Thursday, 26 September 2013

September skinny

just a few days left before it's replaced by October's issue, so grab one while you can...

The cover of the Northwest edition has Factory Floor gazing out of it, while in Scotland, it looks like this:


Inside, i wrote the following:

- 'Not Alone: Robbie Cooper on Human Is Not Alone' feature (read here!)
- 'The Art of Letting Go: An Interview with RM Hubbert' feature (read here!)
- Delorean - 'Apar' album review (read here!)
- RM Hubbert - 'Breaks and Bone' album review (read here!)
- Volcano Choir - 'Unpave' album review (read here!)
- The National Jazz Trio of Scotland - 'Standard Vol. 2' album review (read here!)

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

reviews: RM Hubbert, The Grand Gestures, Islet

                                                   RM Hubbert – Breaks & Bone 

 RM Hubbert - Breaks & Bone (****)

Stripping arrangements back to one man and a guitar again (after the broader, guest-filled canvas of Thirteen Lost & Found), Breaks & Bone firmly underscores RM Hubbert’s technical genius. On Bolt, percussive throbs underpin a flitting guitar line and poignant, almost-whispered vocals, while on tracks like Dec 11 his dancing strings maintain both elaborate melody and the rattling bass beneath – a layering that belies their single-take, single-player creation.

But it’s not just his guitar skills that continue to amaze. Perhaps it’s the presence of self-sung lyrics, imprinting his abstractly expressive playing with more tangible sentiments (“If life’s a happy song then we’re tone deaf”; “sometimes it’s just too late to expect forgiveness for half-imagined slights”), but Breaks & Bone is Hubby’s most emotionally affecting record yet, with songs like Feedback Loops heart-breaking in their sincerity. Though inspired by letting go, Breaks & Bone is an album to clasp on to tightly.

Out Monday

                                                   The Grand Gestures – Second

The Grand Gestures - Second (***)

For his second collection as The Grand Gestures, Spare Snare’s Jan Burnett invites faces old and new to supply vocals for diverse compositions. Returning figures include Jill O’Sullivan – responsible for the last album’s standout Deer in a Cross Hair, and again opening proceedings with a deliciously moody offering – and Sanjeev Kohli, who injects a waggish irreverence in the form of grotesque spoken-word piece The Spree of Brian May (as in killing, not shopping).

Elsewhere, first-time Gesturers include RM Hubbert (soul-searching over industrial electro-pop on Regret Is a Dish Best Served Cold) and Pauline Alexander (a serene presence on A Whisper of Sayonara), both helping distinguish Second from its predecessor. But while it’s the guests who are name-checked on the sleeve, it’s Burnett who warrants the most acknowledgement and praise, for taking a motely grab bag of sounds and contributors and crafting something genuinely fresh and – somewhat against the odds – cohesive.
Out 7th October

                                                 Islet – Released by the Movement

Islet - Released by the Movement (****)

Musical misfits Islet would like to take you on a journey. The places you pass along the way may well feel familiar – woozy psych, groove-led post-punk, even slight shades of post-rock – but the destination is distinctly fresh, as genres are gleefully scrambled and reconstituted with a keen spirit of adventure. Often sonically murky but never short on ideas, Released by the Movement shares with acts like Deerhoof or Animal Collective a careful equilibrium between experimentation and approachability.

Opener Triangulation Station supplies a representative 101 of the Welsh quartet’s outside-the-box interests, starting out as some kind of tropical-tinted, falsetto-sung spiritual and getting only more idiosyncratic as it progresses. At the other end of the scale, Carlos is Islet at their most conventional – though with a sound that touches upon The Cramps, The Rapture and the midnight incantations of a haunted monastery, the epithet is very much relative.

