Fear and Loathing in Hollywood: A Savage Review of The Rum Diary and why Johnny Depp is a Git

Have pity on any poor soul who is tasked with converting a literary work to the big screen. It’s generally a thankless task and, with a few rare exceptions, with good reason. Fans of the original book or comic invariably get upset over the most trivial of changes and sticking too close to the source material risks alienating those coming to the film anew. Even ‘The Shining’, which as a film outclasses most of it’s peers in the horror genre and is truly an excellent movie, is actually fairly shoddy as an adaptation.

“Pretty much how Stephen King felt about Kubrick’s film”

The fact that ‘The Rum Diary’ is based on a novel is unavoidable, given the cult status of the book. It was Hunter S. Thompson’s only true work of fiction, albeit semi-autobiographical, depicting young American journalist and Thompson surrogate Paul Kemp’s time in Puerto Rico during the late 50s.  Its gestation to the big screen has taken over a decade, finally coming to fruition at the behest of Thompson’s friend, Johnny Depp. On paper the whole idea sounds marvellous. Director Bruce ‘Withnail & I’ Robinson is seemingly a perfect match for the material and Depp’s involvement is beneficial for two reasons. As a friend and fan of the late Thompson, you would expect a certain amount of love and reverence for the source material. Also, Depp previously portrayed a gloriously amplified cariciture of Thompson’s alter ego Raoul Duke in Terry Gilliam’s 1998 adaptation of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, one of those rare films that succesfully transforms literature into cinema without compromising the source material.

Or so you would think.

“Thompson and Depp – Depp’s knife just out of shot”

The presumably well-intentioned film-makers obviously wanted ‘The Rum Diary’ to serve as an all-round tribute to Thompson, which explains, but doesn’t justify, the addition of an unnecessary LSD scene and Kemp’s ranting about Thompson’s old enemy Richard Nixon.  These scenes are clumsy and bring nothing to the film, jarringly shoved into a plot that pays little heed to Thompson’s novel anyway.  An entire central character, Yeamon, has been chopped out and merged with another, key scenes from the novel are missing and generally the film shows little respect to the source material. The film has a typical Hollywood sheen to it, at odds with the grimy, humid atmosphere the novel depicts and the banality doesn’t end there. The book’s most memorable, and shocking, scene implies the horrific gang rape of principal female character Chenault. The same scene in the film is ambiguous in the extreme, avoiding the novel’s blunt but neccesary comment on America’s cultural and economical rape of Puerto Rico and, as evidenced by the film’s imdb boards, leaving those who had not read the book either unsure or even completely unaware that a rape had even occured.

“Confused Johnny?  So was everyone watching.”

To exacerbate matters, Amber Heard’s portrayal of Chenault is woefully inadequate. In the novel she is a contrary mix of ingenue and vixen, her hedonistic lifestyle fascinating and alluring Kemp before ultimately leading to her tragic rape. She is not a typical love interest and a happy ending for her and Kemp is never on the cards, their eventual union made bittersweet by the events that forgoe it. Heard serves only to make Chenault an irritating, charmless, vacuous shell of a woman, her wooden delivery constantly pulling this viewer out of the movie to think “gosh, what a bad actress”. Seemingly content to just coast by on her looks, Heard’s not even endearingly bad, like Jessica Alba, who you at least sense is making a jolly good effort to act.  In addition, as needless as the acid and Nixon scenes before it, a crude epilogue serves to inform us that Kemp and Chenault later marry in New York, the typical, cliched Hollywood ending tacked onto a story that should be anything but Hollywood.

“Amber Heard – Making Jessica Alba look like Meryl Streep since 2004″

Depp’s stock is now perilously low in this reviewers eyes. I winced my way through the awful bilge that was ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ thinking “Hey, it’s for kids!”, as if that was an excuse for being shit. Whilst his performance in ‘The Rum Diary’ reigns in the goonery that has been so typical of him in recent years, his involvment behind the scenes and position as a friend of Thompson’s make him accountable for this sorry excuse of a “tribute”.

