Music: The 10 Best Scottish Bands of 2012 (So Far)

In anticipation of the winner of the Scottish Album of the Year award being revealed on Tuesday 19th, National Collective contributors and music nerds Rory Scothorne and Kate Higgins (AKA The Burd) have embarked on a little bit of collaborative list-making. Anybody who has read Nick Hornby’s love-letter to music geekery ‘High Fidelity’ (or Stephen Frears and John Cusack’s equally wonderful movie adaptation) will know how much music obsessives love making lists. So, when you’ve finished listening to the SAY awards longlist (which brings together the very best of 2011’s Scottish musical mischief-making), why not peruse our 10 favourite bands of 2012 so far?

First, The Burd, whose weekly ‘Friday Flutter’ over at her blog is a must-listen:

Heaven help us from bright ideas.

Let’s post our top five Scottish bands of the year so far, we said.  It will be fun! Uh-huh.

That’s before I realised there were at least eight on my list and that was before I did the customary trawl to see what I’d missed.  A lot, as it happens.  But then, not, as it turns out.

For there’s an awful lot of epic going on at the moment.  Too many bands with a big guitar-based, 80s sound, filling every scintilla of space with sound.  More is the new more.  And boy, Biffy and Snowpatrol have got a lot to answer for.  Some of it even ventures back further in time to the 70s.  Prog-rock is creaking back into favour.  Bleugh.

I didn’t like it then (as a bairn, I was subjected to interminable longplay songs of 14 minutes and more via the state of the art tapedeck by the parents).  And I don’t like it now.

So what is pricking my ears this year? Which bands have found favour with the burd? Some of them are new, some are old hands hitting new highs and some have suddenly make a breakthrough.

In the latter group has to be a firm favourite of mine Django Django.  Discovered when no one else cared, I have liked these boys for a while now.  Scottish but London based, hotly tipped by the metropolitan lot, featured on Later with Jools, and a cracking album to boot.  But given the album has two years’ worth of choons on it, here’s hoping they’ve got more lined up to capitalise on their new found fame.  I still can’t see further than Storm, though the whole album is worth a listen.

A brand new band to find favour, which almost but not quite falls into the epic trap, is French Wives.  As I said on my ain blogspace, they aren’t doing anything particularly inventive or new but they have taken some tried and tested musical hooks and made them their own.  It’s good, very good and they deserve to do well.

Eagerly anticipated at the start of the year was Twilight Sad‘s new album.  And I’m still playing it regularly now.  A shift in direction, with more electronica – another of the big themes of 2012 – but oh, the darkness, the melancholy and the weight.  Music for grown-ups, that’s what they’re making, and definitely of and for these times we live in.

And for something completely different – Lightships.  These boys are probably as old, if not older than me.  Neu they are not, but the band is.  The creation of Gerry Love (swoon) of Teenage Fanclub fame, this is a great album which is a slow burn.  It might seem slight and fluttery but as with so much of Teenage Fanclub’s work, it contains layers of depth and meaning.  A beautiful album to soothe the soul:  more please.

Which is four and I only have one to go, and precious little of who I’ve puffed are brand new.  So I’m going to cheat and have a fifth equal, shared by People Places Maps and Blank Canvas. I think I’ve fallen a big bit in love with People, Places, Maps.  An old formula perhaps, but with enough of an edge and a tweak to make it work.  And like Dunfermline bands before them, they do that jingly jangly guitar thing so, so well.

Blank Canvas, I would confess, are not on my must listen list every week.  I drift away from the few tracks I’ve found, then am drawn back.  It’s that prog-punk moniker they’ve given themselves.  Labels are not good and actually, they are quite hard to pin down, though influences like Franz Ferdinand abound.  The By the Fire EP is my favourite and reminds me – in a good way – of very early Simple Minds.


The question is, will any of them feature in my best of lists at the end of the year?

Rory writes the occasional review or weekly round-up at indie music & culture ezine God Is In The TV – here’s his five:

This was harder than I expected. I’m not saying that Scotland isn’t a fertile place for new music – we’ve got some fantastic venues across the country, and we’ve produced some of the best albums of the past few years across a wide spectrum of genres. The difficulty I had here seems to have more to do with my own ignorance of Scotland’s brightest young (and old) things than any deficiency of supply.

