The Scottish Album of the Year Award 2013: who are you rooting for?
Three List critics say why their favourites - Hector Bizerk, RM Hubbert and The Pastels - should win
Having spent years struggling to infiltrate the wider music scene, Scottish hip hop has come in from the cold, with Hector Bizerk, Loki and beatboxer Bigg Taj winning audiences over to the idea of rap in a Glaswegian accent, and Stanley Odd and Young Fathers representing for Edinburgh.
The woozy nocturnal psychedelia of Young Fathers' Tape Two, released on US avant-rap stable Anticon, would be a deserving SAY winner, but for this writer, Hector Bizerk's Nobody Seen Nothing edges it thanks to the compelling rhymes of rapper Louie. An undefeated battle rap champion, Louie delivers social commentary and self-reflection with an acute lyrical eye and a fierce sense of humour, demolishing racist, sexist internet trolls ('An Assortment of Idiots'), and documenting the effects of Tory austerity on poor communities ('Waste Britain', 'Police St8').
Yet he also revels in the art of hip hop, celebrating his band's skills on 'Orchestrate' and 'Footprints on the Drumkit'. Building on the stripped down sound of 2012 debut DRUMS.RAP.YES, Nobody Seen Nothing sees Louie and drummer / producer Audrey Tait joined by Fraser Sneddon on bass and Jen Muir on synth and vocals, allowing for colourful excursions into funk, reggae and soul. (Stewart Smith)
I remember when I heard RM Hubbert had won the 2013 SAY Award for his gorgeously spare and vulnerable Thirteen Lost and Found. I was in a taxi post-gig, with a bunch of musicians. It was a lovely moment, and felt symbolic, as if low-key, personal DIY art were squeezing through the cracks of a cynical culture. Nothing about that record was geared towards sales or big venues or media coverage – or even anything beyond Hubby’s bedroom. But people connected with it anyway.
The weight of expectation on the follow-up could have been stifling, but – as I argued last year – Breaks & Bone is, if anything, even more enchanting. It offers a few innovations, like subtle electronics and field recordings, while retaining all of its predecessor’s immediacy, poignancy and naked beauty.
True, it’s unlikely that the same artist will win two years in a row. But that’s all the more reason to root for Hubby. Not only does Breaks & Bone deserve to win on its own merits, but cheering the underdog is good for the soul. And, for that matter, so is cheering dogs. Just look at that wee guy on the cover. Who could say no to those sad brown eyes? (Matt Evans)
’How did the burn become a river?’ ponders singer Stephen McRobbie at one point on Slow Summits. Listen to the Pastels’ first studio album proper in 16 years, only their fifth total in 25 years, and you may ponder something similar.
For their well-storied association with shambly C86 indie and all that, people too readily form opinions on these Glaswegians based on dated assumptions. Extra-curricular collections such as the Pastels’ 2002 soundtrack to David Mackenzie’s film The Last Great Wilderness and their exceptional 2009 collaboration with Tenniscoats, Two Sunsets, have evidenced a band maturing with intelligence and integrity. All of that experience – and lots of the same ‘Summer Rain’ McRobbie sings about elsewhere on Slow Summits – flows into these 10 wistfully groovy, flute and French horn-licked songs, swelling a once mere sickly trickle of potential into a river of possibilities. A gentle river, but deep and broad.
It’s an album about stolen moments of everyday romance and growing older gracefully, as defined by magnificent pop singles (‘Check My Heart’) as it is trippy instrumental mood pieces (‘After Image’). It’s a record underlining the Pastels’ centrality to the Glasgow independent music scene for about as long as anyone can remember such a thing existing, and yet richly deserving of the SAY Award not because of the past, but because of what it says about the present, and quietly cherishing it. (Malcolm Jack)
The SAY Award winner will be announced on Thu 19 Jun. See sayaward.com for info.