Ten for 2010: Conquering Animal Sounds

So this was intended as a blog project for the tail end of 2010 and we are now three months into 2011, so I think its time to admit defeat and focus on other things. However, I’ve had one post written (intended to be the tenth post) for ages so I’m sharing this one with you before I put the project entirely to bed.

Sneaking in right at the end of 2010 come Conquering Animal Sounds. This band are my ‘one to watch’ for 2011. I don’t predict towering chart success or sold out stadiums in this band’s near future. Their music is unlikely to have mass appeal or to turn up in the ‘big in 2011’ section in any mainstream newspaper. However, in the strange and beautiful genre they inhabit, they look set to gain a loyal and devoted following, although they’d probably strongly deny that, given their apparent fondness for defying genre altogether.

Conquering Animal Sounds are a duo central-belt based – conflicting reports claim their base as both Glasgow and Edinburgh – composed of Anneke Kampman on vocals, loops and harp and James Scott on guitars, loops and beats. Their debut album was due for release in early February and they are currently on tour around the UK.

I was a bit torn when I was making my list of ten bands to sum up the music of 2010; I wanted to finish with something completely different from what came before. I gave serious consideration to both eagleowl and The French Quarter. eagleowl were just about in the lead, based solely on how often I’ve played them on the radio – though The French Quarter really ought to have notched up more airplay given that they’re from Tillicoultry and therefore pretty much count as ‘local boys’. Progressive, ambient, post-rock, whatever you like to call that genre, they were both bands I enjoyed but not ones that skelped the listener round the lugs and said ‘listen to me I’m something different’. I hadn’t really considered Conquering Animal Sounds at that point, I’d only heard their song Wildthings and while I thought it was an excellent little tune, I a) hadn’t heard anything else by them to tell if it was a one off and b) it seemed a bit too experimental. A bit too ‘out there’. I enjoy a bit of experimental electronica in my life, but I appreciate that not everyone does. Then, however, I heard their single from the tale end of 2010 ‘Bear’.

With Bear, they seem to have created the perfect balance between the rich, intriguing – at times experimental – trip hop of the instrumental elements with the gorgeous vocals. There are loops and twists of sound, seemingly abstract electronic noises and lovely bits of instrumentation coming together to create a stunning sound-scape that is electronica at it’s purest and most stunning. I don’t think they’re going to be big, but I do think they’re going to be brilliant.

Ten for 2010: Sunrise Not Secular

Next up in the 10 for 2010 series we have the excellent Sunrise not Secular, admittedly not the catchiest of band names, but I like to think it probably sounds better in Gaelic. Either way they are very much in the tradition of celtic rock bands of the eighties and nineties, all sweeping choruses, driving drums and distinctive guitar riffs. In fact Fon Sgiath from 2009’s An Dealbh Mhòr (The Big Picture) EP has an opening riff that wears its Big Country influences on its sleeve, and I suppose if I had to sum the band up to someone in five words they would be: ‘Think Big Country in Gaelic’. Which admittedly wouldn’t be entirely accurate as they do sing in English too, dividing both their EPs between Gaelic and English language tunes, but all their best tunes are in Gaelic so it sort of works.

Sunrise not Secular hail from Stornoway on Lewis and after touring around Europe last year, played their last gig at the Barra Festival and broke up in June of 2010. I was a bit disappointed when I made my list for this project to discover that only one band who sing in Gaelic had made the list, but I wrote about Na Gathan and Niteworks earlier in the year when I was talking about the Rapal new Gaelic song competition. Given that SNS were my favourite of the bands I discovered through the Rapal competition and they only got a passing mention from me back then, they deserve their wee moment in the sun now.

Farewell boys, you were pretty much gone by the time you ear wormed your way into my affections but you left behind some mighty good tunes for us to remember you by.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Ten for 2010: Penguins Kill Polar Bears

I must confess that it was the name of the band that sparked my initial interest in this band. Given the name of this blog I couldn’t resist a name like that, so when I listened to recent single Homebound for the first time I was hugely relieved. I wasn’t going to have to love them ironically just because of the name, they were actually rather good.

