It’s about this time of year that people start that the movers and shakers in Scottish music start thinking about the nominations for the Scotland’s premier music award, the Scottish Album of The Year Award. Last year, R.M. Hubbert’s sophomore solo album Thirteen Lost and Found won the Scottish Album of The Year Award. For Hubby, an unsung veteran veteran of Scottish music this was well deserved. This year, the competition will prove to be just as fierce.
No wonder. 2013 was a vintage year for Scottish bands. Bands like Camera Obscura, Chvrches, The Holy Ghosts, and Quickbeam released albums. Then there’s albums from Roddy Womble, Edwyn Collins, Rick Redbeard and of course, R.M. Hubbert to be considered. Another contender are the Glaswegian band Blood Relatives.
For those of you still to discover, Blood Relatives they’re a Glaswegian band whose raison d’etre is to make you dance, sing and think. Cerebral, joyous and hook-laden describes Blood Relatives, who eat, live and breath music. That describes Anna, Callum, Alan and Nick, the four members of Blood Relatives.
Blood Relatives have been making music together for a number of years. They’ve spent time on the road, honing their sound. Gradually, the venues got bigger and Blood Relatives found themselves playing at festivals such as T In The Park, The Wickerman Festival, Rockness, and Belladrum. Having established a reputation as one of Scotland’s best up-and-coming bands, the time was right for Blood Relatives to release their debut album Deerheart.
Deerheart, Blood Relatives’ debut album features ten tracks. The album is described as: “sunny pop from a rainy town.” Anna Meldrum is Blood Relatives’ lyricist-in-chief. She wrote all the lyrics to the ten tracks and cowrote the music to The Spit with Sorren McLean. Blood Relative wrote the music to eight tracks and collaborated with Stewart Brock on Deerheart. These ten tracks would become Deerheart.
To fund the recording of what became Deerheart, Blood Relatives had secured funding from Creative Scotland. They followed in the footsteps of another Scottish band Quickbeam, whose eponymous debut album will be another contender for Scottish Album of The Year Award. With the funding in place, the four members of Deerheart headed to Chem 19 Studios.
When recording of Deerheart began at Chem 19 Studios, ex-Delgado Paul Savage was sitting in the producer’s chair. Paul is an experienced producer with a good track record. He was ideal to guide Blood Relatives through the recording of their debut album, Deerheart. Joining Deerheart were a number of guest artists. This included trombonist Craig McMahon, trumpeter Alex Sharples, guitarist Sorren McLean, Elaine Glass on cello and Stewart Brock on piano, Wurlitzer and synth. Once the the ten tracks were recorded, Deerheart was released in October 2013.
On 31st October 2013, Blood Relatives released Deerheart on the Comet and Cartwheels’ label. This was no ordinary release though. Critics welcomed the Blood Relatives cerebral, joyous and hook-laden sound. Sunny and upbeat, it’s interwoven with a uniquely Scottish sense of humour. As debut albums go, the Blood Relatives’ debut Deerheart had been well received. However, could Deerheart be a contender for the Scottish Album of The Year Award?
Opening Deerheart is Fowl Mouth, which has a thoughtful, understated arrangement. It meanders into being, accompanying Anna’s wistful vocal. Gradually, the arrangement builds. The rhythm section provide a pounding backdrop to Anna’s vocal. Her lyrics are cerebral. As she sings being tongue-tied and lonely, sadness and regret fill her voice. By now, an anthemic track has unfolded, one that reminds me of Big Country.
Jangling guitars and pounding drums combine as Deerheart bursts into life. Anna’s vocal is breathy and ethereal. Stabs of piano add to the drama. The lyrics have a strong narrative. So much so, that they’ve a cinematic quality. You can imagine the scenes unfold as Anna delivers them. Cooing, ethereal harmonies provide a contrast to the driving, pounding arrangement. This proves a potent partnership and will be a favourite at festivals this summer.
Melodic, witty and cerebral describes Bone Idol. Anna is determined not to be a “Bone Idol.” She’ll neither eat nor wear it. All the time, people are telling her: “get some protein inside you,” “hang it around your neck” and “adorn your bones.” Frustration and sadness fills Anna’s vocal. Meanwhile crystalline guitars, probing bass and drums provide a backdrop to a song that’s melodic, witty and cerebral.
