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Somewhere within the heart of this writer, without a doubt, dwells a mostly dormant obsessive compulsive disorder. In moments of personal trauma or existential despair, however, refuge is first taken in the organisation of his record collection.

It is likely this very proclivity that holds responsibility for the genuine sense of horror and moral outrage provoked by this article, in which journalist Sophie Heawood confesses to the cardinal sin of having thrown away her entire music collection.

That a human being might actually possess the capacity for idiocy required to commit such an atrocity genuinely tests the boundaries of belief.

Now, this feature is by no means a refutation of the Buddhist-leaning idea that freedom is to be found in the relinquishing of possessions. No one ever really looks through their photo albums and a Kindle full of digital copies of books is undeniably superior to a heaving bookcase playing host to squads of dust mites beasting their way through the musty, yellowing pages of books long since neglected in university.

Such wise logic, however, has to have one exception.

Even to the mind of a relatively spritely – at least in terms of devotees to the physical manifestation of works of musical art – 26 year old, one’s record collection serves as nothing short of a window to the soul and the ongoing piecing together of the soundtrack to one’s life amounts to a spiritual quest.

Every significant moment, and every extended period of insignificant moments, in one’s life doubtless has a piece of music attached, or at least loosely linked, to it and the retention of tangible evidence of those pieces of music is as close as it is possible to get to retaining the times themselves.

A true record collection should be such that any outsider – whether casual browser or intrepid and discerning explorer – ought to be able, merely through the observation of this one compilation of recorded media, to trace the genesis of the proprietor’s very character. Just as the parental advisory stickers should symbolise turbulent teenage years of adolescent angst and the demos of long-defunct local acts of dubious talent should evoke memories of rashly enthusiastic purchases guided by youthful exuberance, the retrospective box sets and imitation vinyl singles collections should allude to more recent moments of unflinchingly reckless nostalgia.

The more discerning eye should be able to pick out, and question, albums bearing the tell-tale cracks and abrasions of a year spent being passed around from schoolbag to schoolbag, by way of a dozen CD re-writers. Awkward conversations should arise regarding naively scrawled declarations of affection on the interiors of booklets. Nods of appreciative respect should be granted upon the discovery of multiple copies of the same release, distinguished only by the addition of bonus tracks or limited edition artwork.

Ageing men should totter on the precipice of episodes of violent rage when their offspring’s unskilled and reckless pawing of their records sees faded concert tickets spilling out of album sleeves.

Such libraries of cheerfully misspent existences should also, of course, be complete in the truest sense, never exuding the sort of pared-down appearance resultant of that other distinctly odious music-related misdeed, the removal of the “embarrassing” artefacts. Granting someone access to that most personal of accumulations can only register as the gesture of trust it deserves to if it comes with the proverbial warts ‘n’ all.

Never trust a music fan with a seemingly perfect collection; chances are the bastard has a B*witched single stashed in the confines of a Neil Young anthology.

In a world of supposed instant gratification, increasingly throwaway encounters and cheapened joy, the record collection stands as testament to one of the few remaining sincere and pure pursuits – a genuine labour of love. Holding onto a collection of memories that serves to illustrate the development of the self is a sure gesture of faith in the worth of the future.

Throwing away her whole record collection…

Jesus Christ, hen!

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As soon as the beat of the nineteen-track behemoth’s opener The Lazarus Project reaches its operating velocity – by way of a poignant Jacques Fresco sample from the conspiracy documentary Zeitgeist: Addendum – Loki sets out his steadfastly uncompromising stall, hurling forth bar after bar of intelligent, witty and distinctly passionate lyricism. As the elapsed track time approaches two and a half minutes, inevitably marking at least the third instance of the listener gasping for respite from the weight of the verbal onslaught, the narrator imparts:

“I retain a fresh autonomy, a skeptic obviously,

Developing an odyssey of relevant, effectual intellectual property,

That walks the plank the day I die,

When Darren says goodbye and breaks the barricades of life.”

This declaration, a manifesto delivered in ten seconds and exhibiting a grasp of language and internal rhyme that would proudly top the pedestal of a lesser artist’s track, makes up just one of the opening salvo’s numerous cues for sharp inhalations of breath.

Next up, the listener is granted a brief respite as a string section leads into what is undoubtedly the most radio-friendly (which is to say that the hook – provided by Becca Starr – is off the scale in terms of catchiness, rather than that the material is even close to being tame enough to be entertained by the mainstream) number on Edging God Out, sporting the title Sinister and thereby doing a fine job of encapsulating the overarching feeling conjured up by the album.

