Sometimes a music scene that you think you know like the back of your hand still manages to pull out the odd surprise.
Example: We were utterly oblivious to the existence of Shona Maguire, aka Plum, mere days ago, but we’ve now found ourselves waxing lyrical about her latest album, The Seed.
It’s hard to put your finger on precisely what defines Edinburgh music at the minute – it’s certainly not a bunch of beardy folkies, if it ever even was – but being home to multi-instrumentalist female solo artists probably wasn’t at the top of your list of ‘things wot I know about Embra music, likes’. And yet, here we are.
Mixing gently strummed guitars and light beats is far from a new trick (see Tidal Wave’s favourite Czech folktronica exponents Fiordmoss for a start), but on The Seed it’s neatly executed, throwing the laid back The Truth and The Knife, up against some sneaky beats elsewhere.
If we’re being picky, we’d actually have wanted some of these beats to be thumped a little bit harder, like the latest Fever Ray and Bat for Lashes albums, but perhaps Shona’s voice, more melody-driven and less spectral than the aforementioned ladies wouldn’t lend itself so well to such sounds
And yes, it’s a little poppier, but that’s also one of its strengths. Tunes like the opening title track are instantly accessible and there’s radio-friendly tunes throughout.
So, Plum. A bit of a hidden gem? Here’s hoping not for much longer. And here’s hoping as well, that those beats do indeed thump that little bit harder live. On that note, Plum will be launching The Seed on Saturday (April 7) at the Electric Circus. We suggest you get along. In the meantime, here’s a wee interview with the titular lady.
What are the key influences behind The Seed?
It’s a concept album – about the seed of an idea. Everything from the notation, the textures, the samples (like the main vocal loop in Myriad is a slowed down version of the backing vocals in The Truth andThe Knife) were about the way an idea can grow and take on its own life. The lyrics were about a specific idea that was planted in my mind in childhood, which has been left to grow. And in trying to unfold it all, and understand myself, I slowly but surely traced everything back to this one sentence that was said to me when I was about four or five years old. The point is that any idea, once the idea is planted will grow and take on its own life. I find that really interesting and was really inspired to write with the concept once I unearthed the roots of how one simple sentence could shape my thoughts and feelings so much it became part of who I was, it grew into the bones of my personality. It’s so powerful. Both terrifying and inspiring.
Do you think your sound has changed in the last couple of years?
Definitely. When I was in music production college I swore I would never sing live. I was so shy, I would record vocals as quietly as possible in case anyone would hear me. The first track I wrote was entirely electronic – I sampled a little girl who sat next to me on a train from Edinburgh to Londontalking about how she was going to fill her shed with toys. Since I picked up a guitar at 15 I have always written songs, and they were always cathartic, personal and difficult to perform in front of anyone. The first EPs (The Whispering Chamber and The Glory Feast) and the album (Different Skin) were part of a big journey of getting over the fear of singing… and of expressing my thoughts and feelings… folktronica they called it. After Different Skin, I was really keen to have something more fun to perform live. I wrote more upfront stuff and moved into a different genre – not sure of what it is exactly – but Electrofuzztronica, and Indie-Scotchtronica are my current favourites.
Who or what inspires you musically?
Ideas inspire me the most. Anyone doing anything unique. Nothing is more sad than people trying to follow what’s “in” or “now”, it’s the opposite of progress. I am currently head over heels for Grimes – the lass is my musical kindred spirit. I think we write in a really similar way, but she does it in a sweeter, lighter way. I’ve always loved Bjork for music and lyrics, and general forward thinking, I’m big into Buck 65 for his lyrics. I love Feist. Fever Ray. Skrillex. Imogen Heap. Tori Amos. I could go on.
Are you planning on taking the record out on the road?
I am dying to take the record on the road. I will play anywhere for food, transport and somewhere to kip. I can’t wait!
We expected this to be higher in all honesty. While there was much to admire about the Icelandic Queen’s latest album, it didn’t hit the heights of 2007’s Volta. We’re not that fussed about the apps, games and ‘sound manipulation’ aspects of the release either, being musical traditionalists and all that. But still, it IS Bjork and there was still heart and invention in spades.
14. Radiohead – The King of Limbs
Yes, we know this got utterly pummelled in some quarters, and not just by those who can’t let go of Creep and The Bends. Cold and emotionless to some, innovative to others, but to us it was mostly a continuation of a musical output that has never been less than fascinating since the aforementioned Bends album.
13. Joan As Police Woman – The Deep Field
Joan Wasser gave us some big, big sounds with her third album proper. An ambitious piece of work, it had the emotional insight of a women now in her forties coated in imaginative, soulful arrangements. Her finest album so far.
12. Rob St. John – Weald
We reviewed this VERY recently, so it’s very much fresh in our heads. Dark and bleak but beautifully realised, this is the perfect album for the cold winter nights ahead. St. John is a massively exciting talent.