All this would maybe, just maybe, be forgiveable had the film been able to stand on it’s own, from an objective point of view, but sadly, this is not the case. The plot is barely there and it plays more as a mish-mash of disjointed scenes featuring the same characters. There are a few comic moments that hit the mark but they are too few to offer any real redemption for this glossy attrocity. The only person I feel any sympathy for is Giovanni Ribisi who is clearly having a whale of a time hamming it up as alcoholic hack Moburg.  He is far too good for this nonsense. Yet, he was in ‘Avatar’, so his standards clearly aren’t what they once were.

“I was in Saving Private Ryan and that one episode of The X-Files, damnit!”

The Rapture – In the Grace of your Love

If you’ve ever set foot in an indie disco, and therefore undoubtedly danced to The Rapture’s 2003 dance-funk-post-punk monster “House of Jealous Lovers”, then this week’s most important album release is their third album proper “In the Grace of your Love”. That’s three albums in eight years, five since their last, the underrated “Pieces of the People we Love”. Lazy.

Or not. Change has been afoot in The Rapture camp; bassist Mattie Safer left the band, amicably, they’ve returned to the fold of DFA records, after a rumoured spat between the band and DFA/LCD Soundsystem bossman James Murphy and as well as making the record, they’ve been busy making little people.

Fatherhood could be argued to have mellowed The Rapture; this album, like its predecessor, featuring less of the abrasive guitars that defined “Echoes” and much more crooning, a daunting prospect indeed given the marmite qualities of Luke Jenner’s voice. It works particularly well on album closer, “It Takes Time to be a Man”, with its lulling, plinky-plonky piano refrain and bittersweet lyrics, and on “Children” the song most obviously influenced by the band members paternity.

The lead single, “How Deep is your Love?”, thankfully not a Bee Gees cover, although that wouldn’t be surprising, is a eurodisco tainted number, climaxing in some of their trademark sax skronking. As well as the sax, The Rapture’s other weapons of choice, namely fingerclicks and handclaps, synths and piano, screeching post-punk riffs and disco-strutting wakka wakka guitars are all present and correct but it doesn’t feel as if they are treading water. It is clear that they are evolving as a band, but retaining the disparate elements and influences that made them such an intriguing prospect in the first place.

Ultimately, it is a strong album, one that will presumably show its true strengths in the bands live shows, but five years is a long time to wait for a 4 star album.

The Not So Blue Boy: Edwyn Collins

Another feature for my journalism class.  I have mixed feelings about this one.  There are many parts I like but I’m unsure of the flow of the thing and the ending is quite clearly rushed.  It was good enough to merit a pass and praise from my lecturer however I may revisit it at some point.

Edwyn Collins isn’t a household name but is the epitome of what you might call a cult star; an icon of Scottish indie.  If you are unaware of Collins, you will no doubt recognise his two major hit singles, 1983’s Rip It Up with his band Orange Juice, and the bona fide international solo hit, 1994’s A Girl Like You. He has a fervent fanbase and his music is cited by a multitude of artists, including Belle and Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand, Frankie & The Heartstrings and The Cribs, as a major influence on their own work.

Putting his musical legacy aside for a moment, Collins’ life for the past six years has been tumultuous; he has come through his lowest ebb and is currently riding on the crest of a wave of fresh interest in his work.

In 2005 Collins’ career was going through resurgence.  Interest in both his solo career and primarily, his work with Orange Juice, had reached a new high, due to many new artists name-checking him as an inspiration and his production work on albums and singles by The Cribs and Sons and Daughters.  He mentioned in an interview with BBC 6music that he had been feeling unwell, attributing it to nausea but the cause was much more sinister.  Collins suffered a major brain haemorrhage just two days later.

Collins endured a second haemorrhage and, to add to his woes, contracted MRSA whilst in hospital.  It was to be six months before he returned home a changed man.  In a suitably poignant twist for a romantic like Collins, he was initially only able to utter four things after the stroke: “Yes”, “No”, “Grace Maxwell” (his wife) and “the possibilities are endless”.

