. STRATA haven't quite transcended their influences – I'm guessing Donny McCaslin, EST, and Troyka – but this dynamic performance breathes fresh air into the Scottish jazz scene.