El Hombre Trajeado: Fast Diagonal ***
The Blue Aeroplanes: Welcome, Stranger! ****
Louise McVey & Cracks in the Concrete: Under The Heart ****
Glasgow’s grassroots music scene in its current enviably fertile form started sprouting in earnest in the mid-1990s from a number of the city’s nascent small venues, most notably The 13th Note, spawning the likes of Mogwai, The Delgados and, ultimately, Franz Ferdinand. This thriving DIY period is shortly to be celebrated in the documentary Lost In France, which will premiere in February at the Glasgow Film Festival.
Most of the main players from that tight-knit community still live in or around Glasgow and remain active participants on the scene, including the members of math rock intrumentalists El Hombre Trajeado whose frontman Hubby – better known now as SAY Award-winning solo artist RM Hubbert – will join members of the above named bands in a Glasgow indie supergroup to accompany the film screening.
El Hombre themselves have reformed after a decade apart but it’s remarkable how the years fall away when you put the band back together in a room and they pick up where they left off, firing off lopsided rhythms, low-slung guitars and fluid time signatures on the evocatively named Fast Diagonal.
Hubbert has been used to collaborating with guest singers in his solo career so this time round the group offer an even mix of instrumental and vocal tracks delivered by a trio of guests. First off the blocks is electronica composer Ela Orleans, a prolific solo artist in her own right, who adds a wistful, androgynous vocal to Darkest Sea.
Visual artist Sue Tompkins, who fronted an outfit called Life Without Buildings in the early 2000s, speaks and squeaks more than sings in a gauche little girl tone, but her rhythmic style proves a happy marriage with the band’s lithe and playful bass, tom and synth blend on Do It Puritan!
Chris Mack, now based in Sao Paolo, is another former stalwart of the 13th Note scene, as a member of indie rockers Eska and solo as The James Orr Complex. He adds a deadpan cool to hectic Krautrock number Hearing Those Ears.
Meanwhile, the core line-up – completed by Stevie Jones, who also fronts the soothing Sound of Yell, plus Stevie’s brother Ben on keyboards and Stef Sinclair on drums – have brought their experience over the intervening years to bear on the electro jazz of Half Cab, a blithe instrumental with surges of rock energy. Which is not to say they are entirely rid of their slightly navel-gazing tendencies on a couple of the more meandering numbers.
There is another happy return and more jittery, off-kilter tunefulness from cult Bristolians The Blue Aeroplanes, who first prospered on the 80s independent scene, when quirks and kinks were heard as a musical virtue. They get off to a flying start with the propulsive Looking For X’s On a Map, then deliver some good old-fashioned crunchy rock guitar on Sweet, Like Chocolate. Dead Tree! Dead Tree! is as excitable as its title and there will be the opportunity to see how the band’s idiosyncratic dancer Wojtek Dmochowski interprets the whole lot when they tour of Scotland over the next couple of weeks.
Louise McVey & Cracks in the Concrete are a Glasgow duo with a strong grip on atmosphere. The self-released Under the Heart is a wintry gothic showcase for McVey’s alluring alto and the noir soundtracks conjured by instrumentalist Graeme Miller. There are shades of Nick Cave’s dread declamations on the stealthy prowl of Seventh Son, with its baleful voiceover, while sultry torch song Flamingo is pure yet twisted in best David Lynch style.
Ewan MacPherson: Fetch ****
A seasoned player of mandolin, guitar and much else, Ewan MacPherson is known for his work with such bands as Fribo, Salt House and Shooglenifty. The gleeful energy of this album, in which he’s joined by a host of musical compadres, is exemplified by the “fetching” hound caught in mid-leap on the sleeve. The tone is set by the exuberant skitter of the opening Brutus the Husky, MacPherson’s mandolin ringing in tight partnership with Alasdair White’s fiddle and Aaron Jones’s bouzouki, while the drifting Scandinavian string harmonies of Saltus, with Sigrid Moldestad on Hardanger fiddle, contrast with the snappy swing of The Cherry Tree Reel or the contemplative As April is to Winter, with Lauren MacColl on fiddle.
Though the tunes are largely MacPherson’s own, it’s nice to hear Derek Hoy’s Holding the Whippet sounded out by his daughter, Sarah Hoy, on fiddle before Fin Moore’s pipes usher the album to a close.
Beethoven: Complete Sonatas and Variations *****
It’s worth taking time to listen to Beethoven’s five Cello Sonatas in a single sitting, an opportunity this double-CD set by cellist Ralph Kirshbaum and pianist Shai Wosner offers. The playing is probing yet unaffected, thoughtful yet delivered with a simplicity that lets Beethoven’s lyrical succinctness shine through the maelstrom of emotions that flavour the sonatas’ expressive twists and turns. They divide neatly into the two early sonatas (the Op 5s), two late ones (the Op 102s), and in between, the straightforward enchantment of the 1808 Op 69, with the opulent opening theme of its initial allegro, the capriciousness of the scherzo, and carefree virtuosity of its slow-quick finale. Kirshbaum brings effortless maturity to all these works, supported by the poetic solidity of Wosner’s pianism. Beethoven’s Variations for cello and piano duo sit in between the sonatas as natural, easier-going palate cleansers.