Best of the Year 2016 (Part One)

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Thirty tracks, ten films and five books, so a festive 45 of sorts. Not a vintage year for music (sadly I seem to say that every year nowadays) but as ever there has been plenty of excellent new singles and albums, in fact, I could easily have compiled a top one hundred.


This 50-something’s favourites include music by a man in his 70s, a man pushing 70 and a man who died aged 69, namely Ian Hunter, Iggy Pop and, of course, David Bowie but I’m going to kick off with some new talent in the shape of Australian singer/songwriter Gabriella Cohen.

Former front woman of The Furrs, Gabriella has been lazily compared to Courtney Barnett; well, both are female, Melbourne based and get filed under indie but they don’t really have that much in common musically apart from a flair for making instantly enjoyable music.

Cohen’s debut album, Full Closure and No Details, is a self-produced collection of ten tracks brimming with an assurance and vitality that suggest she is definitely one to watch. Here’s my favourite cut from it, Downtown:

I did think Steve Mason deserved to win this year’s SAY Award with Meet the Humans but instead the judges voted that Scotland’s Album of the Year was Varmints by Anna Meredith, which would have been my number two.

One of the things I like about Anna is that in an age where every second Scottish act sometimes seem to be playing almost identikit folk inflected indie, she does her own classical/electronic/art pop/experimental thang with a perky playfulness that proves to be sonically intriguing, sometimes even provocative.

In the past this former Composer-in-Residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra has been commissioned to make music utilising MRI scanners and performed ‘body percussion pieces’ which I haven’t seen/heard but which sound more innovative and ambitious than some sensitive indie guy singing songs of yearning on his acoustic guitar.

I’m gonna have to warn you that this video contains strobing/flashing lights throughout. This is Anna Meredith with The Vapours:

And now for some of Anna’s Moshi Moshi labelmates.

A big favourite of Unthought of, though, somehow, where I first came across them, Girl Ray (no relation to Man Ray or even poor old Johnnie Ray) recently recorded a session for Marc Riley and have supported the likes of Ezra Furman and Hooton Tennis Club in the past coupla months. Hopefully we get to hear a lot more of them in 2017.

Here they are with Trouble:

Here’s six more favourites to make up the first third of my musical selections:

Fat White Family: Breaking into Aldi
Rituals: Black River
The Limanas: Garden of Love
Stoor: Witchfinder General
Cate LeBon: Wonderful
The Parrots: Too High to Die

For more on Gabriella Cohen:

Steve Mason:

Anna Meredith:

Girl Ray:



We all like a bit of melodica, don’t we?

Think of that curious, melancholic opening that hooked you instantly into New Order’s Love Vigilantes; the deliciously woozy feel it contributed to Gorillaz’ Clint Eastwood and to Cabinessence from The Beach Boys’ original Smile sessions. Think of how it helped those fine tracks by Augustus Pablo stand out from the reggae pack, inspiring Jon King of The Gang of Four to pick up the instrument too and use on that band’s incendiary early material. Think maybe best of all the wonderful way the instrument supplies a slightly eerie edge to Golden Years by David Bowie.

Steve Mason in his various bands and guises over the years has utilized the melodica repeatedly and it has made a comeback on his new album Meet The Humans. Back at the start of February I mentioned that if his third solo album approached the quality of Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time then I was in for hours of happy listening.

Guess what?

It’s even better (and without the segues that became unnecessary for me after a few listens to Monkey Minds) and I seem to be playing Meet The Humans on a loop during any spare time I have and so was heartened to see that it went straight to numero uno in the Official Record Store Chart Top 40 last month, beating off some lesser talent known as Adele in the process.

This is Alive, the new single lifted from the album, which, in addition to referencing the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum (Well did you vote it all out/ or did you have your wee shout) also features the melodica and another instrument I love – the bongos. And we all love bongos too, don’t we?

Steve will be playing a number of festivals this summer including Electric Fields together with Primal Scream, White,  C Duncan, Neon Waltz and Tuff Love.

For more information:

Facebook: http://smarturl.it/SteveMasonFB
Twitter: http://smarturl.it/SteveMasonTW
Instagram: http://smarturl.it/SteveMasonIN

Leith based Posable Action Figures consist of Gareth Goodlad (vocals and guitar) and John Alexander (drums, samples, backing vocals). They cite a range of influences from Queens of the Stone Age through to doo-woppers The Ink Spots and this week they launched their debut E.P., produced by David Lloyd of Stillhound/Discopolis, which you can help yourself to free of charge here (email required).

Vic Galloway played one of the tracks, Mainline, on his BBC Radio Scotland show on Monday night and the guys have recently filmed and edited in a DIY stylee, a video for another E.P. track, Not at All, which you will hopefully enjoy:

The band will make their Glasgow debut at Bloc on the 31st of May and if you want to find out more they are on Twitter: @p_actionfigures and Facebook.


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Slow West

What is the best way to break into directing films?

Study at somewhere like the National Film and Television School? Go down the guerrilla route and finance and shoot your own? Make videos for the Beta Band while being part of that act?

At a time when the sometimes regressive Britpop ‘movement’ was running out of steam, The Beta Band emerged and were immediately notable for a more experimental attitude, a big part of which was due to former Cameo Cinema employee, John Maclean, who as well as contributing keyboards and samples, also cut his directorial teeth by directing several DIY promos for the band, although post-Beta Band (and Aliens), he did go on to shoot a short film on his mobile phone which is pretty guerrilla even if did feature Michael Fassbender, who was a big fan of those Beta Band vids.

