TRACES : SAY AWARD SHORTLISTED

HERALD SCOTLAND Friday 31 May 2013


The shortlist for the Scottish Album of the Year.
By Nicola Meighan


The shortlist for this year's Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award was announced at Glasgow's CCA last night, and its inclusion of wide-ranging acts – like folk poet Karine Polwart, hip-hop activists Stanley Odd, exotic pop voyagers Django Django and flamenco punk heartbreaker RM Hubbert – speaks volumes about the diversity, breadth and vitality of our contemporary Scottish music landscape.

The second-ever SAY Award shortlist was selected by a panel of 12 judges – including Cornershop's Tjinder Singh, Turner Prize winner Douglas Gordon, author Christopher Brookmyre and Herald writer Kate Molleson – who decided on nine of the shortlisted tracks, while a public vote, held on Monday, dictated the 10th shortlisted album. This year's public vote was won by searing Kilsyth alt-rockers The Twilight Sad.

The judging panel and public vote were pooled from this year's SAY Award longlist of 20 albums, as selected by 100 nominators from the music and arts sector and announced on April 25.

If longlisted commercial heavy-hitters like Emeli Sande and Calvin Harris are absent from the SAY Award shortlist, it is never at the expense of quality or accessibility.

This 10-strong inventory shines a light on a Scottish music scene that thrives on collaboration (most notably RM Hubbert's 13 Lost And Found), independent spirit (almost all of the albums were released on independent labels, many of which are self-run and based in Scotland) and an unwillingness to conform to expectations (acts like Karine Polwart, Lau and Stanley Odd defy genre boundaries to superb effect).

There is also a sense of artistic persistence, and longevity, in this year's shortlist: although Mid Air is the first solo LP from The Blue Nile's Paul Buchanan, and Human Don't Be Angry also marks a first for Malcolm Middleton under this particular project moniker, both acts have released several albums before, so there is only one true debut LP here thanks to Django Django. No flashes in the pan on this watch, as this brief overview reveals. The albums are pictures above, clockwise from top left:

Admiral Fallow – Tree Bursts In Snow (Nettwerk)

Terrific second album from Glasgow-based chamber-pop romancers who are equally adept at rousing indie anthems and heart-stopping melancholia. They're fronted by an erudite and bearded archangel in Louis Abbot.

Django Django – Django Django (Because)

Mercury-nominated, sun-warped debut from a kaleidoscopic pop quartet who formed in Auld Reekie but conjure Egyptian heat-waves and cosmic trips thanks to their glorious surf-rock, 1960s sci-fi, sunshine harmonies and vintage exotica.

Human Don't Be Angry – Human Don't Be Angry (Chemikal Underground)

Tangerine Dream, ZTT and Top Gun romance, Falkirk style. The calling card from Arab Strap man Malcolm Middleton's alter-ego, Human Don't Be Angry is a joyous art-pop odyssey which spans kosmische arias (First Person, Singular Tense), alt-MOR serenades (Monologue: River) and a discombobulating choral peak in 1985.

Karine Polwart – Traces (Hegri)

Polwart's fifth long-player is a quiet masterpiece: an exquisite, poetic album of love and loss and lyrical protest. The Banknock singer-songwriter is rightly lauded as a folk chronicler (witness her tranche of BBC Folk Awards) but her indie credentials are also impeccable, thanks to her genre-hopping collaborations with members of Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad, and her adventurous instinct: Traces was produced by Iain Cook of upcoming electro-superstars Chvrches.

Lau – Race The Loser (Reveal)

A musically and emotionally audacious third offering from folk explorers Lau (who variously hail from Oban, East Anglia and Orkney), Race The Loser saw the group embrace electronic experimentation and team up with US indie producer Tucker Martime (REM, Sufjan Stevens, Laura Veirs) to disorientating, terrific effect.

Meursault – Something For The Weakened (Song, By Toad)

The third album from Edinburgh alt-rock incendiaries Meursault, fronted by hurricane-force singer-songwriter Neil Pennycook, is their most cohesive, orchestral and powerful to date: it's an excellent collection of chamber-rock tirades (Settling), bruised-folk psalms (Hole) and cracked-falsetto elegies (Mamie).

Paul Buchanan – Mid-Air (Newsroom)

Paul Buchanan's melancholic-pop architects The Blue Nile have long defined Glasgow's urban skylines, and their fragile-larynxed frontman furthered his knack for heart-breaking piano psalms and Spartan arias on this reflective metropolitan eulogy, which heralded his first-ever solo outing.

RM Hubbert – 13 Lost & Found (Chemikal Underground)

Few albums reflect and celebrate the range and versatility of contemporary Scottish voices as beautifully as this second album from Glasgow axe-seducer RM Hubbert. It traces personal relationships and Glasgow's DIY history, and includes collaborations with Alex Kapranos, Aidan Moffat, Hanna Tuulikki, Alasdair Roberts and Emma Pollock.

Stanley Odd – Reject (Circular)

The electrifying second album from Edinburgh rap ensemble Stanley Odd is a socio-political, pop-fuelled treatise that underscores the charms, and importance, of our indigenous hip-hop scene: frontman Dave 'Solareye' Hook rhymes in a local accent; endorses social responsibility and provokes political debate; revokes rap clichés of violence and bling in favour of self-reflection, humdrum realism and humour.

The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know (Fat Cat)

The Kilsyth trio's ear-battering third album was overseen by "anti-producer" Andrew Weatherall (Primal Scream, Manic Street Preachers, New Order) and offers a delirious shock of industrial pop, synth-propelled post-punk and unsettling narratives. Highlights include dread-disco dirge Another Bed and spectral-rock aria Nil, and the overall sense is that vocalist James Graham remains one of our most literate, forceful and compelling voices.

The winner of this year's SAY Award will be announced on June 20. The SAY Award is supported by Creative Scotland, Dewar's, music licensing organisation PPL, Clyde Gateway and the Sunday Herald. For more details on the albums, go online to www.sayaward.com

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