11. Remember Remember – The Quickening
Think of post rock in Scotland and until recently thoughts will sure have began and ended with Mogwai. That time is surely at an end with the advent of Graeme Ronald’s second album as Remember Remember, now with a full band in tow. A different beast to Braithwaite’s mob, this sat closer to Japan’s Mono, stylistically with many of the guitars played acoustically, lush orchestration throughout and the ‘loud bits’ almost erased. Tremendous stuff.
Album of the Week: Conquering Animal Sound – Kammerspiel
Welcome back, folks.
Even though I’ve been clear that the Tidal Wave of Indifference is “not just a blog about Scottish music” there’s going to be a real run of Scottish albums of the week coming up.
Hopefully that says more about the healthy state of Scottish music than this site deviating from its modus operandi than anything else.
First up is the much-anticipated debut from Conquering Animal Sound.
James Scott and Anneke Kampman have been making music together under this name for a number of years so it’s a welcome development for them to finally get an album out.
Lauren Laverne tweeted a few weeks ago to say that this is the great album that Bjork and Stina Nordenstam never made together. A glib statement, perhaps, but a useful starting point, particularly if you were to add Hope Sandoval to that short list of Scandanavian singers.
Think of Nordenstam’s haunting Euro-vocals and the minimalist loops and synths that have characterised Ms Gudmundsdóttir’s more recent work and that’s a fairly close approximation of what to expect from Kammerspiel.
Musically, there’s also shades of the Antlers and Caribou – the subtle guitars buried under waves of electronica of the former and the slow, pulsing beats of the latter’s work on Andorra.
This is probably the point that I should start picking out individual highlights but that’s problematic on two points. Firstly, all eleven tracks are similarly-paced and arranged that it takes a huge number of listens for a track to distinguish itself. Perhaps opener Maschine and Tracer could be classed as being a cut above the rest.
The above point isn’t meant to make the album sound same-y by the way, as the second reason why it’s so difficult to pick out a highlight is that the whole record feels like high plateau rather than a series of peaks and troughs – or even peaks and smaller peaks.
Kammerspiel is a remarkable debut, astonishing even, and as the band gear up for a UK tour, one that deserves an audience outside Scotland.
This is a very high watermark for any other album coming out this year. It’s only February but I look forward to revisiting Kammerspiel in the final weeks of 2011 to see how it stands up to everything else I’ve heard. I’m going to guess ‘rather well’.
I spoke to James Scott from the band last week…
How does it feel to finally get an album out?
It’s great! It’s been a long process, not just writing and recording, but sorting out the logistics of it coming out with the label and making sure we were ready for it to come out. Hopefully, not rushing it, means it will come out at the right time. I’m still really happy with the record, and I’m looking forward to it finally being out.
Have you managed to balance CAS with your work on the Japanese War Effort?
The Japanese War Effort is mostly just mucking about on my own, using ideas that wouldn’t work with Conquering Animal Sound. It’s rare that I will write something alone, and then save it for Anneke and I, as we do the vast majority of writing together. Both bands have quite different writing processes, and reasonably different sounds, so I don’t feel there is too much overlap in what we do. I write with Anneke to create music and ideas I wouldn’t or couldn’t do alone, but write alone to let all the other stuff out. I think it’s a healthy balance, and I have no disillusions about doing both.
Are the upcoming dates your first proper UK tour? Excited?
Very excited. It’s our second UK tour, we went out on a few dates in May 2010 there, which was great fun, and we gained some invaluable experience (like, always make sure you are parking in a very safe place in Nottingham, and don’t go on tour without a sat-nav or map). This time we’ll be a little older, a little wiser, and we’re taking a dedicated driver, our friend Jay, who makes the very essence of life sweeter. He also has an excellent range of in-car music. And this time out we’re promoting our debut album, so there’s plenty to be excited by!
On record, the music sounds too intricate to made by just two people. How do you manage it?
We don’t think too much about “will we be able to play this live?” when we write, so we end up throwing lots and lots of ideas at the canvas until we’ve decided what sticks. It’s fun now, to go back and listen to a song, and have no recollection about how we made a particular sound, or to hear a different part taking precedence that we remember at the time. Our live set up does allow us to loop layer upon layer of sound, so I usually end up jumping about from instrument to instrument throughout a performance, which is a lot more fun than sticking to one thing.
Conquering Animal Sound will play the following dates in February:
2 – HULL Adelphi
3 – YORK Basement
4 – LEEDS Packhorse
5 – MANCHESTER Night & Day
7 – LONDON Slaughtered Lamb
8 – NEWCASTLE Head of Steam
9 – DUNDEE Doghouse
10 – ABERDEEN Snafu
11 – GLASGOW Captain’s Rest
12 – EDINBURGH Sneaky Pete’s