diskant is an independent music community based in Glasgow, Scotland and we have a whole team of people from all over the UK and beyond writing about independent music and culture, from interviews with new and established bands and labels to record and fanzine reviews and articles on art, festivals and politics. There's over ten years of content here so dig in!

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THE PINES – It’s Been A While (Matinée)

Posted: February 8th, 2007, by Maxwell Williams

“Why do you stick to me?” questions The Pines’ Pam Berry on It’s Been A While, a collection of songs from the iconic pondcrossing somberpop romancers. Berry is one of the most recognizable voices in American indiepop, with a dulcet croon and a perfect sense of timing and timbre, and we’ve stuck with her since her days in the fetishized Black Tambourine though her work with The Pines, with good reason.

Though songs like “Marie Claire,” “Please Don’t Get Married” and “Familiar” catch Berry and Pines-mate Joe Brooker in quite whimsical moods, the mostly drumless record rarely reaches past dreamy blues or melancholy greens, giving it a folksy pop quality that makes it enjoyable mostly in the rain, or over a post-break-up scotch.

It’s hard to complain when you like every single song on the record, but for reasons unknown, It’s Been A While is not a completist artifact. It’s a collection of compilation tracks, single and EP cuts and a couple unreleased covers (of which the Young Marble Giants cover is an absolute gem), which begs the question, when will the next collection come out so we can fill in the holes. It may have been better to just package it all together.

A must-have record this early in the year when so much crap is coming out, though, is more than welcome.

-Maxwell Williams


ANTIFAMILY – S/T (Difficult Fun)

Posted: January 19th, 2007, by Maxwell Williams

This record was reviewed favourably last month by my fellow Diskanteer pascalansell, but I wanted to have a go at it since I’ve been following Antifamily since the British-based Difficult Fun was a fledgling label with a few hand-printed CD-Rs and a dream. Plus, it’s not even out here and I had to go and beg DF to airmail me a copy. So, search out Monsieur pascalansell’s review and contrast.

Antifamily, to me, means big minimalist songs made from a variety of instruments, but clearly with the computer at the forefront of the music-building. And yet, not much remains the same on an Antifamily record throughout. To start, warm, globby synths trade cross-fade crossfire with higher pitched attack-synths. Then there are the more organic songs – for instance “The Shaft” features bouncy basses playing a funky kind of soccer with a razor sharp guitars. But then the very next song, “Same Old Same,” the synths take the driver’s seat. That variety is astounding, really. Rumble-pack punk-funk bass lines work it out like P.I.L. joining Can for a jam, but that can just as easily give way to a synthesized bass. Dub influences pop up here and there, as do their obvious debts to Kleenex and Delta5.

I could go on forever describing the different sounds found on this record, but it would make it seem uncohesive. It’s actually quite cohesive and it feels like Antifamily are hyper-aware of the sounds they are making. Always the songs are sung/shouted by the girls Melanie, Anja, Rachel, Agnese and Juliette, and that helps. Despite the likeliness five singers can seem just as confusing as all that I’ve described is going on, the production always seem to keep the girl’s voices somewhat similar sounding.

Some of the less impactful songs may have been rethought, as the record does tend to run a bit long (though some of the best stuff, like “I of the Law” where “death performs in the background,” come at the tail end of the record). But every family has it’s flaws and Antifamily is no different. Fantastic stuff.

-Maxwell Williams


YELLOW FEVER – S/T (Self-Released)

Posted: January 19th, 2007, by Maxwell Williams

Why is it that minimalist pop music seems to find a way to sound as, if not more, impactful than its wall of sound counterparts? I could ponder all day as to why I think Yellow Fever is one of the best things I’ve heard all year, with their deconstructively simple (the first half of “Donald” is a single repeated snare) drum beats, single note rubbery bass and their one word choruses. Even the songs each have one-word titles. They’re like an indie-pop version of the Young Marble Giants, except there’s two like-voiced Alison Statton’s intertwining their vocals into thick melodies that reach above the strangled guitars and crash down with a foggy hiss on top of the unhit cymbals.

The best songs on the self-titled/self-released EP come backloaded: the charming “Alice” marches into the enigmatic (and least minimal) “Psychedelic” which gives way to the a cappella closer “iMac.” It’s “Psychedelic,” though, that truly stands out. It features a cascading chorus that goes: “Why won’t you recognize how psychedelic I am, and love me?” And in the second verse when lead singer Isabel Martin sings, “I see your eyes/they’re higher than mine/pinecones will shimmer and cross timber lines” with that big voice of hers, I get so giddy that someone could come up with such clever lyrics and pair them with such lovely music.

