Album reviews: The Great Leap Forward, Andrew Howie, Grant J Robson, Immersion

The Great Leap Forward - Revolt Against An Age Of Plenty

The Great Leap Forward
The Great Leap Forward

The Great Leap Forward - Revolt Against An Age Of Plenty

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Musicians often mellow with age, but for Big Flame – who made the most scratchily agitated sounds in the NME’s C86 scene – a lot of softening would be required to become a radio-friendly alt.pop act.

And yet, Alan Brown has managed to smooth off the rough edges of his previous band and add in some serious, well-produced pop songwriting in this 13 track release.

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Strident indiepop jangle that’s strong on melodies and clever production, this will appeal to fans of everyone from the Manics to Arctic Monkeys, and shows that there’s plenty of life left in an industry veteran ready to emerge from the underground.

Andrew Howie - Pale White Branches

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With 13 solo releases under his belt, this Stirling-based musician has plenty to look back on, especially if you add the further 12 as the John Peel-playlisted Calamateur.

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That was a while ago of course but here he draws on his life experiences, from the schooldays tragedy of intense opener 'A Follower A Fighter', all the way to the poignant 'Echoes', set in a Macmillan palliative care ward.

Not always deadly serious, the subject matter is delivered with humour and pathos, as well as power – unusually, Howie is backed by a full band including Deacon Blue’s Lewis Gordon, but one which allows Howie’s stellar songwriting to shine through.

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Grant J Robson - Lit by the Dark

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Formerly known as mash-up king McSleazy, sampling is just about the only style of electronic music not covered on this Glasgow DJ’s fourth album.

Largely instrumental, vocals come from former GamesMaster host Dominik Diamond, who narrates the life-affirming 'Breathe', while The Vaselines’ Eugene Kelly backed by Robson’s gently shifting beats is a million miles from the scuzzy lo-fi adored by Kurt Cobain.

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The centrepiece is perhaps 'Kill The Night', artist Bob Carey-Grieve and Shiggi Pakter’s poetic and engrossing guide to solar surfing which may well lull the listener to slumber – perhaps after a heavy night’s clubbing.

Immersion - Nanocluster Vol.1

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As if a cult indie teaming of Wire maestro Colin Newman and Minimal Compact’s Malka Spigel wasn’t enough, the pair have enlisted four more seminal left-field acts with German post-rockers Tarwater combining for dreamily filmic opener ‘Ripples’ as well as the poppy ‘All You Cat Lovers’.

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Stereolab’s Latetia Sadier’s tunes includes a duet with Newman which combines the distinctive elements of both their parent acts.

Ulrich Schnauss, currently of Tangerine Dream, channels Tomita amid Newman’s distinctive guitar work, while long-term collaborator Scanner’s closing tracks are a downbeat closing to an engrossing set.