Collins recovery has been remarkable; in 2007 he completed the album he had been working on prior to his stroke, Home Again, and toured to support its release and last year, he released Losing Sleep an album written and recorded post-stroke with a guest appearances that read like a who’s who of Indie (Johnny Marr, Alex Kapranos and Nick Mcarthy of Franz Ferdinand, The Cribs, The Drums).  And whilst Collins still hasn’t regained control of his right-side (he has had to learn to write and draw with his left hand) and can’t play the guitar unaided, his singing voice remains marvellously unaffected by his illness.

But this isn’t a story about Collins recovery, or last year’s album, or even this years’ festival appearances.  This is the full story; and it begins during the heady, riotous days when punk was in its ascendance.  The success of The Sex Pistols and the D.I.Y. ethos extolled by the punk movement swept across the UK and the USA inspiring anyone and everyone to “give it a go”.  Whilst this clearly led to many terrible, or simply forgettable, bands and artists it remains easily the most important cultural movement in recent history.  Scotland had its share of punk groups, namely the Skids and the Rezillos, but Caledonian artists of note emerged not during, but post-punk.

Punk had shown that anyone could form a band, but for every Ramones or Buzzcocks there were countless imitators lacking the imagination, charm, talent or intelligence to turn three simple chords into something worth listening to.  Post-punk is, as the name suggests, a very broad definition for a genre, an umbrella that holds underneath it all those who took the urgency and can-do attitude of punk and fused it with a plethora of influences; Reggae and Dub, art, Hip-hop, Soul, Funk, literature, Krautrock, Pop, Rock and Roll, socialism, feminism; and turned them into something more than the sum of their parts.

Two young Scots, namely Collins, and the effeminate, eccentric Warhol-wannabe Alan Horne, began Postcard Records, primarily as a way to release Orange Juice’s music.   Postcard was to become the blueprint, along with Manchester’s Factory Records, for every independent label worth its salt since.

Originally beginning life as the Nu-sonics, Orange Juice comprised of the teenage Collins on lead vocals and sharing guitar and songwriting duties with James Kirk (no, not that one), as well as David McClymont on bass and Steven Daly on drums.  Inspired by Punk, but rejecting its aggro and sneer in favour of pop melodies and winsome, fey lyrics, Orange Juice cited Motown as an influence as much as Johnny Rotten and were all the better for it.  Their charity-shop chic, floppy hairstyles and Collins’ crooning delivery were rejected by punks die-hard but cherished by those that saw the once vital genre collapsing into self-parody.  Many critics claim Orange Juice could have been as successful as The Smiths, as songs like Falling and Laughing, Blue Boy and Lovesick inhabited the same bedroom romantic mentality and shared the same love of wit, literature and jangly guitars as their Manc brethren but like The Velvet Underground before them, their legacy was to be one of seminality rather than success.

Whilst they were critical darlings, and had the most devout of followings, mainstream commercial success was something that eluded Orange Juice and the pressures of recording their first album, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, led to tensions within the group and eventually Kirk and Daly’s departure.  The band regrouped with Zimbabwean Zeke Manyika on drums and Malcolm Ross (of labelmates Josef K) on lead guitar and released a string of albums, continuing their critical acclaim but still eluding commercial success.  This all changed with the release of Rip It Up, the single which took them to Top of the Pops, and still remains a radio mainstay to this day.

The band called it quits in 1985 after failing to follow up Rip It Up with another hit and in the following years Collins began his solo career, built a studio in London’s West Heath and started a family, with his wife and manager Grace Maxwell.  Collins career was still followed by a dedicated few but was incomparable to his peers such as Morrissey, Roddy Frame or Billy Mackenzie, until the mid-90s when A Girl Like You was released.  The success of this record gave Collins and his family financial security for life and enabled him to comfortably create music without the label interference or commercial pressures and to produce artists he admired and related to.

As such, things in Collins world were good, peachy even.  Having briefly been part of a maelstrom of international promotional appearances after the success of A Girl Like You he then returned to working as a solo artist, producer, husband, father and even as a comic writer and performer with the late night Channel 4 sitcom “West Heath Yard” about two aging record producers.  The success of Franz Ferdinand, who were vocal in their championing of Collins, Orange Juice and Postcard led to interest from a new generation of musos and indie kids, with Franz’ label Domino Records releasing a compilation of Orange Juice’s early singles and demos, The Glasgow School.  Collins was well on his way to completing work on his latest solo effort, Home Again; and then the stroke.

