Thank You for Being You
ohn o' Groats is where I will erect my museum to Scottish indie pop. Nestled between ice cream kiosks and shops hawking Aran sweaters, and hunched over the parlous waters of Pentland Firth, my cleverly dubbed Electronic Renaissance will showcase three decades of pop flora and fauna: yellowed tickets to the galvanizing White Riot tour stop at the Playhouse in Edinburgh; the battered Vox organ heard on the legendary early '80s singles "Blue Boy" (Orange Juice) and "Think" (the Jasmine Minks); Nick Currie's eyepatch; from the Glasgow Apollo, a swath of custom carpeting emblazoned with the famous slogan "It's good—it's Green"; a copy of the first issue of Alan McGee's fanzine, Communication Blur; hunks of broken gear from the riotous Jesus and Mary Chain / Meat Whiplash twinbill at the North London Polytechnic; an original copy of Tigermilk.
Today, property on Britain's graying scalp fetches as little as £3,000 an acre, but choosing such a northern, desolate locale goes beyond monetary reasoning: 1.) It will give the visiting pop cognoscenti the feeling they're on a sonic pilgrimage; and 2.), John o' Groats is basically as far away from London as one can get while remaining on the mainland. Like Dundee crooner Billy Mackenzie once muttered: "I hate London—it's been put back together by uncaring folk."
Electric Honey's Thank You for Being You is the music I will pipe into the teak-paneled, soft-lit cubbys of Electronic Renaissance. The compilation highlights three decades of Scottish independent music, highlighting the many labels which nurtured that very scene: from the founding of Bob Last's Fast Product during the dark days of D.I.Y., to modern labels such as Chemikal Underground and Fence. However, none have assumed the mantle of Scottish indie chieftain like Electric Honey. Operating under a mantra that could read, "Pop for the young, created and controlled by the young," the label is managed by students immersed in music industry management at Glasgow's Stow College. Every year since 1993, coursework has included releasing, distributing, and promoting music from an unsigned Scottish act (this year's band is Wake the President). Past releases include Odeon Beat Club, Eight Miles High, and Clearfall; the most notable, of course, is Belle and Sebastian. Their debut, the aforementioned Tigermilk, was recorded in a neat and tidy three days, and limited to just 1,000 vinyl copies on Electric Honey. Today the rare collectible fetches as much as £900 on Internet auction sites.
Fittingly, a Tigermilk track leads off Thank You For Being You: "She's Losing It," one of Stuart Murdoch's trademark narratives of adolescent fumbling. "Lisa met Chelsea at the knocking school," Murdoch sings, words tinged with enough Scottish humor to save them from pomposity, "Chelsea didn't feel like following the rules / So they left the place for another school / Where the boys go with boys and the girls with girls." Brazen trumpet complements hushed drums and guitar, producing a glow soft enough to emphasize our protagonists' beauty, yet vivid enough to hide their imperfections.
Josef K's "It's Kinda Funny" is the first sampling from the much-pillaged Sound of Young Scotland scene, singer / songwriter Paul Haig balanced atop the blade of a poetic knife: tranquilizing with a lolling, hypnotic tempo, torturing with guitars that evoke the painful tingle of a tweaked nerve. Fire Engines' uncompromising "Get Up and Use Me" is the second, a single which officially severed all red wires connecting Scottish post-punk to English machinery. Braying, guitar sirens, which evoke the act's namesake, and Davey Henderson's asylum yelps made this track one of the more original releases of its era.
King Creosote (nee Kenny Anderson) resurrects Romantic Scotland with "King Bubbles in Sand," his guarded vulnerability revealed in his quick-to-make-a-quip lyrics and skewered folk shambling. Similar in tone is the Pastels' dream pop number "The Viaduct," a composition with all the impetuousness of a heart and name scrawled inside a textbook cover. Katrina Mitchell's aching voice and bleeding songwriting conveying a rather simple message: You don't need to be Scottish to know the world is going to break your heart sooner or later.
"Fallen Leaves" finds Teenage Fanclub adding permanence to gypsy lyrics ("Fasten down every day / Cuz nothing's tied, nothing stays") via an enduring, electric melody. How To Swim's "(I Am A) Logical Man" totes listeners away from grey-scaled Scotland with its sun-drop guitars, calypso stylings, and sparkling vocals.
Despite its brevity (12 tracks checking in at just 38 minutes), Thank You For Being You demonstrates the best Scottish music balances on a precipice: songwriters lusting for attainment beyond the normal scope of The Artist, all while keenly aware of personal limitation; odic numbers born of a sullied, creative poverty, which strive to sit at the elbow of its island's hallowed pop saints. Like Mackenzie sang in "Club Country": "Sad to see that you're suffering / Work hard at being a something." If only he were still alive to meet-and-greet my Electronic Renaissance visitors.