Foil – Never Got Hip (13th Hour album, 2000)

foil

While all of the trademark Foil elements – heavy drums, rapidfire punk guitar riffs and tense and intelligent vocals – are present on Never Got Hip, their second album for Mute‘s 13th Hour sub-label reveals a more emotive quality to the Scottish fourpiece.

At times, Never Got Hip has an unexpected pop twist, and at others – on the string-soaked ‘Groundwork’, or ‘The Ghost Of Vernon Howell’ – a maudlin, almost weary tone. Like vintage whisky, it’s a perfect blend, a well-executed masterpiece that also now appears to be their swansong, since no new Foil releases have appeared since this album came out in 2000.

Melody is an integral, and unchanged aspect of the Foil sound, demonstrated on tracks such as ‘End Of The World’, which also features Hugh’s familiar half-spoken, half-sung narrative and a midsection reminiscent of many a tumbleweed and dustbowl scene in classic westerns.

At times, this is uncomfortable, depressing listening, reminiscent of the kind of bitter, bleak music favoured by Joy Division or Nirvana, despite the inclusion of the pop gem single ‘Superhero No 1’, or the supreme upbeat thrash of ‘Half Life Bunker’. When they do let rip with their particular brand of high-speed rock, it is with a controlled and clipped professionalism borrowed from their influences (e.g. Fugazi, Minor Threat). With Hugh Duggie‘s refreshingly restrained vocal rarely straying into shredded rage territory, the duelling guitar interplay and drum fills are reminiscent of both Pixies and Sonic Youth (check out the Thurston Moore-isms embedded into ‘Weird Kid’).

What’s frustrating about Never Got Hip, is that if this record was released – and better-marketed – just a couple of years later, it would possibly have garnered a degree of pop chart success. In the light of rock’s sudden resurgence in the mid-2000s, a single like ‘I’ll Take My Chances’ was miles better than some of the rubbish faux-punk that our ears had to contend with at that time. That track represents an emotional masterpiece with a punk rock core; it rocks out whilst tugging at the heartstrings. The chorus on the final track ‘Claremont Junction Optimist’ perfectly encapsulates the contrast : ‘You breathe new life into me / And I’ll do what’s necessary‘. It’s the sound of a reluctant coming of age.

Foil were Hugh Duggie (vocals, guitar), Colin McInally (vocals, guitar), Alan Findlay (drums) and Shug Anderson (bass). Never Got Hip was recorded at Edinburgh’s Chamber Studios.

First published 2004; edited and re-posted 2019. This post was brought to you by the letter F, chosen by Andy Sturmey.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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I am HER – Herstory (Driver Sounds album, 2018)

Who is she? I am HER is Julie Riley, lately of Crown Estate and formerly of Mute sub-label 13th Hour’s Rosa Mota.

I am HER is also her three daughters – Hope, Elkie and Ruby – whose initials begat the capitalisation in Riley’s project’s name; they don’t appear on the record, at least not in a recorded capacity, but they are there in spirit. “I am what I am now as a result of making these fine young women,” says Riley. “I am HER.”

Musically, I am HER is a very different proposition from Crown Estate, her distance collaboration with fellow Rosa Mota survivor Sacha Galvagna. Where Crown Estate relied on loops and electronic composition, I am HER finds Riley on guitar, delivering compelling six-string tracks with occasional piano and the addition of drumming accompaniment from the highly adaptable Jeff Townsin of fellow 90s group Submarine. One might call this music lo-fi, but somehow these songs sound much larger than the sum of their parts, despite the intimacy of Riley’s delivery.

The feisty ‘Harpy’ is immediately connected to the mid-90s alternative rock scene that Rosa Mota emerged into. A varispeed number, it is at once wild, raw and shouty, yet reveals itself as it progresses to be utterly beholden to a folk and early rock ‘n’ roll tradition. The standout ‘Heretic’ does something similar, a roll-call of feelings and emotions amid what sounds like a turbulent, volatile relationship, its linear guitar riffs and forward motion reminiscent of the most focussed Sonic Youth material, its urgent chorus plea of ‘Don’t make love a dirty word,’ delivered both as a challenge and a reflection on today’s more impermanent approach to dating. ‘Blue’ has a Jesus And Mary Chain stateliness, carrying that sort of fragile, melancholic, world-weary tone best heard in the early morning’s reflective hour, while the clever poetic wordplay of ‘Heroine’ is the Velvets’ ‘Heroin’ transformed into a love song for life instead of nihilistic impulses.

If Crown Estate presented Julie Riley as a singer and composer with abundant musical dexterity, the songs on Herstory serve as a reminder that her heart and soul reside in rockier territories. Those who, like me, fell in love with Rosa Mota across their two albums are well versed in the story of how that group fell apart following the disappointment of how their second album, Bionic, came together despite brilliant songs and a brilliant producer. Herstory is like the Rosa Mota album that never was, but which could have been if they hadn’t imploded; a mature, clever record full of emotional depth and considered lyric writing.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence 2018