SAY Awards 2023 - Ada's Picks
A couple months ago, I was asked by the Scottish Album of the Year awards to be one of their Nominators for the 2023 longlist. Each year, they choose one hundred people from the Scottish music community to rank their five favourite albums from Scottish artists that year. To help inform my picks, I decided to have a listen through as many songs as I could from the eligible album list live on air, to see if there were any bangers I had missed. I'm so glad I did - three of my final five were artists I had never listened to before the show! I'll go through each of my choices, plus a special mention, below.
Special Mention - Cry Sugar by Hudson Mohawke
I started the show off by playing the infectious "Bicstan" from Glasgow legend Hudmo's Cry Sugar - and if I had been completely honest, it would have been my number one album of the year. I had the pleasure of meeting Ross earlier this year, when he came to chat with us in the very same Subcity studio he first learned to DJ in many moons ago. Even without that Subcity connection, the album would've been on my mind - it's just really fucking good.
This release is a prime example of the maximalist and unapologetic sound Hudmo is known for; over an hour of euphoric beats that draw from his happy hardcore and hip-hop roots, blended seamlessly with samples of gospel and soul, in a way no irony soaked producer could ever hope to emulate while lacking Hudmo's sincerity. He's having fun with music he truly loves, and this is just as apparent in Cry Sugar as it is in his acclaimed back catalogue.
This was a point he, and frequent collaborator/fellow Subcity legend Shaun Vitamins both stressed in my discussions with them recently: when they first started spinning happy hardcore tracks on the radio and at parties, everyone assumed they were having a bit of a laugh. This wasn't the case then, and it isn't the case now. It's a lesson I learn time and time again from Scottish DJs and producers - cynicism and irony will get you nowhere, while genuine joy and love for what you do will result in the best art you could hope to create.
With all this being said, Cry Sugar didn't actually appear on my list. Hudson Mohawke already has plenty of acclaim (and presumably plenty of cash) - the publicity and £20,000 prize that come from winning a SAY award would much better serve a newer and lower profile artist. Therefore, in the spirit of the award, I opted to give this release only honorary first place, in my heart rather than on my ballot, and instead saved the five spots on my list for some much smaller names, for whom the award would mean much more.
#5 - Veiled by Kami-o
The way I discovered Kami-O is a good example of the type of tenuous connections that made Subcity draw comparisons between Glasgow's music scene and mycelium, the spindly subterranean networks that connect mushrooms together. I'm pretty sure this guy is my ex-flatmate's best friend's brother, or something equally nebulous. Even if that were the only reason he first popped up on Instagram for me, the reason I clicked follow will have been the sound of his slick, dark, and introspective dubstep and grime. The beats are heavy yet atmospheric, and I've been keeping an ear out for new releases ever since.
Full of USB must-haves for any DJ interested in UK 140, this sophomore effort is a heavy hitter, whether you're spinning one of the MP3s on club speakers or playing the whole cassette through a tinny old Walkman (mine came with a cute wee handwritten note!)
When I played "R N C", a chill yet menacing collaboration with underground rapper Jae Mann, on the big Subcity speakers, I knew I'd have to buy this release. When I worked out my shortlist, it managed to snag a spot at number 5. For lack of a better way to describe it, it just goes hard.
It turns out that all of my choices save one are available on bandcamp, and I'd encourage you to go check them all out. This one is available at https://kami-o.bandcamp.com/album/veiled, and even if you miss out on the tapes (there are 7 left as I write this) I'd recommend you hit follow so you don't miss whatever is next from this local producer.
#4 - Nova's Dad by Bemz
Bemz had crossed my radar before as a talented wordsmith making moves in Glasgow's growing hip-hop scene, but Nova's Dad was the first album of his I sat down and gave a proper listen to. I'm glad I did; I found equal helpings of catchy beats and raw, emotional lyrics, and a collection of tracks that could've secured a spot even higher than 4 if it weren't for the strength of the other releases.
The song I played on the Freestyle episode was "RAGING BULL", a rousing track that sees Bemz joined by fellow up-and-comer Sean Focus. I was impressed enough by this cut to go home and listen to the album in full, for potential inclusion on the shortlist, and when I did I found myself crying genuine tears by the end of the 22 minute album. The penultimate "Little Lady" is an emotional tribute to Bemz's daughter Nova, namesake of the release. The song is a vulnerable piece of poetry, discussing intense emotions stemming from a complex experience of fatherhood that will resonate with many. Of course, Bemz's music will inspire emotional reactions in listeners without similar life experience as well, and his wider appeal is evidenced by the presence of Nova's Dad on the final SAY awards shortlist. The album is not available on bandcamp, however you can find it on major streaming services. Let us buy the FLACs Bemz!