Out 7th October

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Monday, 23 September 2013

what happened to friday's playlist? OH HERE IT IS

1. Dangerous Cans - Feel Something
2. Magazine - The Light Pours Out of Me
3. Mission of Burma - Fame and Fortune
4. Nirvana - Love Buzz
5. Flock of Seagulls - I Ran
6. Stereolab - Brittle
7. The Sugarcubes - Cold Sweat
8. Belle and Sebastian - Your Cover's Blown (Miaoux Miaoux remix)
9. The Human League - (Keep Feeling) Fascination
10. Friends - I'm His Girl
11. Veronica Falls - Waiting for Something to Happen
12. The Wrens - Faster Gun
13. Sugar - If I Can't Change Your Mind
14. Sky Larkin - Loom
15. Suede - It Starts and Ends With You
16. King Adora - Smoulder
17. LCD Soundsystem - Drunk Girls
18. The Knife - Heartbeats
19. Black Yaya - Paint a Smile on Me
20. Chairlift - Evident Utensil
21. Stevie Nicks - Edge of Seventeen
22. Blondie - Die Young Stay Pretty
23. The Clash - Wrong Un Boyo
24. Lilys - Nanny in Manhattan
25. The Kinks - Picture Book
26. Talking Heads - Love for Sale
27. XTC - Life Begins at the Hop
28. Jens Lekman - I Saw Her in the Anti-war Demonstration
29. The Modern Lovers - Modern World
30. Prefab Sprout - Cars and Girls
31. David Bowie - Let's Spend the Night Together
32. The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again
33. Elvis Costello - I Don't Want to go to Chelsea
34. Django Django - Default
35. Paul Simon - You Can Call Me Al
36. ABBA - Does Your Mother Know
37. Prince - When You Were Mine
38. Madonna - Jimmy Jimmy
39. Lush - Single Girl
40. Robyn - Call Your Girlfriend
41. Chvrches - The Mother We Share
42. Grimes - Oblivion
43. TV on the Radio - Mercy
44. Neon Neon - I Told Her on Alderaan
45. Franz Ferdinand - Right Action
46. George Clinton - Atomic Dog
47. Chuck Berry - Johnny B Goode
48. The Isley Brothers - This Old Heart of Mine
49. Spencer Davis Group - Gimme Some Lovin
50. The Only Ones - Another Girl Another Planet
51. Kiss - Crazy Crazy Nights
52. Terrorvision - Perseverance
53. Bloc Party - Helicopter
54. The B-52s - 52 Girls
55. CSS - Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above
56. Blondie - Rapture
57. Blackstreet - No Diggity
58. Dexy's Midnight Runners - Geno
59. New Order - True Faith
60. The Bangles - Walk Like an Egyptian
61. Andrew WK - Party Hard
62. Brassy - B Cos We Rock
63. Beastie Boys - Ch Ch Check it Out
64. Michael Jackson - Smooth Criminal
65. Fleetwood Mac - Go Your Own Way
66. Bruce Springsteen - Hungry Heart
67. Billy Joel - We Didn't Start the Fire
68. Talking Heads - Wild Wild Life
69. Dire Straits - Walk of Life
70. The Staple Singers - When Will We Get Paid

Saturday, 21 September 2013

gig review: The Front Bottoms @ King Tuts, 16th September

Live with them long enough and even the worst band names start to seem reasonable. Still, it’s hard to imagine acclimatising to The Front Bottoms’ chosen moniker – unfortunate, since they possess more nous than the puerile name might suggest.

Five months on from their last Tut’s visit, the New Jerseyans return to find latest album Talon of the Hawk firmly committed to memory for significant sections of the audience – and, in one case, fresh ink committed to skin in their honour (“last time we were here she said she was going to do that” says frontman Brian Sella of the fan in question, “and I did not fucking believe her…”).

With a glut of catchy choruses, an often-galloping pace, and lyrics that mix flip humour with sincerity, it’s easy to see why the band has been claimed by/lumped in with the Warped Tour-end of pop-punk. But they push against the pigeonhole hard enough for it to crack, with echoes of The Thermals in the The Feud’s ragged joyride, and even Why? in the vocal delivery of Twin Mattresses. It’s only when they fall back on the genre’s quick-fix clichés that their crossover appeal fades, but it’s nothing a setlist shake-up – and maybe a re-brand? – couldn’t remedy.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

reviews: The National Jazz Trio of Scotland, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Sky Larkin

                                                   Bill Wells' National Jazz Trio of Scotland – Standards Vol. II

The National Jazz Trio of Scotland - Standard Vol. 2 (****)

 As if the double fib in their name wasn’t enough (not jazz; not a trio), Standards Vol. 2 is not, as its title implies, an assortment culled from the songbooks of Gershwin et al. Rather, it’s a collection of bandleader Bill Wells’ original compositions (give or take a borrowed lyric and a Moondog cover), brought to life with the help of vocalists Lorna Gilfedder, Aby Vulliamy and Kate Sugden.

Try not to hold the dastardly deception against them though, for no amount of misdirection can distract from the airy beauty stamped through these thirteen pieces: from wistful opener We Grow Accustomed (sounding of a piece with Wells’s Lemondale work) to the hushed farewells of closer Unexpectedly, via such highlights as Hillwalks’s winsome glide and Things We Got Up To’s tiptoeing bossa nova undertones. In fact, add another lie to the rap sheet: work of this calibre is far from standard.

Out now

                                                   Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Fly By Wire

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - Fly By Wire (***)

With their moniker’s flippancy presumably lost in translation, glibly christened indie-poppers Someone Still Love You Boris Yeltsin were recently invited to Russia by the Boris Yeltsin Foundation (the former President too dead to offer his gratitude personally). Gifted expensive vodka and made US cultural ambassadors, the band returned stateside with a spring in their step, and fourth album Fly by Wire is the produce of their topped-up enthusiasm.

