New Scottish bands
Less is more
It’s novel for a band to come to our attention fully-formed with mind blowing songs and minus the usual hype. Doug Johnstone basks in the incandescent glory of The Twilight Sad, arguably Scotland’s finest new band
Over the last couple of years, it has sometimes seemed like the end of an era for Scottish indie music. Starting with the amicable split of the seminal Delgados, and, more recently, the demise of Falkirk’s Arab Strap and underrated noiseniks Aereogramme, a generation of our most respected and innovative alternative bands have seen their natural life spans come to an end.
But, as always, it seems, with this country’s endlessly creative music cycle, there are brand new bands eager and willing to take the place of the old guard in our hearts, and to blast our nostalgic heads with amazing, fresh new sounds. At the front of the pack are four unassuming young men from Kilsyth, outside Glasgow, who go by the name of The Twilight Sad.
Virtually unheard of in their home country, or anywhere else for that matter, until about nine months ago, James Graham (vocals), Andy MacFarlane (guitar), Craig Orzel (bass) and Mark Devine (drums) haven’t exactly become household names yet, but 2007 has seen them building up a tremendous reputation and a momentum that seems unstoppable.
Most of this started in the spring, with the quiet release of the band’s groundbreaking and often jaw-droppingly good debut album, Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, on the small but respected Brighton-based indie Fat Cat Records, the label which has brought the likes of Sigur Ros to the attention of the world. Receiving rave reviews in the UK and especially in the US, where influential website Pitchfork called it ‘f***ing transcendent’, this record was the catalyst for six months of ever more popular live shows, superlative-strewn reviews and general backslapping of the highest order.
‘We’re all pretty chuffed about it,’ says MacFarlane with typical modesty. ‘Things have really started to pick up, especially in the States, and people are latching onto it; it’s just kept on growing and growing. We’ve been over four times since last November, and it’s just got better and better. But our visas have run out now, so we’ve got a wee bit of time back home.’
MacFarlane’s modesty prevents him from mentioning that this ‘wee bit of time back home’ has involved being tour support for a recently reformed Smashing Pumpkins, as well as a month-long jaunt around the UK with Idlewild. And while those tours have provided somewhat belated exposure on home soil, it’s over in America that The Twilight Sad are really happening.
‘Places like New York and Chicago are amazing for us,’ says MacFarlane. ‘That was a real surprise the first time it happened, we just didn’t expect it at all, it was quite mind blowing. The last time we played New York was in a new venue, The Music Hall of Williamsburg, and Thurston Moore played it the night before. We were like, “Oh my God, we headlined the same place as him”.’
Moore’s is an appropriate name, because The Twilight Sad’s sound is at times reminiscent of the art-rock mayhem of Sonic Youth or perhaps the incendiary noise of My Bloody Valentine at their peak. Indeed, what is striking about their debut album is that it seems somehow familiar yet simultaneously completely new and original.
Another obvious influence on the band is the previous generation of Scottish indie outfits. The Twilight Sad at times take the orchestral majesty of The Delgados, the bleak storytelling pathos (and unashamed Scottish accented vocals) of Arab Strap and the post-rock noise-fest of Mogwai and twist it all into new shapes, adding an idiosyncratic lyrical and musical sensibility which is all their own.
Tracks like ‘Cold Days from the Birdhouse’ and ‘That Summer, At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy’ are as melodic as they are noise-filled, and will have you walking down the street singing impenetrable lines like ‘And this is where your arm can’t go’ or ‘The kids are on fire in the bedroom’ before you know what you’re doing.
Having formed in late 2003 after a fortuitous meeting at a bus stop between MacFarlane and Orzel, the band eschewed the normal endless gigging route in favour of hunkering down in the studio until they felt they had something to present to the world.
‘When we decided to do it seriously, we just stayed in the studio and wrote and wrote until we had some stuff that we were happy with,’ says MacFarlane. ‘We kicked about in there until we were happy with things, rather than jump out and play loads and loads of gigs, which seemed quite pointless, to us anyway.’
The end result was a demo which so impressed Fat Cat, they signed them the first time they saw the band live, at their third ever show in Glasgow’s Barfly. From there it was back into the studio to work on that endlessly impressive debut album.
For all that that record is a dense, layered affair with strings, accordion and piano in the mix, the band prefer to keep it simple on live outings, stripping everything back to guitar, bass, drums and Graham’s distinctive vocals, with spectacular results.
