The Phantom Band – Tender Castle

The Phantom Band, after four years away, have announced their second album in under a year, due to be released on the 26th of January. Tender Castle, the first track released from Fear Trending, feels, somewhat expectantly, like a companion to Strange Friend with the band’s folk influences intertwined into a rockier arrangement, with Rick Anthony’s vocals leading the pack, rounded off by a slower, momentous coda.

See the band at The Lexington on Febuary 4th, their last shows here have been nothing short of excellent.

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Supermoon

Supermoon, aka Neil Pennycook of Meursault fame, has been quietly posting lo-fi recordings of new tracks and they are extremely good. These recordings are part of a series entitles A Month Of Black Fridays, presumably due to a new song each Friday that began on Black Friday, as a lament to the last Friday of new year, now fully engulfed by America’s celebration of retailers moving from the red to the black.

The songs are characteristically Pennycook’s, envelopingly miserable yet warm and deeply personal. The recordings are, for now, a hark back to Pissing on Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues, due to their stripped back and intimate bedroom nature. However, these are the building blocks from which the debut album will be formed, an album which we are told will be a marked departure from Meursault.

Supermoon plays The Total Refreshment Centre on Thursday 11th December, which will be an intimate opportunity to see these new pieces in an early live form. Get your tickets here.

December in London

A quick run down of Scottish things happening in London over December.

2nd December – Ella The Bird at Bush Hall

After playing two nights at Bush Hall last month in support of Tim Wheeler, Siobhan Wilson returns with her drawn out and gut wrenchingly stunning solo compositions. Her follow up to 2013’s Glorified Demons has been recorded with Gordon Skene (who left Frightened Rabbit last year) due for release next year and her inclusion of Dear God on the Song, By Toad Split v3 was one of this years finest moments.

3rd December – Jonnie Common, Plastic Animals & Numbers Are Futile at The Total Refreshment Centre

The annual Song, By Toad Christmas gig is upon us early on in the month. Jonnie Common is down to promote the label’s newest release, along two bands who are presumably in line to release with the label next year. Jonnie’s record, Trapped In Amber, is a treat, electronic pop with a unique sense of melody and littered with bizarrely chopped up samples and spoken work. Plastic Animals, who appeared on the Song, By Toad Split v2, as well as FoxBox’s cassette store day will be representing the shoegaze side of the label, whilst Numbers Are Futile deliver percussive lead motoric lo-fi indie. This should be a good one.

4th December – Pictish Trail at The Purcell Room, Southbank Centre

Johnny ‘Pictish Trail’ Lynch joins Sweet Baboo (who co-produced Secret Soundz #2) as part of label tour with Moshi Moshi, not Lost Map, who re-released Secret Soundz 1 and 2 this year. The two endearing and charismatic off-kilter pop song smiths are bound to put on a great show bouncing off each other in this lovely seated venue.

10th December – Young Fathers at XOYO

This is long sold out after their somewhat surprising Mercury sweep.The group’s shows this year have been electric, and they are an incredibly energetic and engaging watch. Chances are high they’ll bring along Law for a few songs, and fingers crossed for a few solo tracks before.

11th December – Supermoon at Total Refreshment Centre

Neil Pennycook (aka Meursault)’s first London outing since his rebranding over summer. Who knows what this will entail, most likely a solo performance in line with headliner singer-songwriter Alessi’s Ark, which will likely feature old material and hopefully something new. 2015 will doubtless be an interesting year for Neil, so be sure to get here before the new year comes.

13th December – Broken Records at Tooting Tram and Social

Broken Records feel alive after a few quiet years and a break from label 4AD. They may never have reached the dizzying heights of ex-label mates, The National, despite a similar appeal, but the self release of Weights & Pulleys has seen the band breathe a new breath of life, with the old material paling in comparison.

16th December – Ella The Bird at The Lexington

Another show from Siobhan Wilson at the more intimate Lexington. Bound to be great, as above.

