There’s a new sound in Scotland, and in particular, at the SAY Awards. The sound is the smashing of the bottom of the barrel and then scratching around beneath said barrel, because they are letting me, a SNACK writer, cast judgement on the albums of the year! [How humble – Ed]
For a magazine that doesn’t give star ratings because we try to avoid the competitive nature of art, this required a slight change in outlook [carefully ingoring our very own SNACK Single of the Year award, of course – Ed].
Copious notes were made, and with a looming deadline, five records were put forward. If you asked us again on a different day or week, the nominated line-up would likely have been different.
From the start, it was decided that no relatively big artists would be put forward by us. This is unfair, the award is open to everyone, and it is not as though there is any Scottish artist who couldn’t do with more money or additional time in the spotlight. However, in trying to push new or overlooked artists, it was felt this was the best use of our vote. Sorry to acts like Belle & Sebastian and Chvrches who made albums that loads of people clutch deeply to their chest.
Biffy Clyro weren’t nominated because they are massive and don’t require a helping hand from anyone, they weren’t nominated because the writer doesn’t think they’re any good.
Also, while the writer asked the editor for his thoughts on nominations, he ignored them and did what he wanted, so any complaints go directly to him, not anyone else at SNACK. That’s one of the good things about SNACK, they don’t have the team on a tight leash or have editors snottily referring to contributors as ‘my writers’, individuals have their say.
And that’s why we apologise now for anyone overlooked or missed, but it was just one guy and he was also dealing with avoiding the Edinburgh Fringe, avoiding sunshine and actively supporting the return of association football – any album which was nominated touched at least one person, which is more than can be said about the writer in 2022, and all the validation you require to keep doing what you do!
So, what just missed out from us?
With just five nominations per person, a lot of great music didn’t get put forward by us (picture the process of whatever music judging show is on TV at the time of publication), so we’ll quickly round up some highly recommended stuff from the nomination period.
The Front Door EP by Sulka has a melancholic air, but isn’t that the sort of thing we all like to wrap around us from time to time? The Elliot Smith style vocals probably don’t help to liven the tone, but it means you have velvet listening to sink into.
Tracks such as ‘Discord’ and ‘Windup’ had a little pep in their step, and the EP was short enough to warrant repeat listens to get your head around some of the more intricate moments.
Given his influence, and catalogue of tremendous songs, it isn’t a surprise that a few acts on the SAY shortlist reminded listeners of Elliot, with the Big EP by Loup Havenith (now going by the name of Elephant In Red) another great example of this sound.
Big doesn’t know whether it’s a lengthy EP or a short album, but it is certain about everything else. Songs like ‘Big’, ‘True Love Gone’ and ‘Heaven’ are effortlessly likeable, breezing by with a yearning vocal style recalling Elliott Smith.
At times you think the release would benefit by being littered with the guitar fills and runs that bookend the collection of songs, but in reflection, less is definitely more. The artist pitches the mood and tone of the record nicely, and it’s well paced and spaced to allow for repeated listens.
The Polly record, Slump, has a lot of good moments, combining the dark and marauding moments of Mogwai with the growling vocals from the gig room that haunt your thoughts when you’ve popped downstairs to use the restrooms at The Thirteen Note. That’s a compliment by the way, just in case that had to be clarified.
The overall tone is a rocky one, a style of music that is huge amongst Scottish listeners, but perhaps not as prominent in local bands, at least in comparison with other styles. Knowing this style is still being cultivated to a good standard locally is a comfort to many.
Megan Black has also got a rocky side to her music, alongside folk, witchery and even a touch of that 70s yacht rock that BBC 4 talk about a lot but few others discuss. We’re sure Megan won’t mind any comparison with Stevie Nicks, and we can’t fault the artist’s work rate this summer, turning up at gig venues, shopping centres, podcasts and Lord knows where else to bring her music to people. There’s not too many albums like Deadly Is The Woman this year, which is all the more reason to check Megan out.
Lloyd’s House is where Lloyd lives, but it’s also an album by Lloyd’s House, and it’s a charmingly lo-fi pop record. There’s never a wrong time to immerse yourself in some fuzzy melodies, and it’s a very likeable collection of songs.
Another record we loved on release was Heaven By The Back Door by Wojtek The Bear. It’s a jaunty record, sometimes touching on the dreaded T-word for Glasgow indie pop (twee, not Tennents), but more importantly, it’s a joyous record. The open and confessional tone of the lyrics makes it feel more like a close-friend sharing a few secrets. Well, apart from the horns, melodies and swooping guitars. If you’ve got friends like that, hold them close, if not, check out Wotjek The Bear instead.