The cause of Edwyn’s stroke remains unknown; the unfortunate and unforeseen side-effect of high, but not unusual, blood pressure.  As Collin’s himself puts it, it was “just bad luck!”  Collins’ condition immediately after the stroke was dire; his entire right-hand side was paralysed and he had lost the ability to walk, read, write and speak.   His rehabilitation was arduous but gradually Collins regained his voice (although the aphasia still gives him trouble), his feet and his creativity.  He learned to use his left hand, primarily through drawing birdlife, some examples of which can be found on Losing Sleep’s cover, and began to create music again by orchestrating his friends and guest musicians in the studio, explaining the musical concepts in his head through singing and instruction.

Losing Sleep is arguably his best solo record in years; it’s reflective, and some songs are about his recovery but it remains poppy and upbeat, rather than self-pitying or depressing.   “Singing came back to me easily. It’s still so much easier to sing than to talk, as perhaps you can tell.” Says Collins, “I still love rock ‘n’ roll. The best rock is sometimes dark, but not sentimental.”

His current show consists of tracks from Losing Sleep, as well as Orange Juice classics and of course A Girl Like You and he remains youthful and energetic despite his setback; gigs last a full two hours and he has played over 100 shows since his recovery.

There is still plenty more to come from this luminary of contemporary Scottish music.  As a great man once said: “The possibilities are endless.”

Edwyn is playing the following festivals this summer: 15 July Latitude Festival, Southwold,

23 July Truck Festival

30 July Indietracks Festival

31 July Northern Lights Festival

Losing Sleep  and Home Again are available now on Heavenly Records.

Coals To Newcastle, a comprehensive and full discography of Orange Juice is available now on Domino Records.

Grace has written a full account of Edwyn’s recovery in her charming, reflective (and often funny) memoir Falling and Laughing: The Restoration of Edwyn Collins available from Ebury Press.

Podcast Vs Broadcast

Yet another piece for my journalism class.

Now that podcast is part of the contemporary lexicon (it was, in fact, included in the Oxford English Dictionary back in 2005, along with supersize and fanboy, trivia fans!) and it becomes rarer to find a human being who isn’t computer savvy, many people are proclaiming the death of what is now known as traditional broadcasting.

In many ways this is hardly surprising.  Since the advent of broadband and web 2.0 there has been little in our lives unaffected; almost everything we do, for work or pleasure, can be, and is, done differently.  Whether it’s watching music videos, using  dictionaries, thesauri or encyclopedia, reading the news, making a phone call; even watching Eastenders can now be done at your leisure, with less effort, more efficiency or simply just a bit quicker, cheaper or for free.

As an example, the music industry is virtually unrecognisable from how it was at the turn of the millennium.  Hands up if you can remember when your local record shop HAD a singles section, let alone when you last bought one?  Hollywood, whilst not in any real danger, is bleeding money from sales lost to illegal downloading and streaming.  The radio industry is no different.

It is rare nowadays to find a radio station that doesn’t offer content as podcasts alongside the normally broadcasted output, the exceptions being the overly commercial national and local stations whose content is mostly contemporary pop, which wouldn’t feature in a free podcast unless heavily edited.  The Beeb, one of the original champions of the format (its first venture being Radio Five Live podcasts as far back as 2004), offers a plethora of podcasts, from Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Friday Night Comedy and, yes, The Archers, to serious takes on the week’s news, irreverent takes on the week’s news, Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh takes on the week’s news and even Andrew Marr’s take on the week’s news.  All are completely free of charge and can be downloaded and kept for as long as you like, to be listened to at a time and place of one’s choosing.  This freedom of choice, of subject, time and place is an oft-cited pro of podcasting.  There is an insanely vast wealth of content available all for free (the exception being the award-winning and insanely popular Ricky Gervais podcasts) and this only keeps on growing.

