The Surrogate Home Of Scotlands Finest Music: FatCat Records.
Brighton based label FatCat has become a surrogate home for the most exciting music to come out of Scotland in recent years. Always a go-to label for the best up and coming eclectic artists across the globe (they were the first to bring both Animal Collective and SigÃºr RÃ³s to our shores) the highlights of its output in the close of the noughties has resided north of the border.
The triumvirate that make up its northern contingent; The Twilight Sad, Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks, have all released must-hear full-lengths since the formers signing to the label in late 2005, and as the sun sets on the decade all three are at new frontiers. Over a period of two weeks Contactmusic.com caught, and caught up with, all three at Nottingham's Bodega Social.
First up were The Twilight Sad, who released their second album 'Forget The Night Ahead' back in late September. It's a monster, a sprawling bloody-fanged beast that kicks the formula of My Bloody Valentine's 'Loveless' (guitars pushed through so many effects that they sound like detuned foghorns or choirs of angels filling every millisecond of space, drums and vocals buried underneath, at times scratching the surface, at others almost drowned out) into the graffiti and broken glass riddled midnight streets of their home city of Glasgow.
It also marks the next step in a band that is constantly evolving. Forming as a more-or-less improv collective they condensed their sound into the pitch-black squall that fills their dÃ©but 'Fourteen Albums & Fifteen Winters', an album that for all its distortion and thousand-yard stares admittedly does touch grounds closer to the insular janglings of The Smiths than some of the more formulaic shoegazers the band often draw comparisons to.
After this they released two EP's which truly showed the versatility of the song band, offering stripped down versions of past tracks and beta tests of new ideas, two of which would go on to be developed into tracks on 'Forget The Night Ahead' ('That Room' and 'The Neighbours Can't Breathe'). Vocalist James Graham acknowledges that the change is a conscious one;
'We went into (the album) knowing it would sound different from 'Fourteen Winters..'. We didn't want to repeat ourselves. There's a lot more going on, with Doc joining the band...the lyrical content is also much harder to work out.'
Whether that is because it is simply harder to hear his razor-filed drawl amongst the six-string fireworks is anyone's guess, but this refusal to stand still or repeat past steps is shared by their brothers in amps. Fresh-faced four-piece We Were Promised Jetpacks also suggest that they could not replicate past moments, such as favourite and past single 'Quiet Little Voices', even if they admit, tongue in cheek, it might benefit them;
'Quiet Little Voices is probably the oldest song we still play live, and we'll probably never be able to drop it..' Starts vocalist Adam Thomson. Asked if it they fear it might become an albatross around their neck, if its success, though too moderate to see them labelled as one hit wonders, may set the bar slightly too highly for following releases he continues;
'Not really...itâs not something we've thought about. Itâs just a song we can throw out at any point in the set and the crowd will react. I don't think itâs one of our best songs, but itâs simple and itâs got a good hook.'
This lack of concern is understandable, even if the band own up to have only written two songs for the follow-up to These Four Walls, which was released back in June. After all these questions were asked to Frightened Rabbit a couple of years ago after 'The Greys', the title track from their dÃ©but album, brought them a similar level of mainstream attention.
Since then the band have exploded, attracting a wide and devout fanbase on both sides of the Atlantic, appearing on Hollyoaks and Greys Anatomy and selling out modest tours across the UK, US and Canada. Tonight specifically they have seven interviews scheduled all this thanks to 'The Midnight Organ Fight', one of 2008's, if not the decades, finest indie-pop albums, a full-length that shined off the rough edge of their early recordings and injected enough pop sensibilities, wry lyrics and irresistible hooks to make a Belle & Sebastian fan climax into their cup of exotically flavoured tea.
You could forgive them for resting on their laurels and riding further on the coattails of the albums success, but vocalist and guitarist Scott is eager to press on;
'Our next album's already written and ready to go out. We want to release it now but it won't be out until spring (2010).'
It's preceded by 'Swim Until You Can't See Land', an upbeat-but-not-quite-high-tempo anthem that doesn't quite allay fears that the band will 'do a Snow Patrol' and shun their quirks for a middle-of-the-road box-ticker on their third album. As well as further wrapping(confining?) their music in radio friendly production and BPM it also diverts from the highly personal lyrics of '...Organ Fight', something which Scott explains offhand;
'The last two albums were about break ups with someone and I haven't split with anyone recently.'
As with The Twilight Sad the title for the forthcoming record came by '..reading through the albums lyrics until something stood out.' What stood out for the band is 'The Winter Of Mixed Drinks', and it continues the poetic feel to the two bands naming process, along with references to the two pillars of Scotland, cold air and alcohol.
Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad have also recently added a new member to their line-ups. Dok, formerly of much missed post-metallers Aereogramme, has been brought in to add more weight to The Twilight Sad's sonic assault whilst Gordon Skene, of fellow underrated Scot's Make Model, stretches Frightened Rabbit to a quintet. Neither, however, have managed to fully incorporate their new additions, at least insofar as the live environment is concerned.
Much of The Twilight Sad's set sounds cluttered and cloistering, with each instrument blasting out as much effect-soaked sound as it can. At times it works, mostly on newer tracks which have already been built for Dok's own meanderings, but on older tracks, such as favourites '....And She Would Darken The Memory' and 'Last Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy' there is too much of a muchness, too many hands trying to build layer upon layer upon layer of noise until the focal, and vocal, points of the song are buried well underneath.
For Frightened Rabbit the problem is different, and with their recent tour being admittedly a 'try-out' for the new member one that may quite easily and promptly be solved. As a five-piece the band struggle to retain the breath-on-neck intimacy that made their first two albums so human and personal, with 'I Feel Better' and 'The Modern Leper' becoming cluttered with clean guitar lines that don't so much collide as merge together, losing the on-record dynamics and leaving the interlocking melodies sounding weak and, at times, repetitive.
If anything it could be suggested that many of the songs would benefit from being stripped to the nucleus of Scott and brother, drummer Grant when played live. This may take the edge of some of their rockier moments but the band, still sans-bass, are at their peak when at their most direct, whether sweetly strumming on the sing-along finale 'Poke' or racing forward on the keyboard-led 'The Twist'.
Whether they will reach the peaks of their previous two albums will be seen in March, but, like The Twilight Sad and We Were Promised Jetpacks aside them, they still remain at the forefront of inventive, nay irresistible, modern alternative music and remain trailblazers of one of the most exciting and consistent labels in the world.
Official Site -