Scotland - Full Moon 204 - 04/25/13
From head to heart
Actec Camera's High Land, Hard Rain
Following our retroscope series of latter years, here we go again! Here's Speakers'
corner's cousin; From head to heart. Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings,
absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves'n'vaults of pop'n'rock. Blowing our ears and our head, punching our chest and shaking our heart.
Making us go sentimental, but not slaphappy. This moonth the Lunar shuttle ride takes us 30 years back, to 1983. It's said that 'Aztec
culture and history is primarily known through archaeological evidence found in excavation'. When it comes to arts and culture we have reason to belive that
'...song and poetry were highly regarded; there were presentations and poetry contests at most of the Aztec festivals. There
were also dramatic presentations that included players, musicians and acrobats'. Nothing less. (quotes are nicked from Wiki)
High Land, Hard Rain
Rough Trade / Sire (US)
Walk out to winter, swear I'll be there,
Chill will wake you, high and dry
You'll wonder why
Ah, I always get a joyous spring feeling listening to the debut album of Aztec Camera, despite this winter song and the indication of Scottish autumn of the album title. I don't think it's because it was released in April 30 years ago. It was maybe still spring first time I heard it? Or only this kind of young guitar and keyboard based indie pop awakes the kind of joyous feel in my chest and head, like a nice spring evening with birds mating and nesting etc. Anyway, the album represented something fresh ... a new spring for classic pop that wasn't too slick and smooth, not produced to death and thus had not lost its soul on the way. Pop music not aiming entirely at the hit lists.
Aztec Camera belonged to the - at the time - new sound of Scotland that also included The Associates, Orange Juice and Josef K, inspired by the punk spirit but also 1960s pop and soul. I guess other Scottish bands like Simple Minds, The Blue Nile, Big Country and Good Friday belonged to a bit different categories. Anyway, Aztec Camera was quickly picked up by the small, newly established independent Postcard Records that had released singles by local Glasgowegians Orange Juice and Josef K of Edinburgh already, even one by Australian Go-Betweens. After two Postcard singles, Aztec Camera went on to the much bigger but still independent Rough Trade, along with Go-Betweens among others.
High Land, Hard Rain was the band's album debut. It includes ten songs. Almost all of them are classics, if you ask me, and the three released as singles and one or two more are top notch. All written by guitarist and vocalist Roddy Frame. The album was produced by John Brand and the band's keyboard player at the time Bernie Clarke. They have given the album a light and airy production with space for all instruments. Brand was a clever Dick who had been involved in recordings by Kiss, Genesis, Rush, Camel and others of the old wave in the latter half of the 1970s before turning a producer for Magazine, The Go-Betweens (again!), The Ruts, Big Country, Waterboys and others of the new wave in the 80s. Later he went on to management, for Stereophonics and Pooka among others.
What strikes me about the songs of the album is their two-edged quality. Almost all of them are a bit happy, at least the melodies, but simultaneously also somewhat sad or melancholic. "Pillar To Post" was the first release for Rough Trade, as a single the previous September and follow that happy/sad bitter/sweet path. A whistlee-friendly tune with a playful guitar as the driving force. 'The salted taste of all your tears and woes, Sent me in haste my melancholic rose ...' Brings sunshine to the mind and stomach all the same. The obvious first choice of the album is of course the opening "Oblivious", also released as a single before the album. It's a snappy happy little gem with exquisite Spanish-sounding acoustic guitar that doesn't reflect the sad and somewhat desperate lyrics. Normally I don't fancy female backing vocals (check out Leonad Cohen etc.), but here and throughout the album it is not too importunate and works real well, apart from the closing few bars of "Back On Board". "Release" also has some great Spanish guitar work and even a step in direction of bossanova. It stands firm as a great pop-ballad all the same. "The Boy Wonders" has elements of flamenco, and Tamla Motown too, whereas the verses of the aforementioned "Walk Out To Winter", the third single cut, has a slight jazz flavour that works real well. My ultimate favourite of the collection.
"We Could Send Letters", a re-recording of the B-side of the very first Aztec Camera single on Postcard in early 1981, is more on the melancholic side with a tasteful mandolin sounding guitar and backing vocals that make it work even better."The Bugle Sounds Again" is more melancholic and the same goes for the closing song, at the local pub, "Down The Dip". The latter only includes Roddy Frame's vocals and acoustic guitar. Maybe it was a sign of what was going to happen. Soon after one member of the band left after the other. A couple of albums later, Roddy was the only original member on board and a little later Aztec Camera in fact served as a solo project for him along with a host of more or less hired session musicians. After the sixth album Frestonia and following tour in late 1995, the band-project dissolved and Roddy continued under his own name.
The following albums by Aztec includes some great songs but the production tends to be a bit too slick for my liking. High Land, Hard Rain, though, still sounds fresh with a handful of spledid pop-rock songs. The production, the youthful way the songs are performed and that happy/melancholic ambiguity make it as intriguing as can be. There have been some growls about the mastering of later CD releases of the album. They're probably best avoided, at least until the rumoured re-launch that Roddy is planning for the anniversary hopefully materialise. Until then I'll stick to my good old original Rough Trade vinyl copy.
Copyright © 2013 JP