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Archive for the ‘Scotland’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SUNFLOWER BEAN-“Moment in the Sun” (2020).

When Sunflower Bean first came out they were a wonderful poppy guitar band.  They sounded like a classic indie pop band from the 90s with Julia Cummings great vocals and Nick Kivlen’s delicate guitar sound that also worked in some roaring solos.

Their last EP was a lot more synth and even more poppy.  This new track, “Moments in the Sun” continues in that poppy synthy style.

The song opens with a slinky disco bass line and guitar chords.  Cumming’s voice sounds husky until the end of the each verse which has a catchy echoing falsetto vocal.  Bouncy synths accompany the vocals.

The propulsive chorus strips out the synth for a really catchy vocal harmony between Cummings and Kivlen.

The song sounds vaguely familiar–very catchy and simple

This aggressively poppy direction is a bit surprising given their earlier sound.  It’s not all that far afield from their initial sound, but I do miss Kivlen’s excellent guitar work.

[READ: September 14, 2020] “The Englishman”

This is the second story of Stuart’s to appear in the New Yorker this year.

In this story, a college-aged Scottish man has answered a want ad to help an older Englishman named William.  The young man (who is nicknamed Caspar by William) was expected home from college for the summer.  His family farmed on a Scottish isle and were often buffeted by the harsh Atlantic winds.  His older brothers had been saving up the worst chores for his return.  So when he said he wouldn’t be coming home, they were furious at him.  His father was also disappointing–he said nothing when Caspar told him he was spending the summer in London.

The position paid four hundred quid a week.  William was a wealth man, with much cash at his disposal–he offered to fly William in from Scotland.  William was fastidious in his dress but his house was a shambles.  (The narrators mother would have died to have her house look like this). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: beabadoobee-Loveworm (Bedroom Sessions) (2019).

beabadoobee is Beatrice Kristi Laus, a 19 year-old singer-songwriter who was born in the Phillipines and lives in London.  She has released some six EPs since 2018 and has been played on the radio on WXPN.  I see she’s also headlining a small tour over here in the Spring.

This EP is an acoustic version of her Loveworm EP.  I actually don’t know the other EP (that’s for tomorrow), but I wanted to start with this bedroom version because it promised to be stark.

It is just her on acoustic guitar and vocals.  Her voice is soft and delicate and quite pretty, with the “innocence” of early Juliana Hatfield.  That innocence makes her sharp lyrics all the more effective.

Even though this is a bedroom recording, it is in no way lo-fi.  The recording quality is excellent.  You can hear her hands move up and down the strings and there’s no hiss or fuzz.  You can hear her voice very clearly too.

“Disappear” has a simple melody.  I assume the guitar is looped at some point.  “1999” is not a Prince cover.  It continues in this quiet vein with some pretty guitar and vocals.  It seems kind of daring to name a song the same as one of the most popular songs in pop history.  But her understated take on 1999 is a quite different from Prince’s

You said I fucked up and ruined your life
But little did you know you ruined
Mine

“Apple Cider” is a bit more uptempo. with a cool delivery of this opening verse

We both like apple cider
But your hair be smelling like fruit punch
And I don’t even like you that much
Wait
I do
Fuck

“Ceilings” has a very pretty picked melody” while “Angel” is a darker song that sounds like it could be a Nirvana cover (it isn’t).  “You Lie All the Time” is a straightforward song and “Soren” features some interesting chords high on the neck of the guitar.  This final song is a sweet love letter

The green in your eyes
Are like the leaves in the summer
And it changes with the weather
The pink in your cheeks
When you slightly lose your temper
Makes me love you even more

There’s a lot of sameness on this EP, but that’s not surprising since it is an EP of acoustic versions of the he original album.  As an introduction to her music and her songwriting, though, it’s a great place to see just what she’s got vocally and musically.  I’m curious how she will flesh these songs out on the actual EP.