It sees the Missouri trio on reliably hook-filled form (Young Presidents is a particularly deft slice of footloose guitar pop) but overall their self-stated artistic rejuvenation shows through only lightly – in single Nightwater Girlfriend’s crunchy chorus, perhaps, or the lush vocal layers of Unearth. Otherwise, this is a strangely uninvolving listen, from listless (and inexplicably titled) opener Harrison Ford to the frothily inconsequential Lucky Young. It’s never so dull as to deter another listen, but they’ll have to work harder to illicit sustained affection.

Out now

                                                    Sky Larkin – Motto

Sky Larkin - Motto (***)

Every track on Motto could serve as a fine introduction to Sky Larkin’s brand of dynamic indie rock – and given neither The Golden Spike nor Kaleide received half the attention they deserved, such introductions are both valuable and necessary. Throughout, brawny guitars serve propulsive choruses, in which Katie Harkin’s vocals captivate via sharp lyrics and a forthright delivery that reaffirms her natural front-of-stage role after time spent touring in Wild Beasts’ live band.

Having expanded from three-piece to four, Sky Larkin use the extra hands to add bulk to their already-robust sound (see, for example, the scintillating way Italics builds into a pop-rock goliath), and it’s only their over-fidelity to their trademarks that prevents Motto matching up to its predecessors. Hit the same buttons long enough and something’s bound to jam, and so it is that Motto manages to feel thrilling in segments, but marginally less exciting when taken as a (slightly) repetitive whole.

Out now

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

film review: The Artist and the Model

Best known for fluffy Oscar-winner Belle Epoque (and more recently, Chico and Rita’s vibrant jazz animation), The Artist and the Model presents a more sombre side to director Fernando Trueba. The diptych of the title are an elderly French sculptor left creatively bereft by the cumulative horrors of two world wars; and the young Spanish refugee who’s natural beauty re-inspires his artistic instincts. As the former, Jean Rochefort fully convinces as a man with sadness in his bones but a resilient passion for art’s transcendent qualities; as the latter, Aida Folch is exceptional, imbuing a somewhat underwritten character with layered nuances.

Unafraid to grapple with big themes, the script gamely grasps for a profundity that ultimately proves slightly beyond its reach. But while these ruminations on life, death, art and suchlike don’t necessarily say anything original, they’re nonetheless uttered eloquently; factor in sumptuous monochrome cinematography and an all-too-brief role for Claudia Cardinale as Rochefort’s wife, and you’ve got yourself a stately triumph.

Out now

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

live review: Jimmy Eat World @ O2 Academy, Glasgow, 9th September

There’s a pattern to Jimmy Eat World’s setlist tonight: a handful from their most recent three albums to open, followed by a much longer set of songs from the three prior (breakthrough Clarity, bigger breakthrough Bleed American, and fanbase consolidator Futures – which, judging by the average age of tonight’s crowd, is the period in which most here first fell for the band’s heart-on-sleeve sound).

The ratio is then repeated, slanting their performance emphatically towards their early-to-mid noughties creative peak, whilst still giving a good account of more recent, ever-slick endeavours –– best represented this evening by Damage’s highly burnished pop melody.

Yet, predictably, the highlights are all of an earlier vintage: Lucky Denver Mint reliably sets the neck hairs tingling; Pain receives a particularly enthusiastic singalong; while The Middle concludes the encore in the most appropriate way possible – with passion, compassion, and one hell of a catchy chorus.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Friday night = bottle rocket

Want to hear some lovely indie-pop, new wave, post-punk and straight up pop? Like the sounds of Talking Heads, Pavement, Fleetwood Mac, Springsteen, XTC, Prince and MORE? Can drag yourself away from a clash with "Columbo: A Blueprint For Murder" on ITV? Come on down to Bottle Rocket at the Flying Duck! Here's the deal:

11PM - 3AM!!
FREE BEFORE 11PM (£3/£5 thereafter)!!

R to the S to the V to the P here.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

GFT programme note: The Artist and the Model

Out tomorrow on selected release, The Artist and the Model is very nice indeed - now here's some more extended thoughts on the film, written for the Glasgow Film Theatre...


The relationship between artist and muse is a perennial subject in cinema. The last three months alone has seen the release of two such films: Summer in February (Menaul, 2013), about the romantic connection between Alfred Munnings and fellow artist Florence Carter-Wood; and Renoir (Gourdos, 2012), dramatising the impressionist’s final years, with a focus on last model Catherine Hessling. To these recent examples might be added Girl with a Pearl Earring (Webber, 2003) which spins a yarn around the genesis of Vermeer’s titular artwork; Love is the Devil (Maybury, 1998), which foregrounds the inspiration Francis Bacon drew from tragic lover George Dyer; and La Belle Noiseuse (Rivette, 1991), Rivette’s four-hour study of a semi-retired French painter and the young model who rekindles his creativity.

