This article originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on December 18, 2015.
As the pop prophet Axl Rose almost said, nothing lasts forever, even cold December rain. But while it pours, let’s stay indoors, with songs to nurse our wrath and keep us warm, courtesy of new singles / EPs from HQFU (pictured), Hector Bizerk, Karine Polwart, United Fruit and The Van T’s.
HQFU is the badass alter-ego of alt-folk musician and visual artist Sarah J Stanley, and her EP, CA$HLE$$ LIP$, is a rapturous electro trip, with hyper-melodies to die (or kill) for. Until now, Stanley has been quietly celebrated for her beatific folk psalms, but with HQFU, she reveals assiduous production chops and a thrilling knack for fusing 90s dance – Inner City, Crystal Waters, Missing-era Everything But The Girl – with machine-pop, R&B, and a poetic vernacular that cuts deep. She meditates on the price of desire on the title track’s righteous techno odyssey (“I pay for your last kiss / I pay with my cashless lips”), and upends spiritual axioms on chiming synth aria Dust and Dirt (“You need dreams and you need hopes / You need faith in God to save your soul / No you don’t”).
Stanley is not alone in bridging folk and electro. Karine Polwart’s terrific last album, Traces, conjured synthesisers and featured Chvrches’ Iain Cook on production duties, but her latest endeavour is more indebted to oral traditions, landscape and nature. Songs of Separation is the product of a week-long collaboration on the Isle of Eigg, and finds Polwart in cahoots with ten female folk musicians – Eliza Carthy among them – who seek to explore notions of togetherness and parting; of the kinships and differences in our musical, cultural and linguistic heritage. An album is due in the new year, but they’ve just released a teaser single, led by a rousing, visceral rendition of Echo Mocks The Corncrake. It is unadorned, evocative, beautiful.
Back in the city, inimitable hip-hop duo Hector Bizerk conclude a brilliant series of poetic, politicised EPs inspired by Glasgow’s coat of arms. While previous instalments have recruited the likes of Liz Lochhead (The Bird That Never Flew), their latest offering – The Tree That Never Grew – sees formidable MC Louie, drummer / producer Audrey Tait, and their exceptional band, join forces with flamenco-punk romeo RM Hubbert and Bella and the Bear’s Lauren Gilmour (on the jaw-dropping, humanitarian title track), and urban-pop livewire Be Charlotte (on music industry-skewing tropical-pop rant, Empty Jackets). Meanwhile, Pronto Mama’s Marc Rooney lends his voice to an exquisite, fired-up epic called They Made A Porno On A Mobile Phone And Everybody Laughed, which is among the most striking, and haunting – and vital – songs Hector Bizerk have recorded to date.
The latest dispatch from Glasgow’s United Fruit is also a career-high: they’ve issued an alt-rock powerhouse in Nightmare / Recovery – an EP that’s as dark, dramatic and resilient as such a title suggests. The lead track’s brainy, brawny punk-rock and swoon-inducing chord progressions are glorious, as is the woozy-axe dreamscape of Cause and Effect, whose shimmering, shoegazey intro gives way to a riled colossal-rock epic that’s redolent of the Manic Street Preachers circa Generation Terrorists.
Searing guitars and melodic punk continue apace on the joyous Laguna Babe EP, from Glasgow grunge-pop harmonists The Van T’s. The title track is nagging and languorous – think Siouxsie, The Breeders, The Bangles – and the gorgeous, sun-bleached indie of standout Growler follows suit. Fronted by twins Chloe and Hannah Van Thompson, the band recently augmented to a four-piece, thanks to bassist Joanne Forbes and sticksman Shaun Hood, a dude from the riot-grrrl school of rock who wears a sun-dress behind his drumkit, come rain or shine (okay, mainly rain).