[READ: January 12, 2020] “Found Wanting”

This is a story of Scottish young adult trying to find his sexuality in a land that demonizes homosexuality: “living on a Glaswegian housing scheme and being gay was a death sentence.”  The narrator was more or less alone.  He lived in a rented bedsit.  His mother was recently dead and his brother, who had been looking after him, could no longer afford to.

The advent of a lonely hearts section in the paper allowed for people with similar interests to contact each other.  For the narrator, the day he mailed in his ad (which cost him much of his salary that week), opened up new avenues–avenues that were not always savory. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WÜRST NÜRSE-Hot Hot Hot (2018).

I wanted to find a soundtrack that would go with a book about wurst.  I found this fantastic Australian band with a hilariously appropriate name who also happen to be a band that rails against sexism.

In fact, one of the members of the band is in the fantastic feminist band Camp Cope!

Their story:

In 2016, five nurses with a sick-of-your-shit attitude put down their scalpels to pick up their instruments and Würst Nürse was born!  Würst Nürse are ripping out the stitches of the patriarchy with their dominating & satirical lyrics.  The band consists of Georgia McDonald (Camp Cope) as singing nurse, Anna Stein & Stephanie Butigan as guitar nurses, Morgan Sterley as bass nurse & Abbie Laderman as drummer nurse. Since Würst Nürse’s Fürst Rehürsal they have been administrating sludgey fever-inducing riffs & a power pop energy hot enough to send you into heart block.

This EP has four songs and is 13 minutes long.

It is musically brash with catchy melodies and sing-along choruses.  But its the biting lyrics that are so much fun

Like on “Hot Doctor” which is three chords and a sing along chorus of:
Hot Doctor
Hot Doctor
He’s gonna pay my bills
He’s gonna pay my rent
Hot Doctor
Hot Doctor
Gonna quit my job
Never have to work again

Although the verses are a bit more subversive

I give the wrong meds to get your attention
I want your hot beef injection
Hot Doctor
So, it turns out I didn’t even need that bachelor’s degree anyway
When I saw you walking down the hallway
Oh, Hot Doctor are you coming back to my place?
Your blue scrubs they rub up the right way

“Hot Surgeon” is very different from “Hot Doctor.”  There’s no big chanting chorus, but the lyrics are very different:

I wanna drill into your head
You’re such a hot surgeon
I bet you give great head
I know you’ve got your doctorate
Hot Surgeon
Know your way around a woman
I could help you out in theatre
You could help me put in a catheter
You, me and the Hot Doctor could get it on after hours

Okay maybe not that different.  But it turns out that they are connected:

I wanna get with the hot surgeon
Nobody tell the hot doctor
I don’t wanna ruin my chances

“Hot Brown Rain” is very different from the other “hot” songs because it is a hilariously revolting song about, well, being “number 8 on the Bristol stool chart” [The chart only goes up to 7, ew].  “from your underwear, how did it get in my hair?”  The chorus is surprisingly catching or catchy.

“Dedication Doesn’t Pay The Rent” has big stomping verses and much more pointed lyrics:

Knowledge learnt
Is money spent
And I still owe
The government
And they cut
My pay again
Those suit wearing white men

The chorus is very satisfying too:

No dedication don’t pay the rent
If you cut my pay
I’ll cut your oxygen

Of course I don’t want to see Camp Cope end, but I sure hope Würst Nürse releases more music.

[READ: Summer 2019] The Wurst of Lucky Peach

I really enjoyed Lucky Peach magazine.  It was often exhausting to read them since they were so packed with content (not unlike a sausage).  I was bummed when the magazine folded.  But in addition to several great issues, they also left behind some of these really fun and interesting cookbook-type collections.

This book is more than a series of recipes that I will likely never make or eat.  It is a fun history of the sausage that travels from Europe to the Americas to Australia and beyond.

Chris Ying says he loves sausage.  He says he might be in the world’s best lobster restaurant, but if there’s sausage on the menu that’s what he’s getting.  This book is fill of sausage history, sausage based humor (they tried to limit the number of dirty jokes, but failed often and with gusto). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS AND HEADY FWENDS-“Supermoon Made Me Want to Pee” (2012).

