What is it about Scotland that makes the country of just more than 5 million people produce far more than its fair share of great pop music artists?
Consider the following sample list: Simple Minds, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Big Country, Altered Images, The Bluebells, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, The Vaselines (more on them later), The Blue Nile, The Proclaimers, The Pastels, Fairground Attraction, The Trash Can Sinatras, Teenage Fanclub, Del Amitri, Travis, Belle and Sebastian, Snow Patrol and Franz Ferdinand.
Sure, some of the bands are greater than others but, taken as a whole, that's quite a varied and impressive roster. And there's absolutely no chance of a Scottish pop music let-up, as the following four recent releases (in egalitarian alphabetical order) amply demonstrate.
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If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Bricolage's self-titled debut is a sloppy wet kiss to the previously mentioned Orange Juice, Edwyn Collins' seminal guitar pop band of the early 1980s. Taking the OJ template of jagged-yet-melodic guitars married to frantic tempos and choruses full of youthful swooning, Bricolage's music must sound thoroughly modern to those not old enough to remember the band's forbears. And even those of us (ahem) old enough to reference the OJ similarities can't help but be charmed by the joyous sound the group produces. Bonus points for the shout out to/pisstake of countrymen Franz Ferdinand in the lyrics "please don't take me out tonight" in "Flowers of Deceit."
My Maudlin Career
Once little more than Belle and Sebastian copyists with a female lead vocalist, Camera Obscura came into their own with their previous album, 2006's Let's Get Out of This Country. New disc, My Maudlin Career, continues its success. Singer Tracyanne Campbell's heart has been shattered but she juxtaposes her lyrical sadness with hook-filled indie guitar pop in the great tradition of The Smiths and The Go-Betweens -- impressive company, indeed. That the music is augmented by the tasteful use of horns and strings is all the more reason to love it.
Love is the Way
Possessed of a stunningly beautiful voice, Eddi Reader first came to fame in 1988 with neo-skiffle band Fairground Attraction and their irresistible single "Perfect." Now, nine albums into her solo career, the gorgeous purity of her voice remains and she's matured into a songwriter whose talent can match her pipes. Love is the Way continues her exploration of folkish pop and gives her lyrics and voice the center-stage spotlight that both deserve.
Enter The Vaselines
The short career of The Vaselines, 1986-1989, didn't garner a lot of attention, but it did earn them one extremely influential fan in Kurt Cobain, whose Nirvana recorded no less than three Vaselines' songs. Enter The Vaselines is an augmented update of 1992's The Way of The Vaselines, which was released in the wake of Nirvana mania and collected the V's entire recorded output of two EPs and one LP. Enter adds a second disc of demos and live recordings from the original era and, while not essential, is a fun listen for those familiar with the material. Meanwhile, the first disc of 19 tracks is simply transcendent. Singer-songwriters Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee trade vocals and humorous jibes (usually sexual) over simple strums or distorted guitar squeals in a perfect time capsule of adolescence and its raging hormones and emotions. Reuniting recently to perform at their label Sub Pop's 20th anniversary celebration, The Vaselines are now touring the US for the very first time. Unfortunately there's no stop planned in the Valley, but you can read about it at our Village Voice Media sister papers here and here.