Edinburgh based band, Penguins Kill Polar Bears were a late addition to the list, and had to fight pretty hard against The Scottish Enlightenment for a place on it. If I’d been doing singles rather than bands in general then it could well have gone the other way, as Little Sleep is probably a better song than Homebound, but I think at the heart of it is my conviction that Penguins Kill Polar Bears have a greater potential. To be something more than critically acclaimed and obscure, or briefly famous and quickly forgotten. Or maybe just ambition, there’s something about the scale of their songs that makes me think of stadiums and festival headliners. A band who have previously played surrounded in flames – and made it look quite cool – are not one that are likely afraid to make a big statement. From the rest of their songs its clear they aren’t anywhere near ready for that yet, but there’s something in Homebound that speaks of the potential to write the sort of epic anthems that I associate with Snow Patrol at their best. The rest of the songs on the album indicate that they’ve still got a ways to go until they’re quite ready for that sort of thing, but the potential is there. It might take a while to get there but I for one will be watching their progress with interest.

Here in fact is a video of them playing Homebound at the aforementioned flamey gig, though in this video it looks like the flames are on screens behind them rather than being surround by actual flames.  All power to whoever did the visuals for this gig, in some of the other videos from it, the stage does actually look as though its on fire.

Ten for 2010 – Julia and the Doogans

Julia and the Doogans were another early discovery for me this year. I owe AyeTunes a wee tip of the head for these folks, as it was his flagging up of a free gig at the Mill back in March that introduced me to the joys of this band. I’ve seen them a couple of times this year and they always seem to be supporting the least likely bands. Most notably I saw them in the University of Stirling student union supporting Blind Wolves who a) could not have been more different if they tried and b) are a bit rubbish. Which I do appreciate is pretty close to sacrilege in some circles if what I hear from my former compatriots at Air3 radio (probably not still claiming to be ‘Straight Out of Cornton’ these days) is true, but I suspect the contrast with Julia’s gorgeous voice beforehand did them no favours. Though speaking of former Air3 Radio compatriots I did have a surreal moment when listening to the Scotland Introducing podcast during the summer and instead of Vic Galloway’s dulcet tones I was greeted with an entirely different but equally familiar voice. “That’s never that Ally McRae!” says I, but lo and behold it was. I hear he’s one of the folks behind Detour Scotland but I still can’t get past the fact that a voice I used to hear 1350AM will soon be on 99.5 FM…

Anyway enough pointless nostalgia and back to the band. There’s something strangely appealing about the ensemble format, of songs that can be stripped down to just a guitar and a xylophone if necessary or expanded out to something almost orchestral in the rich mix of sounds blending together when all members are present. Listening to them recorded, it’s hard to imagine Come Home or New York City without their cello line and yet they work without it. Oft times the flautist gets a little lost in the blend of the recording, but on stage the flute makes a vital contribution. Perhaps its something about Julia’s voice itself, pure and beautiful, providing a consistent through-line on which the other elements and instruments can be hung or removed as required by practicalities. Perhaps that’s why they work as a ‘and the’ band where others don’t, each of the ‘Doogans’ providing something special to create a richer sound, with Julia’s voice tying them all together to make a coherent whole.

They do a nice line in rather cute home-made music videos, I personally have a soft spot for the little pigs of Maps of the World, but appreciate most people prefer the aesthetic of the videos for New York and their gorgeous cover of The Scientist, so it’s the video for the former that I’m sharing today. It could be quite a sad song when you think about it but the video keeps the tone whimsically bittersweet and oddly hopeful.

Ten For 2010: Frightened Rabbit

Frightened Rabbit were my first new musical discovery of 2010, based on a throw away mention in something completely unrelated of ‘some obscure Scottish indie band’. I know, I know, I’m ridiculously late to the party with that band but it was these guys that made me realise how out of touch with new music I’d got and how much good stuff I was missing out on.

My affection for this band managed to be both really obvious and to completely sneak up on me. It must have been just before they released The Winter of Mixed Drinks; because I remember watching a sampler video thing of songs from that album and thinking they were good. At the time I described them to someone as ‘a band that I think I could love the way I love Idlewild, abstractly but loyally, always intending to get round to buying an album and only having seen them live by accident’. I had no idea how wrong I was.