-Maxwell Williams

Yellow Fever on MySpace

PETER BJORN AND JOHN – Writer’s Block (V2 Scandinavia/Wichita Recordings)

Posted: December 15th, 2006, by Maxwell Williams

My building has a free wireless network, so last night I peeked and saw that my neighbor’s iTunes had a few Peter Bjorn and John songs from their new album Writer’s Block. She had a bunch of Cat Power and Joanna Newsom and a couple newer things like New Young Pony Club. But Peter Bjorn and John? I hadn’t even heard the whole record yet and I’m an editor at a New York culture magazine, which made this casual listener’s iTunes a testement to the incredible word of mouth success the sophomore record from the Swedish pop trio is enjoying despite limited marketing in the US, thanks largely in part to the rediculously infectious lead single “Young Folks.”

“Young Folks” revolves around a crisp whistle solo, gentle beats and some of the most alchemical boy/girl switch-verses this side of “Don’t You Want Me,” with the Concretes’ Victoria Bergman cooing indifferently about the hipsters, and choosing the unsure Peter over all the other boring people with even more unsure lines like, “I would go along with someone like you.” The romance of the song is new and intriguing, like when you just say fuck it, and you finally dive into that relationship that’s been brewing, but you’ve never been really sure until now.

Lyrically, the simple expression of small joys and slight losses seems to keep this album always clever and surprising. No one will ever confuse Peter Bjorn and John with the Beach Boys in terms of vocal harmonies. In fact, none of the trio’s almost equally used voices are all that great, but they’re sincere and they’re placed flatteringly with the various emotional highs and lows of the music.

It’s those various shifts in the music that makes Writer’s Block so compelling. They jangle for the Byrds, chime rhythemically for the Chills, bounce along for the Lucksmiths, croon for Jens Lekman. Always there’s a hidden dulcimer or Spanish guitar that climbs its way through the songs and the whole thing just sounds joyous and fresh in a way no other record has sounded to me this year. Too bad I caught on so late.

-Maxwell Williams

V2 Scandinavia & Finland
Wichita Recordings

SNAKES SAY HISSS! – s/t (Famous Class)

Posted: November 29th, 2006, by Maxwell Williams

I couldn’t figure it out, and the music nerd inside me was taunting my lack of recall. We nerds are supposed to be able to sniff out a Memphis Minnie cover or an Ennio Morricone sample from a mile out. It was driving me nuts. I passed the CD over my cubicle to my co-worker.

“What does this sound like… Something ’80s, right?”

He put his headphones on. He agreed with me that it was something ’80s “or something.” I listened again and then called over another co-worker. A few hours (and a 2am phone call to the obligatory ’80s dance music aficionado friend) later we had deduced that the melody to the 7th track on Snakes Say Hisss!’s self-titled debut record sounded like the chorus to Taylor Dayne’s dance pop mega-hit “Tell It To My Heart.”

The point is, Snakes Say Hisss! essentially make dance pop in the vein of Taylor Dayne if she used filthy big synth loops and glitched out drum machines and sang mawkish near-emo Pavement-isms. And were underproduced. And, well… okay the Taylor Dayne comparison is a stretch. But that one song sort of sounds like her. I swear.

Bonus: Snakes Say Hisss! comes lovingly packaged in a beautiful screen-printed zine.

Double Bonus: They hail from the remote little village of Potsdam, New York, a town whose ice hockey team we beat the snot out of every time we played them.

-Maxwell Williams

Famous Class

FRIDAY BRIDGE/KELLY SLUSHER – Split 7" (Surreal Ceremonies)

Posted: November 16th, 2006, by Maxwell Williams

Here’s a pop record put out by a brand new California-based label, Surreal Ceremonies. They’ve gathered two really nice bands to put out a 7″ with.

Friday Bridge are a nice little beat-driven Swedish band whose lead singer sounds a little like Kahimi Karie and a little bit like Annie. The band is just a shade more lo-fi and looser, which is to their credit, because no one wants to hear an indie band try for well-produced new wave. Their contribution “The End of the Affair,” is shimmery, yet dark and utilizes a very trance-y synth arpeggio throughout the song, which I’ve heard used to similar affect by the old Creation band Pacific. The more I listen to this song, the more I like it, in all it’s Cardigans echo-grove bliss.

