THE BEST SCOTTISH ALBUMS OF 2013-PART 1.

THE BEST SCOTTISH ALBUMS OF 2013-PART 1.

Over the past thirty-five years, Scotland has produced some of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful bands in British music. From the tail-end of the seventies, Scottish bands have been trailblazers, producing music that’s innovative and ahead of the musical curve. This stared with Postcard Records, who introduced the world to the Sound of Young Scotland and groups like Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Josef K and The Go-Betweens. Incredibly, that was just the start of an outpouring of creativity. 

Scottish bands were about to provide the soundtrack to much of the eighties and nineties. Next up were the Associates, Blue Nile, Lloyd Cole and The Commotions, Hipsway, The Big Dish and Deacon Blue. That’s not forgetting Belle and Sebastien, The Bathers, Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand, Edwyn Collins and Joe McAlinden. Never mind Manchester, Liverpool or London, Scotland were the Kings of indie rock and where every A&R rep headed in search of the latest indie rock sensation. That’s still the case, with A&R reps taking an interest in Scottish music. No wonder. 2013 has been a vintage year for Scottish music. Some of the best music released this year, has been by Scottish bands. Proof of this is my list of The Best Scottish Albums of 2013. It’s a delicious taste of what Scottish music has to offer. 

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN- THE THIRD EYE CENTRE.

Often, when a group released a compilation of B-Sides, rarities and non-album tracks, they’re cash-ins filled with third rate music. That’s not the case with Belle and Sebastian, They don’t release third-rate music. No way. Their compilation, The Third Eye Centre, which was released earlier this year is proof of this.

Instead, The Third Eye Centre is a tantalising glimpse of Belle and Sebastian. It’s also a delicious glimpse of what we’re missing. If they could only produce albums on a more regular basis. Mind you, maybe they’d lose some of their unmistakable charm? Belle and Sebastian are capable of producing captivating, bewitching and beautiful music. Sometimes, they lay bare their soul, while articulating their hopes, fears, frustrations and dreams. Articulating this range of emotions, are Glasgow’s purveyors of pop perfection Belle and Sebastian. Their music despite being quintessentially Scottish, transcends geographical boundaries. For anyone whose lived, lost and lost love, Belle and Sebastian’s music will speak to them and for them. It brings to life their heartache and hurt, their sense of how life will never be quite the same again. 

Belle and Sebastian’s music, including the music on their recently released The Third Eye Centre compilation, is deeply soulful, beautiful and emotive. That’s why Belle and Sebastian are one of the best bands to come out of Scotland in the last thirty years. It’s also why every self respecting record collection must feature a Belle and Sebastian album.  A good place to start is Tigermilk, The Boy With The Arab Strap and to give you a taste of what happened next, The Third Eye Centre. These three albums, are sure to make a Belle and Sebastian fan out of you.

 

CAMERA OBSCURA-DESIRE LINES.

There aren’t many bands who announce on their website that they’re on maternity leave. Camera Obscura do. They’re another Scottish band who do things their way. So far, that’s worked well. They’ve released five albums since they were formed in Glasgow in 1996. Their most recent album, was Desire Lines, which recently released on 4AD. Desire Lines saw Camera Obscura change direction musically. 

For two albums, Camera Obscura had worked with Swedish producer, Jari Haapalainen of The Bear Company. He’d produced their third album, 2006s Let’s Get Out Of This Country, then the followup, 2009s My Maudlin Career. Despite My Maudlin Career being Camera Obscura’s most successful album, Jari was replaced as producer. Camera Obscura decided to move their music forward. They’d been accused of sticking with the same formula. Certain critics accused My Maudlin Career of sounding like Let’s Get Out Of This Country. That must have stung. So Camera Obscura headed to Portland, Oregon, where Tucker Marine produced Desire Lines. Making guest appearances, were Neko Case and Jim James of My Morning Jacket. This was a brave move for Camera Obscura. After all, they’d enjoyed the most successful album of their career with My Maudlin Career. 

Camera Obscura’s decision to change producer was a risk worth taking. From an artistic point of view, Desire Lines surpasses everything that’s gone before. Sadly, it didn’t quite replicate the commercial success of My Maudlin Career. Released to critical acclaim, it still gave the band a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Another chapter in Camera Obscura’s seventeen year musical story was finished. It was the best of their career. Desire Line featured Camera Obscura at their cerebral, literate and intelligent best. Witty, quirky, but full of hurt, heartbreak and regret, Desire Lines is ethereal, elegant and beautiful. Hook-laden, slick, slices of pop perfection, Desire Lines is pop music at its best.

