NOT so much a band you want to like as one you wish you could understand, there’s a disconnection between the inordinate success of Harrow trio Scouting For Girls and the essentially functional nature of their music. As with their recently ordained first ever No 1 hit, This Ain’t a Love Song, they create entirely pleasant, upbeat radio Muzak which is about as shallow as the Good Time Girl whom Roy Stride sings about on the song of the same name. This is the definition of landfill indie. On the Radio and Famous are stand-outs simply thanks to the fact they remind us slightly of The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star, although Strides’ baiting of people who “wanna be known just for being famous” during the latter is unkind: your average X-Factor contestant probably has no greater ambition than to be just like Scouting For Girls.
“Here’s a song you can sing along to, it’s a silly tune,” goes Silly Song. Its not the only track which deserves such a disclaimer.
BRITTEN: STRING QUARTETS NOS 2 & 3
FOR many composers, the string quartet represented the most intense, often the most introverted, form of self-expression. Britten only wrote three (with the specific title of string quartet), but they come at such significant points in his life that their importance cannot be overstated. The Elias Quartet (look out for them at this year’s East Neuk Festival) perform the second and third quartets here. The earlier one dates from 1945 – the time of Peter Grimes – and has that wonderful sense of stylistic adventure characterised in the music of the opera.
The last quartet was written right at the very end of Britten’s life, a haunting summation of his genius and ending with an aching sense of unfinished business. These performances – and that of the even earlier Three Divertimenti – are beautifully crafted and powerfully presented. The Elias are a name to watch.
CURIOS: THE OTHER PLACE
EDITION RECORDS, 11.99
LIFTING the Best Band award at last year’s BBC Jazz Awards raised expectation levels for the release of this follow-up to Curios’ highly regarded 2008 release, Closer. The trio of pianist Tom Cawley, bassist Sam Burgess and drummer Joshua Blackmore generally rise to the occasion in a strong and resourceful set of contemporary piano trio music, augmented by the addition of Cawley’s discreet electronics to their previously acoustic sound.
The opening Pursuit is indicative of their skill in building impressively sustained and often quirkily surprising structures on a simple melodic framework. The lengthy Impure moves in character from a dreamily impressionistic opening to a full-on group romp. 2009 World Champion is a hip-hop-inflected tribute to Jensen Button, while such compositions as Plea and Pure reflect a more inward-looking, reflective facet of their music, all of which was written by Cawley.
IAIN MORRISON: TRUST THE SEA TO GUIDE ME
THE Lewis singer-songwriter Iain Morrison’s second album under his own name (he sang with the Glasgow indie band Crash My Model Car) infuses beat-driven melodies with a haunting Hebridean starkness and insistent melancholy, reflected by an enigmatic short story in the sleeve notes. Atmosphere is heightened by cello, harmonium and occasional whistle, and his faintly agonised vocals are reminiscent of The Waterboys’ Mike Scott – in the gentle Take It All In, for instance – while the heavier 7th Floor has echoes of REM.
While songs such as the catchy And The Loner Says are more soft rock than folk, if you really need genre labels, he also returns to his first instrument, Highland pipes, for a couple of numbers, while his father contributes distant canntaireachd – the old vocal method of teaching the pipes – in the closing song, Ann Ann Air Mhire Tha Sibh (sung in English, despite the title).
I wasn’t entirely convinced at first, but some of these songs grow on you insidiously.
AMIRA AND MERIMA KLUJCO: ZUMRA
WORLD VILLAGE, 13.99
THERE’S an unexpected Caledonian connection to this CD, in that accordionist Merima Kljuco plays with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, but its roots lie deep in the Balkan tradition of sevdah. That is, the urban folk music of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but it’s a fusion of Ottoman and European styles, including Magyar, Roma, and Ladino influences, with traces of Greek rembetika added in.
Though it touches on sadness, it’s mostly to do with making love by moonlight, and it’s one of the most charming folk musics in the world. And in this music, singer Sarajevo-born Amira excels. Aptly dubbed Bosnia’s Billie Holiday, she has found entirely new realms of expression in it, which first climaxed five years ago in her acclaimed debut album Rosa. This new CD is just as arresting, with Amira’s voice holding us in its bittersweet spell.
The songs may seem simple on the surface, but you don’t have to dig deep to realise how shiftingly uncertain is the world out of which they spring. A mother wakes her sleeping son who has had a dream: “My sister blindfolded me, my father bound my hands, and you, my mother, were removing my heart.” And here Kljuco’s accompaniment underscores the implicit menace.
But at other times the message is serenely happy: “Turn round when you are taking a stroll down the rose garden. Turn round and look at me, you with the mouth as sweet as honey, my dark-eyed one, my Zumra2.”
Amira’s voice has an unusual directness, dark but not morbidly so; Kljuco’s playing takes many forms, and constantly springs surprises; together they create a uniquely beguiling sound.