Like the latter, The Artist and the Model centres on a fictional artist – in this case, elderly sculptor Marc Cros (Jean Rochefort), quietly living out his days near the French/Spanish border. Set in the early 1940s, reminders of the Second World War abound, with occupying forces arresting a man on charges of espionage in one early scene, and gunshots cracking through the tranquil night air later on. Residing out of town in a relatively remote chateau, Cros is physically sheltered from the war in much the way the countryside-dwelling protagonists of director Fernando Trueba’s earlier Belle Époque (1992) were removed from the realities of the Spanish Civil War. Yet the fact Cros has not entered his studio since the war began speaks to the octogenarian’s emotional, even existential toil – as does the opening scene in which he walks through woodland seeking inspiration in nature’s beauty but alighting only on the dead or discarded: a broken root, an abandoned nest, a bird’s skull. It takes the interjection of youth and beauty in the form of Spanish refugee Mercé (Aida Folch) to reawaken Cros’s creative impulses, with Mercé modelling for Cros in exchange for food and shelter. If this précis implies exploitation – a dichotomy of naïve, disadvantaged female model against lecturing, older male benefactor (a potential power imbalance underscored by the regular nudity of the former and the scrutinising eyes of the latter), it’s one unexplored by the actual film. Only once does sexual attraction explicitly factor into their relationship, and it is deployed as a punch-line rather than a dramatic incident; furthermore, when a mid-point revelation recasts Mercé as a somewhat more astute and political individual than Cros (and perhaps the audience) had presumed, labels like ‘active’ and ‘passive’ become more difficult to ascribe.

While The Artist and the Model is a work of fiction, the character of Cros has its basis in real-life figures – particularly Catalonian sculptor Aristide Maillol. Like Maillol, Cros has found international renown in his own lifetime, and approaches death amidst the horrors of WW2; moreover, he too has dedicated his life’s work exclusively to depictions of the female body. Also influential in the character’s formation is Pablo Picasso, whose late period explored the relationship between artist and model at length (indeed, the film’s title echoes a more possessive variation – ‘The Artist and His Model’ – used to title several of Picasso’s pieces on the subject).[1] Works by both these figures are visually referenced in the film: Cros’s sculptures are closely comparable in both style and stature to Maillol’s oeuvre (particularly his 1905 piece La Méditerranée); less overtly, the framing of key scenes so as to include both sculptor and muse in the same shot offers a degree of homage to Picasso’s comparably composed sketches and paintings on the theme.

In addition to these two manifest inspirations, critics have noted other, less obvious connections between Cros and actual artists; for example, Michael O’Sullivan suggests that the scene in which Rembrandt’s ‘A Child Being Taught to Walk’ is subjected to close analysis and declared the greatest drawing of all time appears to owe a debt to an article by David Hockney, in which he expresses similar sentiments.[2] All these references and overlaps make Cros something of a portmanteau figure, which adds nuance to the film’s seemingly straightforward title. To compare the film with one of its aforementioned contemporaries: where the title of Renoir made clear its interest in a singular, specific genius, The Artist and the Model presents its protagonists in more generic terms, reducing them to their respective roles in the artistic process but also elevating them: the elderly sculptor is ‘the artist’ of the title, but he is also ‘The Artist’ – a totemic representative of artistry in general.

Of course, the term ‘artist’ encompasses more than just those working with easels and plaster, and in interviews Trueba has suggested another real-life influence for certain aspects of Cros’s character: Trueba himself. The filmmaker dates The Artist and the Model back to an idea first tentatively explored in the mid-nineties, which he felt unable to do justice to at the time. “When I first started thinking of the story, I thought I was too young to make it” he explains. “For many years, I was saying to myself, ‘let me do another movie first…’ But it was better that way because the older I am, the better it is for the movie.”[3] This is echoed in the screenplay, in a scene where Mercé asks how long the sculpture will take to finish, and is told it can take up to 15 years for an idea to crystallise. This parallel between the artistry depicted onscreen and the artistry at work behind the camera makes clear that for its creator, The Artist and the Model is not only about the complications and rewards of artistic creativity; it is the fruits of it.

Christopher Buckle
Freelance researcher and journalist
September 2013

[1] The gallery available at offers a comprehensive overview of Picasso’s work on this theme.

[2] Michael O’Sullivan (2013) ‘‘The Artist and the Model’ movie review’, The Washington Post, accessed 09/09/13 at

[3] Karen Bernardello (2013) ‘Interview: Fernando Trueba and Aida Folch on The Artist and the Model,, accessed 09/09/13 at

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Art of Letting Go: An Interview with RM Hubbet

After albums inspired by loss and reconnections, RM Hubbert explains why Breaks & Bone is about moving on.

If there’s one label RM Hubbert doesn’t want applied to his delicate, sad, soothing, searing, subtle, turbulent music, it’s ‘wanky’. It’s an epithet he extends towards the majority of flamenco guitarists, all virtuoso flair and no feeling. “I learned just enough flamenco techniques to know I didn’t want to play it anymore” he says of the period in which he forged his trademark sound – a sound that’s always astonishingly proficient but never, ever wanky. “I was really interested in the structures – it’s very strict but it sounds totally freeform. And I love the primal urgency of really early flamenco. But I realised quite quickly that, melodically, it was really dull to me.” 