A Murder Of Crows has a big, bold sound. Anna’s vocal veers between theatrical and dramatic. Behind her, thunderous drums and jangling guitars combine with harmonies. Later, a bluesy harmonica enters. Its addition is a masterstroke. After that, the Blood Relatives continue to fuse folk, indie pop and rock. Despite the somewhat dark lyrics, Blood Relatives haven’t spared the hooks.
Dead Hip is another of Blood Relatives’ anthemic tracks. At the heart of the track’s success are Anna’s lyrics. She delivers them at breakneck speed, combining power and passion. Her feisty vocal is accompanied all the way by sharp bursts of pounding drums. They’re joined by searing guitars and keyboards. They provide this anthemic track’s heartbeat.
Just melancholy keyboards open Cold Fish. This song features some of Anna’s best lyrics. Taking her lead from the keyboards, Anna’s vocal is wistful, as she remembers the “Cold Fish” she met. He was her challenge. Then she met the octopus, “who could cause an awful fuss, he had a temper inky black, so I took shelter in a shell, with a crab who wasn’t well.” As she reminisces, drums pound. They’re joined by a buzzing bass, keyboards and harmonies. Sadness and melancholia are ever-present in Anna’s vocal, as she brings to life lyrics that somehow, manage to be poetic, dark and witty.
Crystalline country-tinged acoustic guitars open Bird Flu. They accompany Anna’s heartfelt, rueful vocal. Using metaphors, Anna apologetically, sings: “I’m sorry I couldn’t cure you, I’m sorry I gave you bird flu.”
Duck explodes into life. Blood Relatives drive the arrangement along. It’s a mass of pounding drums and keyboards. They’re augmented by jangling guitars and Anna’s vocal. It’s a mixture of power, passion, feistiness and sass. She goes on to deliver her vocal with a feisty swagger.
Cheek By Jowl has a much more understated sound. That’s been the case before, but before long, the track is transformed into an everyman anthem. Not here. Just the acoustic guitar and cello accompany Anna’s vocal as she sings about the ageing process. Her lyrics are poignant and tinged with sadness. Although this folk-tinged track is very different from the rest of Deerheart, it’s a direction that suits Blood Relatives.
Ethereal harmonies and keyboards open The Spit, which closes Deerheart. Soon, the rhythm section take charge. They leave space within the arrangement. This is no bad thing, as it allows Anna’s vocal to take centre-stage. It’s tender and heartfelt. She seems to inspire Blood Relatives’ to greater heights in their continued pursuit for pop perfection.
Rather than release a sprawling fifteen track album, Blood Relatives’ debut Deerheart is an old school album. It’s a reminder of the pre-CD days. Back then, the amount of music a vinyl album could hold was limited. So, artists didn’t need to pad their albums out with filler. Nowadays, that’s the norm. Not on Deerheart though. By only including ten tracks, we hear the best music Blood Relatives have to offer. Just like Jerry Lee Lewis said, “it’s all killer, no filler.”
From the opening bars of Fowl Mouth, right through to the closing notes of The Spit, Deerheart is best described as cerebral, cinematic, hook-laden, joyous and witty. Hooks certainly haven’t been rationed. Far from it. Deerheart is full of everyman, anthemic tracks. That’s why Blood Relatives are festival favourites.
Their unique brand of upbeat music is a fusion of musical genres. That’s despite Blood Relatives describing themselves as a pop band. There’s more to Blood Relatives than pop music. Blues, country, folk, indie rock, pop and rock is combined by Blood Relatives over the ten tracks on their debut album Deerheart. It’s an album that could find itself on the long-list to the Scottish Album of The Year Award.
Given 2013 has been such a vintage year for Scottish music, competition is sure to be fierce for the Scottish Album of The Year Award. Familiar faces and newcomers will vie for what’s Scotland’s premier music award. I’m sure that when the nomination for the 2013 Scottish Album of The Year Award are announced, Blood Relatives should find Deerhart on the long-list.