#3 - Hostile Architecture by Ashenspire
I checked out the opening track of this album on air at the recommendation of a friend more well versed in metal than I, who cited it as one of his favourites of the year. I'm so glad I did- despite being only an occasional listener to the heavy side of guitar music, I immediately found a lot to love. Hostile Architecture offers fresh, chaotic instrumentation, impassioned and theatrical vocals, raw energy, and a poignant political message bitingly relevant to post-industrial Glasgow.
In my notes from that episode, I wrote a comment next to the track name that said nothing more than "I LOVE THIS". Going away to listen to the full album only further strengthened this initial reaction of mine. Almost fractal in nature, each song stands on its own as a sonic adventure, fitting into an even more affecting overall work.
I found that Hostile Architecture scratches the same itch as one of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's legendary compositions, especially on tracks such as "Plattenbau Persephone Praxis". They exhibit that same ornate arrangement and unapologetic political agenda, however messages are more directly communicated by vocalist Rylan Gleave, than on a Gospeed You record. That name rang a bell to me- I've seen Rylan sing before, in an intimate solo set at the Pipe Factory over a year ago. That performance left an intense impression on me, and now that I am aware of the connection, I'm all the more eager to see Ashenspire live.
I decided to treat myself to the 12" from https://ashenspire.bandcamp.com/album/hostile-architecture, as I think this release really deserves an active listen. If I were more of a metalhead, this would have likely landed at my number 1 spot.
#2 - Carry Them With Us by Brìghde Chaimbeul
While my #3 pick wasn't too out of character for a part-time metalhead, it was much more surprising to me how blown away I was by what, at first glance, is little more than a trad album, featuring almost exclusively piping. I am vocal in my distaste for bagpipes, from pipe bands at highland shows, to spotty 14 year olds busking on high streets, to attempts at modern fusion from the likes of The Red Hot Chilli Pipers. While I can appreciate the rich tradition of the music, these incarnations of piping leave me musically uninspired, and I tend to find myself more annoyed by the volume than appreciative of the musicianship. Carry Them With Us is something entirely different.
For a start, Isle of Skye native Brìghde does not play the bagpipes. She plays the smallpipes, a variant I am told she has done considerable work to save from obscurity through her performances. This recent revival is not just a tired attempt to keep a stagnant tradition alive though. The long, droning compositions, to my ear, have more in common with trendy dark ambient producers and electronic boundary pushers than your traditional pipe band.
If Ashenspire scratched my GY!BE itch, tracks on this album envelope me with the same feeling as tracks like KAVARI's "Habitual Violence", or Steve Reich's "Electric CounterPoint: III. Fast". Sorrowful and introspective yet at times energetic, paying tribute to a rich tradition without ever sounding cliché, the sparse soundscapes of this release demand a dark room and a thoughtful ear. All that with little more than a single instrument.
This album alone changed my mind about the pipes, and I encourage anyone who has ever enjoyed a drone track to check out https://brighdechaimbeul.bandcamp.com/album/carry-them-with-us. As I've listened more, I wonder if this release didn't deserve to be at the top of my list. Brìghde appears to be receiving much-deserved recognition for this stunning and innovative work, and I'm keen to check out the rest of her recorded music, as well as any future releases.
#1 - Secret Measure by Cloth
I feel as if I have less to say about this album, despite it topping my list. To sum it up in a sentence, it's just plain good indie rock. "Ambulance" was the last track I gave a blind first listen to on my show, but it instantly grabbed me, and when the show finished I knew I needed to listen to the whole thing before any of the others I'd bookmarked. I listened to it once, in full. Then twice. I was an instant fan.
Scotland has a strong record when it comes to dream pop and indie music. Cloth do not drown in their influences though; they deliver a fresh, compelling album of minimal yet cohesive guitar music, and it isn't hard to imagine them finding widespread success in the coming years.
Whispery yet tuneful vocals would do just as well to soundtrack the life of a misunderstood, angsty teenager as a contented adult taking a pleasant walk on an April morning. I haven't yet paid attention to the lyrics, due to that classic hard to understand dream pop delivery, but I imagine tender and evocative poetry hides just beneath the surface. The occasional use of synthesisers is tasteful and pleasing, and while it evokes some mid-2000s nostalgia, it never gives that "we're just a two piece trying to flesh things out" sound that we'd all rather leave behind. You can buy this album at https://cloth-music.bandcamp.com/album/secret-measure, and if you like indie, I'd encourage you to do so.
I think the sparse instrumentation and vulnerable sonic texture of Secret Measure tugged at the way I was feeling the day I had to rank my choices, but the top 3 spots of my list could reshuffle on any given day depending on which flavour of melancholy is most appealing. This experience has been yet another reminder of the ridiculously good music constantly being made in Scotland, and I'd like to thank the SAY award for asking me to be a part of this year's process.
Ada Fuge, Co-Manager of Subcity Radio