The Smoke CD
This page contains information about the Smoke CD itself. Smoke was released in July 2001, and there were 1000 copies pressed. The track listing is as follows.
Getting press coverage is very important for a project like this. Fortunately, we did quite well, with several postive reviews appearing shortly after the CD's release.
A collection of unsigned artists from 'Glasgow and beyond', Smoke is a wildly mixed bag, both in terms of style and competence. As you might expect, there's plenty of filler standard rock 'n' roll and guitar pop, but it's the more adventurous bands that stand out amongst the nineteen acts on show.
Amongst the early highlights are the minimalist electronica of Ives and the country folk of Cayto, while later on, there's excellent jazzy dance trip hop from Squander Pilots and post-rocking piano mayhem from Lapsus Linguae. The quality is inconsistent, but at least these people have admirable intentions.
"Smoke" is a compilation of new Scottish bands, organised by McGazz from My Legendary Girlfriend (who naturally feature on said CD). With 19 tracks in total, obviously there is some shit, but there are several standout tunes for your listening pleasure. The running order sounds like it was picked out of a hat. It is diverse with a 'something for most people' line up, but mainly guitar music. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Late Night Foreign Radio start it off in a very morose, lo-fi and minimalist way, but 'Screensaver' is a grower and worth a few minutes of your time. Aether Flux also provide some lo-fi vibes, soundscapes and samples - one of the more interesting bands around at the moment though probably not to everyone's tastes. It's slightly shoegazing but in a non crap way.
Kasino and Cayto are on the more accessible side of guitar pop, the latter complete with string section but both bands with very good singers. Dundonians Mercury Tilt Switch go for the mini anthem rock thing, and very nice 'Betrayal (remix)' is too despite some annoyingly unnecessary bleeping noises over the top. 'Island Of The City' by Single Point Of Light is described in the press release as being "goth-slanted", which is off-putting but thankfully not descriptive of the track at all. The song is slightly quirky without being annoying and is possibly the best song on here.
My Legendary Girlfriend's 'Eugene's New Gene' showcases their likeable twee indiepop and great lyrics, such as "cloning technology sells/ nobody wants unfashionable cells" (well, I like that line anyway). Vinylreverb's unashamed but very good indierock is followed by the increasingly odd Lapsus Linguae, who provide the instrumental 'The Strang Makes Everything OK'. I'm not as much of a fan of their instrumental stuff as I am the rest. You MUST see this band live.
A nice ending is Pentothal and 'The Problem With Time', which is not a million miles from Will Oldham or Bonnie 'Prince' Billy or whatever he wants to call himself these days. You could say the album finishes in a similar way to how it started. So I will: The album finishes in a similar way to how it started.
Just because I've not mentioned all the bands it doesn't mean the stuff not reviewed here is shite - it's just that I would be here all day if I described everything. So you know the score - compilations, not all good and will never please everybody all the time, but if you want an idea of some of the better new bands in Glasgow at the moment (and a few from outside the city for variety) you could do a lot worse than this.
Unfortunately, new Scottish music has traditionally fallen into one of three camps: heartfelt 'celtic' rock: tinny lo-fi sung in accents that only John Peel can be bothered with: or bands who claim to have a wide variety of influences but sound like Travis. And while a good number of the bands on this compilation come under those headings, there are also a few who have managed to create a more exciting sound. Pick of the bunch is the much-feted Transaudio who weigh in with the blistering Comedown. Other acts who stand out are the dance-influenced Squander Pilots, and the truly bizarre Lapsus Linguae, who can stake a claim to being different if nothing else.
"Smoke" is not the best album of the month, but it can lay claim at least to being the best intentioned, and in many regards, best realised. For a compilation of local, unsigned bands, the presentation and care that has gone into the package is excellent, and the selfless care that is required to put something like this together deserves acclaim.
Musically, however, it a dense and sometimes depressing listen. Nineteen tracks and nearly seventy minutes is hard going in anybody's book, especially when the styles and quality range so dramatically. It is not so much the variety of styles that grates as the number of tracks that have little artistic claim to be anywhere near c.d. or vinyl. On an album on this nature it is more constructive to highlight the good things than dwell too much on the negatives, but "Smoke" falls into roughly three categories. These are the truly terrible, the competent and the great. Without naming names there are at least five or six, maybe seven tracks here that should be confined to the bin on the grounds of being tune free dirges, containing either terrible singing, staggering pomposity or the utilisation of synths in a manner so dated and unappealing it cannot possibly be ironic. Some artists even manage to combine all these failings.
