23.06.2010, Words by Charlie Jones

6-Release Round up

Rising out of the ashes of a defunct vinyl emporium in the twilight years of the last century, FATCAT RECORDS had its earliest roots in some of the most kinetically gifted Techno this country has ever produced (check out the Grain releases at the peak of Richie Hawtin’s seminal ‘Decks, EFX & 909 mix’). Who could have guessed back then the arc that FatCat would later chart dancefloor bombs, through all divergent forms of electronica, noise, post rock and beyond?

Sure, along the way FatCat has had its fair share of moments: not only were they responsible for taking Sigur Ros beyond their Iceland backwaters, they were also instrumental in the resurrection of folk deity Vashti Bunyan, not forgetting their release of some of Animal Collective’s most radical. But it’s not just FatCat’s rich and varied back catalogue that is exciting. Every bit as juicy as the label’s past successes is the label’s continuing evolution and, as the latest crop of releases show, this label is still in rude health.

The Twilight Sad ‘Forget The Night Ahead’
One of a trio of Scots talent discovered by FatCat over the past three years, The Twilight Sad have undergone a gradual metamorphosis from their initial gigs as a five-piece creating half hour pieces of music using a bewildering array of tape loops, guitars, looped soundtracks and effects pedals. After a slew of charged records on FatCat compounded by tours with the likes of Mogwai, Smashing Pumpkins and Idlewild the band have developed into a more traditional, but no less emotive band, that evokes the raw early 80s energy of early Cure or Joy Division.

Lyrically their most recent album ‘Forget The Night Ahead’ is much darker than the it’s brilliant predecessor ‘Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters’ and ‘The Room’ is the standout second single to be taken from that album. Fans might even notice that early versions of ‘The Room’ appeared as untitled tracks on The Sad’s 2008 live album ‘The Twilight Sad Killed My Parents and Hit The Road’. Built around a descending piano refrain and nagging drum beat, James Graham’s Caledonian burr tells an unsettling tale of shame and regret through a litter of unsettling metaphors. If the antics of the band are anything to be believed then whatever they’re ashamed of, is pretty bad. After hearing that bassist Craig Orzel’s decision to leave the band earlier this year came after waking up “baw deep in a Granny”, we’d be prepared for the worst.

We Were Promised Jetpacks ‘The Last Place You’ll Look’
As runners up in the competition for the band with the most ridiculous name at this year’s SXSW, (the gold medal went to Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head) We Were Promised Jetpacks became the most recent addition to FatCat after they stumbled across the four school mates on Frightened Rabbit’s Myspace page.

The atomic energy of the outfit has attracted parallels to The Futureheads and Bloc Party but as this mini-album goes to show, the Glaswegian youngsters have everything still to play for and are hungry to show a more sensitive side. Apparently the band were unsatisfied with how their debut ‘These Four Walls’ sounded on record, so when presented with a challenge to turn around a mini album in the space of two weeks, they jumped at the opportunity to take new creative approach to their songwriting.

‘The Last Place You’ll Look’ features a combination of new material and two re-writes of tracks (‘This Is My House, This Is My House’ & ‘Short Bursts’) from WWPJ’s 2009 album across the 5 wintery tracks WWPJ arc from the rousing ‘Far Cry’ to the mournful descent of their alternative version of ‘This Is My House This Is My House’. This is all poignant stuff from FatCat’s latest Scottish catch and points to a promising future for the label.

Frightened Rabbit ‘Living in Colour’
Of the three Scottish bands joined to FatCat, Frightened Rabbit are definitely the band enjoying the most popular recognition. After a crazy 2009 that culminated in a legendary gig at the Scala, Kings Cross, Scott Hutchinson (singer/songwriter) had to escape to the splendid isolation of the Crall on the Fyfe in order to write what became the basis for Frightened Rabbit’s latest album, ‘Winter Of Mixed Drinks’.

