MUSIC | Records
ALBUM OF THE ISSUE
INDIE FOALS What Went Down (Transgressive) ●●●●● Of the plethora of spotty-faced indie bands that swarmed in the genre’s mid-noughties boom, few have been able to progress from the paint-by-numbers riffs, chantable lyrics and teenage angst that characterised the period. Other than
a few stragglers (see the Cribs / Kaiser Chiefs et al), it was only really the Arctic Monkeys, the Maccabees and Foals that made the necessary modifications, adopting new but different types of lyrical sophistication and a grander, more intelligent sound. For their last two full-length releases, Foals have consistently
pushed forward into the unknown, honing an increasingly cinematic sound. What Went Down feels like the Oxford five-piece have reached that place on the horizon that we could hear them reaching for on previous albums. The journey that Foals have been on is encapsulated in ‘A Knife in the Ocean’, where the lyric ‘what became of the things I once believed?’ seems to serve as a point of reflection among swelling synths and guitar lines. The awareness of their own musical process has meant that all the skills learned on the way – the cascading guitar riffs, philosophical lyrics, and quiet introspective lulls – are all on shining display on opener ‘What Went Down’. This sense of arrival poses a question one might never have associated with Foals. For a band that has rightfully prided itself on innovation with each release, where can they go from here? Each and every addition to the Foals discography since 2008’s Antidotes has tried and tested new waters, yet this exploration has led them directly to this point. What Went Down is Foals’ finest moment, and it’s hard to see how it can get any better. (Will Moss)
INDIE POP THE SPOOK SCHOOL Try To Be Hopeful (Fortuna POP!) ●●●●●
Edinburgh’s Spook School are a band who have to exist. Much will be written of the fact that singer Nye Todd identifies as transgender (it already has been, in fact, in Rolling Stone, no less), but would the group deserve our attention if they weren’t producing music that was interesting, exciting and emotionally precise? Fortunately, the quartet’s bright indie-pop – sometimes breezily cheerful,
sometimes dramatic, always steeped in the best traditions of their nation’s indie history – is addictive. On Tracks like ‘Richard & Judy’ there’s the sense that Postcard records and its attendant heroes were of influence.
They address gender issues in succinct, well-communicated bursts of DIY guitar, with the careening ‘Burn Masculinity’ taking down male privilege on behalf of every woman, transgendered person and man who rejects it (‘I’ve got to accept that I’ve inherited a history of persecution and abuse,’ it spits), and ‘Binary’ revels in diversity (‘let it be complicated and hard to understand’).
It’s a confident, even a political record, but not one which is one-note.
‘August 17th’ is a great ode to not feeling possessive just because you’re attracted to someone, the title track is a swooning song of positivity for the future, and ‘Only Lovers’ speaks boldly of first love with a character of deliberately indeterminate genre while what sound like Dexy’s horns blast away in the background. Musically it’s raw, but there’s a pleasing degree of lo-finess in that; after all,
it’s not like this quartet don’t know exactly what they’re doing in terms of constructing pristine pop choruses and messages which are perfectly- weighted for the medium. ‘The future is another place,’ hollers Nye on ‘Books and Hooks and Movements’; it’s theirs if they want it. (David Pollock) ■ The Spook School play The Lighthouse Late at The Lighthouse, Glasgow, Fri 9 Oct & Book Yer Ane Fest at Buskers, Dundee, Fri 27–Sun 29 Nov.
SCOTTISH RAP CARBS Joyous Material Failure ●●●●● INDIE ROCK PAUL SMITH AND THE INTIMATIONS Contradictions (Billingham) ●●●●●
If you’re looking for an act that can stop people laughing at the phrase ‘Scottish rap’, then you’ve come to the wrong place. Nevermind, because Jonnie and James – better known as their respective superhero DJ personas Jonnie Common and MC Almond Milk – are one hell of a duo. Take the inter-species bromance of Han and Chewie, mix it with the gumption of Gibson and Glover and the balls-out stage presence of Jay-Z and Kanye and you might have something like Joyous Material Failure.
Gauzy, deep-fried electronica provides a brightly flashing backdrop upon which odes to transfats and beyond-bedtime television viewing are daubed in precise strokes. This is hip-hop for people who spend too much time on Wikipedia. Catatonic, eccentric pop music that satisfies like a guilty midnight snack. Opener and lead single ‘Stick A Flake In Me (I’m Done)’ is an absurdist triumph while ‘Pizza Time O’Clock’ is a strangely heartfelt medley about shared carbohydrates by way of almost-there rhymes and drunken synths. Rapping about Margaret Thatcher and Mr Whippy in the same breath should be a recipe for disaster, but the combination works somehow – much in the same way that those ersatz deathtraps on Scrapheap Challenge always came together in the end without maiming anyone.
Carbs play Potterow in support of Young Fathers in September, and on the back of this indulgent, heady record, it could go completely tits-up or it could be amazing. At the risk of testing the reader’s tolerance for fast-food similes, I’d liken the experience of listening to Joyous Material Failure to the way that your chest starts to beat at an unnatural pace after scoffing a deep-fried double cheeseburger, except that unlike the latter delicacy, I want to try this one again and again and again. (Sam Bradley) ■ Carbs play The Glad Cafe, Glasgow, Sat 12 Sep & Potterrow, Edinburgh, Tue 15 Sep (supporting Young Fathers).
70 THE LIST 3 Sep–5 Nov 2015
Paul Smith, the erstwhile frontman of noughties indie darlings Maximo Park, has climbed out of his comfort zone and wandered far from indie rock’s happy hunting grounds – where, one presumes, migrating herds of quirky Northern pixie girls roam free, followed by their bookish underdog suitors. A pity then, that after a four-year period in the wilderness he returns with only a handful of hunting trophies to show for his sojourn rather than a collection of original pop songs. This decent but indistinct solo record fails to amount to much more than the sum of its influences, instead proving more akin to a guided tour through the last half-decade’s musical fads.
To be fair, Smith has attempted to create a decent album of literate indie rock songs, and to that end he tries to keep a respectable distance from Maximo Park’s own brand of energetic pop. The same can’t be said for the pioneers of surf-rock, jangle pop or doo-wop, genres which Smith happily plunders with the air of a museum visitor lacking boundaries. On ‘Coney Island’ we revisit surf rock by way of The Drums and flirt with Real Estate-esque slacker rock on lead single ‘Break Me Down’, all while referencing the Go Betweens and Felt via jangle-pop guitar moments scattered throughout.
Contradictions is not without its highlights: lead single ‘Break Me Down’ is a strong, if unchallenging entry while ‘The Golden Glint’ is a pared-back melancholy gem, a rare exception to the busy, frantic songs on the rest of the
album. Meanwhile ‘Reintroducing the Red Kite’ is an oddball earworm with lyrics which talk about his socially reserved girlfriend in the same terms as a common airborne predator.
Cluttered with influences and weighed down by tracks like ‘Before the Perspiration Falls’ that could serve as b-sides for his main band, it would have been for the best if the workings- out of Smith’s equations had not been left so obviously at the bottom of the page. (Sam Bradley)