CHVRCHES-THE BONES OF WHAT YOU BELIEVE.

One of the most highly anticipated albums of recent years is Chvrches’ The Bones Of What You Believe. What makes the rise and rise of Chvrches so remarkable, is Chvrches were founded just two years ago in 2011. Everything has happened so quickly for Lauren Mayberry, Ian Cook and Martin Doherty. They’ve spent the last two years touring the world converting people to their unique brand of shimmering electro-pop. Britain, Europe, Canada and America gave been conquered by Chvrches. Somehow, Chvrches have also found the time to release a four singles and a trio of E.Ps, including the recently released Gun E.P. These singles were a tantalising taste of the main event, Chvrches highly anticipated debut album The Bones Of What You Believe, which was released in September 2013 on Virgin. 

Released to critical acclaim, The Bones Of What You Believe is a taste of what Chvrches are capable of. One of the most highly anticipated albums of recent years, The Bones Of What You Believe, not only lived up to expectations, but surpassed them. The Bones Of What You Believe features innovative, inventive music. It’s pioneering electro-pop, full of shimmering synths and the ethereal beauty of Lauren Mayberry’s vocal. Her vocal is reminiscent of Liz Fraser of The Cocteau Twins. Along with Ian Cook and Martin Doherty, Chvrches fuse electro pop, house, synth pop, Euro Disco, indie rock and soul. Dance-floor friendly, anthemic, soulful and full of slick poppy hooks, The Bones Of What You Believe is pop perfection. That’s why Chvrches will be Scotland’s next big musical export. Many have been contenders for the title, now it looks like Chvrches with their unique sound, will claim it as their own.

Chvrches have restored my faith in modern music. I’m pleased that still, there are a group capable of making the perfect pop song. That’s what The Bones Of What You Believe is. It’s a reminder of what a classic pop song sounds like. For everyone who says pop music is dead, play them The Bones Of What You Believe. That’ll prove them wrong. Pop music is alive and kicking, and Chvrches’ debut album The Bones Of What You Believe is the future and salvation of pop music.

PETE MACLEOD-ROLLING STONE.

It was seventeen years ago, that Pete MacLeod made his professional debut. That night, in 1996, Pete walked on stage and sang two of his own songs. It gave Pete his first taste of the music industry. He was hooked, and wanted more of it. For the next eight years, Pete travelled up and down the country honing his sound. As thestar69 Pete paid his dues. This lead to Pete playing at Scotland’s biggest music festival T In The Park in 2004. Shortly after that, Pete enjoyed his first hit single. It was only a matter of time before Pete released his debut album. He released This Is Modern Soul in 2005. Critics predicted a successful future for Pete MacLeod. Surely, Pete would be signed by a record company and become Scotland’s latest successful musical export? 

Sadly, things didn’t quite pan out like that for Pete MacLeod. Despite a whole host of fans within the music industry, including Alan McGhee, Jim Kerr, Dave Grohl and Steve Cradock, that record contract eluded Pete MacLeod. That was until earlier this year when Alan McGhee, the man behind the long, lamented Creation Records, decided to make a comeback. He founded a new label 359 Music. Among the signings to his new label was Pete MacLeod. This was no surprise, as Alan had long championed Pete’s music. Now that Alan was back in the music business, he was going to help spread the word about Pete McLeod. So, in July 2013, Pete MacLeod signed to Alan McGhee’s new label 359 Music and released his sophomore album Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone describes the career of Pete MacLeod. Since making his professional debut, he’s seen the other side of the music business, the side most people forget about. Pete’s spent years traveling the length and breadth of Britain. Then there’s trips to Europe and to Pete’s adopted home of Los Angeles. All the time, Pete’s playing smaller venues, venues which are filled with a small, loyal and adoring fan-base. They attend every concert Pete plays, but sadly, word hasn’t spread about Glasgow’s troubled troubadour Pete MacLeod. Instead, he’s remained one of music’s best kept secrets. Pete however, deserves a better fate than that.

For whatever the reason, Pete MacLead hasn’t had the breaks. Commercial success and critical acclaim have eluded Pete. Despite that, he’s certainly not short of talent. A talented singer-songwriter, Pete MacLeod should be filling larger venues and have a string of critically acclaimed albums to his name. Sadly, that’s not the case. Thankfully, time is still on his side. Maybe Rolling Stone, Pete MacLeod’s sophomore album will mark a change in Pete’s fortunes? Given the quality of music on Rolling Stone, commercial success and critical acclaim might just be coming Pete MacLeod’s way. A fusion of folk, rock and pop, Rolling Stone showcases Pete MacLeod’s versatility and talent. Eight years after his debut album This Is Modern Soul, Scotland’s veteran Rolling Stone Pete MacLeod looks like making up for lost time with his hook-laden, heartfelt, soul-baring opus, Rolling Stone.

