The Scottish Enlightenment

Well I suppose it serves me right for volunteering my services to Blimpy …

I was not alone in being surprised and delighted to learn that The ‘Spill is now offered music to review, but being asked (for once) to put my money mouth where my mouth is gave me a bit of a moment, I can tell you. I hope I carry out my duty to the required standard!

St. Thomas is the new album from The Scottish Enlightenment, a four-piece from Fife. I (unsurprisingly) had never heard of them, but our curator-in-chief Dropped me this bunch of songs with the open-ended invitation of “I remember that you’re an Aereogramme & similar fan … if you want to give [TSE] a ‘Spilling …”

OK, so I was intrigued enough to take the bait, and played the album through a couple of times. Then again the next day. Then burnt it to CD knowing I had five hours to come in the car the following day (it stayed on the whole time). Then on my return home on Thursday night, I even played it again DURING the RR MFF. So before you go any further I reckon you can see I was either (a) taking my responsibilities as reviewer far too seriously, or (b) I like it a lot.

The correct answer is definitely (b). So how do I put that into words well enough to convince some more of you to seek it out? Well, adding a link to at least one song would help, but as I keep saying, that part of posting on WordPress continues to frustrate me. Maybe Blimpy will add something in as an Edit after I post this (done! Blimpy).

As I’m no proper journalist, maybe I can be forgiven the lazy reviewer’s sin of description by comparison? Blimpy hooked me with a mention of Aereogramme (think Mogwai-lite with designs on Snow Patrol or Coldplay crossover success); my email to him, after first listens, promising to post this review said simply iLiKETRAiNS play Dakota Suite. During my motorway slog to and back from Birmingham, the names Sigur Rós, Nick Cave, even Stuart Staples also wandered across my thoughts. Pigeonholes suggested themselves: rock, post-rock, slowcore, indie, folk, shoegaze, pastoral … Hang on, PASTORAL? Yeah, I’ll come back to that in a minute. But again and again and again, one word returned to my brain: stately. This album is dignified, serious guitar-based music in which to lose yourself for fifty minutes or so.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not pompous, it’s not unapproachable, and it certainly isn’t brash or arrogant. It’s more like an aural equivalent of Robert Duvall’s Lt.Col. Kilgore in the beach-trashing scene of Apocalypse Now – calm, commanding and demanding respect whilst chaos and destruction abound. That there might just be a hint of madness behind the façade just adds to the mystique, in my opinion. For instance, is the decision to open your first album in around five years with a simple 2min+ instrumental that of a sane band? It’s very GIAA/Mogwai, but hardly attention-grabbing. But The Scottish Enlightenment know what they’re doing, as Gal Gal‘s repetitive guitar motif twists neatly into the one-string riff of Earth Angel – With Sticks In Crypt, and the tone and pace are set. EA-WSIC is one of two songs that have forced others off my Walkman to make room for them, and would be my first choice to insert into the review as an mp3.
Next track Little Sleep gets the DsD thumbs up for two reasons, (i) the understated way the rat-a-tat-tat drum riff doesn’t overwhelm the song, but adds to it, and particularly (ii) the line “All we need’s a little sleep and we’ll be fine”, which I think is going to be my new motto! This is the song that gave me the iLiKETRAiNS comparison. Taxidermy Of Love, on the other hand, is musically as ethereal as anything Sigur Rós produce (is that a harp I hear?), but has to content itself with merely looking at the stars instead of being up there with them because singer David Moyes is no Jónsi Birgisson.
The next two songs, Pascal (listen to the fingers sliding up&down guitar strings – is that a good thing or a bad thing? I never know.) and Necromancer continue the theme, though the latter raises the volume and darkens the mood nicely.
Remember I said both Nick Cave and ‘pastoral’ up above? The First Will Be Last is partly responsible for both of those. If we can add a link to it – hint, hint, Blimpy – I highly recommend a listen to the lyrics, though in truth the music and vocal tone here try to undermine my earlier “stately” argument by feeling almost urgent in pace.
List Right returns us to Aereogramme territory. The Soft Place chucks some glockenspiel, trumpet and falsetto backing vocals into the mix, kinda reminding me of HUGE DsD faves, Guillemots’ Redwings & Songs Of Green Pheasant’s Alex Drifting Alone.
Then we have My Bible Is, which is indeed “filled with love and beauty”, forming a suitable climax to an album I’m really glad I was sent. But in a last little perverse and enigmatic twist, it isn’t the last track on the album. Cogito is fifty seconds of piano noodling, heavy on the echo effect. Not one that anyone is going to target their 79p at on iTunes, but does it leave you, er, pondering? Or is it a smartarse reference too far? I’ll plead the Fifth and leave it to others to decide!

So that’s a big thumbs-up from me. Call it post-rock, call it shoegaze, call it whatever you like – iTunes calls it “Ecclesiastical Rock”, ffs; all I ask is that someone tells me I’ve done enough to make at least one more person want to buy it.

The above player has Necromancer, The First Will Be The Last, Little Sleep.

Available from Armellodie Records for £7 on CD, less on MP3.

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10 thoughts on “The Scottish Enlightenment

  1. Wow, great review, DsD! And love the song. I would explain how to link but it’s always touch-and-go whether I’m going to get it right myself…

  2. Hi Rich, fab review. I’ve added a player (you just copy & paste the wordpress shortcode from soundcloud) with the sanctioned songs in it.

    By the way, The ‘Spill has always been sent stuff to review, and until recently it’s been 100% unmitigated sh….well you know…!
    Not wanting to badmouth music here, but I don’t think the world needs to know that there’s a chap out there who sounds like an exact cross between James “I averted WW3″ Blunt and David Grey. That said, if any ‘Spillers want to review him, or interview him – just let me know and I’ll pass on the details.

  3. Hi DsD (and others)

    This whole posting music, links and other stuff is a lot harder here than it was on blogspot. GF and I are working on a comprehensive guide on how to post these things. I send him the instructions – he tries them out and tells me where I went wrong [took certain knowledge for granted] and then writes them up in true user manual style. We are currently working on the music player but will move on to pictures (both in posts and comments). We’ll also be looking at things like bold, colours and even CAPS LOCK. Requests please and also, Blimpy, some way of getting these guidelines on a side bar or other easy accessible link on the blog so that we can have more ‘spillers get back into the habit of posting…

    • Too busy being a smart arse to say how much I enjoyed your review DsD. Made me want to listen and now thanks to Blimpy, I can. I’ll be posting a demo by some lads I know in the next few days. Look forward to your opinions…

  4. Thanks for all of the above, gents. As has now become clear with Maki’s Do We Need A Manual? thread, I’d happily do this sort of thing more often if the technical side wasn’t such a chore on WP.

    On the subject of the album, this is now my most-played-as-a-whole (i.e. not cherry-picked individual songs) album of 2010!!

  5. ace review DsD, heartfelt and cohesive all at the same time.

    Definitely made me want to listen and I liked what I heard – job done!

  6. I would say DsD that having posted this with pictures, youtubes, music, bold emphasis and links, you don’t need a manual, from here on out, no excuses.

  7. Ooh! That’s harsh but fair there, GF, apart from one thing. Blimpy inserted all of the music stuff; that’s the bit I’ve been struggling with. Looking forward to solving that with the Idiot Guide.

  8. Enjoyed the review very much – loved “The First Will Be Last”, but the other two tracks washed over me a bit – very pleasantly, all the same.

    Looking forward to more reviews and more new miserablescottishindie music…

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