FIONA SHEPHERD reviews FOUND’s new album, Cloning, a Vangelis-referencing album of cinematic electronic sci-fi songs made for an imaginary film. Plus, reviews of Natalie Merchant, Jeffrey Lewis, and a compendium of Scottish folk music
FOUND: Cloning | Rating: **** | Chemikal Underground
While bands such as Franz Ferdinand and Django Django first met at or around art school (a very good place to start), FOUND are a band who emerged almost by osmosis from the work of the art collective of the same name, writing music to use in their playful sound installations, such as the BAFTA-winning empathic robot Cybraphon or, more recently, the phone app Great Circle, which functions as a virtual souvenir of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, beckoning visitors back to Glasgow by revealing more of its audio-visual content the closer the user is to the city.
It’s a clever concept, fertile ground even for a sci-fi story. Indeed, the music which sprang from it, A Souvenir For Every Hope You Had, became a jumping off point for the band’s next project – a soundtrack album for a film yet to be made. The title is Cloning, the score is electronic and the reference points are patently the soundtracks of Vangelis, John Carpenter and Wendy Carlos, who ruled a brave new world of steely synths, cool arpeggios and low frequency oscillation from the late 60s to the early 80s, and whose retro-futuristic style continues to influence film soundtracks from Drive to It Follows.
With the departure of their colleague Tommy Perman, the remaining band members Ziggy Campbell and Kev Sim have plundered their own analogue armoury and taken to the world of imaginary sci-fi film scores like a couple of naturals.
The low budget synth symphony of Cloning mixes songs and short instrumental interludes so evocative that they write their own script. The First Catastrophe seems destined to accompany images of a deserted cityscape or sterile industrial plant. End Sequence is a flinty slice of synth froideur with a touch of X-Files eeriness, deliberately out of sequence in that it comes just before Centrepiece, which in turn precedes the somewhat opaque Main Title.
These delicious snippets provide the connective tissue between a handful of songs which seamlessly mix torch pop and technological tricks. The foreboding ambience of Hit the Clone Button has something of the shiver of Japan’s Ghosts, while Wheel Out Apocalypse is reminiscent of an understated Associates, full of melodramatic break-up sentiments such as “bring me calamity, disaster and tragedy, if there’s no more you and me, then roll out catastrophe” but delivered as a breathy, beguiling indie hymn by Campbell.
The Second Catastrophe is also underplayed, an eight minute epic yet with an intimate confessional feel, while the ultra-cool electro thrum of Halfway Cured is imbued with the warmth and vulnerability of Campbell’s soft, soulful voice.
It’s an opposites-attract contrast which works consistently across the album so that by the time the closing Credits rolls, FOUND leave you wanting more. Fiona Shepherd
Maybe the next step is to go ahead and make that film?
• Read Malcolm Jack’s interview with FOUND
POP: Natalie Merchant: Paradise Is There: The New Tigerlily | Nonesuch | Rating: ***
Natalie Merchant reworks her debut solo album, Tigerlily, with the benefit of 20 years’ further experience, reflecting how the songs have developed as she has continued to perform them over the years. So it’s a mature work, for sure. Merchant’s emotional connection to these rock solid faithful companions comes through in her elegantly aching vocals, but the understated roots pop arrangements are almost too subtle for their own good. Old favourites Wonder and Jealousy come off snoozily but elsewhere the chamber strings are lovingly shaded with jazz, rock and folk ballad inflections. FS
POP: Jeffrey Lewis: Manhattan | Rough Trade | Rating: ***
Illustrator and troubadour Jeffrey Lewis brings his keen eye for comic detail to bear across his latest album, using his native New York as the backdrop for his conversational ruminations. His lyrical dexterity is now accompanied by a more sophisticated musical landscape. The lengthy, low-slung Lou Reed-influenced likes of Thunderstorm and Back to Manhattan contrast with pacier, punkier encounters such as Sad Screaming Old Man (“please don’t be myself from the future”) and Yiddish yarn The Pigeon, while Lewis affectionately sends up his cult credentials on Have A Baby and the bottom of the bill blues Support Tours. FS
JAZZ: John Mclaughlin & The 4th Dimension: Black Light | Abstract Logix | Rating: ****
Now in his mid-seventies, guitarist John McLaughlin certainly isn’t letting up on explosive virtuosity, as amply demonstrated by this latest album with his 4th Dimension band, featuring Gary Husband on keyboards, synths and percussion, Etienne M’Bappe on electric bass and Ranjit Barot also on drums.
Right from the opening Here Come the Jiis (no, me neither), McLaughlin’s guitar synth whoops its way over the intense rattle and flicker of percussion and feverishly muttering bass. His eruptive approach is perhaps more reminiscent of his iconoclastic Mahavishnu Orchestra, rather than the more acoustic Indo-jazz fusion of Shakti, although there is no shortage of eastern elements here, with Barot’s rapid-fire outbursts of konokol vocables.
Husband lays down both powerful percussion grooves and keyboard texturing, while M’Bappe’s electric fretless bass brings warm tones to the cinematic-sounding synths of Gaza City. McLaughlin switches to acoustic guitar for his eloquent tribute to the late Paco de Lucia, building flamenco-like intensity while piano cascades in tight, almost baroque response. Jim Gilchrist
CLASSICAL: Scriabin: Symphonies Nos 3 & 4 | LAWO Classics | Rating: *****
The very first bars are like a raging horror movie; a Gothic call to attention. This is the short introduction to Scriabin’s Symphony No 3 , Le Devin Poème, a piece in which the composer’s wild eccentricity takes flight in the raging conflict of a main opening movement fired by post-Wagnerian excess, and the golden splendour of the “divine” finale. It’s the first recording in the Oslo Philharmonic’s ongoing survey of Scriabin’s symphonies under the fiery baton of Vasily Petrenko, and together they give a gloriously opulent and fervent account. There’s more mystery and wonderment in the accompanying Symphony No 4 Le Poème de l’extase. If ever a set of performances caught the weird, psychedelic world of Scriabin, it’s this one. Ken Walton
FOLK: Various Artists: The Ultimate Guide To Scottish Folk | Arc Music | Rating: ****
Be chary of all things “ultimate”. Regardless of adjectival hyperbole, however, this double CD makes a fair fist of compiling an introductory primer of Scottish folk music, not least for well-informed notes by musician and broadcaster Mary Ann Kennedy.
The 37 tracks range, sometimes capriciously, from the contemporary high intensity of Lau to the sprightly strains of Sir Jimmy Shand’s Bluebell Polka familiar to generations. Obvious names include Blazin’ Fiddles, Capercaillie, Breabach, Ossian, Runrig, Aly Bain (with the Scottish Ensemble), Karine Polwart, Martyn Bennett’s Nae Regrets from Grit and Gordon Duncan’s epic
Just for Seamus, as well as the excoriating power of Dick Gaughan’s No Gods and Precious Few Heroes, and Michael Marra’s poignant Happed in Mist.
No Jock Tamson’s Bairns or Easy Club? Inevitably, everyone will have something to nit-pick about. On the positive side, it’s nice to be reacquainted with Archie Fisher singing Reynardine, or Heather Heywood’s MacCrimmon’s Lament; peerless singing, too, from Ishbel MacAskill and Sheena Wellington. Jim Gilchrist