He pauses to take part in some playful self-questioning. “I’ve got this fear of being a fucking middle-aged white guy with an acoustic guitar, singing about his feelings” he groans. “My worst nightmare is going to a party and someone going ‘Hubby plays guitar – here’s a guitar Hubby, play us a song!’ Occasionally I’ve been tricked into doing acoustic nights, but they’re so fucking uninspiring. They’re so…” He lets out a deflated sigh. “It’s the graveyard where music goes to die. It’s horrible. Some fucking guy singing about his fucking feelings… I don’t come from that world. I don’t like acoustic music.” He affects a look of horror. “I don’t know how I ended up doing this!” he cries. “It’s no right! Oh God…”

If this is ‘no right’, we don’t want to know what is. After 20-plus years in the Glasgow music scene – playing in bands, mixing albums, running indie labels and so-forth – Hubby’s resurgence as, well, an acoustic guitarist writing about his feelings has borne fruit generously, starting with First & Last’s emotionally charged instrumental introduction and continuing with last year’s guest-filled Thirteen Lost & Found. In June, the latter beat bookies favourites Django Django to the title of Scottish Album of the Year – an accolade that Hubby still seems pleasantly surprised by now (“I was very drunk by the time they announced it” he recalls. “I wasn’t expecting to win so I was just enjoying the free whiskey. It’s totally surreal”). Both nomination and win helped boost the album’s profile, but while some were busy discovering Thirteen Lost & Found for the first time, Hubby was already applying the finishing touches to its successor: third album Breaks & Bone, which arrives later this month. It’s the final part of a loose trilogy of thematically linked albums, recapped for our benefit.

“I started doing the RM Hubbert thing when my father got really ill with cancer” Hubby explains. “I’d heard at some point that flamenco guitar was really difficult, so I decided to learn it as a way of taking my mind off things. He didn’t last much longer, and then my mother died very suddenly. And then I got a diagnosis for chronic depression which it turned out I’d had since I was about 15… So, it was a really bad few years, and I obsessively started learning flamenco guitar as a means of escape. And then after a while I realised there’s actually a huge emotional release in playing music.” 

Hubby used his newly acquired skills to document the period immediately after his mother died, committing himself to writing a new piece monthly. Together, these were released as First & Last. “I never really intended to play any of those songs or do anything else with it, but at some point someone talked me into it. So I started playing live again and found it was easier to talk about this stuff in the context of music. Talking about it onstage made me feel a wee bit better.”

For Thirteen Lost & Found, the concept shifted from “bad things happening and my initial attempts to deal with them” to the process of “getting back out into the world” – starting by reviving dormant friendships. “My wife and I had split up at this point [and] I was feeling quite isolated” Hubby continues, “so I had this idea to reconnect with old friends by going into the studio and writing music with them. Most of these people I hadn’t seen for five or ten years. So I got in touch with everyone and explained the rules: we’d go into the studio for six hours and neither of us was allowed to write anything in advance, and what we had at the end of those six hours was what we’d record.”  Produced by Alex Kapranos (himself an old friend of Hubby’s going back to their teens) each song was recorded live with everyone in the same room – an approach designed to “capture that moment where we clicked again, that moment where a song naturally starts to make sense.”

Breaks & Bone, meanwhile, is about “letting go, and not depending on this stuff so much for my mental wellbeing”, and stems from a 7” recorded last year but never released. “Whenever you speak to grief councillors they say that, if you feel you’re unfinished with someone, you should write them a letter and say all the things you never got a chance to say, and I’d never managed to do it. But I had this idea that I would make a 7” instead, with one side for my mum and one side for my dad. But then I didn’t want to release the record – a) because it was the most depressing record I’d ever made, and b) I still wasn’t ready. So I thought I’d try to expand upon it and turn it into an album, based on the idea of letting go of certain things – not forgetting, just moving on a wee bit.” Breaks & Bone is by design, then, a way of tying up the last five years. “Basically I don’t really want to talk about that stuff for the rest of my life when I’m doing shows” he says. “I don’t mind talking about it, but it doesn’t give me the relief it used to. I’m better at dealing with depression now, and I’m better at dealing with loss and I thought it would be interesting to write a record about that.”

