Wednesday, 21 December 2011

K&A with Dead Boy Robotics

Now that all the end-of-year formalities have been dispensed with, let's get back to some long-overdue posts.  First up, the final K&A of 2011 saw me pose a few of my usual, deep probing questions to one of Scotland's finest up-and-coming electronic bands, Dead Boy Robotics.  Here's what they had to say about their recently-released debut album, their plans and tips for 2012, and why they've been hanging around old railway tunnels at one in the morning.  Before that though, have a wee listen to their previous single, and one of the many standout tracks on the album. 

Kowalskiy:  Who are Dead Boy Robotics?
DBR:  Dead Boy Robotics are an alternative electronic three-piece from Edinburgh. Otherwise known as Gregor, Mike and Paul.

Kowalskiy:  Is it true you chose the name as it's an anagram of both 'Octet Rabbi Dodos' and ''Sordid Bobcat Toe'?
DBR:  That is untrue. We're actually cyborgs sent back in time by Skynet to terminate Sarah Connor.

Kowalskiy:  You've just released your debut album on the back of the fantastic recent singles Ever and Gatherer on the Threshold. How does the rest of the album compare?
DBR:  'Ever' and 'Gatherer' are the two guitar and bass driven songs on the album. 'Ever' is the louder, faster, riff heavy of the two, with a big chorus and meandering proggy structure. 'Gatherer' is slower with haunting vocals and a more conventional song structure. The other album tracks contain a mixture of vintage and modern synths invoking a cinematic Sci-Fi feel.

Kowalskiy:  Might just be me, but the album has a 2-parter kinda feel. Is that the case? If so, is there a story to it?
DBR:  Yes it definitely has a two part feel but that certainly wasn't our intention. We went into the studio with only eight songs completed but hoped to add a couple of instrumentals later on. We felt a 10 track album of about 40 minutes was better than a mini album of eight songs. Because the songs are sequenced with track five '//', an instrumental track, the album feels like it has two definite sections.

Kowalskiy:  So what's this I heard about recording parts of it under a railway bridge at 1am??
DBR:  After all the vocal parts for the album were recorded in the studio we took them to Innocent Railway Tunnel in Holyrood Park, played them back the down the tunnel and recorded the reverb. If you listen closely to 'Gatherer on the Threshold' you can hear water dripping on the ground from the roof of the tunnel.

Kowalskiy:  I may have missed the boat on this one, but are there future plans to hit the road and plug the album?
DBR:  We'll hopefully do some sort of UK tour next year but haven't got anything confirmed as of yet. However, we do have gigs planned for Edinburgh and Inverness of the end of January.

Kowalskiy:  What'd be your ideal gig?
DBR:  Curating a day of All Tomorrow's Parties as that's possibly our favourite UK festival.

Kowalskiy:  It's getting to that time of year, so what bands would you tip for 2012?
DBR:  Lady North, Paul our drummer's other band, are fantastic live and very entertaining and will hopefully make some new recordings next year. Miaoux Miaoux is always coming out with catchy tunes and banging remixes. Edinburgh band Machine Room are working with Tape to record an album after fantastic recent single 'Camino De Soda'.

Kowalskiy:  Last one... what can we expect from DBR in the new year?
DBR:  We're hoping to play some festivals next year, tour and will be writing new music.

Ever, my favourite track from their eponymous album is streaming above, and the album can be bought from the band here in CD form, or downloaded from iTunes here

Upcoming Gigs
Friday 20th Jan - The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh
Friday 27th Jan - Mad Hatters, Inverness

Monday, 19 December 2011

Kowalskiy's Top 10 Albums of 2011

Yup, it's that time of year again!  The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed I've dispensed with the usual, long drawn-out countdown this time 'round.  The main reason is I've found it harder than ever to narrow down the options in what has been, in my opinion, a great year for Scottish music.  I think I've just about managed it though, so with much further ado, here's my top 10 albums of 2011...

