Review: Scottish Pop in 2012

This article originally appeared in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on Friday December 28, 2012. There are links to loads of related interviews and reviews at the end of the piece.

To those who bewail the demise of pop: guess what? Our music’s up too loud to hear you.

2012’s prevailing mood was grim as record and ticket sales dwindled, but Scottish pop’s myriad scenes and sounds pulled an absolute blinder in the face of adversity. The inaugural Scottish Album of the Year Award (bagged by Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat) cast a celebratory backdrop, and this sense of optimistic resolve was echoed by beloved emporia Monorail, Coda and Rubadub, who celebrated their tenth, fifteenth and twentieth birthdays respectively. Eclectic imprints such as Olive Grove, LuckyMe, Armellodie, Gerry Loves and Fence joined forces for Scottish Independent Label Fairs, while promoters like Tracer Trails, Numbers and Cry Parrot merged kaleidoscopic grassroots and global talent.

And the bands? They played to the brilliant tune of a renaissance in independent music with excellent, divergent voices – including Django Django’s psychedelic collage-rock on their Mercury-shortlisted self-titled debut (Because), Karine Polwart’s exquisite folk landmark Traces (Hegri), Errors’ interstellar electro on Have Some Faith In Magic (Rock Action), MC Profisee’s gleaming beats and rhymes on From All Angles (Cloak X Dagger), Meursault’s elegiac battle-cries on Something For The Weakened (Song, By Toad), Wounded Knee’s husker-dubh on Secret Museum Of Kind Man (Krapp Tapes), James Yorkston’s visceral, jazz-nuanced psalms on I Was A Cat From A Book (Domino) and Finn LeMarinel’s gossamer hymns on Violence, released by Ubisano – a DIY ethical label helmed by flamenco-punk heartbreaker RM Hubbert.

Hubbert dexterously expressed Scotland’s genre-hopping, collaborative spirit on Thirteen Lost and Found (Chemikal Underground), which featured contributions from Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, Hanna Tuulikki, Alasdair Roberts, Aidan Moffat and Emma Pollock, and retraced 20 years of Glasgow counter-culture. Our here-and-now was exposed via Whatever Gets You Through The Night (exploring contemporary Scotland at 4am) and Some Songs Side-By-Side (spotlighting Glasgow’s underground via ace cult-pop renegades like Sacred Paws, Muscles of Joy, The Rosy Crucifixion and Palms).

Stanley Odd’s pop-rap manifesto Reject (Circular) was similarly rooted in place and time – Scotland, 2012 – and their ousting of hip-hop stereotypes resonated with duo Hector Bizerk on the stark and remarkable Drums Rap Yes (self-release).

Reinvention bore glorious fruit: Mogwai (Rock Action) and The Twilight Sad (Fat Cat) issued entrancing remix albums; Teenage Fanclub’s Gerry Love launched radiant new venture Lightships (Geographic); Bill Wells’ National Jazz Trio of Scotland re-imagined carols for a swoon-inducing Christmas Album (Karaoke Kalk). And there were warm returns from The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan with Mid Air (Newsroom), Love and Money’s Devil’s Debt (Vertical), and Deacon Blue’s The Hipsters (Edsel) which was produced by Paul Savage.

Savage also bestowed pop alchemy upon electro-livewire Miaoux Miaoux’s Light Of The North (Chemikal Underground), Malcolm Middleton’s widescreen-opus Human Don’t Be Angry (Chemikal Underground), and the latest masterstroke from King Creosote (Domino): a three-part vinyl EP series with an outstanding album as its punch-line (I Learned From The Gaels / To Deal With Things / It Turned Out For The Best: That Might Well Be It, Darling).

King Creosote further advanced his militant, ingenious crusade to challenge (and reassert) the value of records by reprising his live-only Nth Bits Of Strange LP: its 2012 incarnation was backed by fellow art-pop brainiacs FOUND. A ludicrously inventive trio, FOUND also questioned the permanence of recorded music, and the impact of audience / environment on art, through their interactive sound installation with Aidan Moffat, #UNRAVEL.

Many of this year’s short-form releases were loaded with long-term promise, including wondrous new tracks/singles/EPs from Withered Hand, Adam Stafford, Rick Redbeard, Kid Canaveral, Frightened Rabbit, S-Type, Randolph’s Leap, Conquering Animal Sound, The Pictish Trail and The Son(s). And as for that debut ten-inch from CHVRCHES? Let us give thanks.

And turn up the volume.

* * *

Somewhere in writing the piece above, I rejigged paragraphs / connections, and in doing so unwittingly lost three key 2012 Scottish albums: Trembling Bells’ picturesque folk-rock wig-out with Bonnie Prince Billy, The Marble Downs (Honest Jons) and The Grand Gestures’ wonderful self-titled album (Chute) – starring Emma Pollock, Jill O’Sullivan, Sanjeev Kohli and more – advanced the year’s thriving collaborative vibe; while The Unwinding Hours did not so much reinvent as resurrect on their beatific-rock opus, Afterlives (Chemikal Underground). 
I will castigate myself until the hereafter for losing these LPs from my 2012 highlights.

Related articles:
Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat Interview (The Herald, Dec 2012)
Happy Birthday: Monorail Music (The Herald, Dec 2012)
Django Django Interview / Live Review (The Herald, Feb 2012)
Karine Polwart Interview (The Herald, August 2012)
Errors Interview (The Herald, March 2012)
Meursault Interview (The Herald, July 2012)
Wounded Knee Interview (The Herald, Nov 2011)
James Yorkston Interview (The Herald, Aug 2012)
Finn LeMarinel Album Review (The List, Oct 2012)
RM Hubbert / Alex Kapranos Interview (The Quietus, Jan 2012)
Whatever Gets You Through The Night Interview (The Herald, July 2012)
Stanley Odd / Hector Bizerk Interview (The Herald, Sept 2012)
Mogwai Remix Album Review (The List, Nov 2012)
Twilight Sad Interview (The Herald, Feb 2012)
Deacon Blue Interview (The Herald, Sept 2012)
Miaoux Miaoux Interview (The Herald, June 2012)
Human Don’t Be Angry Interview (The Quietus, May 2012)
King Creosote Nth Bit of Strange Interview (The List, Jan 2010)
Found and Aidan Moffat #UNRAVEL Interview (The Herald, April 2012)
Withered Hand Interview (The Quietus, Aug 2012)
Adam Stafford Interview (The Herald, Aug 2011)
Rick Redbeard Interview (The Herald, Dec 2012)
Randolph’s Leap Interview (The Herald, June 2012)
Kid Canaveral Interview (The Herald, May 2012)
Trembling Bells Interview (The Herald, April 2012)
Bonnie Prince Billy Interview (The Herald, Jan 2012)
Unwinding Hours, Afterlives Album Review (The Quietus, Aug 2012)
The Grand Gestures Interview (The Herald, May 2012)

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