Podcasts, when they began, were, and in some cases are, essentially audio blogs, distributed in the same way (RSS Feeds) and just as eccentric, charmingly amateur, idiosyncratic and censorship-free.  As their popularity increased, so has the podcaster’s professionalism, with many of the best podcasts being every bit as high-quality as top-rate BBC output.  The Stuff You Should Know podcasts are a prime example.  New episodes appear every 3 days to a week and feature, well, Stuff You Should Know, from the serious: What exactly is Facism? or Will the Large Hadron Collider destroy the Earth?, the silly: How Dreadlocks Work? to the divertingly curious:  How Hell’s Angels/The Amish/Freemasons/Zombies work.  It is a format as clever, inventive and informative as Radio 4’s History of the World in 100 Objects but with a light-hearted irreverence to boot.

With the sheer volume of pros going for them, it is little wonder that many consider traditional forms of broadcasting to be on their way out.  The rose-tinted image of listening to John Peel under the bedsheets or of fanatically taping the top 40 every Sunday could now be considered a bit twee and over-romanticised.  Also, given the overly-safe and repetitive nature of commercial radio playlists it is little wonder many are turning to podcasts out of sheer boredom.  However, is the state of radio broadcasting in anything but rude health?  Statistically, no.

The most recently published Radio Joint Audience Research Limited (RAJAR) listening figures, for  July-September 2010,  paint an almost identical picture to how things were for the same quarter in the year BP (Before Podcasting, or 2003 to most).  All radio, commercial and BBC, has an audience reach of 91% in both quarters with the Beeb looking at a 66% reach and commercial at 65%, again, identical in both quarters.  Despite the advent of podcasting, traditional broadcasting’s listening patterns remain, for the most, unchanged.  Peak listening times remain at breakfast and drive-time, with the specialist programming that listeners make a special effort to listen to remaining in the evening.  Fundamentally, the way in which most people listen to the radio remains unaffected.  It is something that is put on in the background, be it in the car when commuting, in the shower of a morning, whilst working, or whilst fixing a sandwich at lunchtime.

The people that download podcasts are arguably the same people that listen to specialist programming in the evening: enthusiasts, fans, geeks and nerds.  And that’s not forgetting the only podcast which threatens Gervais’ hold at the top of the podcast charts, the inexplicably popular Chris Moyles, who remains just as inexplicably popular in an edited “highlight” form as he does when ranting over the nation’s breakfast.

It would seem that, in stark contrast with how the music industry has reacted to new internet technology, the broadcasting industry has embraced podcasting; rather than view it as a threat, to view it as podcasting vs. broadcasting, the industry has used the emergent technology to their advantage, in conjunction with traditional broadcasting.  Some BBC podcasts even include “bonus content” and outtakes in their podcasts, much like one would find on a DVD.  Also, it would seem podcasts are going the way of their text-based precursor, the blog.  Podcasters who rise to prominence are getting work within the traditional broadcast industry, much like the crème de la crème of the blogosphere are now published by, or have steady jobs with, the print media.

As such, those heralding the death of radio are in the wrong.  Podcasting isn’t going to take over, nor is it going to go away.  It is just another media channel to be synergised and used to full effect by the broadcasters, professional or otherwise, of the world.

True Grit

Simply a review piece I did on the remake of True Grit for my journalism class.

Remakes of classic movies in this reviewer and most other’s eyes are generally speaking a no-no.  Exceptions can be made however when the perpetrators of said remake are the Coens.  Yes, their interpretation of the Ealing Comedy The Ladykillers was pretty poor, but even an off-form Coen bros. flick is still infinitely better than most of the dirge churned out by the Hollywood system.  Add to this my own quibbles that, Leone’s ‘Dollars’ trilogy aside, I’m not a western fan and that I think John Wayne is an overrated, racist prat, I’m not at all precious about the original True Grit.  And this has Jeff Bridges in it.

I f***ing LOVE Jeff Bridges.

So, watching True Grit 2011 without any hang-ups regarding the original meant I could enjoy the film on its own merits.  The Coens flirted briefly with the western genre in No Country For Old Men, despite its contemporary setting and mixing equal parts film noir, western and thriller so it was intriguing to see them turn their quirky charms onto a full blown western.

