Music preview: The Scottish Album of the Year nominees

Eclectic, egalitarian and uniformly excellent: Fiona Shepherd casts her eye over the Scottish Album of the Year longlist ahead of next month's awards

Stina Tweeddale, left, and Cat Myers of Honeyblood have a Say award nomination. Picture: Robert Perry

The longlist for this year’s Scottish Album of the Year Award was announced earlier this week at a ceremony-cum-gig in Glasgow, with performances from previous nominees Admiral Fallow, Steve Mason and reggae soundsystem Mungo’s Hi-Fi, a line-up which in itself encapsulates the diversity of the award.

Now in its sixth year, the SAY Award was established to recognise excellence in long-playing form and celebrate the Scottish music scene across all genres. Even at a time when physical sales are falling, there is prestige in the album as art form and, while SAY is typically unpretentious in all its ways, its unveiling of longlist, shortlist and winner is an opportunity to take pride in the country’s fertile musical output, and to proclaim tearfully that you always knew old-so-and-so would make it in the end.

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This year, big hitters Emeli Sandé, KT Tunstall, Biffy Clyro, Deacon Blue, Travis and Amy MacDonald all failed to garner enough nominations to make the longlist, a salutary reminder that the SAY Award is quite the leveller, with commercial success and public recognition no more or less likely to influence nominations.

Mogwai are nominated for a SAY award for Atomic. Picture: Brian Sweeney

No-one pays to be entered for this award. Any album of any genre – be it rock, pop, classical, jazz or Orcadian turbofolk – released by a Scottish or Scotland-based act in the 12 months up to 31 March is eligible for consideration by a cross-country horde of 100 nominators, from record shop owners to gig promoters, musicians to media people, in the hopes of providing the most varied longlist possible.

I’ve been a judge or nominator from year one, so have to bear some responsibility for the impression that SAY is falling into something of a pattern, which places esteemed veterans beside fancied up-and-comers and, much like the country’s overall voting record, tends to the left of centre. Indie, folk and electronica all fare well again on this year’s list, while the jazz and classical communities go unrepresented on this occasion.

Longlisted albums will stream on the awards website over the next couple of weeks, giving the lesser-known artists a platform alongside the more established acts, and allowing the public to have their say on SAY. The winner of the public vote, conducted over 12-14 June, will be joined by nine other albums chosen by the judging panel on the shortlist to be announced on 15 June. Take your pick from this bunch.

The Veterans

Mogwai are nominated for a SAY award for Atomic. Picture: Brian Sweeney

It took the Jesus & Mary Chain a mere ten years since reforming to release their comeback album; fortunately, Damage and Joy was worth the wait, retooling the classic Mary Chain buzzsaw pop signature with freshness and attitude.

Teenage Fanclub continue to command enormous affection – their 11th album, Here, doesn’t break the mould but is consistently lovely.

Meanwhile, Mogwai emerge as the Annie Lennox of the SAY award – almost guaranteed a nomination by virtue of their prolific consistency. They are back on soundtrack detail with Atomic, their curiously soothing score to Mark Cousins’s documentary Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise.

The First Timers

Another healthy showing for the newbies this year, with a cluster of acts making their debut on the SAY longlist. Teen Canteen’s Say It All With A Kiss is street tough girl group pop with a Scottish accent; Sacred PawsStrike A Match is stylised lo-fi grrrl punk with Afro guitars, while Modern Studies’ intersection of folk, jazz, prog and pop on their acclaimed debut Swell to Great is a measure of the quartet’s assorted roots, and rockers Vukovi give the list an injection of headbanging heft with their eponymous debut album.

Not every SAY debutante is a debut album. Future Echoes is The Pictish Trail’s first nomination, although it feels like the artist aka Johnny Lynch, head honcho of Lost Map Records, probably should have received a nod before now for his winning DIY eclecticism.

The self-titled Starless album is the work of Love & Money keyboard player Paul McGeechan, making a successful incursion into Craig Armstrong territory by blending classy vocal performances from the likes of Paul Buchanan and Julie Fowlis with sumptuous orchestration, rendered by the Prague Philharmonic, no less.

The Folkies

Folk music has generally been well represented on SAY longlists past, a sign of how rich the scene is around the country. This year’s list includes three very strong singer/songwriter contenders, all of whom will surely make it to the shortlist.

Both Adam Holmes and the EmbersBrighter Still and Rachel Newton’s Here’s My Heart Come Take It are confidently realised vehicles for their distinctive voices. Holmes has huge soulful crossover appeal, while Newton will be looking for a non-matching bookend for her Radio 2 Folk Musician of the Year Award. But the redoubtable King Creosote might just snatch it from her with his achingly bittersweet Astronaut Meets Appleman.

The Returning Nominees

It’s second nomination around for the anthemic, angsty indie favourites Frightened Rabbit and Fatherson with, respectively, Painting of a Panic Attack and Open Book, while Edinburgh’s Meursault, reconvened by singer/songwriter Neil Pennycook, kill softly on I Will Kill Again.

Guitar/drums duo Honeyblood refine their kicking pop grunge on Babes Never Die, while C Duncan has arguably surpassed his rapturous debut with the swooning electronic chamber pop of The Midnight Sun.

The Wildcards

Polish-born Ela Orleans is an intriguing auteur, producing a steady stream of immersive electronic scores, occasionally featuring her haunting vocals, from her bedroom lair. Her elegantly conceived 25-track opus, Circles of Upper and Lower Hell, is her most ambitious work yet and a good place to dive in to her idiosyncratic soundworld.

Konx-Om-Pax is the alias of Glasgow musician and graphic artist Tom Scholefield, whose second album, Caramel, is an instrumental suite of glacial electronica.

The Previous Winner

Guitarist RM Hubbert lifted the SAY Award four years ago for Thirteen Lost & Found. His latest release, Telling the Trees, once again teams his mesmeric flamenco and math rock-influenced finger-picking with an array of sublime vocalists, all female on this outing. There’s always a first time for a second win…

The SAY Award ceremony is at Paisley Town Hall on 28 June. To listen to the longlist of albums and vote for your favourite, visit