Take them out and it would leave a very good twelve track album. Personal taste means I find it hard to get too excited by the likes of Nibushi Shang Hong, Squander Pilots, Kasino or Mercury Tilt Switch, but it easy to see a quality at work in the songs that should have wider appeal. So the really good bits? Late Night Foreign Radio and Lapsus Lingaue both offer atypical but excellent contributions - the former with vocals, the latter without, their inventive instrumental "The Strang Makes Everything OK" a refreshing pick me up about an hour in. And credit to Slowloris. "Infidelity" is only 63 seconds long, the most minimal track on the whole album, yet more engaging and original than anything around it.
This less is more approach would benefit the next "Smoke" album- and hopefully there will be more. At less than £5, there is bound to be something here that interests you, and can be fun trying to find it. At least there is no claim that these represent "the best new sounds from Scotland."
"Smoke" is based on a very sound principle - that there is power in numbers and that nineteen is better than one. The idea is this: a demo by one band is an expensive way of furnishing A&R men with coasters, whereas local bands pooling resources can get you a product for a fraction of the price. It will look much better, sound much better, and generate more publicity than any of the bands could hope to achieve individually. Added to this is the exposure each of these bands to the other's fan bases, which hopefully catalyses the Glasgow gig scene to the benefit of all.
Some of the criticisms which can (and have) been levelled at "Smoke" would be fair under different circumstances, but it is important to remember what it is and isn't. If it came as a sampler from a major label or one of the larger indies, it would be fair enough to pick holes in some of the less-than-perfect recording or unflattering production. But "Smoke" isn't about this, and nor does it claim to be. It is a shop window for these bands, and for most it is a much more innovative way of getting a demo out than they would ever be able to produce on their own.
While innovation is to be admired, it is, however, a dangerous tactic for some of the bands involved. If you are going to put yourself up for comparison so starkly against your peers then you have to be prepared for the fact that some bands will shine, and they will shine all the more brightly for sitting next to the duff ones.
The winners are mostly those who try something different. Late Night Foreign Radio open the album with a quiet studied brilliance which makes them stand out from those seen to be trying too hard. The Squander Pilots' uneasy duet is a country mile ahead of many of the bands on "Smoke" who also strive to sound modern but end up sounding strangely old-fashioned. My Legendary Girlfriend and Pulsar both win by playing with form: the former by mixing pop and politics in a new and fresh way, and the latter by making you sing along without ever letting you know how seriously to take it. Slowloris, with a singer not dissimilar to Hope Sandoval, leave you unsettled and unsure whether you've just heard total brilliance or absolute ineptitude. Penthothal end the album by perhaps remaining most true to its ethos: one of worst recorded tracks but undoubtedly one of the best songs, which shows that the resources of individual bands have nothing to do with their quality. They come out winners on the strength of their writing and the simple understated beauty of their performance - something some of the overproduced bands would do well to remember.
And the losers? Nibushi Shang Hong and Transaudio would have been signed up in a flash in 1991, but they would have been called Kingmaker and EMF respectively. Yessa De Passo's decision to use a track recorded live, perhaps based on cost rather than willing, works against them. Mercury Tilt Switch spoil a promising indie-rock stomp with truly awful lyrics. A few too many sink unremarkable into the background. And without naming names as they know who they are, a couple of bands have wasted an opportunity here by trying to do something too clever, forgetting that this is not just a compilation of co-operation, it's a compilation of competitors.
But this is not to detract from the achievements of "Smoke". Even taking into account its flaws - and what it loses in polish it largely makes up in enthusiasm and charm - much worse has been released with the mighty dollar of major label backing behind it. Aside from the music, it is impressive what a diverse and accomplished product was been produced in the spirit of co-operation. Perhaps more significantly, "Smoke" will really achieve something if this is just the first of a serious of albums put out with the same aims and ideals, and can provide a legacy for Scottish bands with talent but with the handicap of being born north of Watford Gap.