Thankfully the style suits them well and it never feels forced; it is naturally both a western, with all the trappings the genre entails, and a Coen brothers flick.  Their trademark sense of humour is there, most noticeably with Bridges’ one liner towards a deliciously surreal, bearskin-wearing witch doctor and during newcomer Hailee Steinfeld’s precocious haggling with a tradesman old enough to be her grandfather.  It is in fact the young Steinfeld that is the film’s greatest strength, outshining even the solid performances from reliable old hands like Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin.  Steinfeld, much like her peer Chloe Grace Moretz, avoids the usual irritating cutesiness of child actors and instead turns in a stoic, unpretentious performance that should be beyond one of her years, akin to 11 year-old Natalie Portman’s debut in Leon or Leonardo Di Caprio’s exceptional teenage turn in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Steinfeld aside, the film’s other dominating factor is the moral ambiguity of almost every character involved.  The best heroes and villains in cinema are anti-heroes and flawed, sympathetic villains, two obvious examples being Han Solo and Darth Vader.  Who actually likes clean cut, goodie-two shoes, Aryan poster boy Luke Skywalker?  Exactly.  The only problem with this is that it all gets very confusing who to root for.  Of the good guys, Bridge’s Rooster Cogburn is a drunkard, who heavily relies on an ‘end justifies the means’ type of law enforcement but he at least has a certain rough charm; Damon’s LaBeouf however, is thoroughly despicable at various points, and unlikeable at best throughout, whether it’s his downright rudeness to Steinfeld’s Mattie Ross or the terrifically uncomfortable scene where he gives her a spanking.

Conversely, Brolin’s Tom Chaney, the bad guy they spend the majority of the film hunting is endearingly stupid and funny and Barry Pepper’s ‘Lucky’ Ned Pepper (confusing, I know) is the only person in the film to treat Mattie with respect from the word go; in fact, he’s an outright gentleman.  Come the film’s climactic “Show your hand!” showdown, I found myself, not rooting for the bad guys per se (I would support Jeff Bridges even if he were playing Hitler.  Tron: Legacy, in which Bridges played both hero and villain, gave me a headache), but certainly hoping they would at least get some kind of redemption.  This morally grey take on the characters may not be to everyone’s tastes but I found it extremely refreshing.  To add to this, there are a few moments in the film where Roger Deakins’ cinematography can be described as nothing short of astounding.  The desert vistas and barren backdrops which were so intimidating in No Country For Old Men are now captured with a bleak beauty and frankly, he was robbed of the 2011 Best Cinematography Oscar (Inception, which won it, was in turn robbed of Best Original Score.  I hate the Oscars)

It’s not quite the modern classic many were hoping for but the Coens have created enough modern classics to last anyone a lifetime, and as I mentioned at the beginning, even off-form, the Coens are still a delight.  And with True Grit the Coens are firing on all cylinders.

Album Retrospective

Another piece for my college Graded Unit project, a Scottish music magazine called “Rip It Up”.  This piece takes the form of hypothetical regular feature looking back at important, seminal, classic or just simply brilliant Scottish albums of note.

Idlewild’s Hope Is Important

Hope Is Important, Idlewild’s first full-length album is presently 13 years old.  That’s half my life ago!  Listening to it now, it feels just as youthful, energetic and inspired as it first did when I was just 14 myself.  At that age I was still finding my way musically; the Spice Girls first album was still kicking around my then modest CD collection, Now! compilations were a frequent, essential purchase and I had yet to turn my nose up in disgust at the NME.  Grunge and Britpop had happened; I was still very much a child when Kurt Cobain joined the 27 club and to be honest, it was never really my thing anyway.  I always found it a bit bland, self-conscious and whiny, and with regards to Britpop, I liked Blur, Pulp, Supergrass, The Manics and yes, even the first two Oasis albums, but I was still to find a band I truly loved.  A band who related to my (admittedly uninteresting) teenage woes, a band whose music reflected my own burgeoning tastes, but please, a band that didn’t have egomaniacal pretensions or delusions of grandeur.  A band that weren’t full of shite, basically.