Next up for Maclean was another short, the BAFTA winning, again with Fassbender and 2015 saw the release of his debut feature, Slow West, which you might not be too surprised to discover, Fassbender was again a part of.

Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a gangling sixteen year old boy from the Highlands of Scotland, who has travelled to America to be with his girlfriend Rose (Caren Pistorius) after she was forced to leave her homeland in the wake of an incident that I won’t reveal as it could be classed as a spoiler.

This young man really is a hopeless romantic and also a hapless traveller, a ‘jackrabbit in a den of wolves, fortunate to be alive’, who treks across the American frontier in a dusty three piece suit, riding in the baking hot heat with no hat on – cowboy or otherwise – for protection from the sun.

If the wide-eyed and clueless Jay had a polar opposite it might well be Silas Selleck (Fassbender), a rugged but enigmatic loner who agrees to accompany Jay to Rose’s little house on the prairie for a fee. All, though, is not what it might seem.

Quentin Tarantino once said: ‘Any of the Western directors who had something to say created their own version of the West’ and this is exactly what Maclean has achieved here, albeit it would be stupid to categorise him as a western director.

Maclean’s script flips many expectations along the way and he presents viewers with a fresh vision of the old West. The scenery isn’t quite like anything you’ve ever seen in old John Wayne cowboy movies – probably as the bulk of the shoot took place in New Zealand’s South Island with the rest in Scotland (possibly making this the first Kiwi & Haggis Western). Again unlike the majority of movies from the genre’s classic era, many of the characters speak with the accent or even languages of their homeland and, unusual too, is the fact that events are seen mainly through the unusually youthful eyes of Jay. As for alcohol, I reckon this must be the first time I have ever seen anybody drink absinthe in this setting.

Think a Greek tragedy shot through with quirky, Coen Brothers style humour with some Sergio Leone thrown in there too – Fassbender incidentally favours the Man with No Name style of smoking a cigar, once lodged in the corner of his mouth it never leaves that position as he chomps away at it.

Maclean has assembled a great cast here, along with the three actors already mentioned, there’s Ben Mendelsohn as Payne and Rory McCann, best known for portraying Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane in Game of Thrones (but who I will always somehow think of as Kenny in The Book Group). Kodi Smit-McPhee outshines them all though, even his co-star.

While not perfect, this is an exceptionally assured debut and I really have to mention the cinematography, which is startling at times and could have come straight out of something by Terence Malick. Cameraman Robbie Ryan was surely at least a little unlucky not to earn an Oscar nomination.

Slow West did though win the Grand Jury prize for best international drama at 2015’s Sundance Film Festival and is now out on DVD/Blu-ray and packed with extras, including a Q&A with Maclean hosted by Edith Bowman, interviews and Pitch Black Heist, although sadly no Beta Band vids, so from the 2001 album Hot Shots II, here is Squares:

Meanwhile Maclean’s former Beta Band-mate, Steve Mason has a new album, Meet the Humans, out on the 26th of this month on Domino. If it approaches the quality of Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time from 2013 then I’m in for hours of happy listening. From it, here’s the lead single Planet Sizes:

For more on Slow West click here, and for more on Steve Mason click here.

The BAMS Are On Their Way & Rave Tapes Is Out Now

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The Scottish BAMS Album of the Year Award (BAMS standing for Blogs and Music Sites) was inaugurated in 2009 when Checkmate Savage by The Phantom Band scooped the prize – a bottle of vintage tonic wine.

Since then The National, Aidan Moffat & Bill Wells and Meursault have triumphed and this particular Blogger, or maybe that should be Bammer, has been invited to have his say on the outcome of the 2013 award.

No secret ballots to be calculated by some bigwig auditing firm sworn to secrecy until the moment that the name of the winner is revealed at some majorly swanky ceremony for the BAMS, so I’m allowed to reveal my top ten choices:

01. My Bloody Valentine: m b v
02. Boards of Canada: Tomorrow’s Harvest
03. Steve Mason: Monkey Minds in The Devil’s Time

04. Dot Dash: Half-Remembered Dream
05. Primal Scream: 2013
06. Franz Ferdinand: Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
07. The Pastels: Slow Summits

08. Edwyn Collins: Understated
09. Paul Haig: Kube
10. Lloyd Cole: Standards

For more: twitter.com/BAMS_Scotland

Mogwai’s latest album Rave Tapes comes out today in Britain on Rock Action on CD, LP, download and a box set version and I would guess, even after only hearing it once fully, that it could be a real contender for next year’s BAMS.

Then again, I thought Steve Mason might win the 2013 Barclaycard Mercury Prize – and in the end it didn’t even earn a nomination but you might agree that that reflects badly on the Mercury judges rather than on me.

This is the closing track of Rave Tapes, The Lord is Out of Control:

For more information on Rave Tapes: www.mogwai.co.uk

And finally if you don’t already know, Mogwai are playing a special live show tonight from Celtic Connections at the CCA Glasgow for Vic Galloway on BBC Radio Scotland which is being broadcast live on that station.

More details here


And the winner was….. The Bones Of What You Believe by CHVRCHES. Well done to them.