#1.  Happy Particles - Under Sleeping Waves
Very rarely, do I listen to an album and halfway through think to myself 'this album will not be bettered this year'.  That was the case with Glasgow sextet Happy Particles' debut album Under Sleeping Waves.  And the thing is, the second half is even better than the first!  "Uplifting... sublime... absolutely stunning!" was how I described it back in September.  Nothing's changed, it's an outstanding album and fitting of anyone's top spot.
HIGHLIGHT:  A.M. Sky (Bleary)

#2.  Will Hanson - Moving A Body
Yeah, you're right fellow bloggers!  This is a last-minute entry in my Top 10 having only bought it à la weekend.  I'd been meaning to for months on the back of his outstanding double A-side Deathbed Conversion / The View From Ebury Bridge, and sat listening to it whilst wrapping my presents.  Mr. Hanson and his friends have delivered something quite special indeed.  Beee-autiful!
HIGHLIGHT:  Our Basket

 #3.  The Little Kicks - The Little Kicks
I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to post Steven Milne's track-by-track commentary of The Little Kicks' eponymous follow-up to 2009's debut Boxing Clever.  Here's some Kowalskiy soundbites... "funky... insanely-catchy... pure songwriting perfection... Bravo!".  I think they sum it up just nicely, but don't take my word for it.  Go have a listen for yourself!
HIGHLIGHT:  Far Too Honest

#4.  Rob St. John - Weald
Another one that buggered up the tentative Top 5 I've been submitting to all these collective end-of-year lists.  I'd been sitting on the album for a while, not sure why though, given The Whites Of Our Eyes, Rob's charitable collaboration last year with Braindead Collective, is possibly one of the finest songs of recent years.  Having listened to Weald a fair few times now, it's filled with a lot more of the same.   Rob's given us a staggeringly good album which will quite rightly, and deservedly so, top many a list. 

#5.  Come On Gang! - Strike A Match
At the start of the year, there was one album which completely blew me away... Strike A Match, which was simultaneously Come On Gang!'s exciting debut and tearful swansong. It's early-in-the-year release, combined with my short attention span and propensity to play my favourite new albums to within an inch of their lives, has inevitably put pay to a Top 3 finish, but don't let that take anything away from the sheer joy and unadulterated amazingness of this very special album.
HIGHLIGHT:  To The Morning

#6.  Jacob Yates & the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers - Luck
Now this was a wee welcome change from the norm in 2011.  Maryhill's Jacob Lovatt and his PGLPs unleashed their "Doom Wop" debut Luck on the unsuspecting Scottish public.  It's full of pitch black humour and really, quite grim imagery but it's a great album because of all that.  You'd be hard pushed to find a bolder album this year.  That's proper rock 'n' roll for you folks!

#7.  IndianRedLopez - Empty Your Lungs And Breathe
Aberdeen's IndianRedLopez were one of my tips for 2011, and they did not disappoint in the slightest.   When I spoke to them back in May, they'd just released this, their superb debut album.   Full of emotion, these 10 songs were some of the best atmospheric indie-rock heard all year.  Judging by their recent single Prometheus (buy it here) we can expect even better things from these guys next year. 
HIGHLIGHT:  The New Black

#8.  Evil Hand - Huldra
STOP PRESS:  Huldra only makes 8th place in self-confessed Evil Hand fanatic's Best of 2011 list.   
Allow me to explain.  I love everything about these 16 fantastic songs, after all, I went on record as saying it was a "breathtaking, seductive mixture of old and new".  And I suppose that's where I'm conflicted.  It's too much like a Best Of to place higher... sorry Derek!  Still, it's every bit as amazing as I've said before.
HIGHLIGHT:  Returned In Time

#9.  Make Sparks - Rewound
Again, this falls foul of the same 'is this an album, or is it more a collection of old, reworked recordings?' debate.  Either way, Rewound is a brilliant pop-rock dozen from Dundee trio Make Sparks. Fans of Jimmy Eat World, as I myself am, will lap this up and be left wanting more.  Just as well then that this bunch have released a few new tracks since.   The trouble is, now I'm wanting even more!

