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September in singles: Stopping at England, Iceland, America… and Scotland

Alex Cornish

This month’s instalment of my singles column for The Skinny. Better late than never.

No-one is averse to a bit of sensual seduction. So when newly-formed Londoners Rock City Sixteen send me a 7″ of Lunettes Noires Pour Nuits Blanche (****, 8 Sep) in appropriate black and white design with creative press release, I am easily swayed. The effortlessly cool Velvets-aping song is good too, mind. This month’s brainless-indie-romp comes courtesy of The Zutons. What’s Your Problem (**, 8 Sep) is more of the same sax-led 70s rock, and the trick is wearing thin. As the leaves wither like that band’s career, maybe it’s good that White Lies make no attempt to cheer us up with Death (***, 22 Sep). But their stately, dare-I-say epic indie marks them out as ones to watch. If one band do merit the wearisome ‘epic’ tag, then it’s surely Sigur Rós. Inní mér syngur vitleysingur (****, 8 Sep) translates as “Within me a lunatic sings”. If so, he is a remarkably tuneful lunatic, and heralds a return to form for these enchanting Norsemen.

We’ve had Dinosaur Jr, T-Rex, and now another extinct creature is revived in bandname form, with the arrival of San Franciscan duo The Dodos. Fools (***, 15 Sep) is a likeable little breeze of stick-drumming, chugging guitar and indiscernible muffles. On the subject of band names, Johnny Foreigner can be contracted to JoFo, and there’s more to like: Salt, Peppa and Spinderella (***, 8 Sep) is another hi-NRG rock-out from this talented trio. Never having fallen for his Bright Eyes work, it was unlikely I would perform somersaults of praise for Conor Oberst‘s new solo venture. And while Souled Out!!! (**, 1 Sep) is a decent rock’n’roller, I can barely summon a critical starjump, never mind a somersault.

And now it is with hushed excitement that I present a specially themed and hastily conceived ‘part deux’ of this month’s singles round-up: The Scottish Selection. And what melodious, home-grown treats we have in store…

Those now-ubiquitous favourites Frightened Rabbit offer a double serving of their alt.folk majesty with I Feel Better / The Twist (***, 22 Sep), a double A-side offering a mirror image of their fragile/blustering sound. Broken Records may be swatting the record deals away like flies at the moment, but in the meantime they’ve produced another tantalising glimpse of their talent. Slow Parade (****, Out Now) is a wistful, delicate paean that swells to a stirring, brassy coda. Idlewild singer and one time punk contortionist Roddy Woomble is maturing into a respected folk troubadour and, along with John McCusker and Kris Drever, he has spun a shimmering wee song in Silver And Gold (****, 1 Sep). Although born and bred in London, Alex Cornish still qualifies for this celtic love-in, since he now writes and records from his Edinburgh bedroom. “I’m not breaking new ground,” Cornish sings in Until the Traffic Stops (****, 29 Sep), but who cares about that when he can turn out rousing, honest tunes like this? A deserving single of the month.

And just when you thought Scottish music had been completely ensnared by whisky-blooded folkie types, Mogwai emit one of their atomic waves of distortion to knock us clean off our barstools. Batcat (****, 8 Sep) is a taster of their forthcoming sixth album and reveals the Glaswegians back in earth-shattering form.

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Johnny Foreigner, Y’all Is Fantasy Island, Jesus H Foxx @ Henry’s Cellar Bar, 23 Jan

Johnny Foreigner

It doesn’t say much for the Edinburgh music scene when three certifiably up-and-coming bands – two Scottish, one Brummie – share a bill and the sole attendees consist of band members, assorted hangers-on and a handful of paying punters. But on the other hand, this is one of the smallest performance spaces in town, so at least it’s actually possible to see what’s going down for once.

Jesus H. Foxx are a band in the ascendency. Last time I saw them they performed a passable though hardly inspiring garage rock set. This time round they might as well be Jesus H. Foxx Mark II – more honed, more together, more confident, more original, more percussive (they’ve hired a second drummer, see). The first three songs in particular are staggeringly assured, the skeletal guitars and anti-harmonic, shouty vocals a superb counterpoint to the almost tribal, jam-session-like drumming. It would be a big ask for any band to maintain such a standard however, and some of the vitality does dwindle towards the end of their set.

Transformation is a bit of a theme tonight. Y’all Is Fantasy Island have replaced their bassist and are testing new material to boot. This is the third or fourth time I’ve seen them, and it has to be said that with tonight’s performance some of their former dynamism has dissipated. Last time at Henry’s they blew me away with their visceral playing and possessed-by-the-music passion, but not quite so tonight. Make no mistake: in Adam Stafford they have at their core one of Scotland’s rawest, most captivating lyricists, a natural heir to the crown of fellow Falkirk-ite Malcolm Middleton. And YiFi’s versatility is as impressive as ever – from grungy folk to splintering feedback to pained self-scrutiny – but there’s just some intangible element lacking on this occasion. Chemistry, dynamics, even just wrongly balanced sound levels… who knows?

One band with no shortage of chemistry is Johnny Foreigner, a Birmingham trio who’ve been drawing some seriously hyperbolic praise from music hacks down south – though have yet to infiltrate the public consciousness if ticket sales are anything to go by. As live performers they warrant their headline status with schizoid energy (the singer’s floppy fringe morphs from a fluffy bouffant to a sweaty mess before our eyes – see, transformation theme continues!), masterful musicianship (the drummer sets up looped keyboard sequences before launching into another 180bpm rhythm) and genuine charm (the female bassist ribs her male bandmates for moaning about having to carry her amp). It’s difficult to imagine listening to their noise-core stylings in any other setting than a dark basement bar, but if this is the eccentric, hyper-speed path indie pop is headed (think Foals, These New Puritans etc), then Johnny Foreigner are in exactly the right place at the right time. They even throw in a well-executed Pavement cover, as if to prove themselves to the more ‘mature’ audience members.

Kudos to the I Fly Spitfires folks for another fine night of music.

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