Hamish Hawk’s latest record, Heavy Elevator, is a kaleidoscopic exploration through jangle pop and pomp rock arriving at a delightful destination of effusive, heartfelt storytelling. An old soul with a young heart, Hawk brings more than a touch of romantic classicism to his writing.
Produced by Idlewild’s Rod Jones, Edinburgh’s Hawk embodies the same Scottishness in his own work, but in a very different packaging. More reminiscent of The Smiths and Pulp than The Pastels or Teenage Fanclub, there is a misty eyed wistful quality to songs such as Your Ceremony and Calls To Tiree. A unique and comforting voice, it was a pleasure to have him share his Sound & Vision picks with us to tie in with Heavy Elevator’s release.
Three favourite albums:
Antony & The Johnsons – I Am A Bird Now
My favourite albums tend to change with the seasons, but this record set up camp on my top shelf the first time I heard it, and it hasn’t moved an inch since. It’s about as close to a perfect album as you get in my books. Anonhi’s voice is simply magnificent, shape-shifting, and virtuosic in every aspect. The writing, the arrangement, the subject matter; I’d never heard anything even vaguely like it. I realise now I’m having some difficulty pulling the album apart for closer analysis; I’ve known it so long it’s truly become a part of me. There is not a note, a word or a thought out of place; every moment is handled with such nuance and grace. It’s absolutely no wonder it blew the competition out the water when it won the Mercury Prize in 2005.
Quite honestly, Anohni’s music has saved me more than once. I remember arriving in Manhattan by bus in January, 2012; I was travelling alone for the first time and had completely neglected to imagine that I might get lonely, or homesick, or anything like that. I was in New York for a few days and barely spoke to anyone at all. Before leaving Scotland I’d booked tickets to see Antony & The Johnsons at the Radio City Music Hall. The day of the gig I’d been wandering around kinda listless, and had stopped in a little park which still had its ice-rink set up after Christmas. There was a tiny tent selling hot apple cider and I bought one for lack of a reason not to. The woman who sold it to me asked if I was travelling alone, and what I was doing that night. I said I had tickets to see Antony, and she said she had tickets too. It was just so unlikely. She said to meet her at the bar before the gig, which I did. That was just one of the many serendipitous things that happened that day, and the common thread between them is Antony.
The Magnetic Fields – i
The Magnetic Fields are one of those bands that have such a monumental album in their repertoire (in this case 1999’s 69 Love Songs) that all of their subsequent work is necessarily compared to it, and much of their earlier work lies untouched all too often by new converts. i was the first Magnetic Field’s record I heard, when it was played to me by my brother, and it remains very close to my heart. He played me I Don’t Believe You as a kind of taster, and when I heard the first line, ‘so you quote love unquote me,’ a switch just flicked. The album is so crammed with brilliant one-liners, quotable couplets, and utterly heartbreaking, equally self-deprecating moments, I started my love affair with the work Stephin Merritt then and there. I think it’s an exceptional album, and so wonderfully self-contained. I Thought You Were My Boyfriend has a piano line I can’t believe no-one had written before. Is This What They Used to Call Love is a perfect example of Merritt’s bleak humour, ‘your face surrounds me everywhere/like a kaleidoscope’s nightmare/This outpouring of emotion/as boring as an ocean.’ I’m never far away from another listen of this record.
Natalie Bergman – Mercy
Mercy is literally brand new, but it deserves pride of place on this list because it rarely leaves my thoughts these days. I follow the releases of Third Man Records pretty closely, and I was really intrigued by the sound of this one from the outset. It was written following the death of Bergman’s father, as a means for her to process her grief, as well as to forge a new identity which fully integrated her loss. What she has achieved is quite simply extraordinary. It’s the most uniquely endearing, delicate and addictive record I’ve heard this year. It’s also a true gospel record; I can’t think of anyone doing what Natalie Bergman is doing right now. On this side of the pond an album so religiously focused is pretty close to unthinkable. I’m so thankful for having discovered it though; I can’t wait to see what comes next. I think ‘Jesus will lift you up’ (in Shine Your Light On Me) is the best hook I’ve heard this year.
Eyes Wide Shut – Stanley Kubrick
I’ve never understood why Eyes Wide Shut gets a bad rap in some circles. It seems to be the Kubrick film that people seem content to say isn’t a masterpiece in line with say The Shining, A Clockwork Orange or Full Metal Jacket. I suppose that’s the thing with Kubrick, a film considered to be one of his worst can still easily make the ‘greatest ever’ lists. I’ve never encountered a film that explores sex in quite the same way as Eyes Wide Shut; it’s simulatenously enticing and uncomfortable, lustful and utterly nauseating. The acting is superb, it has a really great cast, and the sound design is brilliant. It took me years to get around to watching it after years of seeing only Kubrick’s biggest hitters. I go back to it more often than any of the others, and see a different film every time.
Tennessee Williams – Memoirs
I was something of a Tennessee Williams obsessive when I was younger. For me it started with The Glass Menagerie; only afterwards was I led to Streetcar, and then subsequently Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Summer & Smoke. His plays always spoke to me more than those of Arthur Miller, or Eugene O’Neill. For me it’s his male characters in particular, and not only the protagonists; he had an uncanny ability to write highly complex and tangible interior lives for every one. Much of his work deals with the notion that each one of us is essentially two people. I remember thinking to myself at one point, ‘I wish his stage directions were longer’, because he wrote such vivid, beautiful prose. I read his Memoirs over the course of a few train journeys, and got exactly what I’d been looking for. Ever since I’ve felt an enduring closeness to him and his work.
A song that means a lot to you:
Do You Want to Come With? – Stephen Fretwell
I was only 14 or 15 when I first heard Magpie by Stephen Fretwell. Up to that point I’d been fortunate enough to have had a fairly rich musical upbringing: ‘70s singer-songwriters from my mum, classic ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll from my dad, late ‘80s alternative, metal and punk from my brother, ‘90s Britpop from my sister. In my early teens my uncle weighed in and started sending me CD-Rs of stuff he thought I might like. Lots of old folkies, guitarists most of them, including Richard Thompson, Bert Jansch and Davy Graham. One day he sent me a new-ish album by a singer-songwriter called Stephen Fretwell, based in Manchester. I was just about learning guitar chords at the time. That record was it. Whatever it is that I’ve got going here, it started because of that record. I know it back to front, and there are songs on it that my hands habitually start playing when I pick up a guitar to this day. His second album is the same. Do You Want to Come With? is the first song I ever heard by him, and I remember the day so clearly. I went on to see him live a couple of years later. I was sixteen, I was on my own, and I loved every second. And oddly enough, his third album just came out. I’m psyched!
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