5. Alasdair Roberts Gets Back To His Roots
For the past two decades, Glasgow’s Alasdair Roberts has busied himself with twin musical careers as both a songwriter in his own right and as an interpreter of the traditional songs of Scotland and beyond. He’s always nestled “pop” records alongside more traditionally folk-influenced albums, trying to combine styles and eras into something that transcends beyond either label. For his latest endeavour, Alasdair is set to release his fifth collection of traditional songs Grief In The Kitchen and Mirth In The Hall, his first since 2018’s What News. The collection will arrive in March via Drag City, and this week Alasdair shared the first offering from it, Eppie Morie.
Approaching Grief In The Kitchen and Mirth In The Hall, Alasdair decided to record entirely live, with a sparse arrangement of acoustic guitar, piano and voice used to bring a set of songs exploring ideas of conflicts and tensions, whether it be between genders, classes or tribal loyalties, with particular thought given to the places where these various constructs intersect. Eppie Morie is a Scottish traditional song, a tale of kidnapping and attempted assault, with young Eppie as the defiant, potential victim, who when faced with the advances of her would-be assaulter, spits in his eye and fights him off. When help arrives, in the shape of a lot of men with guns, Eppie gets her moment of triumph as her attacker is forced to fetch her a horse to whisk her back to the man she actually wishes to marry. Delivered with just an acoustic guitar and his rich, Scottish brogue, Alasdair’s melodies serve to transport us back in time, to recall the sounds and struggles of times long gone, yet in his choice of material, he reminds us of their ongoing relevance in modern times. Now grab your finest Scottish dictionary and enjoy, because the stories of the past have plenty to teach us all.
4. Tiny Ruins Are Here To Rock(pool)
Formed back in 2009 as a vehicle for the songwriting of Hollie Fullbrook, Tiny Ruins have since gone on to swell to their current four-piece lineup, with a trio of acclaimed albums under their belt. The last we heard from the band was back in 2019 with the release of the excellent album, Olympic Girls. This week the band dipped their toes into a comeback, with the release of a new single The Crab/Waterbaby.
The track was inspired by, “a time-honoured walk around the coves of Little Muddy Creek aside the Mānukau Harbour”, Holly stumbling over an upturned crab, its soft underbelly on display, its weak spot exposed to the world at large. In this exposed crustacean’s plight, Holly found something to relate to, as she sings, “dude, I think I know how you’re feeling”, seeing in the crab a translucence and permeability, similar to our own human weaknesses. While lyrically it’s a remarkable feet of inter-species connectivity, musically it’s distinctly human, Holly is initially accompanied by just a fluttering electric guitar, shimmering like the sun bouncing off an oil slick, before the song is lifted by a rich cascade of strings. The whole thing has a delightful flow, as the backing ebbs and flows around Holly’s vocal highlighting her thoughts, before dropping off to let the narrative shine through the fog. In a week of thrilling returns, there were few as subtly wonderful as Tiny Ruins, the sound of a very special band just revving up the engine for what could be their most exciting adventure yet.
3. And Now It’s Time For The National News
With the various members keeping themselves so impressively busy it can be hard to remember when you last actually heard something by The National. Whether they’re working on music by the unstoppable pop behemoth that is Taylor Swift or working on a series of musically diverse solo projects, the various members never seem to be far away from the music-loving public eye. So I was a little surprised to read it’s a full four years since the band released their eighth studio album, the expansive and ambitious double album, I Am Easy To Find. That brief hiatus ended this week when the band announced details of their upcoming record, First Two Pages of Frankenstein, which will arrive at the end of April. Alongside the news, the band also announced a string of tour dates and shared the first single from the album, Tropic Morning News.
