Going underground September 2019: best of Scotland's new underground, DIY and self-released music

Going underground September 2019: best of Scotland's new underground, DIY and self-released music

Featuring Horse Whisperer, Otherworld, The Cray Twins and more

Mercuro-Chrome – Athlete of Joy / Athlete of Despair ★★★★☆

Much of most exciting new music coming out now in Scotland is released digitally or on tape. There's an immediacy to these formats, not to mention a refreshing lack of filler. Cassette is the ideal format for a project like Mercuro-Chrome's Athlete of Joy / Athlete Of Despair. Beamed from the kaleidoscopic mind of poet, artist and musician Jamie Bolland, Mercuro-Chrome is a long way from the Lynchian jazz of his former group Tut Vu Vu. The two pieces here are adaptations of his poem 'On All Fours', devised to accompany a performance with costumes by Morven Mulgrew. It begins with Bolland reading out a litany of identities: 'I am a seabird … the tree of Tolstoy … a vision in the body electric.' Then out of nowhere, an Ornette Coleman-derived rhythm kicks in and Bolland's voice blossoms into blissed-out auto-tune, like a strangely ecstatic inversion of Kanye's 808 & Heartbreaks. Bursts of absurdist humour (a blink-and-you'll-miss-it KRS-1 sample) are followed by moments of revealing vulnerability. As wonderfully odd as this exploration of 'bipolar identity, delusional intuition and the body' is, it's also deeply empathetic.

Horse Whisperer – Planctae / 8 Fictions ★★★★☆

The demented DIY prog of Horse Whisperer's The Fifth Season remains one of GLARC's most striking releases, so it's a delight to see Max Syed-Tollan return to the esteemed Glasgow tape label with this set of chamber music and piano improvisations. Written for woodwind ensemble, 'Planctae' is a fiendishly intricate and weirdly compelling piece of baroque-modernism. The jerky rhythms and sour tonalities are balanced playful flourishes and disarming moments of Stravinskian wistfulness, while a passage of staggered long tones and extended harmonies reflect Syed-Tollan's. The eight piano pieces on the flip take in swashbuckling free jazz, minimal chordal exercises and impressionist doodles, with a brief snippet of acapella art-song.

Otherworld – Cleadworkiet ★★★★☆

Otherworld – I Had Forgotten How Much Light There Is In The World, Till You Gave It Back To Me ★★★★☆

Otherworld is the latest project from Kay Logan, whose 2016 album as Helena Celle, If I Can't Handle Me At My Best, You Don't Deserve You At Your Worst, is one of the most original in the Night School catalogue. In contrast to the DIY techno and lo-fi wonk of that album, these two releases venture into dreamlike realms of electro-acoustic ambience. Logan creates her own sound world by feeding her sound sources through slow reverbs and long delays. Such an approach can run the risk of turning everything into an amorphous mush, but Logan has a painterly attention to detail, and a keen sense of duration and space. On Cleadworkiet, heavily treated guitar chords shimmer and swell over shifting drones, gradually creating a blissful sense of yearning. I Had Forgotten … is more impressionistic still, as piano and mallet tones glimmer through a pale golden fog, buoyed by airy flutes.

The Cray Twins – In The Company of Architects ★★★★☆

On their second album as the Cray Twins, Paul Baran and Gordon Kennedy take on the role of directors, composers and assemblers, piecing together the contributions of a virtual collective of musicians and sound artist along with their own electronics, keyboards and samples. Their collaborators had only selective access to the contributions of others, and to the whole. The 40-minute title track opens with a dialogue between Bruno Duplant's chimes and Baran and Kennedy's electronics, the reverberant percussive tones fading into hovering drones and looming ambience. They sustain this beautifully for over 20 minutes, with minimal acoustic guitar plucks, modular synth twitters and disembodied voices weaving in and out of the mix. Then, out of the blue, Lavinia Blackwell's wordless soprano vocals come swooping in. The grand finale sees Baran carving out huge blocks of tone on a chapel organ, as samples and treatments transform the acoustic space.

Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra & Maggie Nicols – Energy Being ★★★☆☆

An unsung hero of Scottish music, Lindsay L Cooper played with everyone from Mike Oldfield to Derek Bailey. After stints in London and Zurich, he returned to Scotland in the 1990s, where he led improvisation workshops and played bass and tuba with the Bill Wells Octet. In the 1960s, he shared a house with Maggie Nicols and the late George Lyle, both future alumni of Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra. Fittingly, Energy Being is based on Cooper's poem-cum-manifesto 'A Madman's Guide To Music', with Nicols, Cliona Cassidy, George Burt and guest Tam Dean Burn interpreting his words while the ensemble responds to his musings and provocations. Certain stretches recall the microscopic abstractions of Spontaneous Music Ensemble (with whom Cooper and Nicols performed), but there are deliberate irruptions of form, from the birdsong vocal hockets that build to a teeming Ligeti-like chorus, to a toe-tapping Latin-jazz number.

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