Stripping out everything inessential in his routine, Hutchinson was then able to find inspiration from the simplest of things, which goes some way in explaining why Frightened Rabbit’s first album was such a tale of angst, while ‘Winter Of Mixed Drinks’ is in an altogether more exuberant, life-affirming key. Living in Colour (released 14 June) is the third and final single taken from that album and it confirms the Glaswegian band’s ever growing ability to nail a perfect pop song. The chords used for this song might sound familiar, but Hutchinson was adamant that he needed to do something with them. We’re not complaining though, ‘Living In Colour’ is the glorious sound of a band emerging from darkness and stepping out, blinking, into bright warm sunshine.

Silje Nes ‘Crystals/Foggy Window’
FatCat first caught wind of Norwegian multi-instrumentalist singer soundmaker Silje Nes (pronounced Silyeah) after she sent them a demo in early 2006. Then, her first album for the imprint, ‘Ames Room’, attracted widespread critical praise for it’s ephemeral, quirky beauty. Now, Silje’s latest single ‘Crystals’ gives us the perfect introduction to her forthcoming album, ‘Opticks’, which due for release in September.

Silje’s composes all her songs from parts played by herself on instruments, many of which she has no formal training in at all and her gently layered songs have a sensuous naivety that envelope the listener, drawing you back to a child-like state of bliss.

In Crystals a plucked viola and swirls of gentle electronic chimes fawn with Silje’s lullaby vocals to create an enchanting song with a euphoric glow. Meanwhile, the second track, Foggy Window, is exclusive to this single and finds the dreamy artist in a more somber mood underpinned by a stumbling arrangement. Silje’s left-of-centre talents are aptly positioned on FatCat, who have long supported artists exploring interesting electronic twists on folk traditions.

Nina Nastasia ‘Outlaster’
Speaking of interesting twists, Nina Nastasia’s latest album is quite a departure, for both artist and label. ‘Outlaster’ is the sixth studio album from New York based singer songwriter Nina Nastasia, who can count the talented Laura Marling and the late John Peel as some of her biggest fans.

‘Outlaster’ finds Nina reunited with long time producer Steve Albini, who this time brings in additional production from orchestral arranger Paul Bryan and Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker. It’s a dream line up, although you could forgive fans of Nina’s delicate works for wondering if the added orchestration might risk crowding Nina. As it goes however, the sumptuous production lends itself perfectly to Nina’s achingly coy song writing and provides just the right amount of expanse at key moments, for instance in the seductive ebb and flow tango of “This Familiar Way” or the cosmic tumult of “What’s Out There”. ‘Outlaster’ is a recording of incredible maturity and mystical beauty and right from the opening single ‘Cry Cry Baby’ through to the farewell title track, there isn’t a throwaway song on the whole album.

David Karsten Daniels & Fight The Big Bull – ‘Through All The Fates’
Through All The Fates is the first single to be taken from their collaborative album ‘I Mean To Live Here Still’ from David Karsten Daniels and Avant Jazz collective Fight The Big Bull. An accomplished American artist in his own right, David Karsten Daniels grew up on a diet of hymns & high school Jazz, after which he gained a more formal training taking in composition, musical theory and performance art. Together with Fight The Big Bull his meticulous songwriting gains a whole new depth however and the fiercely unpredictable nontet helps further broaden his already wide musical palette.

With Daniels in San Francisco on the West Coast and Fight The Big Bull over in Virginia, the pairing almost didn’t happen though and while tentative connections were made in 2008 it wasn’t until 2009 that the two began composing together. Taking as their starting point the poems of 19th Century American author-poet Henry David Thoreau, the two found common ground in the traditions of Americana.

So, what begins as a folksy jaunt between DKD’s honey vocals a ragged guitar, and reedy organs graduates to a rawkus New Orleans swagger in the final third as oboes and embulient muted brass join in for a street party that trails into the night. This is sweet southern soul music borne out of an excellent, if unlikely combination.

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