As impressively proficient as the lyrics, flow and production of the album are, one could be forgiven for entertaining the concern that Edging God Out may rely too heavily on the showcasing of wit and braggadocio and not enough on the conveyance of genuine feeling. Forgiven, that is, until they reached the gritty but ultimately motivational Jump which wraps complex verses laden with confessions of an unhappy childhood around a simple refrain of ‘It’s no’ me against the world, it’s us.”

Elsewhere, Arlington Road sees a genuine storyteller in his element, as the listener is pulled along through a night of drunken paranoia, and The Wall – kicking off with a Charlie Kaufman quote that perfectly foreshadows the song’s content – exposes a captivating inner monologue that seems to seep out of the speakers and surround the listener, leaving the air pregnant with the malevolent threat of imminent suffocation, especially as the narrative comes to a close and the track fades out to the sound of distressed breathing accompanied only by fading echoes of the beat.

Interesting headphone listening…

Now, to go any further without addressing what is a truly mesmerising force behind this album would be wrong and, as such, a minute must be taken to talk about just how furiously angry some of this material sounds. This sense of barely restrained rage permeates the release to the extent that, on certain tracks, the moments when Loki isn’t rapping seem to pulse with the impression that he is having to consciously hold himself back in a concerted effort to channel his rage enough, just to stay on beat. Of course, the speed at which the rhymes peel out between the beats only serves to enhance this. Don’t Gee Me That Patter sees the needle on the anger scale hovering somewhere around the “fuckin’ ragin’” mark – perfectly complimented by an truly filthy sounding bassline – but, as he seethes through album highlight Loki’s the Name, the delivery takes a turn towards the positively venomous.

A large segment of Edging God Out evidently serves as catharsis for its purveyor and this is as clear on the album’s more reflective tracks – a la Smile at the Sky and Focus – as it is during the moments of unshackled verbal chaos, such as during the passages on title track Edging God Out where betrayals past are laid bare and What Time is it in Melbourne which stands as a compellingly transparent exorcism of personal demons.

As such, there aren’t a great deal of relevant negatives to be dealt with here. Sure, there are some tracks that may not stand up to the test of repeated listening but these are few and far between and such an outcome is an inevitable consequence of releasing an album nineteen tracks long.

One could then, of course, argue that prudence should have dictated a need for a more ruthless editing process but a fair amount of the original mix has already been dropped (available here) and, as mentioned before, the work as a whole gives the impression of serving as a release for emotions bottled up for too long and to cut it down any further would perhaps be to lose some of what is so captivating in the first place.

Being brutally realistic, Scottish hip hop is still very much a niche market and, like any work of genuine passion disseminated throughout a small scene, it would be easy for the cynical to dismiss the level of effort poured into this release as a misuse of energy that might yield greater rewards elsewhere. In addition, the deliberately provocative nature of lines such as “I’m not sexist but reserve the right to call you a cow” coupled with the prolific bandying about of the word ‘cunt’ also serve to keep the risk of Loki’s output achieving mass appeal fairly slight.

For the already initiated and those with their finger anywhere near the pulse, however, this is well worth a listen or twelve. The pages of Sixteen Sixteen Six have made no effort to hide a wealth of admiration for Scots rap duo Hector Bizerk and any fans of theirs who aren’t already familiar with Loki are guilty of a tremendous disservice to themselves. If Hector embody the swagger and flash of the Scottish hip hop scene, Loki embodies the heartfelt passion and painfully gritty realism.

Overall, with Edging God Out, Loki shows himself to be a hugely gifted storyteller with a staggering ability to channel a genuinely charismatic rage. The work feels honest and the sheer volume of material comprising this project is admirable in itself.

And who gives a fuck about the haters anyway, eh?

Edging God Out is released on Saturday 15th June and you can catch the album launch show on Friday 14th June in Glasgow’s Nice N Sleazy.

Loki on Facebook

Lokis’ the Name music video

Being that the album isn’t officially released until 18th February and considering how much effort, money and deliberation has gone into the finished work, it seems only appropriate that any seminal listen of the debut Rose Parade record be as careful, private and thorough as possible. Despite most of the songs having been publically available in live or demo form over the past couple of years, this moment is sure to be a milestone in the burgeoning Ayrshire independent music scene and deserves to be treated as such.

Consequently, one finds oneself digging out one’s highest quality pair of headphones and sitting down on a dreary Scottish Sunday afternoon to absorb the eponymous work from start to finish, the only distraction being occasional pensive sips from a mug of steaming coffee.