 

QUICKBEAM-QUICKBEAM.

Atmospheric, cinematic and ethereal are just some of the words that describe the music on Quickbeam’s debut album Quickbeam. So too does sparse, minimalist, flamboyant and luscious. Intriguing and compelling, the twelve soundscapes have been influenced by a myriad of eclectic influences. This includes ambient, classical, indie rock, jazz and soul. Comprising twelve soundscapes, quivering, classically influenced strings sit side-by-side with fuzzy guitars, braying horns and harmonium.  Add to this fragile, tender vocal and soothing harmonies. Everything from Bartok, Blue Nile, Boards of Canada, Cocteau Twins and Jesus and Mary Chain have influenced Quickbeam. When all these musical influences are combined, the result is one of the most intriguing and eclectic albums of 2013.

I described Quickbeam’s debut album Quickbeam as atmospheric, cinematic and ethereal. I could just as easily have described Quickbeam as sparse, minimalist and flamboyant. Quickbeam is an enigmatic album. Twelve songs lasting fifty-one minutes, featuring instruments you wouldn’t normally find on a indie, pop or rock album. Cellos, harmonium and horns are added to the rhythm section, piano and organ. Mind you, Quickbeam isn’t an indie, pop or rock album. No. It’s a fusion of ambient, classical, indie rock, jazz, pop and soulful vocals. The artists that have influenced Quickbeam are just as varied. Listen carefully and you’ll hear Astrid Williamson, Bartok, Blue Nile, Boards of Canada, Brian Eno, Clannad, Cocteau Twins, Deacon Blue, Jerry Burns, Jesus and Mary Chain and Kate Bush. Such a diverse and eclectic range of influences make for an album that’s intriguing and compelling.

Indeed, from the opening bars of Remember to the closing One To Hold, Quickbeam have you spellbound. Layer upon layer of multi-textured, genre-sprawling music toys with your emotions.  Intrigued, as one track ends, you wonder where Quickbeam are taking you? It’s like a musical journey, where a series of cinematic soundscapes unfold. Monika is the narrator of stories full of hurt, heartbreak and mystery. Longing and loneliness are often present in songs that are designed to tug at your heartstrings. Veering between ethereal and beautiful, to dramatic and dark, Quickbeam’s debut album is not just one of the best Scottish albums of 2013, but one of the best British albums of 2013. One listen to Quickbeam, and you’ll realise this too.

 

R.M. HUBBERT-BREAKS AND BONE.

For R.M. Hubbert, 2013 has been the best year of his long musical career. A veteran, and some might say, unsung hero, of Glasgow’s music scene, Hubby won the Scottish Album Of The Year Award in June 2013, with his sophomore album, Thirteen Lost and Found. Considering the competition Hubby was up against, this was quite a feat. Paul Buchanan, Lau, Calvin Harris and Emile Sande were among the nominees. However, Hubby triumphed. Thirteen Lost and Found won the Scottish Album Of The Year Award. This was result of a musical journey that started back in 1991. Having savoured the moment, it was straight back to work for Hubby. 

No wonder. Hubby was in the midst of recording his third album Breaks and Bone. It was recorded in seven short, intensive sessions during a one-year period. Featuring  ten tracks, which were produced by Paul Savage at his Chem 19 studios. Two themes run through Breaks and Bone, letting go and acceptance. They’re the threads that ran through Hubby’s first two albums. That’s hardly surprising. Hubby’s had to contend with the loss of both parents and a five year battle with depression. For Hubby and many listeners, Breaks and Bone, will prove a cathartic experience. 

Breaks and Bone is not just most captivating albums of 2013, but an album that’s cerebral and inspirational. The last part in the Ampersand trilogy, Breaks and Bone has you spellbound from the opening track. Despite being an instrumental, Son Of Princess, Brother of Rambo is something of a roller coaster journey. Listen to the track with an open mind, and thoughts, memories and ideas will cascade past your mind’s eye. From there, the music veers between becomes dark, bleak and nihilistic on Bolt, through to thoughtful, melancholy, emotive, joyous and uplifting. Often it’s introspective and seeking answers. That’s no bad thing. Hubby like so many other people, is looking for answers to problems that have haunted him. This includes loss and depression.

