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One quarter of a multi-media project based on the night time musings of a variety of Scottish musicians and writers, Whatever Gets You Through The Night is an album of previously unreleased tracks, uniting a variety of genres via a thematic link; the witching hours between midnight and four am. I decided to stage my own midnight-4am listen – a concept review for a concept compilation. Irritatingly (for my purposes), the album isn’t four hours long, so I kicked off at half one, lying on my bed eating shortbread (the only way I could get any kind of Scottish atmosphere).
The first three tracks somewhat merged together, all twinkly, poor-man’s Laura Marling acoustica. I felt soothed, yes, but less in an In Rainbows way, and more like falling asleep with QVC on in the background.
About 1.45, my interest was rekindled by Wounded Knee and Bigg Taj’s contribution, a live recording which is all witchy beatboxing and looping a capella vocals. To be honest, I felt a bit unnerved, having been lulled into a false sense of security by the previous tracks, and jumped when it started. (I used to listen to Harry Potter audiobooks, fall asleep with them on, and jolt awake when the Dementors would appear and Stephen Fry’s voice would turn all echoey and scary. A similar experience.) On the plus side, this is something that I would cheerfully play at another time of day and out of the Scottish/night-time context.
With compilation curator Cora Bissett, we were back to strummy acoustic stuff – but better. With Cora sounding like a female Simon Neil, ‘If You Dance With The Devil’ is proper singer-songwriter storytelling, carried by rhythmic strumming and picking. Reminiscent of feisty Celtic warrior-queens.
Soon after, Euguene Kelly arrived, taking another side of Scottish culture altogether as inspiration. ‘Chips And Cheese’ is exactly the kind of connotation that 2am holds for me. Like a long lost Belle & Sebastian track and sporting a very very strong Scottish accent, this is probably the album’s representation of Glasgow; “Ah’ve ripped my dress and scrapped mah knee, now all ah want’s some chips and cheese” – the voice of a generation. I had another shortbread in celebration.
Like an early Disney soundtrack to a scene where the kids are falling asleep after their adventures, Laura Lewis and the Teadance Orchestra’s contribution is all soaring strings and backing ooh-ing. Segueing into ‘Conquering Animal Sound’ from Ultimate Heat Death of the Universe was rather stressful, suddenly everything was all feedback and clashing sounds. Thoroughly hipster-friendly, but totally out of kilter with the rest of the record.
At about 2.20am, Errors’ minimal track 'Embassy Approach' chipped in, with a chiming, looped psychedelic riff, effects laden guitars and monastic backing chants. In terms of the rest of the project and the album, I think this was the highlight, capturing the ongoing atmosphere whilst managing to avoid being middle of the road acoustica. Mogwai influences were audible, and it’s a direction that the curators would have done well to pursue further.
‘Lonely Taxi, 2am’, from Rachel Sermanni brought smoky vocals and slightly tense, edgy guitar; this sounds like a subdued Norah Jones singing Alex Turner observational-beauty lyrics. Along with ‘Chips and Cheese’, this demonstrated that the calmer acoustic tracks didn’t have to be dull.
Things are brought to a close by a sleepy instrumental from Talkingmakesnosense, and then more Withered Hand with ‘Saint Elmo’, on which he sounds a bit like Bright Eyes. Suitably miserable and melodic, I felt melancholic and tired by this point. It was over.
But for the odd exception, this album is soothing and calming. Indeed, if you were having a more chemically-influenced midnight-4am than I was, it’s the kind of thing that would make you feel as if your brain was dripping out your ears. It’s mostly pleasantly lullaby-ish, and it though occasionally risks being rather middle-of-the-road, there are enough interesting tracks to carry it through. I don’t recommend listening to it all in one go, but I suppose that’s what compilations are for. Overall, it’s a bit like those inexplicably soothing AMSR YouTube videos, weirdly calming but not something you’re likely to share with your friends.
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