And one is not disappointed…

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Midnight Wine provides an absorbing and atmospheric opener, allowing approximately twenty seconds of gentle wavering feedback and plucked strings to guide the listener gently towards a window to the mind of the Rose Parade quartet, before an unrepentant trifecta of assured chords, jolly glockenspiel and stomping kick drum ushers in a distinctive and instantly congenial vocal, thereby hauling said listener through said window and permitting no option of escape until the boys have had their say.

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Now, when you have an album that flows from start to finish, as one complete and considered work – which, let’s face it, is the mark of a quality offering – it’s generally desirable to set an enduring tone, for the entire piece, with the first lines and Midnight Wine’s contribution is no exception…

“Summertime has got me crazy, sitting laying in the sun.

I took my love and we got crazy but now I’m sitting by, by my loaded gun.”

In just a few bars, the listener is handed a perfect summation of the Rose Parade modus operandi – the opening line conveying happy and contented connotations of an easy life made up of long, hot, lazy days tying in with the pleasant and cheerful foot-tapping rhythms forming the calm and measured surface of the sound, juxtaposed with a nod to an unsettled mind and abrupt ruminations on violence which point to the darker depths of the band’s occasionally murky, often longing and nostalgic, lyrical content.

As the song progresses, the continuation of this lyrical theme melds with a timeless quiet-loud aesthetic and a guitar tone harking back to the golden era of the rock scene. As well as providing a succinct outline of intent, track one succeeds in emanating what is sure to be a cross-generational appeal and giving subtle rise to the notion – in the mind of anyone within earshot – that picking up a guitar might just be the perfect idea.

On the subject of Rose Parade’s cross-generational appeal, it is impossible not to notice the similarity of the track titles A Better Pill to Swallow and The Dark Side of the Sun to those belonging to The Jam and Pink Floyd, respectively. At first glance, this is easy to interpret as either coincidence or an acknowledgement of the influence of iconic bands of the past on their own sound. However, after hearing the album several times over and feeling the resultant assurance of this band’s prowess and bright future, this nod to the work of such iconic bands begins to feel more like a subtle acknowledgement and confirmation of their own confidence that this is the first major step on an exciting and fruitful upwards trajectory.

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A song-by-song analysis would only serve to cheapen the first-listen experience for others, so prudence suggests that the way forward is to examine some of the more obvious standouts and then look at the work as a whole.

The majesty of the album opener aside, looking to The Sea of Lights and Grace will exhibit material destined to, someday, warrant a slew of main stage festival appearances. Grace, in particular, feels like the track people will point the unconverted to in future, as they relate the story of the time they saw Rose Parade perform in the kitchen of an Ayr flat, long before their success.

Appearing just past the halfway mark, the instrumental Friday Night Fight provides a welcome pause for reflection, while keeping the pace going as it leads towards the captivating pairing of upbeat rhythm and doleful lyrics that is Sue.

Violent Tides and closing offering The Dark Side of the Sun serving to showcase the more sparsely introspective end of the material, the latter’s claustrophobic vibe, equal parts beauty and menace, warning that “time won’t heal too deep of a wound” and closing on the cryptically chilling refrain of “totally honest, totally honest.”

To go back to the idea of an album working as a whole, the achievement of this admirable feat can be seen in the way track one tails off effortlessly into the opening of Awake Tonight and even the later inclusion of the glockenspiel is vaguely – yet knowingly – reminiscent of the opening offering. As the album progresses, subtle lyrical throwbacks to previous tracks combine with the group’s own signature melody and consistently accomplished guitar and vocal work to ensure the continuation of this seamless eleven track journey.

There are moments which evoke long nights of lonely reflection, choruses which provoke sing-along moments while getting ready for a night on the tiles with the mates and tunes that perfectly soundtrack an exhausted but cheerful Sunday teatime, looking back over a weekend well spent.

Rose Parade’s debut is the sound of Scottish Indie rock and roll ticking all the right boxes.

It would be wrong to do them the injustice of spending too long comparing their sound to that of more established acts. With that in mind, let’s just say that their pop sensibilities should appeal to consumers of the more mainstream branches of rock and indie – there are actually, as much as this is a potential bone of contention, echoes of Be Here Now-era Oasis, which are certainly not unwelcome and are subtle enough not to be derivative – while the wistfully introspective lyrical moments and incorporation of quirkier elements into their sound should serve as a draw for the more involved or refined music fan.

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As far as criticisms go, for this offering very few are possible. That said, there are consequences of creating such a thematic and whole-sounding debut record which so perfectly encapsulates the sound previously plied on the live circuit.