Many other people, like Hubby, have lost loved ones and are still grieving. It’s an ongoing process that needs worked through. For Hubby, music proves cathartic. He lost both parents a few years ago. Like many people, music is a way of finding answers to questions. Part of his trying to come to terms with this loss, is the Ampersand trilogy. Breaks and Bone is the final chapter in this trilogy. Let’s hope it’s helped Hubby to come to terms with his loss. I hope it’s helped Hubby in another struggle.

Another theme explored during Breaks and Bone, was depression. Like many people, Hubby has suffered from depression. He’s fought chronic depression for five years. Music to Hubby, has proved therapeutic and cathartic. Part of his healing process was the Ampersand trilogy, including Breaks and Bone. Let’s hope it’s helped Hubby to come to terms with what is a truly debilitating and heartbreaking illness. Certainly, some of the music on Breaks and Bone is much more uplifting. 

Several things haven’t changed from Thirteen Lost and Found. Breaks and Bone which was released on Chemikal Underground. It’s  another eclectic and emotional musical journey. It draws inspiration from disparate musical influences and genres. Folk, country, flamenco, Celtic, indie and Americana were thrown into the mix. Then there’s some of Scotland’s top musicians who played a part in the making of Breaks and Bone. Among them are Aidan Moffat, Emma Pollock and producer Paul Savage. Each of these musicians wanted to help one of the nicest men in Scottish music bring this very personal project to a close. Breaks and Bone, like the two previous chapters, is a highly personal, cerebral and emotive exploration of loss and depression. 

Seeking answers, R.M. Hubbert embarked upon the Ampersand trilogy. Now this musical journey is over. Hubby has kept the best until last. Breaks and Bone is the result of a two year musical journey. We can only hope R.M. Hubbert found the journey that was Ampersand trilogy both therapeutic and cathartic.

RANDOLPH’S LEAP-REAL ANYMORE.

Randolph’s Leap who recently released their mini-album Real Anymore on Olive Grove Records, aren’t like any other band. Not all. After how many bands describe themselves as a “Glasgow-based figment of your imagination?” Well, Randolph’s Leap do. This adds an air of mystery to the Glasgow-octet. It also hints at a band who don’t take themselves to seriously. Another description of Randolph’s Leap are purveyors of pop perfection. 

Ever since 2008, Randolph’s Leap have been winning friends and influencing people with their unique fusion of indie pop and folk. Spreading hooks and happiness in equal measure, Randolph’s Leap are part of the this new generation of Scottish bands. Randolph’s Leap are just the latest keeper of Scottish pop’s flame. They’re no ordinary band though.

Don’t expect banal, bubblegum pop from Randolph’s Leap. No. Instead, their music is witty, acerbic, intelligent and articulate. That describes the music on Real Anymore, Randolph’s Leap’s debut mini-album. Real Anymore, features seven songs, which are the perfect introduction to Randolph’s Leap.The latest mini-album from Randolph’s Leap features a band more than ready to make the next step.

Indeed, Randolph’s Leap are a band with a big future. Randolph’s Leap are more than ready to make the next step. They’ve spent five years honing their sound and have established a reputation as a tight, talented band. To do this, they’ve played concerts and festivals up and down the country. However, Randolph’s Leap don’t seem in a hurry to make the next step, which is signing for one of the bigger indie labels. Randolph’s Leap seem determined to do things their way. That’s no bad thing. Bands like Belle and Sebastian, The Blue Nile, Teenage Fanclub and The Pastels have done things their way, and enjoyed a successful career. These bands demonstrate that this is possible. No longer do bands have to head to London to make the next step. Far from it. Glasgow’s music scene is truly thriving. Randolph’s Leap are just the latest keeper of Scottish’s pop music’s flame.

No wonder. The Glasgow-based octet are purveyors of pop perfection. Their unique fusion of indie pop and folk has winning friends and influencing people for five years. For anyone that’s heard the latest offering from Randolph’s Leap, their mini-album Real Anymore, that’ll come as no surprise. The lyrics on Real Anymore are variously witty, acerbic, articulate, cutting and descriptive. Featuring a plentiful supply of slick, poppy, hooks, Real Anymore features Randolph’s Leap at their poppy best. With tales of telephone psychics, a paean to nature, the cutting Indie King, joyous Nature and rousing Technology, this is the perfect introduction to Randolph’s Leap are no ordinary band. No. Randolph’s Leap are “a Glasgow-based figment of your imagination” who strive and succeed in their quest for hook-laden,  pop perfection on Real Anymore. 

RICK REDBEARD-NO SELFISH HEART.

