Wednesday 30 April 2014


It is hard to overstate how important a band the Pet Shop Boys are. Their contribution to British pop music deserves constant praise, from the perfection of What I Have Done To Deserve This to the sheer brilliance of So Hard, to pick two examples at random. Like most people of my era, growing up I was a huge fan and it was a time when they seemed to be in the Top 10 every week cornering the pop market with Erasure as both bands produced classic single after classic single. Pet Shop Boys have always been more than a singles band with a catalogue of genuinely brilliant albums and for years, Behaviour has been my favourite. Its' mix of nostalgia, pop and melody make it near perfect. This whole series is about electronic inspirations however, and that is what I want to look at Pet Shop Boys' second greatest album, 1988's Introspective.

The album was released on 11 October 1988 and it instantly altered any preconceptions I held about the band. Instead of the tried and tested pop formula of Please and Actually, the band put out a 6 track album with each song lasting over six minutes with every song firmly focused on the dancefloor. Each of the 4 singles released from the album were classic Pet Shop Boys' singles in their own right and each was a pop gem along the lines we had come to expect from the band. That said, one of these singles was Always On My Mind which was released some 11 months before the album came out so it's tricky to suggest that its release was truly part of the Instrospective release campaign. I'm not going to find fault with that however, as the band's version of Always On My Mind remains one of the greatest pieces of music anyone has released ever. 

Anyway, back to Introspective. Other than Always On My Mind, the singles released were Domino Dancing, Left To My Own Devices and It's Alright. The first two were the only tracks written for Introspective, the remaining four consisting of two covers (Always On My Mind and It's Alright), an old b-side (I Want A Dog) and a cover of a song that the Pet Shop Boys wrote for Eighth Wonder (I'm Not Scared). They covered their own song - at least I think that's how you'd put it. 

The album opens with the stunning Left To My Own Devices, a track that manages to sound like the world's biggest orchestra playing in the middle of a club and which has one of the greatest choruses of all time. From there we're straight into I Want A Dog, a tale of loneliness that is driven along by an almost acid like bass. Chris Lowe has always had one eye on the prevailing club scenes of the time and dances influences inf you want to call them that have always been prevalent in PSB's music. Much more than just a pop band you see. Track 3, or the end of side 1 in old money, is the mindblowing Domino Dancing. What does this track not have? We've got a Latin influence, perfect synth sounds, dance beats, housey piano and yet another classic chorus. In the midst of all that we have a sort of scratchy, basey breakdown that smacks the listener right in the face. Majestic.

The sound of a fairgound heralds the start of Side 2 as we swoop into I'm Not Scared. This version is so far superior to Eighth Wonder's version it's silly. The atmosphere of the track changes entirely from their version and it is a really is a wonderful thing. The penultimate song is a 9 minute version of Always On My Mind called Always On My Mind/In My House which is almost indescribably good. It twists and turns the band's 7" version adding heavy bass, ahead of their time beats, more housey elements and a mid section rap by neil that is actually fantastic. All this carries on and then suddenly builds to a euphoric climax that I defy anyone to listen to and not enjoy. Staggeringly good. Finally, continuing the house theme, we have It's Alright, a cover of a track by Sterling Void. As well as the many elements mentioned above we have a choir thrown in at the start which is no bad thing at all.

An electronic influence then? Certainly. In releasing Introspective, Pet Shop Boys tore up the pop rule book and showed that 12" remixes weren't just something for 12" singles. They made a genuinely brilliant album where innovative takes on the the prevalent club and dances scenes merged effortlessly with their trademark pop brilliance. This strange album sold 4.5 million copies worldwide which is extraordinary and a testament to just how good it is. If you haven't heard it, have a listen - you'll be impressed. 

Monday 28 April 2014


I first heard of Call To Mind when Neil at Scottish Fiction asked me to review their A Family Sketch single last year. I was instantly struck by the sheer beauty of the track which was one of the best things I heard last year and, given that 2013 was a Depeche Mode release year, that says a lot. Happily, their debut album The Winter Is White (Olive Grove Records) builds on the power of A Family Sketch, giving us of the most exciting debut albums of the year.