Break & Bone is notable for being the first RM Hubbert album to feature lyrics and vocals from Hubby himself. “Right from the start I’d meant to do singing but I just couldn’t find the words when I was writing First & Last” he states. “I’m not a good enough lyricist to cover that kind of thing when it’s so close. When I wrote the lyrics for Breaks & Bone, often they don’t mean what they sound like they mean. For example, Bolt was written as a very traditional pop song, a kind of broken relationship song, and hopefully on first listen it sounds like that. But it’s actually meant as a kind of dissection of the relationship I have with depression. It’s about how weirdly comforting it can be sometimes, when you know there’s a depressing period coming. It’s kind of like an abusive relationship, where you know it’s really bad for you, but it’s also something you’re used to. So I try to do things like that in the lyrics. I like the idea of playing with the traditional relationship tropes you get in songs, so the songs for my mother and father are actually equally applicable to – and this sounds really fucked up when I say it out loud – but they’re applicable to any kind of relationship. I like ambiguity in music; I like how your relationship can change with a piece of art over time. Some of the songs on First & Last that were really painful at the time are now just a really nice reminder of the person. I can play them and I don’t think about death anymore.”

As well as his own music, Hubby regularly guests on the projects of others. “It’s nice just being a musician sometimes” he says of working to someone else’s brief. “I generally just improvise on those things – not out of laziness or arrogance, I’ve just always found, even with my old band El Hombre Trajeado when we got to the stage of doing overdubs, that I’m much better at just improvising it. It’s a strange one – I like recording with other people, but I don’t like playing live with other people so much. I hate other people’s input, I think that’s the problem” he laughs. “I don’t play well with others anymore…” A recent soundtrack commission underlined this friction. “It was a pretty unsatisfying experience to be honest. I don’t take direction well. I wrote what I though was a subtle, nuanced suite of music, and they came back and said ‘can you make it funky? Can you make it scary? Can you make it happy?’ and I just thought it ended up being really trite. But again, you’re playing with someone else’s ball, you know?”

Right now, however, Hubby’s marching to his own beat and receiving the most success of his career – more by accident than design. “I did my first show in 1991, and released my first record in 1992, so I’ve been doing this a long time” he observes. “And I just don’t feel the need to have people love me anymore. This is the great irony of the last few years for me: the RM Hubbert stuff is the least commercially minded thing I’ve ever done. You don’t sit down and go: ‘It’s a guy in his mid-thirties playing instrumental flamenco music – it’s gonna be a hit!’ It’s the first thing I’d done musically where I had no concern whatsoever about what anyone else thought, and consequently it’s become the most popular. I remember talking to Alex about this – Franz Ferdinand was the band they formed because all their bands had failed and they just wanted to have fun. It was just a really honest thing, and I think people can tell. I think when people produce art honestly”, he concludes, “it’s much easier to connect with.”

Feature written for the September issue of The Skinny.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

reviews: Delorean, The Proper Ornaments, Cloud Control

                                                   Delorean – Apar

Delorean - Apar (****)

For a band named after a time machine, Delorean could do with working on their timing. Apar arrives at the tail end of a summer it could, in another universe, have sound-tracked from the start, with its dazzling production and dreamy demeanour tailor-made for dawn after parties.

With fewer vocal samples and a greater emphasis on lyric-led songwriting than on last album Subiza, Apar moves the Basque-born, Barcelona-based quartet incrementally away from the dancefloor whilst retaining that intangible ‘eyes close/arms in the air’ hedonistic feel.

It takes their style to a stable already occupied by Passion Pit, recent M83 and Chairlift, so it’s fitting to hear the latter’s Caroline Polachek on highlight Unhold – a glittery whirligig that pivots around her warped vocal. Elsewhere, the closing Still You is their most overt cap-doff in New Order’s direction, and with a beating heart beneath the flash and flair, Delorean’s future looks bright indeed.

Out now

                                                   The Proper Ornaments – Waiting for the Summer

The Proper Ornaments - The Proper Ornaments (***)

As Waiting for the Summer reaches its understated conclusion, London duo The Proper Ornaments offer lyrical sentiments that could double as a serving suggestion. Over 80-seconds of mellow acoustic guitar, sighs implore “there’s no point in being sad/ why don’t you take a break?” – a placid plea that nicely pinpoints the effect of time in the record’s balmy company.

James Hoare and Max Claps have an expert grasp of mood and melody and – like Hoare’s other band Veronica Falls – they aim their talents towards simple but effective guitar pop, with the likes of Love, Velvet Underground and, from further along the timeline, The Go-Betweens and Yo La Tengo all recalled at various points. But while its delicacy is a big part of its halcyon charm, Waiting for the Summer’s slightness also has its downsides; with its ten tracks disappearing in just 23 breezy minutes, the buzz fades all too fast.

Out now

                                                  Cloud Control – Dream Cave

Cloud Control - Dream Cave (***)

Cloud Control evidently have an eccentric streak. In terms of production, Dream Cave is notable for being part-recorded in an actual cave, while all across their second full-length lie traces of a desire to offer something unusual and exciting: the twisted repetitions of testy opener Scream Rave, for example, or the oddball chorus of Moonrabbit ( “I’m not crazy/ Moonrabbit/ You’re the one that’s crazy”).

