Archive for the ‘Scotland’ Category


SOUNDTRACK: PALM-Ostrich Vacation (2015).

Palm has recently reissued this record on cassette.  I don’t like cassettes, so I won’t be getting this.   But it is available streaming so you can check out this early, peculiar release from this peculiar band.

Palm is an unusual band and these four talented musicians (Eve Alpert (gtr/vox), Gerasimos Livitsanos (bass), Kasra Kurt (gtr/vox) and Hugo Stanley (drums)) have found their ideal bandmates because they play off of each others ideas perfectly.

The digital release is treated like a cassette, with two tracks and multiple parts.

Side A is Dime / Drift / Communication / Trust / Small Mouth (11:54).

There’s 30 seconds of a funky bass (that seems like it’s not them) before “Dime” starts.  It’s a slow almost shoegazey song with all kinds of angular chords thrown on top.  And then after a minute and fifteen they do what they do best–dissonant notes played often enough that they become melodic together.

There’s a few seconds of a grooving song on a tape that gets sped up before “Drift” opens with a series of unexpected notes and complex drum pattern–in other words, typical Palm.  Their exploration of atypical melody is really fantastic.

“Communication” opens with the two guitars playing different dissonant sounds–weird angular chords against a three note melody that seems … wrong, like screaming solo notes.  The impressive things are the way the drums and bass ground this exercise in experimentation and that it turns surprisingly danceable by the middle.

“Trust” starts out with some slow chords and echoing voices–it’s all vaguely out of tune sounding and then “Small Mouth” jumps in with a lurching melody and some percussive drumming (nice wood block).  The vocals are soft and shoegazey despite the overall noisiness of the song.  It’s certainly the prettiest track here.  The track ends with 30 seconds of sped up version of a live album.  I suppose it could be determined who the band is if one were so inclined.

Side two is longer with fewer songs: Ostrich Vacation / Is Everything Okay / Tomorrow the World (14:29).

“Ostrich Vacation” opens with a fast single chords that sounds like “Helter Skelter” but it lasts for some 45 seconds before the drums kick in and the song shifts into a different beast.  This song feels fairly conventional despite the odd chords.  Until it gets Palmed at 1:34 when things slow down and the two guitars start throwing around unconventional guitar melodies and noisy chords.  It starts jumping back and forth between these three parts until around 3 minutes when it turns into a total guitar freak out with both guitars making wild noise for twenty seconds until the drums kick in and the song lurches into a new melody.  This new melody is mostly conventional (sounding a bit like some early SST bands).  Then at around 6 minutes it changes again, this time a fast full on melody that lasts all of 30 seconds before the song ends

“Is Everything OK” starts with some jagged chords that ring out while an interesting and unusual bassline runs underneath. The chord stays the same while the bass explores different melodies.  Then the drums kick in with some jazzy almost improvised-sounding beats.  The second guitar stats throwing in weird shapes and feedback, while quiet vocals whisper around the edges and a clarinet (!) squawking around.  After some jamming the song comes to a crashing end with some echoing and looped drum riots.

“Tomorrow the World” is literally two guitars tuning and detuning for five minutes.  It really stretches the boundaries of what a song is–and what someone might want to listen to.

Their later albums are more complicated and supremely cool.

[READ: May 11, 2021] “Something Like Happy”

I rather enjoyed this simple story.

The narrator is a bank teller–it’s her first job and she’s pleased to have it.

Arthur McKechnie came in to deposit a bunch of checks.  He seemed like a nice guy, but he seemed to be living mostly in his own head.  It wasn’t until he signed over the checks that she saw his name McKechnie, and knew who he was.

The McKechnies were bad news, but then narrator knew of them because her sister Marie was dating the worst of them–Stan McKechnie.  Of course the more people told Marie that Stan was no good, the tighter she clung to him.

he always returns to her when he deposits his checks and he seems to be flirting with her–in odd ways.  She didn’t know what to say though and the transactions ended. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BELLE AND SEBASTIAN-“Pocketbook Angel” (1994).

It’s not often that you get to hear a pretty complete story about how an early (unreleased) song was made.  “Pocket Book Angel” is a song that Stuart Murdoch wrote when he was signed on for a class about music production.  Stuart David was in the same class and so he was there when they recorded this song.

Stuart David describes the origins and recording process:

The song we recorded was called “Pocket Book Angels” something Stuart had written a few days earlier while he was busking on Ashton lane.  It was all about busking on Ashton Lane.  Almost everyone who was around that day [in the Beatbox recording studio where the classes were held] played something on it.  I played bass, Gerry Campbell, the songwriting tutor played drums, “London” a Pink Floyd addict played lead guitar, soloing wherever he could find the tiniest gap to fill.  It was a great pop song, probably all but beaten to death by having instrument after instrument overdubbed on it…  But Stuart just let the arrangement develop out of the loose parts everyone played.  [Unlike later songs when he was very particular], he didn’t have any overall vision for how he wanted the recording to turn out, and it was a haphazard collaboration.

One evening I let my dad hear the finished recording and he said, “You should stick with that band.  I like that. they’ll go places.”
“It’s not really a band,” I told him. “It was just a one-off thing.”
“They’ll go far,” he said.  “Stick with them them.”

It is pretty impressive that Stuart Murdoch made this song pretty quickly and had it fleshed out into a recordable idea.  Sure, this song sounds like it was recorded on a tape player, but the song is super catchy.

[READ: January 23, 2021] In the All-Night Café

Every time I read a non-fiction book about music, I feel compelled to say that I don’t read a lot of non-fiction books about music.  Given the number of bands that I like, the number of books I read about music is fairly low.  Indeed, most bands that I really like I don’t care that much about their history or what they have to say.

But I enjoyed Stuard David’s novel and I imagined that his take on the formation of Belle & Sebastian would be pretty interesting.  Because they are from Scotland and are a low-key band to begin with.  Plus Stuart David isn’t the “main” guy (and isn’t even in the band anymore), but he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would write a mean-spirited book either.

And their origin story is really fascinating.

But this book isn’t just about the band.  It’s about Stuart David’s life in his mid-twenties in Scotland.  It’s also about what it was like to be young in a country that didn’t have a lot if opportunity for youth.  It’s also about music and is even about love. (more…)

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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

“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
I do

“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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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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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

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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