Something seems amiss as Faulty Inner Dialogue, the third record from Kid Canaveral, starts up. The starkness of the misfiring electronic opening to ‘Gun Fhaireachadain’ is such that it’s easy to think the mp3 is corrupt or the CD is skipping. It’s not until David MacGregor’s warm Scots burr cuts in that the track clambers to its feet, only to summarily knock itself over again.
“And I don’t see the fireworks that you’re seeing” he confesses as the song - a meditation on sleepwalking into a relationship before coming to - flowers into a beautiful mix of plangent guitars and a fusillade of drums, the contrast between the electronic and traditional underscoring the schism of miscommunication.
'Fhaireachadain' is a Gaelic word meaning the act of awakening. It’s fitting for the song, but also for the record, which is a potent musical statement from a band hitherto known for pleasingly unpretentious, pogoing power pop. Now a five piece, with new member Michael Craig handling the digital glitch, they have leapt into sparkling new territory.
It’s yielded one of indie rock’s songs of the year. Bitingly funny and scintillatingly smart, ‘First We Take Dumbarton’ does what few songs can: distils our contemporary culture - and woeful lack thereof - into four minutes of pulsating, palm-muted thrum and scree. Continuing a headstrong, very Scottish, freewheeling tradition, it shows the paranoid, pointless, parlous state we’re in while still managing to be uplifting. The full lyric could be reproduced here, but there’s just not the space.
The antidote to this blasting manifesto elsewhere is ‘From Your Bright Room’, handling the topic of the refugee crisis in Europe with admirable equanimity, neither sliding into preachiness nor mawkishness. It’s flat-out gorgeous, with MacGregor’s keening falsetto doing the emotional heavy lifting as pneumatic, fizzing drums act as a portentous reminder of the crisis at hand.
…Dialogue, however, is a reflective rather than political album. Its staying power comes from an easy interplay of writing, the band’s ace up the sleeve being their twin team of MacGregor and Kate Lazda. While darkened headspaces are explored – MacGregor’s “Pale White Flower” vulnerably voices obsessional mental health problems (“I don’t need to feel better than well / I only want to feel well”) - Lazda’s ‘Callous Parting Gift’ and ‘Listen to Me’ cast light to the shade, their concerns – strange dreams, relocating to a new city - more commonplace. ‘Tragic Satellite’, about jettisoning a poisonous relationship, is even an old-style indie-pop romp, but never feels like an appeasement. The approach makes what could be an oblique record perfectly balanced.
Subtle musical details throughout make the difference. Gentle rivulets of ideas audibly pool, grow and resolve, meaning Dialogue is a thoughtful, evocative delight that never feels cluttered. There’s zero reliance on flashiness. No posturing thrust. Clipped, repetitive guitar lines, married to the odd blast of cathartic noise, colour the songs, offsetting electronics beautifully - far better than any number of widdly solos or monitor-mounting showmanship.
The two instrumentals - ‘Ten Milligrams’ and ‘Twenty Milligrams’ - are hazy biospheres. Their snatches of birdsong, narcoleptic tom rolls and backwards samples could happily sit on Yo La Tengo’s classic I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One. ‘Lifelong Crisis of Confidence’ - including the lyrical gem “All the world is a stage and you’re puking in the green room” - has insistent harmonics, mocking strings and disembodied backing vocals to delineate its narrator’s struggles. ‘Lives Never Lived’, another contender for indie-rock song of the year, sounds like fellow Scottish stalwarts The Twilight Sad given the levity of a woodblock, which clonks along happily in the background oblivious to the torment of the lyric.
The tension of the record’s title comes in the difficulty that unflinching self-reflection naturally entails. Thematically this is sometimes a brittle and febrile record, but its unfettered joy is in how troubles are mediated musically, even if they aren’t ever fully resolved; life is tough, but there’s a beautiful solace to be found in sound, and really that’s the point of the whole enterprise. In facing its demons, and embracing life’s trivial struggles, this record has something for all.
Kid Canaveral’s previous album, the effervescent Now That You Are a Dancer, was longlisted for 2014 Scottish Album of the Year. Now making alt-pop that balances breeziness with gravitas, and established tropes with progression and purpose, there’s every chance Faulty Inner Dialogue will go one better.
8Matt Langham's Score