Bemz is amongst the forerunners for the award, and there will be no surprises if M4 clinches the award. Bemz is a hugely popular artist, and he seems like a really good guy, so there will be few complaints if he comes out on top.
‘Know No Better’ is an excellent entry point, with a few familiar rap tropes for traditionalists to enjoy, but it flows well, and balances a light and local feel with what you’d expect from a rap record.
The 1990s Nude Restaurant should be in contention. If the vote was about lovable albums that put a smile on your face and make you feel glad to be alive, we’d have backed it. The thing is though, when you’re making tough decisions, and you’re looking for reasons to omit otherwise brilliant records, the small matter of it being recorded a decade ago went against it. That’s not a statement on its quality, it’s a great album that fans should be delighted they’re released, there are simply other albums that probably deserve a nomination a bit more.
An example of this comes with Heidi Talbot and Sing It For A Lifetime. It just missed out, and if the nomination process was a few weeks further down the line, the album might have dug itself deeper into our conscience by then. With appearances by Mark Knopfler and Dirk Powell, there are some big hitters on the record, but Heidi’s vocals and storytelling make it a compelling listen.
So, what did SNACK put forward?
Here’s a quick overview of the five records we nominated, we aren’t going to disclose the order we submitted them in (order means points, while points mean prizes), please view all five releases as worthy of your time.
Wozniak – Bruises
A slow-burner that digs into you a bit deeper with each new listen. That is as appropriate for Wozniak, as it is for their second album, Bruises. Feel free to use every shoegaze or post-rock cliché you know, the band has heard them all, and drilled through each and every one of them.
The drumming on ‘Arts & Science’ almost takes on the role of lead instrument, pushing the song forward and pummelling the listener into themselves. ‘Icelandic Water’ is one of the most aptly titled songs of the year. Refreshing, chilling and potentially fatal when it wraps itself around you while ‘Moga Mobo’ is delightful, an interlude of elusive beauty.
The quiet-quiet-loud-quiet formula is one we should all be well-acquainted with, but to their credit, Wozniak keep things feeling fresh and varied on Bruises. It’s a sprawling record that moves listeners without displacing them, perhaps fitting for the time we’ve all endured.
Dot Allison – Heart Shaped Scars
Heart-Shaped Scars might be Dot Allison’s first record in more than a decade, but it’s right on time. If the pace of the digital world drags you down, here’s an antidote.
Fragility and robustness go hand in hand here, blending together, leaving you unsure which is which. ‘Constellations’, ‘Can You Hear Nature Sing’ and ‘Cue The Tears’ are immediate highlights, but the record unfolds over repeated listens.
Dot expanded her horizons with new instruments, nature sounds and an army of talented musicians, but she retains one of the strongest tools any professional has in their arsenal, a stunning voice. From opener ‘Long Exposure’ to ‘Goodbye’, Dot weaves, floats and soars in a way she has always managed.
Absence might make the heart grow fonder, but it’s comforting to know it doesn’t diminish vocal chords. It’s time to let the outside in, and while you’re up, tell the world Dot’s back.
Jill Lorean – This Rock
Jill O’Sullivan’s vocals, as always, are powerful and captivating. However, it’s the diversity of music that steals the show on This Rock. The opener ‘Breaking Down’ sets the tone wonderfully. It’s a foreboding number, putting the listener immediately on edge. It’s not a marker for the album, but it’s one hell of an introduction.
It’s an album made for playing through, flipping across genres but never losing the overall thread of the record. ‘Kneading’ carries a Velvets-like urgency while the battle between folk and rock roars across several tracks. Who wins depends on your preference, but there are no losers on display here.
Annie Booth – Lazybody
Surely everyone felt like a Lazybody for most of 2021, but Annie Booth tapped into more than simply the zeitgeist with this album. The striking instrumentation, from opener ‘Cocoon’ through to ‘Fallow Year’ (again with the on-point titles) makes this a compelling album which never allows itself to become background music.
The swoons, swoops and stirs of the strings embellish all emotions, from optimism to despair, and all points in between. It’s an album that would feel right for any time, because even good times have their low points, but for now, Lazybody is a perfect accompaniment to your life.
Mood Taeg – Anaphora
The phrase right up my strasse is criminally overused round here, but it is extremely fitting for Mood Taeg, who conjure up a global feel with Anaphora. Influences from Germany and the Far East pepper the record, but when the vocals (eventually) kick in on ‘Diskonkordanx’, there’s no mistaking that Scottish twang.
If you love a driving motorik beat that inspires movement and contemplations of how a sound from the past can still sound so futuristic, you’ll love this collection.
In one sense, anyone who released an eligible album is a winner, and they should feel immense pride in doing anything creative in the past couple of years. Of course, in another way, there is only one winner of the SAY Award 2022, and we’ll find out when you do. Enjoy!