The Second Hand Marching Band

As a little surprise for my dear ladyfriend, Cat, we took a four-day jaunt up to Scotland’s unfairly beautiful capital for the bank holiday weekend. Whilst we fitted in the usual tourist trips, seeing as most of my favourite music of the moment is coming out of the city, I crowbarred in a little music here and there, and what follows is a small account of the kind of aural treats we encountered in various forms.

Our first night ended with a (belated, due to poor, poor map reading skills on my part) trip to The Wee Red Bar for the Unpop club night. As an indie-pop night, we knew what to expect, but the main reason for my insistence on attending was down to the fact that none other than Pat Nevin, ex-Chelsea player, commentator extraordinaire and “indiepop conoisseur” (as the flyers proclaimed) was the DJ all night. Quite apart from his self-evident good taste, Nevin was a very nice man indeed, even asking our opinion of what to play later. Cat asked for this:

Camera Obscura – Honey In The Sun (YSI)

Of course, no trip to a new city would be complete without a scouring of the local record shops, and in the process I picked up a couple of delights. From the rightfully acclaimed Avalanche Records in Grassmarket I finally picked up Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and from a “rare records” emporium on the Royal Mile, I was given a John Lee Hooker collection by Cat after she watched me hanker over it for too long.

Pavement – Cut Your Hair (YSI)
John Lee Hooker – Boom Boom (YSI)

Whilst planning the trip, I’d frantically tried to find a gig worth heading to whilst we were in the city, but hadn’t found a suitable choice. Luckily, Matthew at Song, By Toad had me covered and posted about the Grassmarket festival, a three-day “micro festival” I suppose, free to enter, with craft stalls, food and, most importantly, live music. Taking Matthew’s advice/cowing to his threats (you can see this in the comments of the linked page above), we headed down on Sunday to catch Edinburgh School for the Deaf. Despite never wowing me beforehand, their particular fuzzy, punky tones were perfect for the sunny day and drew a great reaction out of the pretty sedate crowd (including one well-dressed drunkard who insisted on dancing directly in front of the stage throughout. Later, he was arrested). Unfortunately, we’d got there a little late and for no apparent reason, the plug was pulled after a couple of tracks. After a nifty pint, we headed back to the stage for The Second Hand Marching Band, who somehow managed to cram an uncountable number of musicians and bulky instruments onto the small stage to perform an uplifting set of brassy singalong numbers that swelled the crowd steadily throughout. We had to shoot off shortly afterwards, but the Grassmarket Festival has, in my limited experience anyway, set a precedent that could, and should be followed. Tiny events like this would be relatively easy to organise in an area with a good enough music scene, and with the cooperation of local small businesses, it’s a perfect way to draw attention to an area’s music or location that might otherwise be ignored.

Edinburgh School for the Deaf – 11 Kinds of Loneliness (YSI)
The Second Hand Marching Band – We Walk In The Room (YSI)

Of course, it all had to end sometime, and on the train home, Cat managed to infect my brain with this apposite number:

Adam Buxton – Holiday Blues (YSI)

Let me just end this little account with a message to anyone who lives in Edinburgh. I envy you. And Because I envy you, I hate you. So lock your doors, because I might want to steal your house and live in it myself sometime, and you’d better not get in the way of my doing that. Bye!

Here’s the second chunk of tuneful wonderment, and if you want the whole list in one easy-to-download package of delight, here’s the whole damn heap.

Manic Street Preachers – Me and Stephen Hawking (YSI)

I’ve heard the whole album in different sittings, and it really should be on my list, but I never actually bought it in the end, so here’s my favourite song so far – the perfect connection of Richey Edwards’ incredible lyrics and James Dean Bradfield’s rockstar guitar tendencies. The Manics recaptured their greatest form here, I just hope they’ve got more of the much-missed Mr. Edwards’ notebooks hidden away somewhere.

Meursault – William Henry Miller Pt. 1 (YSI)

Meursault have firmly rooted themselves on my ‘favourite new bands’ list, with their debut album and latest EP releases each blowing me away for different reasons. This song has an oh-so-catchy handclap chorus and lyrics about a hermaphrodite politician who had strange burial requests. What more could you want?

Meursault – William Henry Miller Pt. 2 (YSI)

I just couldn’t decide ok? The second half of this story sees a far slower, wail-filled affair, bringing the whole mood done somewhat, but for an entirely good reason. By the way, the band have just released new, more electronic, versions of both of these songs as new singles – get ahold of them from Song By Toad, it’s bloody worth it.