From an outsider’s perspective, it is difficult to see where the band will go from here. As much as what is displayed in this first record is a most impressive achievement, it would be a tragic waste of Rose Parade’s talent and innovation if they didn’t now seek to push their sound in a new direction. How well this goes, only time will tell.

For now, however, the band should be riding high on a wave of success of their own making.

Such a triumphant debut must be celebrated and there could be no better way of doing this than to play the shit out of it at every live opportunity.

Rose Parade is officially released on 18/02/13 through the band’s website, iTunes, Amazon and Play.com.

The band will play an album launch show in Glasgow’s 13th Note on 01/02/13.

Rose Parade on Facebook

Rose Parade on Soundcloud

As far as energetic guitar and drum two-pieces go, the now defunct As In Bear were phenomenal. So, also, are their forebears Bronto Skylift. However, with that said, let’s give Young Philadelphia their due and try to avoid beginning the feature by drawing comparisons between them and – presumably – their influences.

An energetic guitar and drum two-piece, consisting of brothers Jason and Graham Costello, Young Philadelphia – who may or may not be named after the Paul Newman-led 1959 film – are currently making waves in the same pond previously terrorised by Bronto Skylift and As In Bear.

Aye, the operative word in the first paragraph was try, right!?

In setting up, drummer Graham angles himself and his notably sparse kit – clearly having neither the requirement nor the patience for toms, floor or otherwise – an unapologetic ninety degrees left of the position your average stick-merchant would opt to face in the quaint Soviet-themed venue.

The guitarist, on the other hand, doesn’t look to have any intention of joining him on his chosen path of radical positioning and this moves the critical mind to wonder whether this difference in stance might be a metaphor for a soon-to-be-witnessed variation in stage personae.

—–

Upon finishing farting about with his effects pedals and whipping round to face his accomplice, in the process throwing a dirty big bastard of a spanner into the works of the previous proposition, Jason shoots a glance that sees the siblings wire straight into a criminally infectious rumble of percussion melding with chords which then proceeds to crash into a furious ear-splitting din of Converge-like proportions.

Hands fumble for ear plugs – with at least one observer being seen to stuff pieces of ripped up napkins into his lugs – and thus begins a set as abrasive as it is cathartic, seemingly not least for Graham who appears to be utilising his kit as a sort of conduit through which to channel a legion of horrific personal demons. Judging, that is, by his apparent compulsion to attack each of its components with every fibre of his being, bodily flinging himself repeatedly into the meagre percussion station as though intent on actually ploughing through it.

A casual observer happening through the door of Bar Bloc would be forgiven for interpreting the scenario as Jason having taken the stage and deeply immersed himself in a solo guitar performance, which has enraged one spectator to the point where he has hastily assembled half a drum kit and set about piling into it in a sort of “this is what you’d get, ya bastard, if all these people weren’t here” type gesture.

Let’s stay with the analysis of this ferocity for a second, lest it not be done absolute justice…

Fringe flailing, Graham bounces on his drum stool – to an extent that sees him actually rising inches clear of the leather – to ensure that every thrashing blow counts, throwing so much of himself into his performance that he is, at points, close to lying prostrate atop his snare. Each time, he succeeds in regaining his composure for just long enough to scream unintelligibly in the direction of his brother (an entirely futile gesture, given the decibel level, and one made evident only by the contortion of his mouth and visible strain of his throat muscles) before the sheer effort involved in manifesting such aural terror forces his head to loll back down again.

Standing directly in the firing line of this onslaught, Jason succeeds in holding up his end of the performance by harnessing the primal force of the drums and hooking it into a groove reminiscent of that purveyed by early Rage Against the Machine. This, of course, is rendered all the more impressive when one considers how bass-dependent such a sound was and reconciles this notion with the fact that this is just one man with a guitar, responsible not only for injecting melody into the madness but also for pitching his output appropriately in order to be heard over his partner’s fury.

The brothers are an excellent pairing, appearing as a sort of Jekyll and Hyde type entity, with one thoroughly out of control and the other deftly meshing the fruits of this lunacy with his own offerings to create some of the catchiest noise currently doing the rounds.

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As regards the audience, reading this may conjure up images of a seething whirlwind of bodies but, although those in the frontlines of the cramped performance space alternate between appreciative nodding and Lemmy-esque devastation of their neck tendons, the crowd as a whole seems rooted to the spot in a sort of trance. So enraptured are the most recent slew of Young Philadelphia converts that it wouldn’t seem entirely outlandish to envision the guitarist passing out tumblers of toxic Kool Aid – without word or expression – and the crowd unquestioningly knocking them back in tandem.