#10.  Prince Edward Island - This Day Is A Good Enough Day
But what if Arab Strap went all poppy on us, what if...  Wonder no more folks, 'cos that's exactly what you get with London-based Prince Edward Island.  I interviewed the Scottish half of the band, frontman Darren Bruce earlier in the year and I came to these conclusions.  It's bitter.  It's dark, but witty.  It's "about failed sex".  Yet somehow, it's so oddly delightful, you can't help but smile!
HIGHLIGHT:  You Look Like I Need A Drink

Well that's that for another year.  There were of course, a lot more albums that tickled my fancy this year, but the list has to stop somewhere!  If you fancy hearing any of these albums, you can click on the relevant artwork and see if you agree with me.  Hope so!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Kowalskiy's Free Monthly 5-track Scottish EP #18

And so, we come to the final EP of 2011.  The Scrooge that I am, I've once again limited it to one festive track, but it's still free.  Geez, what more do you want!  And not only that, there's one or two extra goodies in there to tide you over 'til the New Year.

I didn't plan it this way, but there's a track from the band behind my #1 album of 2011, and another by an artist who's already set the benchmark pretty high for 2012.   Sandwiched between, are three crackers!  Hope you enjoy them all.  You can, as ever, get your download by clicking on the artwork above (this month paying homage to one of my favourite and most iconic albums of all time).  Before that though, here's the five artists involved and what they each had to say about their track...

1.  Now Wakes The Sea - You Are The Cold (Redwings guitarist gone solo!  This is the opening track off of next years 'Best of 2012' benchmark album that I mentioned above.)

"You Are the Cold is the opening track from the upcoming Now Wakes the Sea record, Fluoxetine Morning, due out at the beginning of 2012. The lyrics make reference to noise pollution and artificially induced sleep, and was written as I was flirting between consciousness and slumber. In terms of instrumentation, it's rather simplistic, but features a bitching synth solo. Bookended by two different versions of the same sound - a single, dry guitar pluck, and an analogue delay squeal - I think it gives a good representation of the record, mixing elements of drone and ambience with sparse and minimal folk." - Alan McCormack (Now Wakes The Sea)

2.  Wiredrawn - Christmas Wish No. 3571 (A reworking of the ex-Won Mississippi singer's early solo festive demo.  Wiredrawn's debut EP 'Loose Lips Sink Ships' is available here.)

"The track was written and recorded in the seemingly endless winter last year, when Scotland was at an almost constant stand-still. The news was full of stories of isolation and chaos as well as brilliant examples of the determination and resolve some people had shown when trying to battle through the elements to get to their loved ones. I fancied 'doing' a Christmas song without surrendering to whimsy too much - I might just have got away with it......" - Patrick Baird (Wiredrawn)

3.  Reverieme - Mama, Won't You Keep Them Castles in the Air and Burning? (I must admit, I was disappointed with the second Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! album, but this absolutely stunning cover makes up for it and then some!)

"It may be a controversial choice (in a world where controversy is defined as ‘not really liking pandas that much’ or ‘preferring peanut M&M's’) but I really love Some Loud Thunder, the sophomore album from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. In fact (and we may be nearing the ‘I have never enjoyed a Ryan Reynolds movie’ level of controversy here), I don’t think I could fault it! When I first heard ‘Mama, Won’t You Keep Them Castles in the Air and Burning?’, a song so lyrically ridiculous it could well have been co-written by Lou Reed and James Hetfield, I totally (and inexplicably) loved it. I’m hoping that this wee cover is either so good it sways the non-believers or so bad that it makes the original seem like a sweet aural haven (no giggling). Either way, you’ll have to listen to find out!" - Louise Connell

4.  The Strangers Almanac - Where The River Meets The Sea (Good Gord this guy's good!   He's got some a free album and EP on Bandcamp, but here's a brand spanking new song for you.)