I’m a little more familiar with Kelly Slusher, ever since she worked with Rocketship’s Dustin Reske on a quiet little record a few years ago. Her addition, “Be There,” is the first I’ve heard from her since, except for her work on the Kitteridge Records Homemade Hits compilation with the band Boothby, which I quite enjoyed. Slusher’s vocals make your ears swoon and pine and when she sings, “Let’s go crazy for just one night” so delicately, you can’t help but think about a time when you’ve thought that thought. Her guitars catch up with her anxiousness on the chorus and the fuzz blends into the pretty river of keyboard melody, creating that perfect blend of nostalgia and déjà vu.

-Maxwell Williams

Surreal Ceremonies


Posted: November 10th, 2006, by Maxwell Williams

Now, I’m a fucking huge Maher Shalal Hash Baz fan, so forgive me if I nerd out about their new record L’Autre Cap for a minute. Tori Kudo and his shambolic followers make perfectly visceral, charmingly elemental folk-pop that literally falters at every step, jingles and bounces just enough to stay alive, pauses for a minute to let you catch the breath you never lost, then falls apart while staying the single most cohesive idea in pop music today – the desire to stay naïve about music, yet create something so beautiful it hurts to listen to. It’s cute and sad; it’s minimalist, yet complex beyond belief. And the true test? It never grows old, and never will.

I’ve been paying attention to Maher since their days with the legendary Org Records in early ’90s Japan. And while Jagjaguwar snapped up Org-mate Nagisa Ni Te, Maher opted for the more community-based Scottish label Geographic, where they released their sprawling epic, the 41-track Blues du Jour, easily one of my favorite records of all time. Alas, I cheat when I say “sprawling epic.” Everything Maher does is sprawling and epic. L’Autre Cap is no exception. Over 27 tracks, there are parts where the music is basically non-existent. There are jumpy pop numbers that evoke a broken marching band as sung by a lost weekend-era Harry Nilsson were he from Tokyo. There are doomsaying instrumental dirges. There are actual blues riffs. There are randomly blown horns offset by Tuvan throat singing. By the 19th song, where a swirling crescendo finishes “Dove,” you half believe the record doesn’t exist because there’s no way so many musical ideas can be pushed into a record that sounds so distinctive and unique, yet so much like one band.

The thing that ties it all together – other than the perfectly imperfect and spontaneous musicianship – is Kudo’s voice. Not his actual singing voice, though his not-quite-fluent-English warble is inviting like a friendly practicing foreigner. No, it’s his vaguely holy, heartfelt parables. But the crazy thing is, sometimes you can’t even hear what he’s saying. But you think you do, so you make up your own stories. “I might project you,” he sings, “as a chaste virgin.” But he might’ve said protect. Then he breaks into Japanese.

Recorded for K Records in Olympia, Washington with Old Time Relijun’s Arrington de Dionyso (the aforementioned throat singer) and Tori Kudo’s American counterpart Calvin Johnson, L’Autre Cap is a perfect invocation for Maher into the DIY world of the American Northwest. Basically L’Autre Cap picks up where Blues du Jour left off, which is just fine with me. This record makes me happy.

– Maxwell Williams

K Records

THE SNOWDROPS – Sleepydust ep (CDEP, Matinée)

Posted: November 10th, 2006, by Maxwell Williams

Blueboy and Trembling Blue Stars were always the Sarah Records bands that weren’t afraid to put Casiotones at the front of their songs. It’s no surprise then that the new limited edition CD single Sleepydust from Keith Blueboy’s new band The Snowdrops places a sweetly descending synth line bridge in between some mushroomy beats and stutterstep faux-handclaps and Keith-sung lyrics about Diana Ross and “eyes like signals.” Gives the whole thing a rather Trembling Blue Stars feel actually, like an updated version of “Doo-wop Music,” without such ringing guitars.

The b-side is really awesome too. The vocals are handled by longtime collaborator Dick Preece, who’s worked with Keith in the beloved Matinée band Lovejoy. “The Boy with the Hummingbird Eyes” is a whispery ode to a boy who’s flitting his eyes to stop from crying… or maybe one of Douglas Coupland’s Gen-Xers’… I think. Regardless, it’s very pretty and blissed out.

The extended remix of the single that’s tagged on at the end is notable for the added intro vocals from the (indie-pop) legendary Pam Berry, who always sounds like she’s singing in 1986 Paisley in a polka-dot dress with a cocktail in her hand.

This is perfect for sullen afternoons thinking about someone you miss.

– Maxwell Williams