‘We always feel that if the live shows sound exactly the same as the recording, folk might as well just stay at home and listen to the record, so we always try to make it sound different,’ explains MacFarlane.
‘Somebody had the record on not that long ago, and I’d forgotten how different it sounds to us live,’ he adds. ‘Apart from anything else, we enjoy playing full-on noise a lot better than the quieter bits anyway.’
He’s not kidding. At a recent Chicago show, the band were so loud that the pint glasses started falling off the gantry behind the bar, while in New York, someone went to the box office after a gig to ask for their money back, because the show had been too loud.
‘They just told him to f*** off,’ MacFarlane laughs. ‘We’ve actually had quite a few people complain, and I suppose it’s crazy how loud it is sometimes, but we don’t care, we try to make their ears bleed every time.’
The Twilight Sad play the Arches with Vashti Bunyan and Frightened Rabbit, Thu 20 Dec.
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Say what you like about Alan McGee, it’s usually worth taking notice when he trumpets a new find. Particularly if he hails them as the most exciting Scottish band since another of his ‘discoveries’, The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Are Glasvegas really all that? In some respects perhaps. Essentially a bunch of radges dressed like 50s rockers and playing scuzzy, menacing noise pop while singing about stabbings, infidelity and errant fathers, they’re just as confrontational a proposition as early Mary Chain if nothing else. Real success is perhaps beyond them, but lasting infamy remains well within reach.
FUBAR, Stirling, Fri 16 Nov; Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh, Fri 7 Dec; the single, ‘Daddy’s Gone’, out now on Sane Man Records.
Roy’s Iron DNA
A band at obvious right angles to the trebly guitar wielding, drainpipe wearing, side-shed sporting indie spods but that’s what makes their brooding racket so appealing. Like The Beta Band on serious downers, they conjure up the same spooky dread as Massive Attack’s Mezzanine with a bit less paranoia with a sound that blends all manner of wobbly, quaking electronic trinkets with understated live instrumentation. At the heart of this stramash however, are songs. Good songs.
The Hive, Edinburgh, Fri 30 Nov; King Tut’s, Glasgow, Sun 2 Dec. The album Men in Wax Jackets is out now on Alex Tronic Records.
Too twistedly eclectic for your average seafront tavern, but somehow still rustic enough to retain an air of timelessness, country/folk/punk splicers Foxface have achieved that rare goal of finding a little niche all of their very own.
Sure, it’s situated equidistantly between those spaces occupied by Sons & Daughters, Idlewild and Arab Strap, but as soon as drummer John Ferguson pulls his fox mask on at the start of a set, you’re transported to a magical world where banjos, accordions, synths, sweet-yet-sinister boy/girl harmonies and woodland animals are all whipped by a chill North Atlantic spray.
Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh, Thu 15 Nov; Bongo Club, Edinburgh 15 Dec. Debut album This is What Makes Us out now on Gargleblast Records.
Their latest single ‘1920’ was produced by the mighty Scott Ian of Anthrax who added a vitriolic edge to their already coruscating mix. Comparisons with Garbage are only really relevant as regards the gender split in the band, but in reality, this is an altogether heavier, less self-conscious proposition with shards of guitar riffage shot through with bombastic choruses driven by the unfettered vocals of one Lora Therese. Melodic, metallic and with the potential to be massive.
Cathouse, Glasgow, Fri 16 Nov. The single ‘1920’ is out now on Up Next Records.
Another of Fat Cat’s recent Scottish acquisitions, this Glasgow trio are a spine tingling prospect playing live: somewhere along the lines of a lo-fi Yo La Tengo, or perhaps Sigur Rós hurried up a bit. Their sound seems to revel in being gloriously imperfect, as frontman Scott Hutchison’s constantly straining voice adds an unaffectedly human edge to the fray. And, yes, like The Twilight Sad’s James Graham, he also sings in his native brogue, but doesn’t everybody these days?
Frightened Rabbit play with The Twilight Sad and Vashti Bunyan, the Arches, Glasgow, 20 Dec. Debut album Sing the Greys out Nov 19 on Fat Cat records.
Honourable mention must also go to these fine bands: Correcto, Y’all is Fantasy Island, Damn Shames, Genaro, The Pictish Trail, Swimmer One, Desalvo, Found, Q without U, Make Model, Action Group, Underling, Fangs, Sixpeopleaway and Beecake.