Phoenix – Lisztomania (YSI)

What list this year would be complete without Phoenix? This and ‘1901’ are just incredible singles, sure to become classic pop hits, and whilst I like both, there’s something about ‘Lisztomania’ that oozes cool, seeming to explode with noise at points, and yet never losing its feeling of easy-going charm.

Radiohead – These Are My Twisted Words (YSI)

Ah, Radiohead. How they can make me like what’s essentially a five and a half minute sinister freak out (not my favourite style I have to say) is a marvel. There’s something so beautiful about the directions and left turns they take, letting it wash over you before switching up again, never quite allowing one idea to go on for too long. It felt perfectly at home in their live set too, bridging the gap between their more abstract songs and the hits.

The Second Hand Marching Band – We Walk In The Room (YSI)

Making beautifully constructed songs must be difficult if you have a shifting set of over 20 musicians, but this song proves it can be done. Adapting a Beirut sound into a far more expansive and ever-growing proposition, the mass chants sound like a rallying call for fey indie kids everywhere, and it doesn’t succumb to the crescendoed heights it seems to suggest it will at points, a nice exercise in restraint that shows how such a large band can make understated music.

Shift-Static – Father’s Footsteps Pt. 2 (YSI)

Shift-Static describe their genre as shoe-step, embracing the disparate influences of shoegaze’s wall of sound techniques and dubstep’s shuffling, occasionally mournful beats. It doesn’t get much clearer that this is a perfect description when you listen to this. All Kate Bush swirling vocals to begin with before suddenly mutating into some quietly throbbing, beat-laden beast, it’s bloody weird, and bloody brilliant.

Thom Yorke – All For The Best (YSI)

This cover of a Mark Mulcahy song takes the best of Thom Yorke’s solo work and marries it to louder sound, allowing guitars and real drums to seep in somewhere along the way, perfectly complementing the sad yet ultimately redemptive tone of the lyrics.

Tom Williams & The Boat – Bonkers (YSI)

Tom Williams may be adept at creating folk-pop tunes that I love, but this hoedown version of Dizzee Rascal’s horrible, horrible song made me love the band for a whole new reason – their sense of humour. This just sounds like friends making music because they love it, with no ulterior motive.

Two Door Cinema Club – Something Good Can It Work (YSI)

This song can cheer me up in mere moments. There’s something so bloody wonderful about listening to a band just say, ‘yeah, things can be good’ and back it up with the most upbeat music you’ve ever hear. At the time that I heard it, they were unsigned and still playing little gigs; now they’re signed to cooler-than-thou Kitsuné and I saw them play Glastonbury. They’re going to be big, they’re going to make a lot more amazing songs, but this will always be the one I cherish most, because it feels like a band just believing in themselves, even when they haven’t achieved anything just yet.

Vampire Weekend – Horchata (YSI)

I simply cannot wait for the second album from these guys, and by the sound of this track they might have some new tricks up their sleeve. This takes all the African influences they love so much, cranks them up higher than they’ve ever gone before and puts it all on an avant-garde dance track. Freakin’ awesome.

The Very Best – Warm Heart of Africa (feat. Ezra Koenig) (YSI)

Just after I talk about Ezra Koenig making an African-themed dance track, we have this, an… African dance track, featuring Ezra Koenig. It somehow sounds completely different though, using actual African samples as a base and building up from there. It’s an unadulterated slice of sunny pop, and a sure-fire dancefloor hit.

Withered Hand – Religious Songs (YSI)

Technically, it’s a song from 2008, but I’ve only heard this year’s Good News album version so I feel no shame in including it here. The lyrics are what makes this so brilliant, at times a twisted love song, at others a meditation on happiness and all the time wonderful. Lines like ‘How does he really expect to be happy/when he listens to death metal bands’ and ‘I knew you so long I ran out of cool things to say’ make me smile instinctively, and turn this into an instantly relatable song, totally human and never pretentious.

Having written this, I realise I’ve definitely missed some out, so if you want to tell me what you think I’ve omitted, comment me up!

What with the spirit of goodwill that’s being bandied around at the moment, I thought it only proper to recognise the achievements of those bands whose albums weren’t quite good enough (or didn’t exist enough) to be included on my end of year album list. So here we go, the unrecognised gems of this fair year of music.