2012 saw the release of this very strange collaborative album.  Whether The Flaming Lips had entered the mainstream or if people who’d always liked them were now big stars or maybe they all just liked doing acid.  Whatever the case, The Lips worked with a vast array of famous (and less famous) people for this bizarre album.  Here it is 8 years later. Time to check in.

This is (almost) the shortest song on the album at just over 3 minutes. And it’s kind of a transitional song.

There’s not a lot to it.  It’s fast and propulsive with a never-ending bass rumble and vocals (singing the words “coming up”) going higher and higher in pitch which makes it all seem more intense.

After two minutes the song seems to peak, settling down in to gentle washes with swirling sounds floating around.  It segues nicely into the next song, “Children of the Moon.”

The collaboration on this song is with Prefuse 73.  Prefuse 73 is a producer known mostly for hip hop, but also other sound effects.  It’s hard to know exactly what he contributed, but I think the collaboration works well.

[READ: August 1, 2019] Strangers in Paradise XXV #4

This issue also feels like a transitional issue.

Issue 3 ended with Katchoo possibly chasing a guy who ran away.

But it also ended with her being very sick.

Those two facets combine right away as Katchoo tries to catch the man on foot but quickly succumbs to pneumonia.

This is some of Terry Moore’s most impressionistic drawing–even if the fields of Scotland’s Isle of Skye are beautifully rendered, the people are all in motion.

When Katchoo passes out in a field, a woman in a hat spies her and, upon seeing who she is, picks her up and brings her to a nearby cottage. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS AND HEADY FWENDS-“Helping the Retarded to Know God” (2012).

2012 saw the release of this very strange collaborative album.  Whether The Flaming Lips had entered the mainstream or if people who’d always liked them were now big stars or maybe they all just liked doing acid.  Whatever the case, The Lips worked with a vast array of famous (and less famous) people for this bizarre album.  Here it is 8 years later. Time to check in.

After an intense dance song and a trippy synth song, why not follow it up with a (mostly) acoustic song with an incredibly offensive title?

Turns out this incredibly offensive title is actually the name of a (serious) book written in 1969 (you can see it and the rather amusing contemporary reviewed on Amazon).

I don’t think the lyrics address the book exactly (although I haven’t read it).  But with lyrics like

We can hear them laughing at us
Judging all the time
I wish I could be like you
You don’t pay them no mind

It’s hard to tell.

This song is sung by Wayne in his falsetto and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (the whole band or just the singer, I don’t know) singing along.

After a minute and a half some processed drum beats add some texture to the song which stays mostly quiet and pretty. The Lips can sure do pretty went they want.  There’s even birds tweeting.

After five and a half minutes, the song shifts gears to a repeated refrain of

And I am trying to know you.

The song is 7 minutes long, but it never drags, which is quite a compliment.

[READ: August 1, 2019] Strangers in Paradise XXV #3

Issue 2 ended with a literal cliffhanger–Katchoo hanging off the edge of a cliff.  She’s freezing. There are dogs above and even an eagle flying at her.  She’s in a bad way until a rope comes down.

It is from Jet and Earl.  Jet figured Katchoo might do something stupid so she went to the gated house and heard the screams.

Jet explains that the home owner is an asshole, but they may need him to get any information on Stephanie.  Katchoo has put up with assholes before and she pulls out a gun of her own.  After some threats back and forth (the guy was shooting rock salt as a warning and mostly wants to know who will pay for the fence that Katchoo drove through), Jet is able to calm things enough to learn that the man doesn’t know where Stephanie is.

But he provides a small clue–Scotland.  Stephanie loved Scotland. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KARINE POLWART TRIO-Tiny Desk Concert #840 (April 10, 2019).

I had never heard of Karine Polwart and her beautiful and thoughtful music.   And I suppose that’s not surprising.

