Best new Scottish music for April 2017
Featuring Manuela, ULTRAS, Monkoora, Nightwave, Wide Days and Pictish Trail
With suggestions made for the records which should compete for the 2017 Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award and a 100 industry nominators currently hard at work throughout April picking the 20 records which should be on the longlist, it's a good month for remembering how many records of real quality are made in these parts – a lot of them are being released at the moment. With £20,000 prize money for winning the award and a further £1000 available to each of the top ten shortlist, here's an appropriate point to also refresh ourselves on why outlets like the SAY and this column try to celebrate music made in Scotland; not through a sense of dull parochialism or chest-swelling national pride, but simple, supportive localism, and reinforcing how many talented, creative, hard-working people are doing things on our own doorstep. For more info on the SAY – and everyone in music in Scotland should get involved – check out their website.
There's a wonderful sense of statelessness to the self-titled debut album from Manuela (★★★★☆, Lost Map, out now), the product of a married couple born in Austria (Manuela Gernedel) and Britain (Nick McCarthy, ex of Franz Ferdinand and FFS), raised together in Bavaria, based for many years in Glasgow (where they were two-thirds of Box Codax) and now resident of London, where they recorded this album in the latter's Sausage studio. The production is born of a casual, careworn lo-fi aesthetic, and Manuela's vocal is redolent of Laetitia Sadier's; she's a detached but soulful Europop chanteuse on the sparser ballads, and the music is a winningly diverse blend in support of her style. 'Cracks in the Concrete' is the record's clear pop banger, McCarthy's tense, edge guitar lines very recognisable from his Franz days, while there's an excursion into saxophone-led 80s jazz-pop on the instrumental 'March Against It' and 'Invincible' appears twice, first as a louche easy-listener heavy with improvised electric guitar, and then as a weirdly great retro electro-dub. They're a 21st century Nancy and Lee, odd but effortlessly charming.
Casting aside the folksy electronic rock of his defunct and much-loved former project Over the Wall, Glasgow-by-way-of-Bathgate's Gav Prentice is back with his new project ULTRAS and their self-titled debut album (★★★☆☆, Hello Thor Records/Instinctive Raccoon, released Fri 28 Apr). Inspired, we're told, by Prentice's unlikely love of hip hop mixtapes (he's got half a dozen producers here, just to consolidate that Kanye West comparison), the record is a richly textured collision of styles which fuses into a generally gorgeous listen. It bursts into life with the propulsive pop riffs (we're thinking Placebo, without the sense of arch self-regard) of 'This is Where I Fall' and 'You've a Foul Mouth.' John Barleycorn's weirdly effective union of Caledonian post-punk and hammering electroclash – the latter song aided by Prentice's old Over the Wall partner Ben Hillman and producer Julian 'Miaoux Miaoux' Corrie – and on into the ragged Caledonian beats of 'Stepping Out' and 'Holy Cross'. Resonantly sensitive but never far from lyrical violence, ULTRAS mixes the familiar and the unexpected to strong effect.
A couple of new EPs which are also well worth flagging up include the furiously engaging Monkoora's seven-track 'Nuclear BB' (Hot Gem, ★★★★☆, released Fri 21 Apr), which offers a sonically adventurous chip-pop plea for everyone to be a bit more damn accepting on 'Bocx Wurld', a gorgeous, hallucinatory train song that's more Kraftwerk than Billy Bragg in 'Vaping on Trains', and a compellingly winsome version of industrial music on 'Alaska 14'. Hidden away at the end, 'Stradallin the Fence' is Julie Fern Crawford's miniature masterpiece of this collection, open of heart and mind: 'I am loyal to this ground / but it is ground and nothing more / I am attached to this landscape, my humble soil / but I'll never be a patriot'. Meanwhile, Foreignfox and Mt Doubt are well matched on their new AA-side single 'Lights Off, Carry Me Home/Tourists' (Scottish Fiction, ★★★☆☆, out now), with each band offering their own dense and elegiac spin on the Scottish indie-rock style. The launch gig is at Nice 'n' Sleazy, Glasgow, Sat 8 Apr. And just in as we finish off this column is the 'Wavejumper' EP, (★★★★☆, Fool's Gold, released Fri 14 Apr), the seventh EP from Glasgow-based DJ Maya Medvesek aka Nightwave, a really dirty, bassy six-tracker which makes a strong impression; on the lead track 'Awesome' and the fierce, frantic 'Money Power Respect' as a thunderous collision of rave and grime with no-shit- taking rhymes from Rye Rye and Rell Rock, respectively, and on the gorgeous 'Lava' as a measured instrumental soundtrack with tooth-rattling low frequencies. Her attitude and her ability suggest only good things are coming her way.
In other events of note this month, we recommend the annual Wide Days music convention (Teviot Row House, Edinburgh, Fri 21 & Sat 22 Apr) for lots of useful industry speakers and seminars, as well as showcase gigs filled with new Scottish artists. We'd also love to extend all the best to Nightvision's inaugural Terminal V (Royal Highland Centre, Edinburgh, Sun 16 Apr), an ambitious show with some huge names in dance and electronic music, and Neu! Reekie's Where Are We Now? (Leith St Andrew's Church, Edinburgh, Fri 28 Apr), a precursor to their Hull UK City of Culture events starring former KLF agitator Bill Drummond. There's also a great line-up at Pictish Trail's next Edinburgh gig (Caves, Edinburgh, Thu 13 Apr) with Happy Meals and a Blanck Mass DJ set in support, and don't forget to support your local on Record Store Day on Sat 22 Apr.