Halina Rifai: My three favourite Scottish acts of 2015

Kathryn Joseph. Picture: Jannica Honey

Kathryn Joseph. Picture: Jannica Honey

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PODCART’s Halina Rifai speaks to three of her favourite Scottish acts of 2015 about their successes so far

From the age of around 14 I would, like most, spend my cash (and my parents’) on as many physical music releases as I could. At the time cassettes would range from around £7.99 up and I recall even paying £18.99 for a CD at one point.

Our consumption of music has changed significantly and with digital releases making it easier for artists to release more music, it can sometimes be hard to find a filter.

This year, I am whittling all my listening gems down to a pick of three. These three artists have not only dominated my listening for the year, but they are 3 of the most promising and consistently evolving artists to have emerged from Scotland.

KATHRYN JOSEPH

TYCI podcast and radio producer Amanda Aitken first introduced me to Kathryn Joseph. Her fellow Aberdonian ‘quine’ released her debut album Bones You Have Thrown Me And Blood I have Spilled in January of this year. I couldn’t get through one song without either crying uncontrollably or staring out of the window in a dream of sorts. The album went on to win 2015’s Scottish Album of The Year Award, much to the delight of almost everyone I spoke to. It is without doubt one of the most heartbreaking yet life-affirming bodies of writing I’ve heard. Produced by Marcus Mackay (Frightened Rabbit, Snow Patrol, Sparrow and the Workshop) who also plays with Joseph live, it was released via independent label Hits The Fan Records.

Joseph still cannot comprehend how it has been received. “I have one of those brains, I just won’t believe it actually happened,” she said. “There is no way I would have thought this year would go the way it would.” The sorrow behind the release can be heard in every single utterance and every chord. “Writing the songs are what makes me feel better about things, the writing part sorts me out and playing live I don’t feel the sadness of the song, usually it’s a very different and it is like I am just watching myself.”

Joseph is unique: her music swells with emotion, but above all the fragility and grace of her voice is something that stays with you. 2016 will see Joseph continue to write and hopefully release another record – and there are rumours of a big show in May.

VASA

Glasgow-based math rock band Vasa have managed to escape the goldfish bowl of Scotland and they’ve started to impress fans in the rest of the UK and Europe. Having received a rapturous reception at this year’s Arctangent Festival – followed by a sold out show at Glasgow’s Old Hairdressers – they have risen head and shoulders above their post-rock competitors. Their debut album Colours was released in October of this year; it’s the sound of a band who have never been tighter. Bassist John Niblock, the engine of the four-piece, has pushed them to greater heights through a bloody-minded determination to work hard.

“Touring has always been a thing for us,” he said. “Our first tour was a four-date run and we really enjoyed that. I think bands don’t tend to do that sometimes. Gigs will improve and have improved with hard work. It has really paid off for us and we have made really good pals, including Black Peaks, who just signed to Sony. It is really cool to see that happening, we got a lot of people contacting us and I think that was because we just plugged away at it.” Colours, with its all-consuming, full-on rock dynamics and hard-hitting riffs, has emerged as a definitive springboard for greater things.

UNITED FRUIT

I have followed United Fruit for some time now. In 2009 their EP Mistress, Reptile Mistress! placed them as a frontrunner in terms of the bands I was blogging about with its gut-punching riffs and jagged verses. Last month, they released a three-track EP, Nightmare Recovery, that has seen the band transition into one of stadium—worthy proportions. United Fruit has always had a strong post-punk vein, but within their songs are stunning melodic trinkets that have set them apart form the rest. Nightmare Recovery doesn’t so much maintain United Fruit’s post-punk appeal as blow it apart. “We wanted to showcase what we’ve been doing with this EP. There was a mix of pop in there, we have definitely changed what we were doing. We moved on from swarmy guitars and we beefed up productions. We also streamlined the songs and focused on making them normal in structure,” says guitarist Stuart Galbraith. It is this progression that has made them stand out, and with numerous UK press basting them in praise along with growing support beyond Scotland, 2016 will see the band tour more significantly. Nightmare Recovery combines strident angular guitars and pulsating basslines to deliver one of Scottish alt-rock’s best EPs.

• Halina Rifai is a Glasgow-based writer for Scottish music blog Podcart, http://podcart.co/

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