Familiar and fantastic, Teenage Fanclub deliver an aural comfort blanket to their many admirers
Teenage Fanclub: Here | Rating: **** | PeMa
The Pictish Trail: Future Echoes | Rating: **** | Lost Map
Elle Exxe: Love Fuelled Hate | Rating: *** | LX Records
Even by national treasure standards, there is a special affection reserved for Teenage Fanclub which endures a quarter of a century after they were last considered the must-hear band of the day. With the members now living across two continents, new work is less plentiful – the arrival of Here comes after the longest gap between albums in their career. But you know what absence does for hearts…and Here gives back with a similar fondness.
In fact, lead single I’m In Love could almost sum up the relationship between band and fans with its easy, predictable, functional harmony. Lyric “I like your trajectory” is neither passionate plea nor demonstrative declaration but it does stop short of an afternoon nap. For a middle-aged band, Teenage Fanclub still sport a largely carefree sound, but those moods and emotions are expressed more gently throughout.
Gerry Love, one third of the songwriting team beside Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley, puts a little pep in their step with bursts of burnished psychedelic guitar and a pleasing, fuzzy, melodious solo on Thin Air. There are shades of their contemporaries Dinosaur Jr, but overlaid with the softer vocal interplay of the Fanclub.
However, the overall tone is one of understatement. “I don’t hear much fanfare for the common man these days,” they rue on the careworn Hold On but that’s about as accusatory as it gets. Anyone else urging the audience to “hold on to your dreams” might be tempted to overplay their hand; with Teenage Fanclub, the advice comes like a reassuring squeeze of your shoulder.
Live In the Moment, meanwhile, is their chillaxed TED talk, featuring subtle but breezy brass, and another economical guitar solo. All is balance and, of course, harmony. I Have Nothing More To Say is a soothing, hypnotic, immersive experience – even the fuzzy, acid guitar outro is gently delivered. The dreamy pop of With You is another aural comfort blanket to snuggle up with and I Was Beautiful When I Was Alive, described by the band as Autobahn meets the Pacific Coast Highway, is quietly blissful, like one of the mellower Byrds or Beach Boys numbers.
Even the more soporific likes of Steady State and Connected to Life are shot through with such empathy that it is tempting to retitle the album “There, There.”
Johnny Lynch, aka The Pictish Trail, is also in a dreamlike state on his latest album Future Echoes but there is a certain mournfulness colouring his delivery. Allied to melodies which get under the skin, his voice has never sounded better, reminiscent of a lo-fi Beck or Gorillaz on the catchy, ambling Dead Connection or drawing you in across the woozy Far Gone (Don’t Leave) and the ethereal slowburn of Strange Sun.
So it’s down to Edinburgh-born, London-based newcomer Elle Exxe to shake up this week’s proceedings with a confident debut album which sets out to illustrate that it’s a thin line between love and hate via the medium of muscular, soulful electro pop. The big, bold chorus hook of Lately sets the commanding tone, but there is a crazy-in-love edge to Exxe’s performance throughout as she recounts her lost weekend in bullet points on Lost In LA, pledges direct action on her ex on The Hammer and unleashes her punky electro wrath on W.T.F. Love Fuelled Hate is self-released but deserves to find an audience, with Exxe outflanking many of her supposedly sassy peers for upfront attitude. ■
CLASSICAL: Melvyn Tan: Master & Pupil | Rating: **** | Onyx
In his latest solo recording, pianist Melvyn Tan explores the intergenerational thread that links Beethoven to Liszt via Czerny. He begins with the “father figure” Beethoven, firstly in the progressive colourings of the Op126 Bagatelles – delightfully poetic but slightly over-ripened by the opulence of the sound production – then in the E major Sonata, Op109, whose freely constructed opening and intimate Finale variations Tan delivers with touching poignancy.
Then to Czerny, Beethoven’s pupil, and a set of variations on a theme by violinist Pierre Rode which rise to a state of über-virtuosity, somewhat pre-echoing Czerny’s own pupil Liszt, and negotiated with effortless charisma by Tan.
He ends with Liszt’s monumental Sonata in B minor, and a performance driven by hard-edged passion, though rounded by musical polish and reflective insight. KEN WALTON
JAZZ: Fat-Suit: Atlas | Rating: **** | Equinox Records
Album-openers don’t come much more attention-grabbing than Colours Burst Behind Closed Eyes, which kicks off Atlas, this third album from the gleefully inventive young Scots jazz-folk-funk-you-name-it fusion collective, Fat-Suit. Starting as a winsome solo violin phrase, it swells to an awesome sci-fi-cinematic crescendo, cruising through stellar clouds of static before subsiding.
The two-dozen or more musicians go straight into the energetic faux-oriental pulse and beefy brass chorusing of Mr Hinomaru before a solo violin soars ecstatically. Their big, vividly textured sound is exemplified in the dreamily expansive Poor Brooks’ Humble Fish Farm, with its rich keyboards and glowing brass and strings. Mainstream jazzers may baulk at such rampant eclecticism, but it’s hard not to smile at the extravagant synth excursions that hoot and slither their way through several tracks. JIM GILCHRIST