"This is a new song that I've only played live a couple of times, and I recorded it with my friend Ross Middlemiss who plays in Pensioner. (If you're looking for someone to record your band, give him a shout, he's excellent). It was written about a friend of mine, and it's basically saying that if you come through troubles in your life and make it out alive, you should be proud of all you've achieved, no matter how meandering a path you took to get there. It may crop up on a future release, but for now it stands on its own!" - Gord Matheson (The Strangers Almanac)

5.  Happy Particles - Cold Calling (If you followed the clues above, you'll know it's Happy Particles who have taken the top spot in my Albums of 2011.  Here's a special non-album track and some info on how to get your hands on the amazing Under Sleeping Waves.)

"We are Happy Particles and our debut album 'Under Sleeping Waves' will be released on Christmas day. You can pre-order it here which will entitle you to two download tracks instantly and you also get a free video of us performing the full band version of 'Aerials' with the album.   We had a few tracks which didn't make it onto the record for one reason or another and this is a very early version of 'Cold Calling' which was originally going to be on the album but we ended up forgetting about it, so it was never developed or recorded.  We really like it though, so it will probably come out in a different form on a future e.p. or the next album." - Happy Particles

So that's your whack for the year!  Hope you've enjoyed all the EPs, and rest assured, there'll be much more of the same next year.  Until then, head on over to my bandcamp page now to get your download which comes with a hidden track courtesy of Lovers Turn To Monsters (and ties in with the artwork!) and a special, visual extra from a particularly happy bunch.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Bottle Of Evil - Inside Looking Out

Now for the very welcome return of the Scotsman Radar Prize 2011 Runners-Up, Messrs. Derek Bates and Steven McGilvary, or Bottle of Evil as I've come to know and love them.   That oh-so-close accolade couldn't have gone to a more deserving pair!  It's been over a year since the release of their eponymous debut album which completely took me by surprise, and hasn't been off my driving-music car-stick since.  That's staying power of Bryan Adams proportions!

Since then, Derek's moniker Evil Hand released the brilliant 'pseudo-retrospective' Huldra back in February, and I've just discovered (Bottle of) Steven's free Eventual Progress (e.p.) a few weeks ago, which he put out in September.   It seems that both can do no wrong!

Anyway, back to the present.  I've been sitting staring at a half-finished, garbled review of this EP for over a month now, so it's about bloody time for my finger to be well-and-truly gotten out!   Their latest joint-offering, the four-track EP Inside Looking Out, came out a month ago and as expected, it's a work of unashamed musical brilliance!  All of which begins with the mesmerising opener The Boatman.  It's four minutes of shoegazey perfection at it's blissful best.  Which probably makes no sense whatsoever, so you'll just have to have a listen for yourself!  

I Can See Your Face is no different. Quality-wise that is. Music-wise though, it's shows glimpses of a much darker, more sinister side, in amongst the delicate, swooning refrain.   Maybe that's their Evil streak poking through...

Gentle, dreamy melodies and soothing, breathy vocals is the order of the day for track three, the sublime Move On, which builds on just nicely from where their debut left off.

Then they go and take the lid off the bottle...  That dark side which was hinting at previously, is unleashed on the unsuspecting listener in the form of the chilling, prog-rocky Collider.  With a eerie Blue Oyster Cult inspired (well guys?) riff and vocal recordings which sound oddly reminiscent of old prohibition-era movies, it's yet another unexpected gem from Bottle of Evil. 

So to sum up, it's pretty brilliant, and as EPs go, I've not heard a better one all year.  So away with you now, and download it over here

Friday, 9 December 2011

...Secret Gang Handshakes!

Following on from my last Introducing... post, here's another ex-Won Mississippian who's gone solo!  This time 'round, it's the turn of founding member Rob Wilkinson to take centre stage with his Secret Gang Handshakes project.  With an album and a brilliant EP out now, what better time to hear what he has to say for himself...