Discussing First Two Pages of Frankenstein, it’s clear the record came from a tricky period for the band, it was initially slated for a much earlier release, however, it stalled as vocalist Matt Berninger, navigated, “a very dark spot where I couldn’t come up with lyrics or melodies at all”, he even goes as far as to suggest for the first time, he thought it might actually be the end of the band. Thankfully, they found a way to work through it, uprooting their writing and recording patterns, and allowing for the birth of, “what feels like a new era for the band”. Tropic Morning News was something of a breakthrough for the album as a whole, Aaron Dessner recalling how, “when Matt came in with that song in the depths of his depression, it felt like a turning point for us”. Co-written with Matt’s wife, Carin Besser, Tropic Morning News was inspired by a term they’d use to describe doom scrolling through the news headlines, “the idea of referring to the darkness of the news in such a light way unlocked something in me”. The resultant song dives into ideas of connection, of trying to reach out to another, while the darkness of the background hum drowns out the chance of any real conversation, “you wait around in a conversation, while I get in and start stumbling through it”. Musically, the track seems at once familiar and gently revelatory, the shimmering guitars and sing-speak vocals remain, yet in the driving processed rhythms and luxuriant strings, they seem to be subtly stretching the blueprint of what a The National song is. This was the song where the band felt they were back, where, “everything suddenly felt like it was coming alive again”, you can feel the synapses crackling, the ideas pouring forth and a great band falling back in love with being a great band once more.
2. Tugboat Captain Show They’re No Flash In The Pan
Ever since they formed as the solo project of multi-instrumentalist Alexander Sokolow, there’s been something delightfully ambitious about Tugboat Captain. From their lo-fi self-titled offering through to the jangly melancholy of Everybody Seems To Think That I’m A Raincloud, they always felt ready for something grander. That all came to fruition back in 2020 when they shared their studio debut Rut, a baroque-pop opus recorded at Abbey Road. While Beatlemania levels of stardom haven’t followed yet, it was with some anticipation that this week they shared their new single, Flash Of Light, the first glimpse of new material the band have been working on while squirrelled away in studios across South London.
Returning to the self-produced stylings of their earlier work, the song seems to capture a more experimental side of the band, dipping their toes into psychedelia as prominent stabs of the piano are infused with rolling bass lines and their trademark tight-vocal harmonies. It’s a song that never stays still for long, as urgent guitar wig-outs, slide into moments of piano-balladeering that wouldn’t sound out of place on a record by Carole King or Randy Newman. The lyrics seem to touch on the moment of dread that comes with waking up knowing your day is going to be spent scrubbing dishes and sweeping floors, as the initial shock of light gives way to acceptance, “in a grain of rice, a melting block of ice, I go off, off to face the day”. A classic slice of Tugboat Captain, they capture the everyday grind and then offer a sonic escape, they might be songs about just getting by, yet Tugboat Captain make them sound like the height of opulence, glorious high-fi pop with a DIY edge, I for one can’t wait to hear more.
Flash Of Light is out now. For more information on Tugboat Captain visit https://tugboatcaptain.bandcamp.com/.
1. Wednesday Are The Band Your Life Deserves
One of my favourite bands of the decade so far, Asheville, North Carolina’s Wednesday last appeared on these pages back in September when they announced their signing with Dead Oceans with the brilliant single Bull Believer. It ended a chapter with Orindal Records that had produced a string of brilliant records, culminating in 2021’s Twin Plagues, and suggested the band were set for a leap into the big leagues. This week came the next step, with news of a new record, Rat Saw God, due out in April, which was shared alongside news of their first-ever UK shows and the release of a new single, Chosen To Deserve.
Chosen To Deserve has something of an unusual starting place, as Karly Hartzman recalls it was, “a writing exercise I gave myself to try to recreate the iconic song by Drive-By Truckers “Let There Be Rock” but with my own experiences from growing up and fucking around and getting into stupid shit”. The result is a sort of tragi-comic reflection on growing up in a place where not much seems to happen, all underage drinking, experimenting with whatever drugs you can lay your hands on and a general sense of getting up to mischief. It’s a song of stark contrasts, teenagers who are one moment sneaking into swimming pools and taking their friends to get their stomachs pumped, and the next teaching in Sunday School. Musically, the track digs into Wednesday’s more country-influenced side, infusing the rich twang of slide guitar with their usual blend of scuzzy 90s-influenced lo-fi and shoegazing noise. Wednesday’s story is already a remarkable one, that a band so singular in their musical vision could possibly cross over into something resembling the indie mainstream is a reason to cherish the modern musical landscape, and perhaps most excitingly of all, there’s a feeling that they’re only just getting started.
Header photo is Wednesday by Zachary Chick.