Yet brush off its psychedelic dusting and Dream Cave’s conventionality becomes clear (a not unpleasant trait, it should be added). Plenty here works very nicely indeed: The Smoke, The Feeling spins gold from influence-du-jour Fleetwood Mac; lead single Dojo Rising possesses a demure pop appeal; while the title track’s doo-wop sway is easy to fall for. But sullying matters are tracks that outstay their welcome or that seem to lack purpose altogether (in particular the dirge-like Tombstone), holding Dream Cave back from inspiring true reverie.

Out 16th September

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Not Alone: Laeto drummer Robbie Cooper unveils Human Is Not Alone

To show his gratitude towards Marie Curie Cancer Care, Robbie Cooper’s Human Is Not Alone has enlisted the cream of the Scottish underground (and beyond) for a trio of fundraising gigs and a 16-track compilation. We find out more about the project’s background and goals.

May 4th, 1999, and DIY icons and post-hardcore figureheads Fugazi have reached the northernmost date of a pretty exhaustive UK/Ireland tour promoting what would turn out to be their penultimate album. Supporting the band in Aberdeen was then-fledgling Dundonian quartet Laeto, to whom Fugazi were a noted inspiration. 

“They more than lived up to our expectations in terms of being excellent people” recollects Laeto drummer Robbie Cooper. “They made a point of talking to us [and] stood at the side of the stage and watched our set”, even stepping in to insist that “the promoters pay us twice the fee we were offered” to ensure all costs were covered. “For them it was just one of many hundreds they had played” Cooper notes, “[whereas] for us it was one of the best shows we have ever been involved in, and an honour to share the stage with such legends.”

Fourteen years on, and a track recorded at that gig (bony End Hits cut Closed Captioned) forms part of a new compilation curated by Cooper as part of his Human Is Not Alone project. It sits alongside previously unreleased tracks from closer-to-home acts like Titus Gein and Lapsus Linguae, plus handpicked cuts from the back catalogues of RM Hubbert, Zu and more, and will be accompanied later this month by a handful of gigs designed to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer Care. It’s a charity that understandably means a lot to Cooper, who in 2011 was diagnosed with a rare form of aggressive cancer for which he is in continued treatment.

“The short answer is I am OK” he writes when we email to ask how things are. “I have certainly been worse. If I compare myself to when I didn’t have cancer then I am doing terribly but there is no merit in doing that. I have to take each day as it comes and today I am feeling alright.” Having a rare type of cancer, he explains, complicates his treatment options, forcing his medical team to “basically [make] it up as they go along” – which means multiple therapies, frequent surgery and a great deal of uncertainty. “My body is a living experiment where the results of the experiment can literally mean the difference between life and death” he continues. “So far the best guesses of my doctors have not been able to stop the cancer in my body from growing and spreading. And so I keep having surgery, as physically cutting it out is at least proactive.”

Earlier this year, things were particularly difficult, which led to Cooper being referred to Marie Curie. “The cancer had basically taken over my life” he says of the period. “I was in constant pain... [So] I spent three weeks in their care, at the end of which the pain was under control and, in turn, I felt more in control of my life.” With the hospice reliant on donations, Cooper checked out feeling compelled to “give something back”, and Human Is Not Alone was born. 

“One of the best ways of thanking the people who work in a charity is to give them the means to carry on their work by making a donation” he says. “Given I am not a wealthy philanthropist I thought I would try to achieve this goal by luring as many people as possible to locations in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, and make them give me the money I need in exchange for an evening of loud live music”. Each of the evenings in question will feature performances from Fat Goth, United Fruit, Hey Enemy and Vasquez (a line-up firmly worth catching, charity or no charity), with donated merch being flogged on a name-your-price basis and all involved – venues, printers and so on – offering their services free or at cost price.

While the venture is designed, first and foremost, to “heap thanks and praise on the staff of Marie Curie”, its remit extends further, with both gigs and compilation continuing Cooper’s long involvement in the Scottish underground music scene and even acting as a retrospective of sorts. “That is very much by design” he confirms. “It is normal for people who have serious challenges to their health to reflect on what they have done in their life… [and] I very much wanted this to be a compilation of bands that I had enjoyed live and that would remind me of my time in music.” This includes those for whom he’s drummed (as well as Laeto: American Men, Geisha and Iron Crease) and those with whom he’s played shows, promoted shows, or otherwise crossed paths over the years, from the aforementioned Fugazi recording to new music from each of the four bands on the tour bill. In the case of US act Shipping News (represented by the coiled groove of Axons + Dendrites), the connection was through guitarist Jeff Mueller’s earlier band June of 44, who Cooper had put on in Dundee in the late 90s; though offered use of a June of 44 track, Cooper opted for Shipping News in recognition of their bass player Jason Noble, who died last year of another form of rare cancer – a sharp reminder of the project’s significance. And they aren’t the only act on the compilation to have been, in Cooper’s words, “touched by the icy hand of cancer”, with Cerwyss O’Hare – former bass player with Macrocosmica, whose Torch #1 closes the album – sadly passing away from the disease in July this year. Human Is Not Alone may have its roots in Cooper’s own experiences, but it evidently speaks to a far wider context than a single individual’s health.