It is obscenely difficult to tell when one song ends and another begins but by the time the performance is halfway through, not a single intelligible word has been spoken. Going by the aforementioned way in which the Bar Bloc patrons stand transfixed by this sensory assault, however, this is an omission that goes entirely unnoticed or unfelt by the majority of the crowd.

Somewhere towards the end of the set,  a list of thank-yous – the first clear oral offering of the evening – paves the way for a segment of pedal manipulation and atmospheric fret-picking, coupled with a sparse series of snare raps, which soon enough careers into another cavalcade of chaotic volume.

As far as the music itself goes, as catchy as it is, it wouldn’t be the first choice for the soundtrack to a long drive or a run. In a live context, however, Young Philadelphia are an awe-inspiring force and positively worthy successors in the Bronto-Bear bloodline.

And what an awesome name!

Young Philadelphia on Facebook

Young Philadelphia on Bandcamp

Sipping a glass of water that tastes like old beer – and reflecting that this is wholly in keeping with the somehow endearing but positively shitey decor and stench of Sleazy’s – thoughts turn to recent promotional allegations of a near sold out show and the mind works hard to marry this up with the smelly basement’s sparse strands of disinterested looking patrons.

Fortunately, the venue does busy up a bit as the support acts cease and desist and Shelf:Life take the stage, with consciousness of the disappointing start to the evening driving them to toss out a pleading “we’re Shelf:Life and we’d appreciate it if everyone would stand up.”

A band formed as a result of the members’ simultaneous enrolment on a Commercial Music course, these chaps are the most recent musical darlings of The University of the West of Scotland, in the same vein as Drive-By Argument – who enjoyed a brief stint in the spotlight when one of their songs was used as entrance music for some American sporting team.

Sixteen Sixteen Six and Shelf:Life have crossed paths once before – in this very same venue – and it has to be said that the opening of the last performance was drastically more exciting, featuring as it did an atmospheric intro tape and an audience made up of a whole lot more people.

At the time, although the performance was not reviewed, this use of an intro tape seemed a very ambitious and self-assured move, given the band’s youth and lack of experience. However, tonight’s show has no such frills and, in hindsight, this absence will prove most poignant.

Whereas – the first time around – Shelf:Life came across as being uncannily sure of themselves, tonight’s gig sees that attitude stretched dangerously close to the point of arrogance, billed as it is as the band’s Last Hometown Headline Show of 2012.

Let’s just take a wee reality check here…

This isn’t Biffy Clyro performing Blackened Sky in its entirety – in a deliberately intimate venue – in an effort to give something back to their original fanbase; this is a relatively unknown and unsigned band, formed just over a year ago, playing in the biggest venue they can currently hope to come close to filling.

Just saying…

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Covering this gig has been a truly tough task. Shelf:Life are a talented set of musicians with adequate stage presence and some catchy tunes but, in spite of all this, something just doesn’t quite add up.

The performance simply isn’t a visceral or fierce enough experience to live up to their self-imposed hype; there’s enthusiasm but no real sense of urgency or hunger. It very much seems as though they’ve spent so long being told – and telling themselves – they’re the next big thing that they’ve been left with an intrinsic acceptance of their own perceived grandeur and a subsequent lack of that excited fire that propels bands who are just starting out.

Even the part of their set which is supposed to be the heaviest moment – a shouted refrain of “blow my fucking brains out” – lacks any sort of genuine bite. It feels like watching an established band perform a song they’ve played a million times before, having forgotten all the emotion involved in its creation.

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The main problem with the earlier-berated cocky billing is that it suggests a band already scraping the heights of superstardom and the aforementioned lack of past gimmickry reflects this misguided sense of status, as if the amount of effort put forth to make the gig a standout experience is irrelevant because the very presence of Shelf:Life in their ‘hometown’ is enough to draw the crowds and satiate the punters. 

This is risky when you’re still a long way from being an established act, outside of your place of learning.

This aside, however, tonight’s performance is lively and tightly choreographed, with a constant – and undeniably lovable – exuberance emanating from bassist Stuart, who lets rip frequent grinning bellows of “Glasgooooow!”

The music itself is enjoyable enough but, at the same time, nothing you haven’t heard before from other burgeoning Scottish guitar acts. Of course, Twin Atlantic et al have achieved huge levels of success, so it stands to reason that this lot may soon enough be courted by the same moguls currently guiding other such bands on an upwards career trajectory. In fact, the band have been working with Scots engineering maestro Bruce Rintoul on their debut EP.

