Scotland, it’s a hell of a place. Many cultures, as the marketing spiel tells us, and when it comes to the music world, many genres. The rest of the world is keen to box the scene into a twee, indie box, but for the rest of us, the Scottish music scene is a sprawling, complicated bag of genius.
It’s good to see the SAY Award Shortlist (and the longlist, naturally, to a greater extent) recognises this. The ten-album shortlist is a great snapshot of the creativity which unfolded just before the world changed. The award ceremony this year has been forced to adapt and will held virtually, and it’ll be interesting to see how the music listed in future years evolves.
For now, though, raise a glass and lend an ear to the shortlist.
Today we take a look at half of the shortlist. Check back tomorrow, 28th October, when we’ll follow up with the other five.
28/10/20 update: list complete.
Bossy Love – Me + U
It seems a lifetime since Me + U dropped from Bossy Love, for more reasons than we would care to remember. It’s still a brass, glossy and fantastically glam record that captures the modern spirit of the Scottish music scene better than most. From a time when having fun was fundamental to your weekly activities, Bossy Love created an album that still struts and stomps.
Callum Easter – Here Or Nowhere
There’s a detached and somewhat ethereal feel on Here or Nowhere by Callum Easter. Not in a bad way, but in a really cool manner. It’s got a sound and scope whose ambition far outstrips its budget or modest setting. From the great sound-clashes to Hot Chip, via various NYC stopping points, it shows how far you can travel from the East Coast of Scotland.
Cloth – Cloth
Cloth seemed confident and assured from their first release, perhaps linked with having twins on board. The debut album from late 2019 is effortlessly cool, and resolutely understated. When ‘Demo Love’ steps forward from its languid intro, it becomes a jangly guitar number similar to those that have placed the country on the map. You hope there’s a lot more to come from the group, but this is a collection that more than holds its own here.
Comfort – Not Passing
There’s no denying Not Passing by Comfort is aggressive and angry, but it does so with purpose and complete justification. At first, it’s the clanking industrial sounds and cutting vocals that grab your attention, but then the rhythms take hold of you. Not Passing is a record with layers, as Natalie Comfort balances strength and fragility in her delivery. It’s not a record for the masses, but for those who connect, it’ll mean the world.
Declan Welsh & The Decadent West – Cheaply Bought, Expensively Sold
The sound of young Sauchiehall Street, Declan Welsh and his merry men threaten to be the Glasgow guitar band that bundles over into the UK indie mainstream. There’s an effortless grace to Cheaply Bought, Expensively Sold, which breezes by in an instant. There are fantastic bass-lines all throughout the record, and that always equals people on the dancefloor. We need more of this, and we always will.
Above: words by Andy Reilly
Below: words by Kenny Lavelle
Blanck Mass – Animated Violence Mild
Animated Violence Mild is many things: relentless, gleeful, hopeful, euphoric, bold, and occasionally abrasive. More so than any other album on the list, it begs to be surrendered to – hopefully again soon while played live over big speakers. Created in a studio just outside Edinburgh in 2018, its container narrative of grief for what we as a species have lost by handing ourselves over to consumerism holds, frustratingly, just as true at the fag end of 2020.
Erland Cooper – Sule Skerry
I’m a little biased when it comes to Sule Skerry; this is the album that got me through the first lockdown. When the world was shrinking, it opened up a world outside the four walls of my flat at a time for me when books were an insurmountable effort and the distraction of endless streaming TV felt like a mouth full of grey chewing gum. The lamenting piano lines in opening track ‘Haar’ gently buoy the heart from the off and from there Sule Skerry rarely lets go. ‘Flattie’, the narrative heart of the album, is a complete world in itself. The whole album is a joy.
The Ninth Wave – Infancy
As assured a debut album as you’re likely to hear; Infancy wears its 80s sonic influences like a glamorous dark glittering shroud. Preoccupied with the concept of solitude and maintaining self identity in the influence of personal relationships and the wider world; it’s a poignant reflection on a search for self truth and independence. It was released in two parts in May and November 2019. Pt. 2 unfolds as the more measured and mature half of the complete release, taking a small step backward in intensity to allow its tracks room to breathe and settle.
NOVA – Re-Up
Opening with the growling floor-bothering bass and NOVA’s half sharp, half languid vocal delivery on ‘30 mins’, followed by the carefully distilled anger of ‘Back in the Day’; Re-Up immediately introduces itself as a flash of clarity and energy. That the album remains cohesive, despite featuring as many producers as there are individual tracks, is a testament to the strength of Shaheeda Sinckler’s personality, tone, and storytelling. As a debut album, it’s an impressive opening statement. As NOVA herself says, ‘To be continued…’.
SHHE – SHHE
Another album that saw me through lockdown number 1. Another artist’s debut album for this year’s SAY award shortlist. Scottish-Portuguese artist and producer Su Shaw’s vocals glance and bob against a gently shimmering cloud of synths, restrained guitar, and minimal beats to create a soundscape that lulls, envelops, and caresses. When the glimmering synths of ‘Maps 2’ tail away it leaves in its wake a sense that something is missing. That is what the repeat button is for.
The Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award 2020 Ceremony takes place on Thursday 29 October from 7pm. This year’s ceremony is a virtual event, and you’re invited!