Idlewild were this band, my teenage angst group; noisy, punky and frenetic, with the occasional slow, melodic number in amongst the catharsis and anguished yelping.  Their live show was once described, positively, as sounding “like a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs” by Steve Lamaq and this wasn’t entirely untrue.  Lyrically, Roddy Woomble’s musings were either easy to relate to or delightfully cryptic, at least to a layman in poetry, which I still am.  Their punkier numbers such as album opener You’ve Lost Your Way or Everyone Says You’re So Fragile had the exuberance and poppy hooks that I enjoyed as a teenager but not the irritating juvenility and nasal vocals of the American Green Day or blink-182 and the slower, melodic I’m Happy To Be Here Tonight or the anthemic I’m A Message pointed at Idlewild’s future direction, as a celtic REM or as a, y’know, good, Coldplay.

The fact that they were Scottish was also a factor, I think.  My love of Scottish indie music is less to do with nationalism and more to do with Scotland’s role as the eternal underdog, from which stems our openness and self-deprecation as a nation, qualities I enjoy seeing reflected in music.  I loved knowing that my favourite band weren’t untouchable rock gods but four young lads from Edinburgh, who would chat with fans post-gig or tour over Scotland with a workman-like ethic which has resulted in my losing count of the number of times I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them.

In 2002 when they released In Remote Part, a more polished effort than the endearing, ramshackle untidiness of their previous albums, and had a hit (how dare they!) with American English, many cried sell out.  I would be the first to agree that they haven’t matched the form they had on mini-album Captain, Hope Is Important or it’s follow-up 100 Broken Windows but to this day they still remain one of the most consistent and hard-working bands in Scotland.  And even if you find their newer material too rooted in the middle-ground, that triptych of albums, with Hope Is Important the standout in my opinion, remain essential listens for anyone interested in contemporary Scottish music.


Track Reviews

New single and download reviews as done for my Graded Unit project, a Scottish music magazine called “Rip It Up”.

The news that one of Scotland’s finest live acts, Sons & Daughters are set to return with their fourth album Mirror, Mirror in June brings with it 2 tracks for our listening pleasure.  Silver Spell and a remix by JD Twitch (one half of Optimo), who has produced Mirror, Mirror, are available as free downloads from Domino Records site and it certainly marks a departure for the group. “We sound better when we’re more minimal” says guitarist Scott Paterson, “we wanted everything on the new album to be necessary, no added fluff, and only recording on 16-track.”  Silver Spell is perhaps too sparse, but the tribal stomp and sinister synths make an intriguing change for the group and certainly ups anticipation for the new album.  It’s a shame then, that the remix is miles better; re-imagining S&D’s primal, bare bones sound as fierce, dirty electronica.  Bring on June.

The Little Kicks, one of the few successful Aberdeen acts that haven’t upped sticks to the Central Belt, have released a teaser download for their second album, due this summer.  Call Of Youth is a well-timed release; it’s cheery, upbeat and driven and should lend itself well to the summer months.  Frontman, songwriter and mainstay of Aberdeen’s indie/alt. disco scene (he’s the promoter and DJ of the acclaimed Dirty Hearts Club) Steven Milne’s crooning is akin to Neil Hannon or Edwyn Collins and the song pounds along relentlessly into its dreamy finale.

San Pedro is the latest track to be given the 7” vinyl treatment from one of the year’s best albums, Mogwai’s Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will, and it’s one of their riffier, meaty, thunderous numbers that isn’t entirely unlike live favourite Glasgow Mega-Snake.  Gripping stuff, but maybe not the best cut from the album.

Following in the fine tradition of twee, Weegie, indie-pop bands with critical and cult success who fail to make a dent in the charts is Zoey Van Goey with their new single Mountain On Fire, which is a misleadingly grandiose title.  It starts promisingly with fey keyboards and languid, lackadaisical drumming but it’s softly, softly approach never arrives at a destination and fails to excite a reaction other than “Meh…”

Penguins Kill Polar Bears name would suggest they were zany, like Los Campesinos or a pale imitation of the Super Furry Animals, but their newest short player Sapling isn’t overtly juvenile gonzo rock, or Bis style silliness but rather sounds more like a Caledonian Interpol.  Suitably impressive on the first listen, the record doesn’t hold up to repeated plays but one imagines it’s a right belter live.

Kyle S. Reid

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