Of course there's been a lot said about this album, which was the object of the exercise. Smoke acts as a PR exercise for the acts here who would otherwise struggle to be heard. "19 great bands" trumpet the compilers and while that claim might be pushing it a bit, it's fair to say there's not a bad track on it - how many you rate as great is down to personal taste. The interesting thing is the ordering - so you get little pockets of styles - triprock stretching from Slowloris to Squander Pilots, while Ives and Aether Flux's differing takes on electronica sit back-to-back; Kasino rock stadiums while Vinyl Reverb suit the indie clubs nicely. As do Troika, but they're calmed down from their live set here. Late Night Foreign Radio get things off to a wonderfully melancholy start while, for me, the best is last with Pentothal's slow-core. Also present are Lapsus Linguae - and if the other bands can get half the buzz Lapsus are then Smoke will have accomplished its mission.
"Smoke" is a compilation disc of some of the hottest raw musical talent Scotland has to offer. Featuring 19 different bands of differing styles, it has something to hit of all the right spots. From the laidback acoustic velvet of Late Night Foreign Radio to the eclectic excesses of Lapsus Linguae, theres a mass of talent here. Since there just isn't enough space to do credit to all the tracks on the disc, heres a quick collection of some of my favourites.....
Element 115' by Ives is one of the most thought provoking electronic tracks I've hear in years. Reminiscent of early Kraftwerk in style and structure, this track shows us a more acoustic backdrop than your standard '4 to the floor' music which many people attribute to electronic musicians.
Kasino really demonstrate they're class with 'Thinking about yesterday'. Excellent vocals and songwriting combine with a masterful use of guitar, keyboards and drums to create a real sonic picture in the mind. It's a lovely piece of work lads. This is the sort of quality that gets people noticed.
Its not so often you get confronted with a song that seems to have a bit of an identity crisis. I think thats what Transaudio have with 'Comedown'. Don't get me wrong, this track is a very well put together song and the production is very professional - It's got a real gloss on it...but not much substance. I've heard other material from these guys and it was real toe-tapping stuff. But this ones different.
'Eugene's New Gene' from My Legendary Girlfriend is a strange, quirky little number about genetic engineering which gets into your head and wont come out! The vocalist sounds as if he'd be right at home in The Housemartins. Its certainly different folks...I can tell you.
Have you ever thought your CD player has skipped a track because a song was so short ? I did with 'Infidelity' from Slowloris. Barely 1 minute in length this song sounds as if it started life as a poem.
The vocal style is interesting and the sounds used to create the tracks' background are ambient and deeply layered in a thoughtful and elegant way. I think it's real nice. It's just a pity theres so little of it......
Other bands featured on the Smoke disc are:
Compilation CDs are great because they allow unsigned and in many cases, unheard musicians to get exposure to a wider audience. Long may it continue.
Half of this is various strains of yer common-or-garden indie/rock. And thus not new. At all. But from Scotland. One assumes.
The title does better by the other half, with the likes of Pulsar dreaming of Suicide but ending up with Fozzy Bear and layered casios; Ives pushing the atmospheric techno buttons and sounding like a small pianist in the hold of a large cargo vessel accompanied by distant welders and the ever-reliable My Legendary Girlfriend whose Eugene's New Gene is something Hefner forgot to record. The Squander Pilots tread a fine line between trip hop and coffee shop and Lapsus Linguae prove that there is life in the old dog yet, squeezing the balls of guitar pop until it sounds like the Cardiacs.
Not a household name to be found, but that only adds to the allure of this compilation.
It brings together 19 acts - most of whom are on duty at the 13th Note Cafe in Glasgow regularly
Half a dozen show serious potential and another five or six could do well with a few tweeks in style and sound.
Worth checking out are Cayto, My Legendary Girlfriend, Kasino, Transaudio and Mercury Tilt Switch.
From The Evening Times
A friend of mine once described the Scots as "a dour lot", earning him laughs and a smack from his Scottish wife. However, if this collection is a good representation, he wasn't far off the mark. Many of these tracks are relatively slow, minor key affairs. Sometimes, as on Late Night Foreign Radio's "Screensaver" the tone is clearly dark. Elsewhere, as with the instrumental "Element 115" by Ives, the result isn't dark so much as very reserved. True, exceptions like the jumping rock of Nibushi Shang Hong's "Song in 3 Parts" can be found, but even so, the results aren't exactly sunny and cheerful. However, while the bands on Smoke sound a little downcast, there is no denying their effectiveness and artistry. Thus, while many pop-accustomed ears may indeed find these Scots a dour bunch, others will find them quite pleasant."