20th December – Poppy Ackroyd at Cafe Oto

After a slightly underwhelming support slot for Hidden Orchestra Poppy Ackroyd brings her beautiful new album, Feathers, to Cafe Oto. The choice of venue, along with a more acoustic performance will ensure this is a huge step up from a more introductory performance last month, which will be enveloping and stunning. Expect tinkering on and in the piano as well as gentle violin melodies and loops. Support comes from the excellent label mates Carlos Cipa and Piano Interrupted.

22nd December – James Yorkston at Winterville

James Yorkston brings his annual Christmas show to a new venue. Whilst usually at the perfectly festive Union Chapel, with its hot chocolates, mince pies and cakes, this year the show is staged at a Spiegeltent in East London’s answer to Winter Wonderland. After sensational album launches at The Queen’s Head and Dingwalls this will surely be a treat, and James always brings along a good cast of collaborators to celebrate.

Poppy Ackroyd – Feathers

Poppy Ackroyd’s Dead Albatross Award nominated debut album was one 2012’s finest and most overlooked records. Delicately tip toeing between the intimacy and warmth of Nils Frahm’s Felt and the percussive preparations of Hauschka’s piano, Escapement carved out its own path through the use of violin, and treating it in much the same way as the piano, cinematic build-ups and field recordings courtesy of Joe Acheson, bandmate from Hidden Orchestra.

Whilst Escapement was heavily indebted to Acheson’s style, most notably in structure and percussion, Feathers is a more individual album, with more understated build ups and a more varied palette. The use of piano and violin, as a percussive as well as melodic instrument, is maintained, but included in the arrangements this time are the Harpsichord, Harmonium, Clavichord and Spinet, all recorded with rare access to Edinburgh University’s Musical Instrument Museum at St Cecilia’s Hall, as well as cello from Hidden Orchestra contributor Su-a Lee. For the most part, these additional instruments add a further dimension to the work, with the cello in particular contributing to a depth missing from Escapement. At times, however, the plucked keyboard instruments – Harpsicord, Spinet and Clavichord – hint at synthesized acoustic guitars of ’90s Ibiza due to the combination of editing and their naturally hard attack, which can’t help but detract from the elegance of the soundscapes created.

Strata opens the album with rising chords building tension to a restrained coda that quietly resolves the opening melodies and Croft is clearly inspired by the move from Edinburgh to Brighton with piano melodies and string accompaniments evoking slowly creeping waves. Timeless contains the album’s most beautiful moment, with the string arrangements sliding towards and tugging away from each other with a serene sense of ease.

The focus on Feathers is on the sonic elements. Possibly in response to Nils Frahm’s ever-growing popularity since Escapement, repeating the production would feel like jumping on a band wagon rather than retreading covered ground, and to counter this the focus is pulled towards a wider range of more unusual instruments, which, when it works, is beautiful and inventive and truly original given the unique range of instruments at her disposal. The album is less indebted to Hidden Orchestra with Ackroyd finding her own voice through composition, percussion and production. What is lacking, however, are the gentle and emotively enveloping melodies of Escapement. It was these melodies that formed the backbone of Ackroyd’s debut, to which the piano and violin was so beautifully added, and although still dotted throughout Feathers, it can feel at times like the balance is reversed.

The Possibilities Are Endless

Edwyn Collins suffered from a hemorrhagic stroke in 2005, stripping him of the best part of his memory and his ability to communicate. His aphasia left him only able to say yes, no, his wife’s name, Grace Maxwell and the possibilities are endless. This film follows Edwyn’s difficult but remarkable journey towards recovery and playing music again, culminating in 2013’s Understated.

The opening scene shows Edwyn performing A Girl Like You on the Conan O’Brien show, 1995, alongside an interview that shows Edwyn as charismatic, charming and confident. This is instantly juxtaposed with underwater scenes, set to unsettling drones and Edwyn trying to piece together words and sentences. Throughout the film the feeling of discomfort persists, with directors James Hall and Edward Lovelace reflecting Edwyn’s difficulties through almost abstract shots, slow and cyclical music and most poignantly through unedited speech. Symbolism is rife, the isolated shots of Scotland representing the loneliness brought on from lack of communication, the lone seaman far out in choppy waters expressing Edwyn’s difficulties and the one-antlered stag hinting at the effect the hemorrhage has caused. It’s over half an hour before any of the dialogue is matched with a face, only adding to the unsettled nature.

