I picked the theme “under renowned albums of the 1990s” specifically so I could finally play this record, which, once again, was one of the first I thought of when Rob suggested we do this thing.
Long Fin Killie emerged in 1994 from Scotland, precocious and practically fully formed, with a tune called “The Lamberton Lamplighter”, an extraordinarily weird, homoerotic pop song. An album followed, its aesthetic composed of ancient woodcuts, poetry, guest appearances by Mark E. Smith, elongated and indulgent musicianship, dulcimers, violins, thumb pianos, mandolins, bouzoukis; pastoral postrock meets shoegazing prog.
Amelia, like their previous two albums, is named after a tragic hero – Ms. Earhart followed Harry Houdini and Rudolph Valentino. Still intricate, intelligent, intuitive, indulgent and intense, but different from what the band had done before, more concise, more industrial, more muscular, less pastoral. There are none of the extended, minimalist grooves that had LFK defined as postrock; barely anything stretches past four minutes. Guitars chug and grind in aggressively repetitive patterns, bass is deep, informed more by techno’s slickened textures than rock’s organic pastures , and new drummer Kenny McEwan plays relentlessly skittish, drum ‘n’ bass-esque rolls and tumbles, the sonic positioning of tom-tom strikes and rattling snare rolls a precursor to the rhythms that would make Bloc Party’s debut seem so out of the ordinary eight years later.
But the bones of Long Fin Killie’s songwriting – intelligence, irreverence, an unpredictability that manifests as surprising catchiness – remain intact, and are maybe even made more sophisticated by brevity. Beneath the inspirational scree and metronomic tumble there are hooks and choruses, and Luke Sutherland’s amazing lyrics. Black, gay, adopted, and moved by English parents to somewhere ludicrously remote in Scotland, he’s the beautiful, passionate centre of it all, spitting inspiration and bile one minute and swooning sensually the next.
Perhaps the key thing about Long Fin Killie, and in particular their extraordinary musicianship, is the fact that nowhere in their entire career is their consummate skill manifested in the kind of “look at me, ma” soloing that tips so much music beyond acceptability; sure, Sutherland, Colin Greig (bass), Phillip Cameron (guitar) and Kenny McEwan (like David Turner before him) play like virtuosos, but it’s all about teamwork, about balance and subtlety, about being a group. Sutherland may have ostensibly been the bandleader and frontman, but his vocals are often blurred and hidden behind chiming and roaring guitars and rumbling bass.
Amelia was LFK’s last album; Sutherland went on to make more excellent music as Bows and Music:AM, as well as publish three novels (and play violin and guitar with Mogwai, and do plenty else besides!), but theirs is an under-dropped name. I’d mark them down, without hesitation, as my favourite Scottish band ever.
Tom Listened: I was struck when I listened to this at the meeting the other night at how alike it sounded to Wild Beasts’ more recent efforts, although the LFK are obviously coming from a different direction musically and the excellent percussion throughout Amelia gave it a momentum and lightness of touch that Wild Beasts sometime lack. I really enjoyed listening to this, it was innovative, interesting all the way through and felt like it was one of those albums that is packed with stuff to discover with repeated listens. My only reservation is a similar one I had when Nick played Caribou in that I found myself wondering whether I would feel an emotional attachment to Luke Sutherland’s singing which, on an initial listen, seemed to lack the rawness and vulnerability of so much of my favourite music. I imagine, however, that this would reveal itself with familiarity and I am keen to listen again.
Rob listened: I have the first LFK album, and i’ve barely listened to it. I think I bought it for the Mark E Smith guest spot, back when I was a Fall completist. I thought it sounded great, churning with fascinating details but, as Nick rightly points out, none of them showily displayed. It reminded me of A.R. Kane when they were turning less dreamy and more poppy and, more than most records we’ve listened to over the last 6 months, I found myself several times zoning out of the incessant nattering of my fellow club members and tuning into some absorbing progression in one of the songs. For me, ‘Amelia’ refused to be background music, which must speak to its power.
Graham listened: Now I have to admit this is way past anything I would normally lend listening time to, as the slightest hint of drum ‘n’ bass would have me turning off. But that what’s great about DRC because I sat and listened and allowed myself to hear the greater depth this had to offer, both lyrically and musically. My previous boundaries continue to be breached.