29 August 2011

The John Knox Sex Club - Raise Ravens: Track by track

Every so often I get something that pops into my inbox that pricks up my attention and almost demands my attention. So last week when I got sent a copy of the new The John Knox Sex Club album, 'Raise Ravens'. Their last album 'Blud Rins Cauld' was a bit of a revelation to me as it was so different to anything going on in the Scottish music scene at that time. Even now they stand alone as truly unique band that could only hail from our wee nation.
If you're looking for a comfortable sing along pop record, then this album is not for you. 'Raise Ravens' had the feeling of being the kind of intensive folk-rock record that Roddy Woomble still aspires to write. Shit, this is starting to sound like a review and as you should already know, I don't do reviews. I think it's one of the best things I have heard this year, but you don't need to take my word for it, just listen to the tunes below. Anyway, here's some of the band to tell you a bit more about their new album, get reading then check out the tunes...

We decided to go record some songs we had because we weren’t doing much over summer gig wise and thought we could make an EP out of it. Iain and Emer had become full time members of Knox after the first record, so we had changed pretty dramatically writing wise and wanted to record them while they were still pretty fresh and weren’t over played. The dates we had with Gall at the studio ended getting pushed back due to university and other commitments, so there was a fair gap in between which got filled with more ideas. Both Knox and Gall had thought about recording live, and it suited how thing were sounding. The set up at the studio is pretty amazing; Gall had recorded a couple of tracks on ‘Blud Rins Cauld’, which turned out great, so it was a relaxed environment and he was an obvious choice. Recording live and quickly was good for us; it kept the immediacy of the songs without adding loads of layers that probably would have over complicated them.

Kiss the Dirt

As with all the tracks on the record this was a live take with each of us playing in a separate room. The vocals were added later, in a quite ludicrous midnight to 5am recording session. Jill from Sparrow and the Workshop came in and did her part in one or two takes at about 3 in the morning; we were all pretty blown away by it. The genesis of the song was, unusually for us, an evening of writing and drinking wine at casa de Knox (where we make the boxes for the records). It started quite differently, with the riff that comes in about half way through and I had a slew of lyrics that didn’t make the final version. The big change in its construction came about thanks to the bass line Iain brings in just after the riff breaks down to bass, violin, drums and vocals. It’s my favourite bit of the song and from there on we knew where to take it. Chris said at the time he thought it was probably one of the best drum takes he had done in his life. The lyric I kiss the dirt beneath your feet comes from an Arabic saying usually made in deference to a superior. Around about the time of the Tunisian revolution and at the beginning of the Egyptian revolution I heard someone use in deference to all of those risking their lives by protesting in Cairo and Tunis. That is the way I use it here.

Above Us the Waves

This is a song we have been playing for a long time, there is an old live version of it kicking about on the interwebs somewhere. This is a newer arrangement. I really love Astral Weeks by Van Morrison and originally I referenced it on the end of the song but I dropped it cause it was a bit wank. The vocals were recorded while everyone was making dinfast( dinner breakfast) at 4 am and I really pushed it. I wasn’t so sure that the vocal was any good due to my sleep addled mind but Gal insisted that it was so it stayed. Dave Flood from where we lay our heads did some backing vocals after the fact.

Sweet sing the rails go leaving go leave

This began as an extended introduction to Katie Cruel. I was messing about in practice, not paying attention and Emer did this beautiful extended intro. When we came to record Katie Cruel we decided to try it again. The take you hear was recorded without the knowledge of those playing who thought they were doing a dry run. The name of the track came after and so any association with trains or leaving you have when listening to it is all in your mind.
The Neighbours originated from “the best day ever” that consisted of soup, kitchen table tennis, the pub, Chris’s birthday, dinner, wine and singing.

An apocryphal story to go with this song:

In Glen Curnie, where we grew up, we had a friend called Robert Bruce. Robert went out with a girl, who I won’t name in case she reads this, for about 2 years (he was 19 when they started going out). She was profoundly deaf in one ear and used to say she could hear the sea in it when things were really quiet. We all used to play pool at a dodgy amusement arcade called Hollywoods (it’s not there now. I think it’s a McDonald’s). Robert would come down when he wasn’t with this girl and tell us about her family. I’m not sure how much of it was true, she certainly lied about other things and he wasn’t the most honest person I have ever met. The stories were wild though and we were really bored. He told us that the father of the family had to remove all the doors in the house except the front door to stop the eldest son from kicking them in. No one knew about this of course because according to Robert, they kept it in the family.

Katie Cruel

This is a traditional song with some tweaks here and there. I tried to amalgamate two versions of the folk song and add my own words where appropriate. There is another version of this also kicking about where Chris plays a synth but I prefer this one. The subject matter is obvious but still bloody tragic.

The Thaw

A song about Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, BOOM, que people leaving the site in droves, stay it gets less academic. It’s also a song about snow and how lovely it is and weird it is and how spring is nice too. This is the only take of this song we did. We did it just after Kiss the Dirt so people were a bit fired up. My brother thought the middle section sounded like Flying Lotus but with a whiney Scottish guy on it instead of Gonja Sufi when we did it live recently. Most people would probably prefer Gonja Sufi. He’s got a really good song about sheep, seriously.

Raise Ravens' is available on CD and to download directly from the band via their Bandcamp page. The CDs are all handmade and if their first album is anything to by then they should have crafted something pretty fucking special. So that's great music in handmade covers, what's not to love!

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