Scottish singer, songwriter and essayist Karine Polwart seldom comes stateside. She prefers to limit air travel in order to minimize her carbon footprint. She took exception, however, to fly from Edinburgh to New York City to participate in the Carnegie Hall Migrations festival, a celebration of the history of the movement of people all around the world. Polwart and her brother, guitarist Steven Polwart and multi-instrumentalist, Inge Thomson, then escaped New York for a day to play the Tiny Desk here in Washington, D.C.

They play three beautiful songs.  Steven seems to play the main guitar melody while Karine adds lovely accents.

The first song is “Ophelia.”

Polwart writes songs about hope, music that harnesses spiritual power and lyrics that address important social justice themes. Stories of human emotion and the human experience are also commonplace as in the first tune, “Ophelia.”

“There’s a wind in from the desert
Red dust blows across the sun
It bleeds into the evening
We watch it from the garden
Your hair glints in the strange yellow light
We let go of all our fighting
Ophelia”

There’ some very cool sound effects–wind and warped sounds echoing–surrounding this song and I can’t quite tell where they are coming from (presumably from Thomson).  It’s a cool if unsettling backdrop for this pretty song on acoustic guitar with lovely vocals (wondrous backing vocals from Thomson, who also plays a gorgeous accordion solo.

Indeed, the music is wonderful and the blurb describes it perfectly

Lyricism and messages of hope and beauty heard throughout punctuate a stunning accompaniment of inventive instrumentation. The steady, resonant guitar riffs played by Steven Polwart ground the delicate vocal harmonies. Inge Thomson’s accordion lines, combined with an array of percussion instruments and synth-generated effects, add a complimentary layer of sound without overpowering the music. Karine Polwart’s bellowing and drone-like Shruti box provides a sweet serenity.

She speaks with her wonderful accent between songs, introducing the band and then introducing the second song, “I Burn But I Am Not Consumed.”   It features a mesmerizing spoken word denunciation of trump, from his hated golf course back in Scotland to everything he does now.

Your mother was a wee girl once,
who played upon my rocky shore.
And you, you are broken boy,
and you want more and more and more.
You build a tower. You build a wall,
You live in fear that they might fall.
You who see nothing but your face
in the sheen of The Hudson River.

The music is wonderful too.

Read the whole thing here and watch a performance on the eve of the inauguration with an orchestra for the BBC.

How does one follow that up?  With a song called “King of Birds” which praises the power of small things.–in their guile and their nimbleness.

In it Polwart recounts the legend of a wren who piggybacks a lift on an eagle’s wing. Just as the large bird is unable to fly any higher in the sky, the tiny wren catches a breath of air, soars higher than the eagle and is crowned the king of all birds.

Tinkling bells and gentle guitar introduce this verse

“At Ludgate Hill
where the towers of smoke and mirrors bruise the sky
the pilgrims huddle in
as the tiny King of Birds begins to cry
the people start to sing
to light glory in the dark
to ring the bell
and to breathe hope in every heart”

And as the song reaches its loudest Thomson is playing a cymbal and the accordion while she is singing.  Wow.

This concluding blurb is spot on

This performance will quite likely inspire you to learn more about Polwart. The NPR program, Thistle and Shamrock often features her music. This recent episode features cuts from Polwart’s latest album, plus her ideas on movement and migration.

[READ: April 14, 2019] “Medusa”

This is a brutal story about a woman who has been raped.  But the brutality isn’t in the way it happened–in fact, when I first read it I wasn’t entirely sure it had actually happened.  It’s in her reaction to the event and how it changes her life.

It was raining and the narrator left her back door open as she went outside to take out the garbage bags. How could this man have gotten in in that short time?  When she first saw him she thought he was a lost student from across the way.  But it soon dawned on her that that was not his reason for being there.

She introduced herself, trying to humanize herself to this man.  He said his name although she could tell he was just “trying it on for size.”  She got a good look at him–his hair, his tattoos, a good smell of him.  She tried to run but fell in her front hall–leaving her in the perfect position for what he wanted. (more…)

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