The Midnight Organ Fight, is a very different album to their latest effort, and it was this that pushed them from ‘band I enjoy’ to ‘band I love’ status and has kept them in my top five most listened to bands all year. It’s an album that inspires a very intense, almost visceral emotional reaction in me, that makes me I wish I owned it in about third year of uni. Keep Yourself Warm and Poke are the two songs that grabbed my attention first by dint of pretty much grabbing me by the heart and dragging me back in time six or so years, and reminding me how it feel to have your heart ripped out. There’s a strange mix of sweetness, sadness, rage, bitterness and resignation in the songs, wrapped up in lyrics that are at once quirky and almost shockingly raw. Then, in the second last song, after all the loss and rage that came before, comes Floating in the Forth probably the most hopeful song written about feeling suicidal. If the album as a whole, tips you over, rearranges your thoughts and rips your heart out, that song comes along, gives you a reassuring hug and tells you that you’ve survived, you’re stronger now and that it gets better from here on in.

I’m still inclined to think that The Winter of Mixed Drinks, is a more mature/grown up record, the songs are certainly more radio-friendly and easier to demonstrate their excellence to other people with. Maybe it’ll even be the album that makes everyone else realise how awesome they are and in five years their sold out Glasgow gigs will be at Hamden rather than the Barrowlands; maybe my initial impression was correct and they’ll chug along at an Idlewild level of success for the next decade; maybe they’ll disappear back into obscurity. Whatever happens, here and now, they’ve got some excellent tunes.

As an added bonus, here’s a wee trip to Pepperland (animated music videos, how I love thee), courtesy of the video for Bright Pink Bookmark.

Ten for 2010: French Wives

List season is almost upon us. Which is always an odd time for me when it comes to writing this blog, as it’s a film blog and I don’t do top ten films of the year. Mainly because I consider it a good year if I see twenty films I hadn’t seen before. If you’ve been following my ‘12 films’ project then you already know something like 75% of the films I’ve seen this year. I write an annual round up of the documentary features and shorts I’ve seen over the past year, somewhere between Christmas and New Year, and that’s it. (I’ve only seen three documentaries this year, so I see a lot of documentary viewing in my immediate future.)

However, of people who feel moved to email me directly about the blog, almost all of those enquiries are about my rare music posts. So for this silly season only I’m going to do a series on the best musical discoveries I’ve made this year. In another life I’m also a DJ for hospital radio (Radio Royal: plug, plug) where I do a Scottish Music show, which features an unsigned half hour. Unsigned is actually a fairly loose term, but generally means small, fairly obscure or likely to only ever have had radio play on Rapal or Scotland Introducing previously. So my choices are going to skew Scottish, indie and obscure, as they are mostly bands I discovered while searching for new tunes for my show.

First up we have Glasgow based band French Wives. The List once described French Wives as: “a young band with heart, talent and a trombone.” Which I personally find one of the most irresistible descriptions of a band I’ve ever heard, and given that the full blurb that came from makes up the band’s profile description on last.fm quite a few people felt the same way. I first discovered them on the compilation that Have Fun at Dinner put together earlier in the year. Your Friends and Mine was apparently the first song they ever wrote and is definitely an auspicious start. Their recent single Welcome, In The Light features excellent fiddle and some nice harmonising.

The are currently running a project called ‘Home Fires’ where they are giving away a song from their back catalogue every Monday for seven days. Accompanied by little videos of random cover versions and antics from the band.

Speaking of random cover versions, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a cover version of Caravan of Love before and the commentary that accompanied their attempt would suggest why…it is unexpectedly difficult to get right…

They’re bouncy, indie-pop, with witty lyrics and unusual instrumentation choices, just what you need to fight through a gloomy Scottish winter. Songs for days when the heavy grey skies lift to reveal crisp cold sunshine and beautiful blue skies that make being freezing cold all worth while.

Oh and there’s no swearing, a definite plus when I’m picking songs to play on the radio…