The Scottish Enlightenment - St Thomas
Chris Tapley 15/11/2010
“My spirit is blackening fast” sings David Moyes on 'The First Will Be Last'. It's plain to hear as well, as it's undoubtedly his bleak musings which are the lifeblood of St Thomas and they seem even more resigned than those on the two EPs which The Scottish Enlightenment have already released this year. Whilst those were certainly still brooding and melancholic there was also a strong sense of optimism and catharsis burning throughout. Here though, they have sunk even further into themselves and on first listen this seems like a bad thing, but patience reveals St Thomas to be a far richer experience as a result of it's ennui.
'Little Sleep' and 'Pascal' are the only two tracks here to be taken from those aforementioned EPs but they are amongst the more bold tracks on what is, as a whole, startlingly sedate. The tracks all have an ethereal quality with only occasional glimmers amongst the infinite blackness which place them very much in the same slowcore bracket as the likes of Low or Codeine fused with a touch of Jesus and Mary Chain. Opener 'Gal Gal' eases things in gently with it's rasping delayed guitar and gradual build to a subtle crescendo of harmonised vocals to showcase the band's most decidedly post-rock tendencies. The choral aspect of the track marks out the atmosphere which they forge throughout though, everything is drenched in cavernous reverb and alongside the heavily religious and philosophical lyrics it is very much a kind of church experience. Rather than repenting though it has a very sinister undertone, more like a suicide cult than a spiritual saviour, and indeed thematically the lyrics trace Moyes' losing his own grip on faith.
'Necromancer' is maybe not quite as bleak as it's title but Moyes' crisp laconic drawl lends a certain menace when spouting lines like 'I've been told that you are gone/That you're dead/You're cold and still but I know that you're not dead' and, paired with the squalling feedback and tinny drums, its sense of foreboding is palpable. The double salvo of 'The Soft Place' and 'My Bible Is' is the album's crowning glory, soft swells of brass slowly eeking higher and higher to epiphanic levels in both instances, the former being complimented only by carefully deployed percussion and skeletal riffs until a lovely coda of flurried vocals. The latter a little more dense - 'My bible is filled with death and violence' - but it's offset with glorious expanding ripples of guitar and an almost apocalyptic piano line. This kind of outward fury is tempered with self-loathing as well though, such as on 'My List is Right' with the repeated incantation of "You are better than me, my love" sits swirling atop gentle piano and billowing feedback.
Whilst it might take a wee while to get under your skin there can be no doubts that St Thomas is probably amongst the more intelligent 'rock' albums of 2010, partly because it's not immediately gratifying but instead is densely layered with multiple meanings and interpretations both in terms of it's musical tone and lyrical content. Undoubtedly, another name to be added to the list of Scotland's most exciting new bands then, and one which fully deserves to be heard.