Before having seen the film one would expect a recovery suited to Oliver Sack’s Musicophilia, such as that of aphasia sufferer, Samuel S., who recovers his lost speech through music therapy. This, however, is not the case, and there is a huge amount of time between the stroke and stepping foot in his West Heath Studios. The scene is set with quick fire bursts of archive footage that carry heavy weight and are not looked back on with rose tinted glasses, reflecting the overwhelming rush of emotion the experience brought with it. As Edwyn describes, there was no eureka moment, but instead a gradual and difficult process of relearning everything that was lost.

This slow and gradual process mirrors Edwyn and Grace’s early days, described by Grace as no rush of love, but a slow realisation that they prefered each others company more than anyone else’s. This, rather than Edwyn’s recovery or his comeback, is the real focus of the film and is a heartwarming story of the love between the two. Grace’s determination to help Edwyn’s recovery is inspiring, her patience enduring and she is clearly needed every step of the way. The band joke to Grace later, when in the studio recording Understated, calling her Sharon Osbourne, but the contrast is vast, and shown particularly well when only a few minutes earlier in a duet where Grace has fill in for Edwyn’s right arm strumming the guitar at a live radio show, his first live public appearance.

The Possibilities Are Endless not only shows the difficulties that Edwyn and Grace have been through, but reflects these onto the audience through difficult and uncomfortable moments in shots, music and dialogue. The soundtrack is, as it would be, great, but not just in Edwyn’s performance, the sound design and ambient sections are just as powerful in setting a mood as archive material is in recalling a time and place. The results are audibly and visually stunning, while the narrative is inspiring, immersing you in the lives of Edwyn and Grace and expressing their journey in a way that is rare for a documentary.

The film is out on general release from the 7th November and touring with talks from Edwyn. See dates and buy tickets here, or buy the DVD direct from Pulse Films. The soundtrack, featuring new and previously unreleased material, is released on November 10th and can be pre-ordered from AED on CD and vinyl.

Rm Hubbert – Ampersand Extras

RM Hubbert can seemingly do no wrong. After the excellent Ampersand trilogy, containing First & Last, SAY award winner Thirteen Lost & Found and last year’s Breaks & Bones, Chemikal Underground release Ampersand Extras, a collection of eleven outtakes over the course of the trilogy. Albums of B-sides and extras should be approached with caution, often, although certainly not always, being a second rate release of material that was scrapped for a reason. In recent interviews, however, Hubby has been keen to point out that these tracks were, for the most part, removed because they didn’t fit in the context of the albums. Somehow this collection of works spanning from the last four years comes together to make a surprisingly cohesive album which is as essential as the trilogy.

Solo tracks Canine Shaped Frogs, Sticky Pine and Fucks Sake D Sit Nice are as beautiful playing and writing as anything Hubby has ever done, with his trademark flamenco technique to play acoustic music that sits far from flamenco. Hanging pointers is the perfect hungover antidote to For Helen, taking the same themes in a slower and more morose style. What made Thirteen Lost & Found the success it was was due, in part, to the wide range of brilliant collaborations. The collaborations on Extras are just as intriguing, from Alan Bissett’s passionate spoken word to Esperi’s Cajon. The real gems here come from the stunningly atmospheric Elliot, with Luke Sutherland (below), and Mo Ve’lla Bella Mia De La Muntagna, which acts as the perfect album closer.

Buy the album from Chemikal if not in your local store and see Hubby’s intimate live show at The Lexington on November 30th.

Upcoming Albums

Jonnie Common – Trapped in Amber (Song, By Toad) – 31st October

Stanley Odd – A Brand New Thing (A Modern Way) – 10th November

Poppy Ackroyd – Feathers (Denovali) – 14th November

Sound Of Yell – Broken Spectre (Chemikal Underground) – 17th November

Mogwai – Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry 1. (Rock Action) – 1st December

Eagleowl – Clean The Night 7″ (Where It’s At Is Where You Are) – 4th December

Tuff Love – DROSS EP (Lost Map) – 9th Febuary

Adam Stafford – TBA – Early 2015