Sounds of the Summer: Scottish Music Round-up

With The Skinny on hiatus, we've missed A LOT of album releases from Scottish artists over the last six months, so here's our best effort at a round-up of sorts. To anyone we've missed, please forgive us

Feature by Tony Inglis | 31 Aug 2020

The Skinny is proud to present to you its albums of the decade. The 2020s were some stretch. Who’d have thought a nationwide lockdown imposed by the outbreak of a virus resulting in a global pandemic would last ten whole years? Hang on, we’re being informed it’s been… just shy of six months? Wait, really? Huh.

Six months, a decade. Time has been pointless and unobservable when mostly confined to your four walls. Even as restrictions have eased, a pervasive sense of strangeness has lingered over even the most mundane of daily tasks. Those who govern us point towards, rightly or wrongly, a much needed return to normality, but for Scotland’s musicians – creatives in general, all over – normality remains far off. The coronavirus lockdown has been productive for some, whether inspired by its boundaries and limits and channeling it into art, or out of a fraught sense of thriftiness. But mainly, the quarantine has signalled closed venues, unfinished projects, postponed shows, financial uncertainty, nights that won’t happen and nights to forget.

Claire McKay’s second album as Martha Ffion came out in mid-August, just as a late summer heatwave cracked across the country, making the streets uncomfortably busy for a time when a malevolent microorganism invisibly slips from one person to another. The record is something of a departure from her debut – slinky pop begging for the dying light of a sticky hot day. Its conception began long before anyone knew much about social distancing or COVID-19, but music has this canny ability to work its way into the current of life and become imbued with meaning its creator never intended for it to have. Even a phrase as simple as Nights to Forget seems connected, to long lonely evenings wasted staring at blank space or screens. Sound familiar?

What music is very deliberate about is its ability to transport us. This is a moment when that magic couldn’t be more welcome. Take Andrew Wasylyk’s Fugitive Light and Themes of Consolation (4 Sep), the third instalment in a trilogy of works which seeks to map the landscapes of eastern Scotland. The loungey keys guide us up the River Tay, the low sun glimmering off the water’s surface. Not long ago, such a journey seemed but a fantasy. On the other hand, there’s Carla J. Easton’s maximalist, blown out, oversaturated WEIRDO, built for strobe lights and dancing in a dark club, drink in hand. Your bedroom will do for now.

These releases are a sign that, pandemic or not, whether The Skinny is there to cover it or not, the show must go on. There has been a raft of new releases, planned and unplanned. McKay’s labelmates in the extended Lost Map universe have been extremely busy. Happy Spendy’s You’re Doing Okay is a compilation of their early EPs and singles of DIY synth-pop (complete with a nicely timed self-esteem boost of a title). Suse Bear’s new record as Good DogCreature, is a home-recorded diary of her 20s and A.R. Pinewood’s slice of country, No Life, is a kind of android-Orville Peck.

Glasgow’s Modern Studies released their new record of cosmic, Laurel Canyon-tinged folk rock, The Weight of the Sun, in May, with a subsequent tour inevitably cancelled. Putting out fully-realised projects, laboured over for months only for an act of god to take the ability to capitalise off it out of your hands is devastating. Many high profile acts have delayed album roll outs for this very reason. For those who have continued on, it's a scary and brave decision that shows utter dedication to your art.

Kapil Seshasayee’s next album has fallen victim to pandemic-induced delay, but his excellent single The Pink Mirror is a timely stopover. A meditation on LGBT representation in Bollywood presented sonically as a futuristic Tron bike ride, it perfectly encapsulates his efforts to throw light on the multitudinous, diverse talents and inspirations present in the South Asian diaspora, while also casting a thoughtful critical eye.

Of those albums that have been released, truly impressive is Fast Edit, the latest from Still House Plants, a trio of artists – Finlay Clark, Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach and David Kennedy – who met at the Glasgow School of Art. Taking a traditional band set-up of guitar, drums and voice, they deconstruct what rock music can be, incorporating elements of slowcore, emo, indie-rock and jazzy improvisation. The result is a record that constantly wrong-foots, each player veering off in their own direction. Hickie-Kallenbach’s voice is deep, dexterous, and often strange and sad, as on highlight Shy Song. The joy of spontaneity is rooted in this music.