Another way of wording this would be to explain that Shelf:Life are very good guitar pop music. The inescapable reality that every chorus sounds like an over-indulgent Hogmanay reveller roaring ‘whooooooo-oooooooooah” in varying rhythms according to the song makes the material enjoyably catchy yet unoriginal in the same way that the chorus of every R&B pop song relies on generic auto-tuned lyrics about decadent lifestyles.

They have an accessible, universal appeal because they’re not writing about anything overly challenging or pushing their sound in any new direction. They’re just making a cheerful noise and seemingly having fun while they do so and, in fairness, there’s really nothing wrong with that.

When you add all of this up, it becomes clear that this is a band who are being very shrewdly groomed for success and doing a fairly good job of marketing themselves as a triumph – the gripe about the cocky billing is one that probably wouldn’t occur to the casual punter in for a pint and some music – without actually having achieved a great amount as yet. The question of whether or not they are worthy or capable of such success is a moot point at present, as the current priority for the band should be to work on being – and enjoying being – an unsigned band and finding their own sound.

To give in to these apparent delusions of grandeur and continue to market themselves as more of a success than they actually are could see Shelf:Life rise to great heights of fame. However, it could also see them end up like the musical equivalent of a child actor, bitter and regretful that their premature – perceived or genuine – prominence robbed them of what should have been their golden years.

If you’re immediately huge, you have no glory days of starting out to fondly reminisce about. When bands return to where they started out and play real ‘hometown’ shows, it should be a throwback to the days when such labels were alien concepts to their innocent and exuberant mindset.

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It is essential to note that the songs introduced as the band’s older material – which bring back fairly fond memories from last time around – are much more lively and exciting than their newer material, seeing the band purvey more gratifying levels of energy and vocals which play less heavily on the Scots twang. Perhaps these indicate a time when the band had a more realistic view of where they sat.

Also very impressive is the offering of a free demo CD, which provides a nice change from the typical unsigned artist’s manoeuvre of directing potential new fans towards a Soundcloud or Bandcamp page. As much as it may appear to amount to the same thing, it’s still more gratifying to be handed something tangible.

The crowd in front of the band tonight seem to lap the performance up, especially towards the end of what is undisputedly a back-loaded set, baying for the boys to take their “taps aff” – with drummer Iain happily complying – and enthusiastically chanting the “there’s a creature in the water” refrain of one of the evening’s final songs. This considered, Shelf:Life are clearly popular amongst their peers and are evidently able to entertain an audience.

They could well be destined for great things but it’s up to them whether they play into the hands of those looking for the Next Big Scottish Guitar Act or take the time to have some fun and create their own style and sound.

Definitely one to revisit in future.

Shelf:Life on Facebook

Shelf:Life on Soundcloud

When last Bellow Below graced these pages, ample amusement was derived from the, at the time constant, misspelling of their moniker.

Now, two days after the release of their Hooks EP – and resultant resounding echo of wild praise – Bellow Below are worlds away from the relative obscurity that once left them at the mercy of semi-literate promoters and blasé pub chalksmiths. With the quartet’s current profile – aided by the tangible evidence of their prowess provided by the aforementioned release, a growing reputation for shows doused in volume and passion and a stalwart live following – and confidence, billing them inaccurately would be tantamount to career suicide for anyone remotely invested in the local music scene.

A quick pre-show word with Su Casa owner Lucas Barraud yields the revelation that the band are not here to fulfil a request from the coffee shop but, in fact, as a result of their opting to book the venue themselves. Given Su Casa’s status as a chilled out, cosy and almost exclusively acoustic venue, this seems a distinctly odd choice and appears to give potential rise to a drastic mismatching of artist and setting. It seems that all assembled may be in for what bassist Darren, when quizzed, jovially describes as “Diet Bellow Below.”

Nonetheless, such reservations are part and parcel of the review process and more often than not – possibly due to the same phenomenon that deems the nights out not eagerly anticipated as the most enjoyable – results in a very pleasant surprise.

For the moment comforted, carryouts are sparked, the BYOB policy is raucously praised and the surroundings begin to settle into relaxed focus. Intimate to the point of being cramped, the living room-sized venue is rammed to the gunnels and, although this lends the event a pleasing vibe of unity and kinship, the unwieldy number of seats and tiny ‘stage’ area make it clear that little movement is to be expected from the performers.

Guitarist and vocalist Jamie, whose foremost stage position seems to deign him tonight’s frontman, kicks off proceedings with the words “We’re Bellow Below and we’re usually pretty loud,” suggesting that he shares the same sense of disorientation in this setting as the more dedicated of the band’s followers in the audience.