Despite all this and more being wrong with music, very occasionally, along comes an album that restores my faith in music. It makes up for everything I’ve described. At last, the musical Gods are smiling on me. When this happens, the constant search for quality music becomes worthwhile. This was the case when I came across Rick Redbeard’s latest album No Selfish Heart. It was released on Glasgow’s premier label, Chemikal Underground in January 2013. A long time in the making, at long last, Rick Redbeard’s debut album No Selfish Heart was out.  Full of subtleties, nuances and melancholy delights of No Selfish Heart, was worth the eight years it took to make.

Although the ten songs on No Selfish Heart took eight years to record, they were well worth the wait. This was the same with The Blue Nile. They were far from a prolific group. Like The Blue Nile, Rick’s music is the polar opposite to so much modern music. Rather than being instant and disposable, it’s intelligent, evocative, expressive, poetic and thoughtful. Rick Redbeard sings of hurt and heartbreak, love and loss, life and death. Poignancy gives way to pathos, while there’s a sense of melancholia and wistfulness on several tracks. Indeed, several tracks are like a coming of age for Rick. There’s a realization that no longer he’s immortal. That’s something that comes with age, experience and maturity. Other songs, they’re akin to an outpouring of grief and loss. Rick’s vocal is at the heart of these songs, while the mostly acoustic arrangements are understated and subtle. Despite this, the songs are intricate and multilayered. Subtleties, surprises and nuances await discovery. 

Rick Redbeard’s No Selfish Heart is similar to Paul Buchanan’s debut solo album Mid Air. Like Paul Buchanan, Rick has a lived-in, world-weary sound. Both albums feature music that’s moody, broody, but sometimes hopeful. The music is also introspective, poignant and wistful music. That’s what I’d expect from Scotland’s latest troubled troubadours. Maudlin but beautiful, heartbreaking but hopeful and always heartfelt, Rick Redbeard’s No Selfish Heart, is well worth discovering. Indeed, Rick Redbeard’s No Selfish Heart, like Mid Air, is pensive and reflective music, that’s perfect for late-night listening.

 

RODDY WOOMBLE-LISTEN TO KEEP.

Back in 2006, when Roddy Woomble, the lead singer of Idlewild, released his debut album My Secret Is My Silenced, Idlewild had just enjoyed the most successful period of their career. Their third album, 2000s 100 Broken Windows was certified silver, while 2002s The Remote Part was certified gold and 2005s Warnings/Promises was then certified silver. Following the release of Warnings/Promises, Idlewild headed on the longest and most gruelling tour of their career. This toured throughout Britain, played some of the biggest festivals and opened for The Pixies and R.E.M. Then in November 2005, Idlewild announced they were parting company with their record company Parlaphone. Left without a record company, soon rumours about Idlewild’s future started doing the rounds. One of them was, that Idlewild were about to split up. That wasn’t the case, although bassist Gavin Fox left Idlewild after a concert in Glasgow. Without a record company, and having lost their bassist, Idlewild were at a crossroads. So, Roddy Woomble started work on his solo album, My Secret Is My Silenced.

When work began on My Secret Is My Silenced Roddy collaborated with Rod Jones, Karine Polwart and Michael Angus. Produced by John McCusker, a folk musician, My Secret Is My Silenced was well received by critics. Encouraged by this, Roddy decided to split his time between his solo career and Idlewild. This was no bad thing, as Idlewild would no longer enjoy the success they once had. They released just two more albums, 2007s Make Another World and 2009s Post Electric Blues. Since then, Roddy’s been concentrating on his solo career, releasing his sophomore album Impossible Songs and Other Songs in 2011. His third solo album, Listen To Keep, was released earlier this year.

Listen To Keep was a fusion of folk, Americana, Celtic, country, pop and indie rock. It was an to lose yourself in. Roddy introduces you to a cast of characters. Many of them have had their heart broken, some have been hurt and many are lost and lonely. All of them are very human. These characters have the same faults and problems as us. So in many ways, the songs on Listen To Keep are songs that everyone can relate to. After all, hurt and heartbreak, loneliness and loss are things we’ve all experienced. So too are hope and joy, which feature on Treacle and Tobacco, one of the many highlights of Listen To Keep.

Influenced by everyone from the Americana of Wilco and Jayhawks, through to two legends of Scottish music, Lloyd Cole and Roddy Frame, Roddy Woomble’s third solo album Listen To Keep is a fusion of musical genres and influences. Featuring eleven tracks which veer between hurt and heartbreak right through to happiness and hope, Roddy Woomble breathes life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. Delivered with tenderness, frustration and sadness, Roddy Woomble is the latest in a long line of talented troubled troubadours from Scotland’s shore. His latest offering is Listen To Keep, which is the result of Roddy Woomble’s eighteen year musical journey. 

 

 

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