This is all merely a sliver of the quantity of music released in Scotland over these elongated, hard to define days. It's evidence of a scene still in artistic ascendency, even as the circumstances have become something more dire. It has been heartening to see aspects of the music industry rally round – Bandcamp Fridays should now be a monthly fixture if you want to support the musicians you love – even if streaming giants and others who hold power fail to grasp the seriousness of the situation. It has meant some have had to take matters into their own hands – Faith Eliott’s handmade face masks and polymer clay buttons, and Hailey Beavis’s paintings are testament to the lengths music makers have gone to support themselves.

On Peaks of Wreck, the final song on Mt. Doubt’s new album of baroque art-rock, Doubtlands (18 Sep), singer Leo Bargery lists seminal albums, some he’s heard, some he pretends to have. It helps recall nights filling in gaps in musical, cinematic or literary knowledge, barely even feeling productive enough to do that. Meanwhile, some were finding the time inside to be creatively energising, following in the footsteps of Taylor Swift and Charli XCX. Broken Chanter’s three volumes-worth of varying ambient sounds is the kind of meditative music that hours-long daydreams require, including the brilliantly titled laugh-cry 2020 iS gOiNg tO bE oUr YeAr. American Heather Leigh fashioned Glory Days, an album of atmospheric electronics and delicate folk, with the windows of her Glasgow flat open to the elements. It ranges from the haunted disco of All I Do Is Lust, to the droning naturalistic Island, and is surely the most apt musical document of these times. 

10 more Scottish albums and EPs to check out

Lomond Campbell – NEAR UNISON
More extra-musical experiments from Highlands-based multi-hyphenate Lomond Campbell using a harmonograph and a modular synthesizer. The 18th century scientific tool employs pendulums to create drawings. The results are beautifully abstract geometric shapes and extraterrestrial music across two volumes.

Future Get Down – Here We Go, Wonder (18 Sep) 
Apocalyptic pop from the Edinburgh band, filled with locked grooves and enthusiastically chanted vocals. They set out with the mission to break out of the “get comfy and you’re fucked” routine of life. Not sure **gestures to everything** it's what they had in mind necessarily.

Audrey Bizouerne & Neil Davidson – Supermarket Ballads
An often pastoral, sometimes jarring collection of compositions from improvisational guitarist Davidson and his foil here, Bizouerne, of Rev Magnetic and other Glasgow bands. In the vein of Mick Turner at its most ambient and pretty. Perfect for whiling away long days inside.

Callum Easter Green Door Sessions
During lockdown, Edinburgh's accordion-toting troubador Callum Easter announced that he'd signed to Moshi Moshi Records for the release of Green Door Sessions in August. It features one-take, straight to tape re-recordings of tracks from his first two EPs and debut album, Here or Nowhere.

Another impressive flexing of Mogwai’s scoring chops for this soundtrack to a series about international cocaine shipping. Enough said!

Joell. – Left On Read
This year’s Wide Days festival went virtual, but it didn’t stop them creating a live performance breakthrough with Joell. becoming the first hip-hop act to grace the stage, alongside Billy Got Waves. This concise EP of hushed raps is a good way in.

Sun Starer – Sun Starer
Catchy, fuzzy indie-pop from Codist’s Philip Ivers, and for a good cause. Profits went to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Just one example of extended fundraising efforts by artists of all kinds over the course of lockdown.

Hudson Mohawke – B.B.H.E.
A high-octane mixtape of unreleased sounds from Scotland’s beat-maker-in-chief released on August’s Bandcamp Day. Just one of a number of one-off releases.

Isolation Sessions
A physical-only release of covers recorded over the course of lockdown from the Last Night From Glasgow stable. A mid-pandemic gift.

Jill Lorean – Not Your First
Jill O’Sullivan (BDY_PRTS, Sparrow & The Workshop) returns with a muscular six-track EP.