Kowalskiy:  Who are Secret Gang Handshakes?
Rob:  Is Me!! and whoever else is in the room. Anyone who is within hailing distance is invited along for the ride. (Live shows often incorporate improvised percussion on tables and glasses by the audience.)

Kowalskiy:  How would you describe 'your sound'?
Rob:  "Lo-fi slow-core dark-gospel" is how one promoter described it and I quite like that.  I have a bit of a kitchen sink approach to writing songs. I start with the lyrics and find sounds that tell the story best. Usually this happens at 4am, as quietly as possible in my armchair that looks out onto the North Sea - LITERALLY RIGHT OUTSIDE MY WINDOW! The view from my house deserves a full writer's credit for everything I do.

Kowalskiy:  PLUG AWAY!!!
Rob:  I have an album (Gravity Defiant) and an e.p. (We Go A-waltzin') available to download on a pay-what-you-like scheme on Bandcamp.  I also have a cupboard full of old Won Mississippi c.d.'s that are looking for a good home.

Kowalskiy:  What can we expect from you in the future?
Rob:  I'm will be performing live again in the New Year - probably from March onward as I'm in the middle of producing my first play. I will be jumping on bar-room tables all over Scotland next year and hopefully a few house shows, too. I'm working on album No.2 at the minute and also looking to start a new band with some other music refugees in town. This is all dependent on what's on TV, how scary the newspaper headlines are and if I can get someone to look after my rabbits while I'm gone! (Big shout out to my homies, "Tilly and Toots" y'all!)

That may well be the first rabbit 'shout out' we've had on here.  Possibly the last too!   While we wait for Rob to get album two finished, you can grab his debut, and his free EP, over here

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Blog Sound of 2012

By now, you may have seen the BBC Sound of 2012 longlist which is described by the head of BBC Music as "a project now established as the definitive annual list of exciting new artists to watch out for".  What a load of complete and utter pish!  For the most part, it's represents a victory for the PR machine over actual, unsigned talent, which the country has in abundance, and serves only to further hype bands and musical genres tailor-made for, what I'd like to call, the 'Tulisa Generation' (I dislike her!).  Now, as a Scottish music blogger who tries to do his bit for unsigned bands up and down the country, I'm obviously a wee bit peeved at the lack of bands which fit that bill.  But am I surprised?

Am I buggery!  Let's look at their past form.  The Bravery triumphing over The Dears (did they listen to the rest of their debut album or base their decision purely on the one song that was around at the time??), Mika pipping the likes of Cold War Kids (seriously now...), and Ellie Goulding and Jessie J beating, well... anyone really!  And I've not even gotten to the shortlisting of Joe Lean And The Jing Jang Jong yet!  Is it anything other than latching on to the most (over)hyped and in most cases, trendy, artists and putting them on the fast-track to success (not so much with The Bravery, but then again, it would've taken a damn site more than that to make them household names)?  So the latest list comes as no surprise at all.

So with this in mind, a while back, some of the crème de la crème of UK bloggers got together to nominate some of our own picks for musical stardom in 2012.  The idea (devised by Andy from The VPME and a few others) behind The Blog Sound of 2012 is in part, an experiment to see how a list from music bloggers all over the UK would compare to that devised by the BBC's own team.  And I'm sure, in part, dismay at some of their previous choices.

It's maybe best to mention here that these expressed views are mine alone and not necessarily those of the other participants or The Blog Sound of 2012 as a whole... please invite me back next year!  

Anyway, here's our longlist, which I'm glad to say contains a few of my five nominations.  Can you tell which ones!?

(excuse the fact there's no link for that one, but come off it!  You'd be as well calling the band 'Pamela Anderson Sex Tape' given the chances of finding it on a Google search!)

So that's that then.  Great to see French Wives and Meursault in there.  Only two bands have made both longlists.  I know which list I'm more likely to throw my weight behind.  Saying that though, I know which one I'd put my house on too... and they're not necessarily the same ones!  I'll let you draw your own conclusions...