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   Sunday, April 25, 2004  
A bit like eggs, the music we call Pop is generally best when fresh. The constituent parts can be deftly whipped up into an impressive, crowd-pleasing souffle or fumbled to the floor creating merely a hideous mess. The Scots have proved themselves particularly adept egg-jugglers in the past and the early form shown by the latest troupe of tartan melodists to emerge suggests things aren't about to get sticky underfoot. To the Arts Cafe Wednesday for a (London debut?) show by engaging Edinburgh five-piece Aberfeldy.
It's the conventional set-up - canny songsmith on guitar and vocals backed by his chums on bass, drums, glockenspiel and..glockenspiel. Yes, triple bonus points already for Aberfeldy, trumping the likes of Thin Lizzy's twin lead-guitars with a twin glock attack! Sarah and Ruth wield the toy hammers with appealing diligence. They also supply fiddle, keyboards and notable harmonies in fleshing out band leader Riley Briggs' compositions.
A gangling prescence, Briggs affects a nonchalance which is undermined time and again by the focus and attention to detail evident in the songs. There's a clear sensibility at work here, a craft in the arrangements which are in turn handled with an understated confidence and glee by the band.
With it's firm grasp of structure and a notably grounded rhythm section Aberfeldy could perhaps be the Fleetwood Mac of indie twee. If you need signposts, there are echoes here of the likes of the Trashcans, Belle & Sebastian, The Beautiful South, the Go-betweens. Love is an arrow is a particularly fine little mover which could be a cut from the last Josh Rouse record, 1972. Unhateable, basically.
In today's Observer, chart darlings Keane are properly damned as 'Nice music for nice people'. Just because Rough Trade are getting behind them, do the immediately accessible 3-minute indie-popisms of Aberfeldy amount to anything more? On first hearing at least (and not solely because of the hot glockenspiel action), reallyrather is voting 'Yes'...
Aberfeldy | Love is an arrow mp3

Aberfeldy would be an ideal opener for Rilo Kiley next time they're over. As it is they will be supporting fellow Rough Trader Sufjan Stevens at the Bush Hall in June. It's certainly a less obvious pairing but if Sufjan's on his own and could use a bit of help projecting his music (which frankly, on past experience, he could) the Aberfeldy gang could surely muck in on epics like Detroit and They also mourn who do not wear black from last year's sustaining wonder, Greeting from Michigan....
It took about six months for awareness of that album to seep through. Conversely, folks have been all over this spring's follow-up Seven swans like a rash from pre-release and the emerging consensus is that, hey, it's actually better. Which, of course, it's not. Michigan was a vaultingly ambitious music suite, over-stuffed for sure but endlessly compelling and marvellously eclectic. Seven swans certainly has a more homogenous, consistent tone inducing a contemplative, staring-off-into-the-middle-distance state of being. But Michigan's plangent peaks (Romulus, Flint) and generally exhilarating dynamics aren't matched (reached for?) here.
That said, Seven swans effortlessly confirms Stevens' place at the head of the indie-folk pack and gets an unreserved double thumbs-up. If Iron & Wine is the soft round stone on the bed of the stream, Stevens is the constant motion above it, the cool, clear water rippling, eddying. There's a slightly puritanical air, a rigour at play which presently sets Stevens apart. The addition of drums, bells and strings on the final track, The transfiguration, takes us closest to Michigan's extended extravagance but a more abstemious, sub-3 minute rule generally prevails. The defining combination of layered, insistent banjos and repeating, unadorned vocals drill home the (often Christian-heavy) poetry gently but firmly. There are no weak moments here. In a very real sense (dearly beloved), Sufjan Stevens is currently in very inspired form indeed...

..making Seven swans an '04 essential alongside Joanna Newsom's The milk-eyed mender. Is this going to be another that takes half-a-year to break out? "Goddamn!" And while we're about it, here's another log for the fire: 'Each song feels lit up by a full moon, shiny and beautiful and glowing within'. "You can’t really approach singing and writing songs with anything other than a wholehearted acceptance of whatever comes out,' Newsom told Dusted last week, 'And there’s a certain level of, “I’m just going to open my mouth, and what comes out, comes out.
   posted by SMc at 7:35 AM |