BEST SCOTTISH ALBUMS OF 2016-PART 1.

BEST SCOTTISH ALBUMS OF 2016-PART 1.

It’s at this time of year I usually say that Scottish music is in rude health. This year, I’m not so sure. There seems to be a dearth of up-and-coming artists and bands making a breakthrough. The only newcomers to this year’s  list are Starless, Adam Holmes and The Embers and  Miracle Glass Company. Mostly, the list features familiar faces. However, 2016 was also the year of the comeback.

Many familiar faces made a welcome return during 2016 after lengthy breaks. This included Teenage Fanclub, The Trashcan Sinatras, Emma Pollock and The Pictish Trail. They all released successful and critically acclaimed albums. However, one band never even got that far.

They announced their comeback during 2016. There were big plans to reissue some of their back catalogue and release a new album. All this came to nothing. Talk indeed is cheap. The furthest they got was dipping their toe into the live scene. After a few mediocre shows, they seem to have disappeared. That is no loss to Scottish music. Best to leave it to the grown ups, including everyone on this list. 

This includes some of familiar faces, old friends and new names. They produced the music that provided the soundtrack to 2016 in Scotland. What follows is a brief reminder of the full reviews of the album.

Adam Holmes and The Embers-Better Still.

Just two years after releasing his debut Heirs and Graces, Edinburgh based singer-songwriter returned with his much-anticipated sophomore album Better Still. This time around though, his backing band  The Embers receive equal billing. They play an important in the sound and success of Better Still. 

The Embers accompany Adam Holmes throughout the nine songs on Brighter Still. Each  song oozes quality. It doesn’t matter whether Adam Holmes and The Embers are singing ballads, or Cutting Loose on the more uptempo tracks, they’re equally at home. These carefully crafted songs  showcase Adam Holmes and The Embers considerable skills and their unique and irresistible take on Americana. Brighter Still is a potent, heady and irresistible musical brew to drink deep and savour.

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Emma Pollock-In Search Of Harperfield.

Back in late January, Emma Pollock released her long-awaited third solo album In Search Of Harperfield. It was released on the Chemikal Underground label, and was the followup to 2010s In Search Of Large Numbers. In Search Of Harperfield was also an early contender for best Scottish album of 2016.

No wonder. In Search Of Harperfield was an album of carefully crafted songs that show the different sides to Emma Pollock. In Search Of Harperfield was Emma’s most eclectic album, but was also a very personal, soul-baring and autobiographical album. Many of the songs are beautiful, moving and poignant. Especially Intermission and Old Ghosts, which is one of the most moving, emotive and beautiful songs I’ve heard in a long time. They’re two of the reasons why In Search Of Harperfield is one of my best Scottish albums of 2016.

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Frightened Rabbit-Painting Of A Panic Attack.

Three years after they released their previous album Pedestrian Verse, Glasgow based Frightened Rabbit returned recently with their fifth album Painting Of A Panic Attack. It was released on Atlantic Records, is a mixture of anthems and ballads. Mostly, though, anthems are to the fore on Painting Of A Panic Attack. 

Just like the ballads on Painting Of A Panic Attack, they feature lyrics that are variously cerebral, cinematic, dark, insightful and wistful. Lead singer and songwriter Chris Hutchison, brings these lyrics to life. He’s a storyteller who breathes emotion and meaning into the lyrics. That’s the case whether it’s on the ballads or anthems. There’s hooks aplenty on the anthems, which will be favourites when Frightened Rabbit play live. 

They’ve been doing a lot of that recently. That will continue to be the case. Frightened Rabbit are also well on their way to becoming one of the most successful current Scottish bands. They’ve also released one of the best albums of their thirteen year career. That album is Painting Of A Panic Attack, which is an assured and accomplished album from Frightened Rabbit who are equally comfortable delivering ballads as they are hook-laden anthems.

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King Creosote-Astronaut Meets Appleman.

During his twenty-one year carer, King Creosote has been a one man music making machine. Despite that, each new album from Fife based singer-songwriter eagerly awaited. Especially an album as eclectic as Astronaut Meets Appleman. 

It’s one of the most eclectic albums of King Creosote’s long and illustrious career. They combine elements of folk, indie rock, perfect pop and psychedelia on Astronaut Meets Appleman. It features balladry, paeans, rockers and hook-laden anthems. King Creosote are equally happy delivering ballads, as they’re heading into anthem territory. That’s no surprise. Kenny Anderson’s worldweary voice is perfect for the ballads on Astronaut Meets Appleman. 

The result is an album that’s a fitting followup to From Scotland To Love, which was King Creosote’s previous release on Domino Records. It’s a welcome addition to King Creosote’s burgeoning back-catalogue. Astronaut Meets Appleman is also a tantalising taste of the inimitable King Creosote, who after twenty-one years and over forty albums, are belatedly receiving the critical acclaim and recognition that their music so richly deserves

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Kris Drever-If Wishes Were Horses.

Six years after releasing his critically acclaimed sophomore albium Mark The Hard Earth in 2010, Kris Drever returned with long-awaited solo album. The reason for the delay was the rise and rise of progressive folk band, Lau. This meant that Kris Drever had to put his solo career on hold. However, when Lau had some downtime, Kris Drever wrote and recorded If Wishes Were Horses which was released by Reveal Records.

