The Skinny's Scottish Albums of 2017
2017 in Scottish music was packed with variety and intrigue; here are ten albums that have stood out from the pack this year
The past year in Scottish music has thrown out an exciting range of sounds, from dance bands to solo songwriters to returns from some of the country's most notable musicians. Our writers pulled together a list of their favourite records from the past year, and we asked you lot to name your fave via the website. Let's run through those records now, starting with the screeching punk cacophony of Breakfast Muff. The Glasgow trio take on bullying, harassment and outmoded gender politics on Eurgh! and their raw sound gives their message a very direct energy. BM's Cal Donnelly told us earlier this year: "Maybe at the start we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could make a band where it’s just people that can’t really play anything and people would give a fuck about it, and they have. In turn it would be nice if people would look at us and be like ‘aw, I want to start a band’."
Fellow Glaswegians Golden Teacher have a similar energy, but their sound on debut full-length No Luscious Life is altogether looser and more expansive. Pulling together elements of electro, funk, pop and plenty more besides, the result is a chaotic and exciting series of jams in the mould of Talking Heads or the returning LCD Soundsystem.
Speaking of returns, there were a pair of artists whose comeback records made an impression on 2017, and coincidentally their names both begin with the letter ‘M’. Neil Pennycook returned as Meursault after a three-year hiatus with new album I Will Kill Again, and it’s a record filled with sorrowful beauty but shot through with touches of light. “I talk [a lot] about there being a narrative in this album,” Pennycook told us earlier this year, “but the narrative’s not complete unless you’re listening to it and creating the scenery in your head.” He went on to acknowledge that point as being “wanky as fuck,” so he hasn’t lost his sense of humour in the time away.
Mogwai, on the other hand, hadn’t been away but had begun a transition towards ‘national treasure’ status. Or so it seemed until the release of Every Country’s Sun, a record that draws and borrows themes and styles from across their career to build an album as monumental as anything they’ve achieved so far. The band recorded their ninth album in upstate New York with producer Dave Fridmann, and wound up being in Las Vegas on the day Donald Trump took the reins of the US government. “It was, as you can imagine,” Stuart Braithwaite told us, “a very odd time.”
Back in Scotland, Mogwai’s own record label Rock Action was responsible for releasing a pair of the year’s best Scottish LPs including Strike a Match by Sacred Paws. An explosion of highlife guitars, danceable beats and brilliantly crafted songs, Strike a Match snapped up this year’s SAY Award back in June, with drummer Eilidh Rodgers remarking at the ceremony that the award would help her convince her dad to take her musical career seriously and “stop asking me about a career.” At the time of producing the record, the duo were split between Glasgow and London, with guitarist Rachel Aggs now planning on making the move back to Scotland. “It's going to be so much better from this point onwards,” said Rodgers at the SAY Awards – and that’s an exciting thought.
At a lower tempo but equally capable of captivating a crowd, Siobhan Wilson’s There Are No Saints ties English indie-folk with European classical music to spellbinding effect. The Elgin-via-Paris songwriter talked us through the album's origins earlier in the year, and explained that her heartfelt lyrics are as much for her as for the listener. She said: “I actually think for a little while I lost the excitement for live performances and wasn’t enjoying it. I had to move myself again because it’s the only way I can authentically reach out to others.” Safe to say, it’s worked out well.
The most recent of the albums to make our top ten, Spinning Coin’s long-awaited debut Permo only hit the shelves in November, but it’s made an immediate impact. Released on Geographic, the Domino imprint of The Pastels’ Stephen McRobbie, it sees the five-piece follow in the footsteps of some of the great guitar bands of Glasgow’s past. That said, guitarist Jack Mellin told us last month that the band’s sound is the result of each of Spinning Coin’s members “having seen each other play in different bands and wanting to play each other’s songs.” Either way, the results are impressive.
The Top Three
When we reached out to find out which was your favourite Scottish album of 2017, there were three which pulled away from the chasing pack. Third place went to Conflats, the fantastic album from the Out Lines trio of Marcus Mackay, 2015 SAY Award winner Kathryn Joseph, and The Twilight Sad vocalist James Graham. Created out of the Easterhouse Conversations project at the Platform arts centre and released via Rock Action, Conflats is the result of Graham and Joseph's interviews and interactions with members of the local community, with their stories inspiring the album's often bleak but ultimately defiant seven tracks. “I hadn’t thought about it until going and doing this," Graham told us in October, "but actually seeing and hearing people tell you [that] the place has helped turn their life around, shows you how important [Platform] is. If there’s a theme to the record, it’s that there’s always someone out there to talk to or listen to, no matter how bad it gets, and that’s what Platform is.”
Coming in second place was another long-awaited debut from a Glasgow band – In Memory Of by Glasgow glam-rockers Catholic Action. Frontman Chris McCrory is a leading light among Glasgow's producers – in fact, he's produced records by nearly half the bands on this list in recent years – but for his band's first full-length album McCrory turned to Fat White Family producer Margo Broom for an outside perspective. Introducing the album in the October issue, McCrory revealed that, at times, the recording process left him in tears. "There were points where I thought I couldn't continue," he said. "But the reason I like working with her is she challenges you. We could have went into the studio and made a pretty standard guitar pop record. I could do that in my sleep. But Margo didn't want us to do that, as there is so much of it out there and a lot of it is quite boring. So it was challenging but ultimately it was a rewarding experience."
And at number one, your pick for Scottish Album of 2017, is an album which feels like a personal and professional turning point for its creator – The Water of Leith by Blue Rose Code. "To have my album recognised in this way is a thrill and a privilege," Wilson tells us of his win. The Water of Leith sees Ross Wilson shedding the past, embracing self-forgiveness and looking ahead to the future with his demons at bay and hope in his heart. "You would expect me to say this but I believe it to be true, TWOL is my strongest piece of work to date." Wilson continues, "Moving home to Scotland and working with my good pal, Angus Lyon, to produce the album, I've never felt more confident, more emboldened to take risks and ask questions in the studio. We assembled a cast of Scotland's finest singers and musicians and I want to thank everyone involved, from start to finish.
The Water of Leith is an ode to forgiveness, to letting go of the past and holding on to hope. It's the culmination of Wilson's life so far – an astonishingly accomplished, pure and sincere record celebrating his next chapter, and your favourite Scottish album of the past year.