Album reviews: Middleton/Shrigley | Mogwai

Malcolm Middleton / David Shrigley collaboration. Picture: Contributed
Malcolm Middleton / David Shrigley collaboration. Picture: Contributed
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If you thought Malcolm Middleton, the delectably dour Scottish singer-songwriter who nobly failed to reach the Christmas number one slot in 2007 with We’re All Going to Die, was already the king of festive anti-cheer, wait until you hear what Middleton and his mate David Shrigley have in store this time.

Malcolm Middleton and David Shrigley: Music And Words


Star rating: ***

Take the opening track of Music and Words, A Toast, for example, which amid a fog of dreamily cascading electronica, features a spoken word lyric that seems to imagine the inner monologue of a man sitting down at a secretly-loathed friend’s dinner table. “Greetings,” it begins, “and good f***ing wishes to you and your f***-head a***hole family.” And that’s all the lyrics I’ll quote, lest this review look like it’s been shot from a blunderbuss loaded with asterisks. Music and Swear Words might have been a more descriptive title.

Seven years in the making, this resplendently puerile collection began its gestation after Shrigley – the Turner Prize nominated Glasgow-based artist famed for his absurd and bizarre sense of humour, typically conveyed through distinctive, crudely line-drawn cartoons – designed the artwork for ex-Arab Strap member Middleton’s album A Brighter Beat. From there, a creative relationship slowly blossomed through exchanges of tracks and texts, as the pair found common ground. “We’re both into darkness, pathos, despair,” says Shrigley, “existential things.”

Over a variety of instrumental audio vignettes made in Middleton’s characteristic idiom – some dark, some pretty, some a little of each – Shrigley lays what feel like aural incarnations of his crude line-drawings, as voiced by actors Gavin Mitchell and Bridget McCann, Californian friend Scott Vermeire and Shrigley himself. Set to a stabbing metallic riff and dancey beat Houseguest effectively conveys one side of a violent, sweary argument about a sword, culminating in an act of spontaneous defecation. Caveman is a sort-of musing on Cro-Magnon casual murder. Story Time, delivered with disciplined nursery schoolteacher straightness by McCann along to minor-key acoustic guitar arpeggios, is a kind-of X-rated Aesop’s Fable imaging a brutal bloodbath between woodland animals, ending in more spontaneous defecation, plague, and lots more swearing.

Most absurdly childish of all, there’s Sunday Morning, featuring a lyric which Middleton initially presumed “a scathing attack on the pomp and arrogance of religion,” only to learn that it’s “just about willies.” “Bong your dong upon the gong,” begins the infuriatingly silly refrain. Think of Music and Words as the ideal Christmas gift for a secretly loathed friend. MALCOLM JACK


Mogwai: Music Industry 3. Fitness Industry 1

Rock Action

Star rating: ****

When are Mogwai not Mogwai? At times on this EP, a kind of addendum to the Glasgow post-rock band’s top-10-breaking album of earlier this year, Rave Tapes, and specifically on the incredible Teenage Exorcists. Uniting trademark fierce guitars with a pacey beat and even a chorus (and if you know Mogwai, you’ll know them to be one of the most downtempo and chorus-fearing bands around) it’s an unlikely radio hit. Elsewhere we get three so-so Rave Tapes remixes by Blanck Mass, Pye Corner and Nils Fram, and two familiarly doomy-grinding new instrumental compositions, History Day and HMP Shaun William Ryder. But really, it’s all about Teenage Exorcists. MJ

The Grand Gestures: Third


Star rating: ***

Former Spare Snare member Jan Burnett completes his trilogy of albums as The Grand Gestures – a home-recording project featuring guest vocalists. Burnett’s electronic drones, drum-loops and found sounds form a backdrop of pensive bleakness, allowing moments of vocal beauty to shine all the brighter. Sparrow and the Workshop’s Jill O’Sullivan, who features on opener Compos Mentis, has a voice near impossible not to love, while Pauline Alexander is a welcome new discovery on Fear The Night. There’s some black-comedy levity at the end care of Sanjeev Kohli on You To Me Are Everything, a spoken-word rhyme in which he offers to quantify love through achievable rather than poetic acts. Stopping the rain, he concedes, is “beyond me”, but he could “cross an Orange walk dressed completely as Beyoncé”. MJ


JS Bach: Orchestral Suites


Star rating: ****

There’s a poignancy in this latest Bach recording by the Academy of Ancient Music, given the recent death of its founding director Christopher Hogwood in September. And much of the spirit he gave it – clean rhythm, un-laboured tempi and crisp textures – feeds through these performances 
of the orchestral suites. There’s originality, too, in the use of one player per part, which not only opens up intimate perspectives on the music but allows the trumpets to shine through with unforced ease. Richard Egarr’s direction from the harpsichord is fresh and vital. KEN WALTON


The Alt: The Alt

Under The Arch Records

Star rating: ****

Named after a mountain cleft in County Sligo celebrated by WB Yeats, this trio unites three esteemed Irish musicians – singer-guitarists John Doyle and Eamon O’Leary and flautist-singer Nuala Kennedy – to give pure, direct voice to traditional songs. Doyle and O’Leary’s string playing, also using bouzouki and mandola, couches their singing in a busy but delicate fretwork reminiscent of Planxty, over which Kennedy’s flute takes flight, particularly in a couple of instrumental sets.

Their warm harmony vocals are demonstrated in the opening of Lovely Nancy, O’Leary taking up the song and leading to a fine coda of flute, strings and voices, while Doyle gives clear expression to What Put the Blood, a variant of the Edward question and response ballad form.

The Napoleonic saga marking Waterloo, The Eighteenth of June, is recounted with poignant dignity, as is an a cappella rendition of the Appalachian Letter Song, while Kennedy gives winsome lilt to the melody of One Morning in May. JIM GILCHRIST


Tina May: My Kinda Love

HEP Records

Star rating: ****

I doubt if many would have quibbled if Alastair Robertson had simply entitled this set Divas 2, such are the parallels between this session and that earlier release – not least in the quality of the outcome. My Kinda Love was recorded this summer, one year on from that 2013 set for the Perthshire-based label, and Tina May once again brings her classy delivery and improvisational flair to a well chosen set of familiar and not-so-familiar standards. Veteran saxophonist Frank Griffith leads a shifting cast of fine horn players through his accomplished arrangements, underpinned by a strong rhythm section which features John Pearce, Dave Green and Winston Clifford this time around. They add depth with a string quartet on four of the songs, while I’m Through With Love features May’s lovely vocal accompanied only by Pearce’s piano and an elegant flugelhorn solo from Janusz Carmello. KENNY MATHIESON


Srdjan Beronja: The Sounds of Varanasi

ARC Music

Star rating: ****

The subtitle is “a unique sound journey through the holy city”, the city in question being Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh. It begins with the squawking of green parrots at the entrance to a temple into which the microphone moves, to capture a morning raga meditation. The second track is a wonderfully smoky Alap and Jor on sitar, followed by a faster piece as the tabla comes in; then we get monkeys in a side-street, before returning to classical music in the form of a bright violin-and-tabla duet. Beronja, a Serbian percussionist, certainly knows how to render another culture. MICHAEL CHURCH