Thankfully, from the beginning of the set, the output proves typically impressive, if slightly quieter than usual and punctuated by much less energetic gesticulations.

A moment of unwitting profundity will, in fact, come between songs, when Jamie will whimsically intimate that he feels “like Kurt Cobain except less suicidal,” delivering a musing that suggests an unsettling similiarty between this removal of Bellow Below from the sort of surroundings in which they are most comfortable and Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged performance. Given how effortlessly and impressively this transition is handled this evening, such a comparison is far from inappropriate.

Image courtesy of Julie Dunabie

The guys pick their way, deftly, through a technically impressive and entirely instrumental opener which segues – via Jamie’s quip “Thank you! We are drums and Bellow Below!” which serves as an appropriate paean to Joseph’s ferociously tight sticksmanship – into their first single Southern Opal, a majestic swirl of ethereal guitarwork, complex time signatures and wistful, Scots-tinged vocals that sets the drinks flowing merrily and enhances the close-quarters nature of tonight’s musical exchange.

As the evening progresses, a positive set highlight – and undeniably significant contributor to the Bellow Below sound – is Jamie and Richard’s fulfilment of dual vocal duties, into which both guitarists throw themselves with gleeful abandon. Jamie, in particular, looks like he is having the time of his life as he barks out his contributions, occasionally leaning away, backwards, from the microphone and descending into a cacophony of manic shouts which lend the material a certain je ne sais quoi positively lapped up by the subsection of the band’s following more inclined towards the heavier, less compromising end of the musical scale.

In keeping with the boys’ renowned penchant for complexity, there are parts where intricate pedal fuckery and impeccably timed bursts of amplified mirth see proceedings take a turn towards the Mars Volta, by way of The Pixies’ Black Francis.

Over a year ago, when this bunch were just beginning to make a name for themselves, this review posited the idea that they should “continue to embrace their wide array of varying influences and strive to showcase this diversity in their own musical output … The only hurdle left to overcome is to further develop their sound, until it is distinctively theirs.” Well, tonight can be safely seen as infallible evidence that they have managed to do exactly this and both the Hooks EP and lead single Southern Opal serve both to showcase what could now fairly be described as the Bellow Below sound and to cement their reputation as formidable alt-rock Glasgow stalwarts.

As a breathless voice heralds the onset of their last song, there is the sudden striking realisation that the evening has comprised no gimmicks, dramatics or moments of outright show-offery. However, equally poignant is the settling awareness that such things aren’t what Bellow Below have ever been about.

From the outset, they’ve been concerned with mastery of a craft towards which each member is unswervingly passionate, all the while waiting patiently for the payoff they know they deserve, and tonight has been a simple hometown show that slyly tips a hat to the tacit understanding that said payoff has now arrived.

Bellow Below on Facebook

Hooks teaser on YouTube

Churches aren’t really an unsigned act. Their line-up comprising members of Aereogramme, Blue Sky Archives and the Twilight Sad, they are a group who have enjoyed keen label attention since day one. Add to this their purposely sparse online output (one song made available, to date) and secretive demeanour (reportedly under instruction to limit the amount of interviews they grant) and you have a recipe for frenzied hype and extensive expectations.

As such, the excitement proves difficult to contain as the descent of the staircase leading to the Stereo basement culminates in the discovery of a venue already packed to capacity, giving rise to the feasible musing that support act Churches have perhaps served as more of a pull for tonight’s gig than headliners School of Seven Bells.

The cavernous space buzzes with eager chatter and excited conjecture, as skinny-jeaned obscure indie t-shirted types swig from cans of Foster’s and wait for what they clearly hope will turn out to be their very own version of the Sex Pistols’ 1976 Lesser Free Trade Hall gig.

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The electro pop trio emit fairly nervous vibes as they make an entrance completely devoid of aplomb, pausing for a second in front of their keyboards and microphones to furtively take in the swelled audience before them.

From the moment Iain and Martin begin to bash out the first notes of the group’s synth-based ditties though, frontwoman Lauren appears to find her ease and sink into the relaxed pursuit of matching her undeniably excellent vocals to the atmospherics provided by her male counterparts.

For reasons which will be outlined later in this feature, it wouldn’t be appropriate to describe any of the members of Churches as being in possession of an onstage persona, per se. However, in saying that, Lauren has certainly made an effort to look the part, resplendent as she is in Lily Allen-esque dress and gold chain combination with eye make-up paying homage to the likes of Adam Ant and David Bowie.

Unfortunately, Lauren is where any regard for appearances or aesthetics comes to an abrupt halt, the other two members clearly preferring to let the music do the talking. Drably dressed and seemingly uninterested in their outward appearance, the guys could easily be two audience members who entered through the wrong door.

