With synth-pop trio CHVRCHES
back on the scene, and indie-rock royalty Franz Ferdinand
just releasing their fifth album Always Ascending
last week, it feels like the perfect time for a trip to the highlands. For a relatively small country, Scotland has produced a staggering number of great musicians and we're about to take a look at some of the nation's defining artists down through the years.
1. Annie Lennox
As part of new wave acts like The Tourists and Eurythmics, as well as in a solo capacity, Annie Lennox has had an enduring career thanks to her songwriting nous and remarkable vocal ability. In addition to her musical contributions, Lennox emerged as an LGBT icon in the 1980s thanks to her affinity for androgyny both onstage and in her music videos. Though her musical career has been somewhat scattered since the 80s, she keeps busy with extensive charity work.
2. Belle and Sebastian
Though they could be regarded as falling under the wide umbrella of folk-rock, Belle and Sebastian are one of music's most idiosyncratic acts. Though they've never quite managed to achieve real commercial success - and I'm led to believe that band-leader Stuart Murdoch likes it that way - the group had an outstanding three-album run in the 90s, centered around If You're Feeling Sinister
, an undisputed masterpiece.
3. Boards Of Canada
The Scottish brothers began dabbling in music at a young age and eventually these experiments led them to their own strange brand of ambient music. Their oft-ethereal melodies contribute to an unusual sound, with the duo managing to convey an offbeat warmth amidst a murmuring alien backdrop. Their debut album Music Has the Right to Children
is widely considered a landmark for electronic music.
The Glaswegian synth-pop trio emerged as a shining beacon of synthy goodness when they released their first single "The Mother We Share" in 2012, marking them out as a bright new act to watch. The following year they delivered on their early promise with debut album The Bones Of What You Believe
, and just this month they've returned from the wilderness with infectious electro-pop track "Get Out"
5. The Cocteau Twins
Another unique Scottish act existing entirely on their own terms, The Cocteau Twins were the progenitors of ethereal dream-pop and one of the defining acts of off-kilter record label 4AD throughout the 80s and into the early 90s. Often compared to Kate Bush, the lead vocal of Elizabeth Fraser remains inimitable to this day.
6. Franz Ferdinand
The indie-rockers sidled into the mainstream when their self-titled 2004 debut spawned a huge hit single in the shape of "Take Me Out". They've released three more albums since then, characterized by jagged guitar work and Alex Kapranos' lyrical witticisms, and their fifth LP Always Ascending
is out now.
7. Frightened Rabbit
There are lots of bands that could fall under the canopy of sad indie folk/rock, but few can craft devastating maudlin anthems quite like Frightened Rabbit. Lead singer Scott Hutchison has a voice that cuts right to the core and lyrics to leave a scar. "Poke", which you can listen to below, also features the most melancholic use of blunt profanity in modern music.
8. Gerry Rafferty
Worthy of inclusion on this list solely for that saxophone solo in "Baker Street". Rafferty had a string of successful albums in the late 70s and early 80s, but spent most of his career at odds with a music industry that he viewed as cynical and heartless. He also co-wrote and performed "Stuck in the Middle With You" as part of his band Stealers Wheel.
9. The Jesus and Mary Chain
There's no musical experience quite like giving yourself over to the cacophonous embrace of Psychocandy
. The Jesus and Mary Chain meshed pop structures and alternative rock feedback together, producing a unique sound that served as precursor for the noisy shoegaze outfits which emerged to great acclaim in the early 90s.
Largely absent of lyrics, the music of Mogwai is a dynamic, texture driven experience that has gone on to establish them as one of post-rock's defining acts. The group, led by Stuart Braithwaithe, have been consistently active since 1995, producing nine studio albums of acclaimed experimentation, in addition to some stellar soundtrack work.
11. Primal Scream
Bobby Gillespie and his band floated among genres in the 80s before producing a bona fide masterpiece with Screamadelica
in 1991. Gillespie had played drums for The Jesus and Mary Chain, appearing on their magnum opus Psychocandy
, but in 1986 he left that group to devote his energies fully to Primal Scream. This move paid dividends and the group have since gone on to establish themselves as Scottish rock royalty.
12. The Proclaimers
The absolute definition of a one-hit wonder, The Proclaimers haven't exactly released iconic albums like some of the other artists featured on this list, but it's difficult to leave them out given the uniquely Scottish tone of their music. Remarkably, the duo, comprised of identical twins Charlie and Craig Reid have released ten albums over the years. Unfortunately, they've failed to gain any real traction since Sunshine on Leith
in 1988, which featured the ubiquitous "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)".