With its understated, and sometimes sparse arrangements, Kris Drever’s vocal takes centre-stage. Other times, the understated arrangements showcase catchy, melodic and memorable tracks where hooks haven’t been rationed. Always, though, the arrangements allow the listener to concentrate on the lyrics. Kris tackles a variety of subjects, from education and social migration to politics, self-employment and Shetland where Kris Drever now lives. There’s also songs about love and sex. No subject is off-limits, on what’s a semi-autobiographical album from Kris Drever. He’s matured as singer and songwriter since his sophomore album Mark The Hard Earth.

That’s not surprising, as it’s six years since Mark The Hard Earth was released. However,  If Wishes Were Horses has been well worth the wait.  If Wishes Were Horses is a cerebral, career defining album from Orkney born troubadour Kris Drever. He ponders and philosophises on a variety of subjects on If Wishes Were Horses,  and in the process, breathes life and meaning into his cerebral, insightful lyrics.

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Martin Green-Flit

Last year, when  Lau enjoying some downtime, accordionist and electronics guru Martin Green decided to release his sophomore album Flit on Reveal Records. It was the followup of Crow’s Bones which was released in 2014 and found Martin accompanied by an-star cast of musicians.

They play their part in the sound and success of Flit. This included Karine Polwart who cowrote four songs and vocalist Betty Unthanks. She and Adam feature on most of the songs. They breath life, meaning, emotion and poignancy  on songs that document “human movement around the world.” Some of the songs on Flit are tinged with sadness, despair and disappointment. Others document suffering and tragedy. Adam Holmes and Betty Unthanks. bring these songs to life. Sometimes, they sound as if they’ve lived and survived the lyrics. Other times, it’s as if Adam and Betty are determined to highlight other people’s plight and suffering. These vocals play an important part in the sound and success of Flit, a genre-melting album.

During Flit, Martin Green and his friends combine elements of traditional folk, with folk rock, electronica and rock. To this, elements of avant-garde, post rock and psychedelia. Sometimes, one genre is to the fore. Mostly, though, several genres melt into one  musical genres on Flit, Martin Green’s much-anticipated sophomore album.

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Miracle Glass Company-MG 1. 

Edinburgh based power rock trio have been around for several years. They  first came to prominence in May 2016, when they released their single Higher Than High. Straight away, it was obvious that Miracle Glass Company were a cut above the competition. They were a much tighter and more accomplished band who were capable of creating melodic psychedelic rock. Proof of this is their debut album MG 1. 

During MG 1, Miracle Glass Company showcase their considerable talents. Seamlessly they switch between rocky anthems and ballads. Similarly, Miracle Glass Company flit effortlessly between disparate musical genres. Sometimes, they combine several genres within the same track. This proves a potent and heady brew. Especially as Miracle Glass Company power pop, psychedelia, rock and the West Coast sound. They also draw inspiration from a variety of musical influences.

The Doors, Big Star, The Beatles, The Who and Teenage Fanclub have all influenced Miracle Glass Company. This is apparent on their debut album MG1, which was released on VoxBox Records.  MG 1 showcases a truly talented and versatile band. They’re rising stars of Scottish music whose star is in the ascendancy. 2017 promises to be a big year for Miracle Glass Company. MG 1 is just the first step in what’s a long and potentially perilous journey. However, Miracle Glass Company have the potential and talent. Proof of that is MG 1, which features a tantalising taste of the new kid in town, Miracle Glass Company.

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Mogwai-Atomic

When filmmaker Mark Cousins decided to make the documentary Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise, post rock pioneers Mogwai  were commissioned to write the soundtrack. It was the perfect backdrop to Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise, which was a personal and poignant cinematic memoir. However, after the documentary was aired in the summer of 2015, Mogwai decided to rerecord the whole of the Atomic soundtrack. This might have seemed like a strange decision. However, when the rerecorded version of Atomic was released by Rock Action Records in April 2016, Mogwai’s decision to rerecord the album was vindicated.

Atomic was a mesmeric fusion that captivates and compels. The listener is taken on a musical journey, one that veers between dramatic and dreamy, to surreal and trippy, to beautiful, pensive and understated to melancholy and melodic. Other times the music is dramatic, moody and broody. One thing the music never is, is boring. Not at all. Certainly not with Mogwai providing the soundtrack to Atomic. 

Subtleties and surprises are constantly sprung. Mogwai certainly aren’t afraid of changing direction. Using the musical equivalent of a handbrake turn, the Mogwai Young Team perform a volte face. That’s what makes Atomic such a captivating and groundbreaking soundtrack from Glasgow’s famous five…Mogwai.

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Mull Historical Society-Satellite.

Ever since 2000, Mull Historical Society has been the musical vehicle of Scottish singer, song-writer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Colin MacIntyre. He released his seventh album Satellite on Xtramile Recordings during 2016. It was the second Mull Historical Society produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Dom Morley. This time, it’s resulted in a  career-defining album.

Satellite was without doubt, the best album of Mull Historical Society’s career. It’s an almost flawless album that many commentators knew Mull Historical Society were capable of making.

By that, I mean an album of slick, polished perfect pop, with diversions into folk and rock. Hooks certainly haven’t been rationed on Satellite. It’s an album long on clever poppy hooks and anthems. Other songs are cinematic, and rich in imagery. So much so, that’s it’s possible to imagine the scenes unfolding before your eyes. Meanwhile, other songs on Satellite are variously moving, poignant, beautiful and uplifting; while others are irresistible and joyous. Satellite is the best album of Mull Historical Society’s career. It seems Mull Historical Society went in search of perfection on Satellite, and very nearly discovered it on what’s a career defining album. 

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