For Edinburgh micro-label Song, By Toad, the approach to celebrating its fifth year in existence is typically a little unusual.
Five Years/Five Records
Song, by Toad, available via the internet
Star rating: * * * *
There’s no compilation of greatest hits – it hasn’t had any, although most artists on its roster have made somewhere between a worthwhile and an indelible contribution to the Scottish music scene over the past half -decade. Instead, label boss Matthew Young has selected five new(ish) albums by his regular artists and released them in one box set.
The most well-known of the artists here is Neil Pennycook’s Meursault, whose contribution is titled Kissing On Bonfires. A full rerecording of his 2009 download-only debut album Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing In Tongues to make it more suited to vinyl, its new semi-electronic arrangements might attract completists, while his quality as a songwriter of yearning passion is accentuated amid the folky minimalism of the title track and Salt (Part 2). Also well established are The Leg, whose “lost” album What Happened To The Shrunken Tina Turner is a less digestible but inventively wrought collision of atonal noise and cathartic riffing.
Two more low-key delights emerge in Abandoned Love by Virgin of the Birds, which collects the highlights of five EPs released between 2009-2011 to reveal a lo-fi talent akin to Bright Eyes, and a partial rerecording of Animal Magic Tricks’ delightful electro-acoustic Sex Acts. This quintet is rounded off by The Toad Sessions, a compilation of tracks from Young’s house party gigs featuring FOUND, Adam Stafford and the Pictish Trail. DAVID POLLOCK
Download this: The Toad Sessions
Star rating: * *
One of the most likeable below-the-radar indie-pop figures of the Britpop era, Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s appearance on Strictly Come Dancing has sent her tumbling back into the mainstream. Sadly it’s also done the same for her musical career, with bright hits like Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) and her early Theaudience work replaced by insipid balladry on her Ed Harcourt produced fifth album. The grandeur of the arrangements is often refreshing, but only plain and simple ballad Young Blood and the lively dance-pop of 13 Little Dolls truly grab at the heart. DP
Download this: Young Blood, 13 Little Dolls
Jacques Caramac & The Sweet Generation
The Highs And Lows Of Jacques Caramac & The Sweet Generation
Everyday Life/Rocket Girl, £12.99
Star rating: * * *
Describing themselves as Franco-Scottish-Bolivian and “a bit ridiculous”, Jacques Caramac & The Sweet Generation create breezily diverse pop in debt to the sounds of late 1960s Berlin and early 80s Manchester, with titles drawn from a love for obscure Scottish confectionary. The record touches upon jangly first generation Britpop on Snowballs, spacey psychedelia on Passive Smoker and conspiracy theorising indie-rock on It Takes All Sorts. There’s plenty of invention here, creating a sound comparable to MGMT if it wasn’t so much more raw and basic on the production side. DP
Download this: Passive Smoker, Liberté Fraternité Galaxy
NDR 60 Years Jazz Edition Series
Modern Jazz Quartet
Moosicus Records N1304-2, £14.99
Star rating: * * * *
From 1953, the German broadcasting company NDR played host to a string of international jazz stars, building up an archive of over 2000 concert and studio recordings, which are now starting to be released officially for the first time. This CD, the fourth in the series, features the Modern Jazz Quartet, which visited NDR’s Hanover studios in October 1957. A young, fresh-sounding group with a distinctive sound – Milt Jackson’s airy vibes fused with composer/pianist John Lewis’s baroque style – the MJQ was in Europe for the first time but was already a big hit at home in the States. This is a terrific introduction to its classy, cool sound – though we could do without the dull announcements between numbers. Alison Kerr
Download this: Vendome
Reveal Records REVEAL022CDX, £12.99
Star rating: * * * *
The Glasgow-based singer has recorded her first CD for a few years, and it’s beautifully produced, by herself with Mark Freegard, and stuffed full of lovely instrumental work by 16 guests; and eight more in a string section. The 14 tracks run from a pre-war lyric to one each by Michael Marra and Declan O’Rourke, and a final one by Boo Hewerdine, but most are by Reader in partnership with her husband or other musos. Soft, swingy, relaxed rhythms predominate and hold throughout – even Buain Na Rainich is strung out as a waltz. But it remains the most sonically satisfying Reader-record that this reviewer has ever listened to.
Download this: Here Comes The Bells
Missa a capella: Sacred Choral Works
Ondine ODE 1223-2, £12.99
Star rating: * * * * *
At 85, Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara’s best known works may be his 1972 Cantus Arcticus and his 1999 Eighth Symphony. Today, his output includes new commissions and revisions or expansions of earlier works. Both feature in this well-crafted CD from the Latvian Radio Choir under Sigvards Klava. The most recent work, Our Joyful’st Feast, draws on words from Shakespeare and his contemporary George Wither for a Christmas-themed work, while Vigilia, two sections of which feature, is set firmly in the Orthodox tradition. The Missa a capella spans a 40-year period, beginning with the Credo published in 1972; the whole work was completed in 2010. Throughout, Rautavaara’s style is harmonious and thoughtful, and often enigmatic, here given a committed performance by a talented ensemble. Alexander Bryce
Download this: Canticum Mariae Virginis