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Sunday, 16 September 2012

Griff says; Stanley Odd - Nae half-way hoose but aye whaur extremes meet

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the fact that I'm very fond of the musical output of Scottish hip hop's only genuine contenders for pop breakout status Stanley Odd. Since the release of debut album 'Oddio' in 2010 the band have really matured musically over the last couple of years and now proffer a genuinely unique blend of hip hop, soul, funk and electronica that is instantly identifiable as their own. I'm pleased to let you know, then, that their new album 'Reject' is out tomorrow (Monday, 17th September). Fortunately for me, I've been able to have a listen to an advance copy and so I wanted to give you my thoughts on what to expect. This being the Streetlamp, I also intend introducing a few rarefied intellectual ideas into what, in any other music blog, would be a straightforward review of a hip hop album - so strap yourselves in.

Are you familiar with the concept of the Caledonian Antisyzygy? This rather grand sounding term was first defined by G. Gregory Smith in 1919 as the division in the Scottish psyche which is apparent in its literature - basically, the “idea of duelling polarities within one entity”. This notion of “a zigzag of contradictions” defining a nation was further developed by the poet, revolutionary, prophet and self-contained bundle of contradiction himself, Hugh MacDiarmid, who saw it as the key influence on Scottish art, most obviously seen in R L Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or James Hogg’s ground-breaking, years-ahead-of-its-time classic The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. It is also one of the themes in MacDiramid’s greatest work, and 20th. Century Scotland's greatest poem, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle. And doesn't that last just sound like the title of one of Stanley Odd MC Solareye's raps?

So, what am I getting at? Well, just that to this listener, Reject, as a work of art, fits rather nicely into the above defined tradition of the Caledonian Antisyzygy. You see, on this album and on most recent EPs 'Pure Antihero Material' and 'The Day I went Deaf' there's been something subtle going on. Frequently, when reviewers mention Stanley Odd they mention the humour found in Solareye's raps and, while that's still there, it has taken on a much darker tone and his pawky and gallus streetwise image is still yet more sharply contrasted by the musical accompaniment. On this new album, as on the EPs, the music takes an angsty, melancholic, introspective turn with the keyboard basslines in particular descending down through the minor key - see new single Killergram, and album tracks 'I Don't Believe You' or 'Carry Me Home' for instance. This creates a tension between the lyrics and the music that takes the songs away from the more straightforward pop of 'Oddio'.

But the more obvious tension in the album is over the question of Scottish independence. Overseas readers might not be aware of this, but in 2014 Scots will have the opportunity via a referendum to decide whether Scotland should remain within, or secede from, the UK. It's a topic which has generated much heat and very little light in these parts recently and, evidently, so absorbed Solareye, a man much given to political soul-searching, that he has devoted two separate songs on 'Reject' to its examination - 'Antiheroics' and 'Marriage Counselling'. Interestingly, Solareye has avoided the snare of coming down firmly on one side or the other but has instead concentrated on a satirical examination of the stereotypical arguments presented in the media as defining the position of both pro and anti-independence camps. This works most effectively on 'Marriage Counselling', which presents the Union as the dialogue between two partners locked in a dysfunctional marriage. In Antiheroics the theme is similarly explored, although in this he adds a plea for the Scots to exercise their right to vote as a way of engaging in the political process. This method of dealing with Scotland's most prominent ongoing debate is novel and demonstrates the contradictory ideas that are being pushed by politicians on behalf of 'the nation'. You see, there's your Caledonian Antisyzygy right there!

If it's any help at all, to both the conflicted Solareye individually and Scots in general, the Streetlamp's team of libertarian socialists would like to declare our support for the notion of Scottish independence on the grounds that it is the outcome most consistent with the concept of the promotion of grassroots and local democratic accountability. Of course, we would like to see power devolved not just from Westminster to Holyrood but away from dead-eyed careerist politicians altogether. For us, power should always be placed directly into the hands of the people. That being so, Scottish independence can be seen not as an end in itself, but as just a first step along the way in the journey from exploitative, globally-projected, imperial, UK power to local, collectivist, socially-just, ecologically-wise, non-violent, non-hierarchical, horizontally-dissipated power. We should also add that the best way to obtain that is not just by one day of voting in 2014, as suggested above, but by engaging every day in the sort of direct action that makes a difference. But I digress - let's get back to the music.

The other tracks worth mentioning are 'Will The Last One Out Please Turn Out the Light'. This song is the living, beating heart of 'Reject' as it is a heartfelt plea for the celebration of individualism in place of the rejection of exclusion. As such, it is a fitting companion piece to the magnificent and well-loved Stanley Odd anthem 'Ten to One' (available as a free download courtesy of the Streetlamp 'here').
Day 3 is also very, very good. Veronica's vocals on this whole album are wonderfully slow-burning and soulful and on this wistful and pensive love song, a follow up to the similarly-toned 'Day 2' on 'Oddio', she steps rightfully into the spotlight to great effect.

So, there you have it. I hope this meandering review is intriguing enough to make you want to check out one of Scotland's most interesting current bands; who, incidentally, are fantastic live and not as beard-strokingly contemplative as I've made them sound here.
To promote the album the band will be playing some special acoustic in-store shows at the following records stores:

Monday 17 September - Avalanche Records, Edinburgh (5pm)
Tuesday 18 September - Love Music, Glasgow (5pm)

All in-stores are free and open to all ages, however due to the limited capacity in the shops, spaces will be offered on a first-come first-served basis.. so get down early. They will also be signing copies of 'Reject' at all the in-stores, and may well have a few extra surprises for you too!

The band also have the following live dates booked:

20 Sep 12 GLASGOW Stereo
21 Sep 12 EDINBURGH Liquid Room
22 Sep 12 INVERNESS Ironworks
27 Sep 12 LONDON Bull & Gate
28 Sep 12 ROCHESTER Royal Function Rooms
29 Sep 12 SHEFFIELD The Cobden

You can order your copy of 'Reject' as from tomorrow and/or book tickets for the upcoming shows 'here'. In the meantime, here's the video for Killergram, the first single release from the album:

I'll finish with some lines from MacDiarmaid especially for Solareye, in congratulations of his clever trick of debating a topic but dodging the cursed conceit of having to take a firm position and be right when doing so. Nicely played, mate, nicely played.

I’ll ha’e nae half-way hoose

But aye be whaur extremes meet – it’s the only way I ken

To dodge the curst conceit o’ bein’ richt

That damns the vast majority o’ men.

Hugh MacDiarmid
A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, 1926


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