The problem is, I’m I fully-fledged Americaphile when it comes to new music. And this whole exercise has rather effectively shamed me into spending a bit more time listening closer to home, which has been a predictably rewarding experience – largely because the aural jump from Portland, Oregon to Glasgow, Scotland isn’t as hard as it sounds. There’s an honest melancholy in the sounds of Scotland that can be heard in some of my favourite stateside bands, and a similar streak of dynamic, relentlessly progressive originality that lets us punch far above our weight.It’s those qualities that I think makes these 5 bands stand out from the crowd.

A wee disclaimer: Some of these bands have been around for a while, and some of it’s not strictly from this year, but I’ve decided to pick them in terms of bands I’ve seen, rediscovered or discovered during 2012 – regardless of when they last released music. With that in mind, here goes…

If you live in Edinburgh and haven’t seen our resident wordsmith Dan Wilson, AKA Withered Hand yet, it’s time to have a long, hard look at your priorities. His debut album Good News, out last year, was a glorious meditation on life, love and spirituality, with lyrics that make Morrissey look like Chris Martin. I was lucky enough to be at the candlelit launch of new EP Heart Heart earlier this year at Edinburgh venue The Caves, and it was so good that two of the other bands from that night have made it on here too.

Second Hand Marching Band have made it on here despite last releasing something in 2010 because they’re regulars on the gig circuit and were wonderful at that EP launch. It’s big-band folk with a poppy flourish, and they’re just so much fun. There’s plenty of space in my heart for any band that has two ukulele players (at least) on stage at any one time, and there’s a youthful, earthy joy about their sound that warms even the coldest nights in the capital.

Another new fave, although he’s been around for a while as well, is Johnny Lynch of The Pictish Trail. He and Kenny Anderson (of King Creosote fame) run Fence Collective, a collaborative musical project that has had a hand in much of Scotland’s best music over the years. His first album was a lovely slice of poppy, electro-tinged folk – and from what I’ve heard of it live, his upcoming album Secret Soundz Vol. 2 (which might be out this year, if we’re lucky) could be even better.

I never really got into We Were Promised Jetpacks until a couple of months ago, when I heard ‘Human Error’, the first single from their 2011 album In The Pit Of The Stomach. It’s an album that does exactly what it says on the sleeve, blending furious guitars and heart-on-sleeve vocals to pack a hefty emotional punch right down in your gut. It’s angry, desperate and hopeful all at the same time, and it’s a welcome coming of age for my new favourite Edinburgh band.

My final choice actually rather surprised me. Half way through my first listen of Glasgow four-piece Errors‘ new album Have Some Faith In Magic, I had a bit of a twitter rant about it being uneventful, unambitious and uninspiring. Nonetheless, I attempted to give it a second chance, and before you can say ‘flip-flop’ it was soundtracking my sporadic attempts at revision. They’re in the same vein as US electro artist Washed Out, with crisp, playful beats and vocals that sound like they’d float away if they weren’t close to drowning in glistening synths. It’s life-affirming and spaced-out at the same time, and they’ve taught me an important lesson in the virtues of having a bit more musical patience.

Obviously there’s plenty to disagree with here – we have no monopoly on taste, to paraphrase a certain political leader. So why not comment with your own favourite bands of 2012? What’s the sound of your Scotland?

So there you go – National Collective’s first collaborative blog and a bit of a departure from all the politics, but hopefully a welcome one. Music is an essential part of how any society expresses itself, and Scotland’s diverse and distinct music scene is something we should all be very proud of indeed. Listen as if you live in the early days of a better nation.

Rory Scothorne & Kate Higgins
National Collective


About Rory Scothorne

Rory Scothorne is a co-founder and political editor of National Collective. He studies History and Politics at Edinburgh University, where he has developed a taste for hard work in the same way that a shark develops a taste for lettuce. Rory is also a perfectly adequate songwriter and musician, but ruins it all by trying to sing as well.