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Great Scot(s)

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The last year has seen a flurry of new activity in my music collection, and among the best CDs that I was recommended recently was the Delgado’s Hate. Like far too many bands of its ilk — indie label, no radio play, Scottish — the Delgados flew under my radar with their previous albums, but their latest CD, and their concert performance this past Friday at Boston’s Paradise club, make me want to save you from the same mistake.

Hate is produced by Dave Fridmann, producer of the Flaming Lips’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and his aura of shimmering grace similarly infuses this album. The songs are among the most beautifully-rendered catalogues of despair and desparate hope that you might hope to encounter, often played so uptempo that the downer lyrics come as a surprise. The wonderfully clear voices of the lead singers, Alun Woodward and Emma Pollock, cut through the swooping strings and clanging guitars to deliver their payloads of depression (“Hate is everywhere/Look inside your heart and you will find it there” — from “All You Need Is Hate,” the video of which you can see on the band’s site).

In concert, Woodward and Pollock’s singing voices were similarly clear — Pollock has a particularly beautiful singing voice live and on record — and the band was tight, but their thick Scottish accents made them completely incomprehensible when speaking between songs. As my wife observed, this made them the polar opposites of their opening act, Aereogramme.

Aereogramme was also Scottish, but their singer sang at such a screechingly high pitch that his lyrics couldn’t be understood, and one had to gleen their emotional content indirectly, akin to those of the Icelandic band Sigur Ros. But where Sigur Ros’s singer has no difficulty hitting his characteristic high notes, the Aerogramme’s vocalist had an unfortunate struggle of it, and often his voice couldn’t even be heard over the Smashing Pumpkins-esque clangor of the band. This wasn’t necessarily the result of a long and exhausting tour, as this problem also plagues their latest CD, Sleep and Release.

Between songs, ironically, we had no problem understanding him, and his speaking voice was in the typical male mid-range. If he adjusted his singing voice accordingly, the band would be a lot better live and on CD. Musically, they are cohesive, loud and driving, with a wickedly powerful drummer. My wife, who had heard little of either band before the show, noticed halfway through Aereogramme’s set that nearly all their songs were in three, which gave them a waltz-like swing. The time signature also looked like a lot of fun for the drummer, giving him ample opportunities to bang out bam-bam-bam emphases as their songs crescendoed.

About half of the Delgados’s songs were in three as well, which may reflect some kind of Scottish musical heritage. They used the time signature to sneakily progress from orchestral swoops to hard rocking squalls, with songs that started out quiet, driven by strings (they brought along two violinists and a cello player) and keyboard, relentless swinging upward in intensity and finally exploding in distorted guitars and, again, the very enjoyable-looking bam-bam-bam drum crashes.

Their Boston date was one of the last on their US tour, but I’m sure they’ll be back. Maybe the best way to judge a band’s appeal is to bring someone who doesn’t know their stuff to a concert, and my wife’s review afterwards was as enthusiastic as mine.

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About Charles Murtaugh

  • I saw Aerogramme supporting Death Metal turned Indie/Prog band Anathema at Manchester about a year ago, and didn’t think much of them. I suspect I caught them on an off night; the band were ill tempered, and singer’s first words were “Only the second fucking song and I’ve broken a fucking string”. On that performance, I wouldn’t have recommended the band to anyone else.