It’s not until the second of the songs that Lauren’s Scottish accent begins to shine through and this is one of Churches’ definite positives. Although the vocalist’s origins are plain to hear and she makes no attempt to modify or conceal them when she sings, it is subtle enough that it compliments rather than defines the music of which it forms a part.

It is hugely refreshing not to have the same old clichéd Scottish accent aurally foisted upon you (something numerous West of Scotland bands have recently been guilty of) throughout every song, with all the subtlety of an ALBA bumper sticker, to the extent that the artist actually seems to be putting on their native twang. For their refusal to participate in this despicable crime against the Scottish music scene, Churches are to be applauded.

For the crowd’s part, they appear rapt throughout the performance. However, even the most basic powers of deduction would provide one with niggling doubts as to the trigger for this state. Given that, by the end of the third song, no one onstage has spoken a word and the trudging tempo has remained stiflingly monotonous, it seems that either the crowd are simply ecstatic to be at the epicentre of the Churches hype machine or patiently awaiting the rendition of the one song they’ve already heard and approved.

To return to the aforementioned absence of onstage personas is to highlight the biggest gripe with tonight’s performance. It isn’t just that the members of Churches don’t transform into modern-day Ziggy Stardusts when they take the stage; it’s that their collective performance is bereft of any stage presence whatsoever. When the fortune and speedy rise to fame of the threesome is considered, this lack of vigour feels like an insult to the multitudes of other unsigned Scottish acts who have been plugging away for years in hopes of gaining this sort of profile. Lauren, Iain and Martin should be ecstatic tonight! They should be bouncing off the walls of a room charged with crashing synths and the feeling of a grand unveiling. As it is, this feels more like a shoegaze resurgence for the iTunes generation.

As lacking in momentum or volatility as the performance may be, the first few songs are still fairly enjoyable and, from this, one is spurred to consider that perhaps the chagrin being experienced is just the inevitable disappointment that comes with seeing an enigma made flesh.

After the generation of such mysterious hype, limited interview exposure, secret live appearances under different monikers and the restrained decision to release only one (absolutely mind-blowing) song, the in-person unveiling of Churches – replete with beards, baseball  caps and Sub Club chic – is a sobering sight indeed.

Perhaps if the group hadn’t been so hyped up by all and sundry – before they really got their foot in the live performance door – tonight would be a much more impressive spectacle.

Fuckin’ music bloggers, eh!?

All such ruminations aside, by the penultimate song the hipster melancholia has become inescapably wearing. This is a rainy Sunday night in Glasgow and, the performers being natives of this fair city, they ought to be as aware as anyone that people require a soothing and uplifting antidote for the imminent onset of the Monday comedown. What they don’t need is hipster posturing and post-emo phrase-mongering, à la “there is no violence in your heart.”

The absolute highlight of the evening comes when Fix Up, Look Sharp… – Sorry… Lies – kicks in. The performance of this absolute party-starter of a tune is almost worth the entry fee in itself and very nearly makes up for the drudgery that preceded it, as the volume and impact levels ramp up and the room-quaking bassline and carefree vocal-play see this finale stand in stark contrast to the rest of the set. The motions of the crowd make it clear that this is what everyone here has been waiting for and, if Churches can produce more material of this standard, they are onto a definite winner.

Infinitely superior to the rest of their output and undoubtedly destined to top any ‘Best Newcomer of 2012’ list, this portion of electro pop genius – witnessed in a live setting – makes the move to only release Lies seem suddenly all the more shrewd. Was the limited availability of material actually because they knew that Lies is, to date, their only exceptional song?

There is certainly no denying that it is an absolute banger but, if tonight’s recital can be used as a legitimate marker, the live Churches experience is simply below par for those who like their stage shows lively and their musicians awake.

The vast majority of the material showcased would be better experienced as part of a background playlist in the car, rather than as filler for a live show based around one (albeit phenomenal) hit.

Of course, it may well be the case that Churches are destined to unleash many more hits like Lies and that they’ve naively succumbed to the demands generated by their own hype and embarked upon a stint of live performances before being equipped with enough strong material to back them up.

For now though, the earlier comparison to the ’76 Sex Pistols gig seems like an outright slap in the face to the punk icons (even considering Mr. Rotten’s latter-day transformation from aural terrorist to purveyor of margarine) as, in contrast to the much-documented danger and excitement of that performance, this one is entirely benign.

To invoke Public Enemy’s Chuck D…

“Don’t believe the hype!”

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Lies Music Video