As well as raising money, Cooper hopes that Human Is Not Alone will help bring fresh exposure to the featured artists, noting that “by definition even the best known underground bands are only popular amongst a niche audience” and observing that none of the acts involved are supported by mainstream record labels (indeed, the compilation itself will be released through Bar Bloc’s newly-minted micro-label). Additionally, his online mission statement expresses another, more idealistic aspiration: the desire to show that “far from simply a marketing utensil or commodity, music can still represent something greater to people and benefit the wider community.” We ask Robbie what music represents to him, and his reply contemplates music’s importance from angles both personal and social. “Music is something primal” he writes. “It exists in every known human culture in some form or another... [which suggests] that music production is innate amongst our species. Ever since I first sat behind a drum kit aged 16, music has been a source of joy and frustration in almost equal measure. Learning new techniques can be extremely slow and very challenging at times but once you get it the thrill is intense. Through music I have made some of the most enduring friendships of my life, including that with my wife (happy 5th anniversary Miriam!). It has allowed me to travel to new and exciting destinations. It can make me feel good and it can make me cry. It can be the reason people get together and for Human Is Not Alone people will be united in recognition of the work done by the staff of the Marie Curie Cancer Trust. Live music has provided me with some of the most memorable moments of my life and I am so glad that it can be the conduit through which I give something back to the people that have supported me.”

Previously, Cooper has written about his diagnosis and treatment with candour (and a perhaps surprising amount of humour, given the subject matter) on his personal blog. In his first post – which covered his diagnosis, initial therapies and the decision to debut as a stand-up comedian the week before substantial surgery – Cooper writes of the need to stay positive when faced with such shattering news, citing evidence of a correlation between mental fortitude and physical recovery. Ten months on, we ask how he manages to do so amidst such testing circumstances. “It is definitely hard to stay positive all the time and as things have gone on and the cancer continues to be a problem I have realised I have got to try and learn to live with it” he replies. “I have been told that I am never going to be cancer-free and so what I have to do is try and not think about it too much.” Human Is Not Alone seems, then, a rewarding way to channel these experiences into something constructive; something powerful and lasting with the potential to improve the lives of others the way Marie Curie improved his. Cooper ends his answer by underscoring music’s therapeutic qualities. “Listening to music is certainly something I do when I am feeling low and want to feel better” he states. “Just the other day I sat down and listened to the Big Business album Here Come the Waterworks at a ridiculous volume and air-drummed until my arms hurt. I felt a whole lot better after that.”

Written for the September issue of The Skinny. For more info or to donate, visit

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Live review: David Byrne and St. Vincent @ Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 29th August

The suit’s closer fitting and his hair’s long silvered over, but otherwise the David Byrne standing on the Concert Hall’s stage tonight is recognisably the same odd-edged entertainer captured in Stop Making Sense. To his left, Annie Clark aka St. Vincent rocks her own lightened barnet and the two artists – along with their 8-piece brass section – shimmy through their set locked together in a loose choreography. After almost a full year touring their collaborative LP Love This Giant, it’s clear that the duo is very much in sync.

At times, the band’s co-ordinated movements resemble penny-in-the-slot mechanicals, a toy-box aura accentuated by Clark’s sugar plum fairy tiptoeing. At other times, the mood is looser and carnivalesque, as the brass parade with theatrical (but nevertheless genuine) joy. The latter is most keenly felt during a jubilant Wild Wild Life – one of four Talking Heads songs peppering the set. A more extensive revisit to Byrne’s former band would, of course, have been welcomed with open arms, but imposing a limit makes sense, ensuring the thrill of hearing the likes of This Must Be the Place doesn’t overshadow the other riches on offer – ranging from later Byrne cuts (including a stunning Strange Overtones) to the solo work of his esteemed colleague.

It takes rare talent and personality to stand beside someone of Byrne’s stature and command equal share of the spotlight, but the uneclipsable Clark proves fully capable. Her comparatively young back catalogue is visited just as often as Byrne’s and produces its share of highlights – Cheerleader, for instance, has never sounded grander, while Marrow bristles with tension. But it’s Love This Giant that naturally sits central to tonight’s performance – not only because it supplies a large chunk of the setlist, but because all the other diversely-sourced songs have been retrofitted to its horn-led aesthetic, making thirty years of art-pop ventures sit together neatly. From the opening Who (showcasing Clark’s vocal talents) to the daft delights of I Am An Ape (in which we get a welcome taste of Byrne’s nifty footwork), the material sounds more vibrant than on record and begs for a sequel – not only to see where their twinned muses venture next, but so that we have another opportunity to take in their superlative live show.