We spoke last week of the wonders of Welsh music, but another country with an at least equally impressive history of alternative-music is Scotland. Whilst it would be pushing it to say it’s the birthplace of Indie-music, it was unquestionably at the forefront, with one label and one man in particular, hugely influential and crucial in its development.
The label, Postcard Records, the man, Alan Horne. Alan was a notoriously prickly customer but he did tend to get the job done, expertly demonstrated during a run in with John Peel about the Orange Juice single, Falling and Laughing, which saw Peel label him a “horrible, truculent youth”, but none the less, he played the single. His ambition stretched beyond the Indie charts and into the mainstream; however as Postcard Records only lasted two years, eleven singles and one album, it perhaps never quite lived up to his commercial expectations. By all accounts that was at least partly because Alan wasn’t very good at balancing the books. What Postcard Records did though, was leave a legacy; their roster is now the stuff of legend: Orange Juice, Josef K, Aztec Cameras, The Go-Betweens, it was arguably the label that invented what would become known as Indie-Pop. At a time when alternative-music essentially was the latter days of punk uniformity, Postcard Records popularised floppy fringes, and a slightly fey aesthetic that would become the norm in the late 1980’s Smiths-inspired Indie heyday.
The spirit of Postcard Records would continue into much of the music Scotland would go on to produce. Whether it was the indie-pop styling’s of Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura or The Vaselines, the attitude of bands like Primal Scream or The Jesus & Mary Chain, or the collective identity that was portrayed by the likes of The Fence Collective and Chemikal Underground, the influence of Postcard Records continued to flood Scotland with brilliant and intriguing music.
Scotland still continues to punch above its weight in the musical stakes with the likes of Honeyblood, The Spook School and C Duncan all showing that it remains a hot bed of creativity. Perhaps commercial success wasn’t to be for Postcard Records, but without it Scottish music just wouldn’t have been the same.
Tuff Love are the dual voiced duo of guitarist Julie Eisenstein and bassist Suse Bear. They’re joined live by drummer, and Phantom Band member, Iain Stewart. All their music is self-engineered and self-produced in Suse’s flat.
Well according to their press release, “they write dazzling, sun-streaked guitar pop songs with mesmerising lyrics, heart-wrenching vocals and dreamy melodies like the sound of pure summer”. A rather neat summary actually, as their latest EP is a collection of tracks that are DIY in ethic only; musically they’re well produced, fuzzy, pop-gems; all echoing vocals, thrashy reverberating guitars and blistering drums. They sound not unlike a more modern take on the early 1990’s ilk of Elastica or Sleeper.
Tuff Love are based out of Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow. Back in 2009 the city was voted the UNESCO Creative City Of Music, recognition for its rich history of producing a seemingly unlimited amount of absolutely stunning music. From the likes of Orange Juice and Aztec Camera’s success on Postcard Records back in the very early days of Indie-Music through to the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Camera Obscura and Chvrches, as well as less well known but equally brilliant bands like The Spook School, Honeyblood and C Duncan.
Tuff Love formed back in 2012, but it was two years later with the release of debut EP, Junk via Lost Map Records that they came to the world’s attention. That record was released on 10″ white vinyl, and received heaps of critical acclaim, but along with their second EP Dross, is now entirely sold out, and even unavailable digitally, which just seems cruel. This year they’ve supported the likes of Ride and Paolo Nutini (apparently he’s a huge fan) as well as playing a vast number of festivals and are now set to release their third EP, Dregs this week.
Tuff Love could easily be lumped in with the slightly revivalist, early 1990’s retro-gazing that’s being peddled from every corner at the moment, luckily behind the shimmering production, there’s a substance to their song-writing that lifts them way beyond a simple tribute to the past.
The albums lead single, Duke, is just a stunning piece of music, all echo-laden vocals, distant backing oohs and reverberating, but quietly aggressive guitar lines. The stand out moment is a perfectly judged breakdown, and the lift that follows as the drums gradually build the intensity. The dual vocals are a highlight throughout, two voices that seem to fall into a naturally harmonious arrangement, holding equal sway and working together rather than competing for the lime light.
There’s a sadness to the EP, both in its sonic qualities and lyrics, on Threads they’re noting how, “I wasted all my youth on you”, whilst the eponymous reptile in Crocodile is ominously waiting with the lyric, “you have been so accommodating and lay down with your body waiting.” Generally it’s a record that deals in subtle imagery as opposed to laying it all out for the listener, but the quality of the lyrics is strong throughout, and you find yourself unpicking them further on each listen.
Whilst the musical pallet is fairly similar throughout, there’s some subtle variation between tracks that keep it sounding fresh. Crocodile add’s a slightly psych-tinge to the guitar, a sort of all encompassing fuzz to the whole mix and a playful organ outro that wouldn’t sound out of place on the best Brit-Pop records. Carbon showcases a slight country-lilt to the beautiful guitar line and moves the vocals, to a clearer, more central place in the mix. Amphibian is a cleaner and brighter sound with shades of The Wharves psych-folk tendencies, and Threads is the band at their most shoe-gazey coming across somewhere between Cheatahs and Veronica Falls, whilst also making liberal use of false endings, of which we’re always a fan.
‘Them silly retro-kids with their stripy shirts and fuzzy guitar sounds won’t go anywhere’ says a stuffy record executive somewhere, whilst the rest of us are just enjoying ourselves. They might never have a hit single, but they’re going to entertain and engage an awful lot of people along the way. A band doing things their own way and sounding all the better for it.
Dregs is out November 6th via Lost Map Records. Tuff Love tour the UK in November.