The album opens with A Family Sketch, meaning that you're instantly hooked. To my ears, the band's Highlands roots give this album its' atmospheric feel, much in the same way Sigur Ros' music puts you in mind of wandering around Iceland even if you haven't been there. January (You Are All I See) follows A Family Sketch and we continue on the almost ambient in parts, almost motorik in others path which is no bad thing at all. Energy//Blast,  the fantastic The Wound & The Gift and Passing Drumochter round off Side 1 (yes this is a vinyl review and yes there's that Highlands influence - see?). The Wound & The Gift is a beautiful song with a piano line that sits quite far back in the mix but grabs you before you're hit with some almost My Bloody Valentine like feedback guitar as the song ends. Clever stuff

Side two opens with the almost poppy Breathe which should be a smash hit single if there's any justice. The second half of the album is more conventional perhaps that the first half but that's absolutely fine. The band aren't frightened to mix experimental with more straightforward music and both styles compliment each other perfectly. Over The Machair follows Breathe and it's another song that takes you on a journey that you won't forget. Untitled, Sightlines and the marvellous Chemotherapy round off the album and straightaway you want to get back up, turn it over and start playing it again.

This is s special album and is another example of why the Scottish music scene is in its' most vibrant state for years. More and more bands are releasing great quality work and Call To Mind are right there at the forefront. You must hear this album.

Call To Mind website
Call To Mind Facebook
Call To Mind Twitter  
Olive Grove Records website

Thursday 24 April 2014

Scottish Album of The Year

The Scottish Album of The Year (SAY) longlist has been announced. The 20 albums on the list are:

Adam Holmes and The Embers - Heirs and Graces
Adam Stafford - Imaginary Walls Collapse
Biffy Clyro - Opposites
Boards Of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest
Camera Obscura - Desire Lines
CHVRCHES - The Bones Of What You Believe
Dunedin Consort (Dir. John Butt) - J.S. Bach: Six Brandenburg Concertos
Edwyn Collins - Understated
Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse
Hector Bizerk - Nobody Seen Nothing
Kid Canaveral - Now That You Are A Dancer
Mogwai - Les Revenants
Rick Redbeard - No Selfish Heart
RM Hubbert - Breaks And Bone
Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire - Roddy Heart & The Lonesome Fire
Scottish Chamber Orchestra (R Ticciati) - Berlioz: Les Nuits D'ete
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra -  In The Spirit Of Duke
Steve Mason - Monkey Minds In The Devil's Time
The Pastels - Slow Summits
Young Fathers - Tape Two

The longlist will be promoted through the SAY website (click) for four weeks during which time one of the longlisted albums can be streamed each weekday. A public vote begins on 26 May for 72 hours to allow the public to choose one album to go onto the final shortlist of 10, the other nine being chosen by the judging panel. 

Get listening and then get voting. It's a hugely impressive list that reflects the quality of music coming out of Scotland at the moment. Like I keep saying, we are in the midst of a great period for Scottish music and that's why it's really important to support awards like this and the music scene in general.

SAY Facebook page 
SAY Twitter

Tuesday 22 April 2014


Call To Mind recently released their exceptional debut album The Winter Is White on Olive Grove Records (review to follow) and to celebrate that, the band held a launch party at The Glad Cafe in Shawlands, Glasgow on 12 April. Support came from two bands, the first of which was Prehistoric Friends who were new to me. They play a brand of melodic pop music that is really interesting and I thought their set was great. Highlights were the fantastic Hallucinations and the forthcoming single Bermuda Triangle which comes out on 10 May. 

The next support came from one of my favourite local bands, Campfires In Winter. As well as material from the Picture of Health and White Lights ep's (available here) the band played their new single We'll Exist which will be available from 12 May. It sounded great and you must check it out. The highpoint of the set was the brilliant With A Ragged Diamond which is a song everyone must hear.

Great support acts then but the main reason we were there was to see Call To Mind and they didn't disappoint. Their music is beautifully atmospheric with, to my ears, influences ranging from Sigur Ros to Slint to Mogwai through Krautrock and beyond. As well as their at times stunning music the band were backed by films by Mark Lyken and Emma Dove which complimented the music perfectly. Opening with the outstanding A Family Sketch, the band quickly got into gear playing a set culled from the album and the Call To Mind ep. As with listening to their album, Call To Mind's music grabs you straightaway and is mesmerising in places and the gig swept along in no time at all with everyone in the audience immersed in the sound. As well as A Family Sketch, other highlights were Over The Machair, Running With Scissors and A9. If you get the chance, go and see Call To Mind.

Call To Mind, live at the Glad Cafe 12 April 2014

For more information on Call To Mind check out their website and Bandcamp page