The “wonderfully musical” yet “erratic” Low Miffs have just recorded an album with the legendary Malcolm Ross (formerly of Josef K, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera) and the album launch takes place tonight in London at Madame Jojo’s in Soho. Here, Alec tells us why he is not surprised that this collaboration works so well:
When I hear the words “musical collaboration” I get an involuntary twitch in my cranium and start having Ebony & Ivory sonic nightmares about Bing/Bowie or Bowie/Cher or Bowie/Jagger or even Bowie/Lulu, (I love Lulu and Bowie but WTF was her version of “The Man Who Sold the World” all about?) So when I heard that The Low Miffs were working with Malcolm Ross I was filled with some trepidation and some intrigue, but surprisingly I was not surprised.
Flashback 3 years and you will find me in the sweaty basement of a pub in the West End of Glasgow celebrating The Low Miffs having graduated from their music college course, where they had excelled individually in areas as diverse as jazz, vocal performance and classical music.
They were brash, arrogant and deft at spinning an influence off at a wild tangent without losing a beat; while at the same time thrashing guitars like their lives depended on it. At one point I remember singer Leo Condie breaking a string and jokingly asking the 40 or 50 people crammed into the tiny space, “Is there anyone in the audience that knows how to change a string?” A hand reached out from the front row and Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand, (on a break from a world tour) relieved Leo of his pink strat and changed the string. That is how cool The Low Miffs are!
The Low Miffs really belong in the 70’s, an era where musicians could play, where labels gave artists 2 or 3 albums to establish themselves, and where art and diversity were seen as a prerequisite to cool. The Low Miffs are riddled with just such diverse and deconstructed influences. They are a band that would be cool enough to sit at a table with the Max’s Kansas City chic of Television, Patti Smith, John Cale or Richard Hell, while their bravado would give Alex Harvey a run for his money. They could choose to write a Springsteen anthem at will or instead be a hit post-Postcard Records indie band. They choose neither.
Beloved by Franz Ferdinand, The Horrors and other players, the Low Miffs are wonderfully musical, frustratingly erratic, woefully non-prolific, spectacular in audience intimidation and too scary for any A&R executive, (unless they were having a “Life on Mars” moment). So The Low Miffs needed Malcolm Ross. And Malcolm Ross needed The Low Miffs.
Ross (formerly of post punk New Sound of Scotland Legends Josef K, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera), brings elegance, respect, production skills and a guitar sound to cry for. Crucially, The Low Miffs have inspired Ross to revisit his genius, to electrify his creativity and they have provided him with the musical interlude he needed to shake out some of his own unfinished music business demons.
The record is very much a one-off with Ross and Condie sharing vocal duties in a manner that saw The Stranglers charm, captivate and control. ‘Cressida’ & ‘The Man Who Took on Love and Won’ are glorious pieces of surf pop that would not be out of place in Sparks ‘Kimono in My House’.
‘Mankind’ is the bastard child of Alex Harvey’s version of Brel’s ‘Next’ and echoes a Weill / Brecht tragedy. ‘Kind of Keen’ and ‘The Back of Midnight’ are splendid moments of slovenly cool and make the listener contemplate how Scott Walker would sound if he had been born in Leith. ‘Dear Josephine’ evokes the ghost of Billy MacKenzie, without ever losing track of who The Low Miffs really are.
To his credit Ross’s production tames the Miffs aggression while keeping their jagged energy and channels it into a record full of wonderful tones, textures and time signature changes that would need a master class from The Velvet Underground led by Bowie in his Lodger period to decipher.
Buying this record will not change your life but it will take you back to a time when music was made by musicians because they believed in their art. 9/10
New Album – Malcolm Ross and The Low Miffs
Out Now on Re-Action Recordings
Tickets for tonight’s album launch in London here.
What others are saying:
“Featuring some quite brilliantly controlled playing weaving lovely patterns around singing that is part Associates, part Sparks, this is sonic sunshine to light up the darkest room.” – Scotland on Sunday 5/5
“Compared with their indie brethren, the Low Miffs are unicorns among packhorses, the echo of a glorious era in British pop when a rakish style prevailed and parameters were sufficiently broad to allow the incorporation of everything from surf music to marching bands” The Sunday Times.
“Collaborating with pop-punk Glaswegians The Low Miffs, Ross’ signature is evident. Indeed when he sings, pitching tremulously – to the left of Edwyn Collins on ‘Kind of Keen’, the skittish pop is compelling. On ‘Mankind’ with Low Miffs’ Leo Condie doing the honours, it’s more like Russell Mael wrestling with Kurt Weill” Uncut 4/5
“The Low Miffs write songs about girls called Cressida and Josephine, wrapped up in guitar patterns that recall, not just classic Postcard jitter-funk, but Felt’s Maurice Deebank and long-lost 4AD instrumentalists Dif Juz. While Leo Condie’s croons soar like the ghost of Billy Mackenzie, Ross is more laidback, but this is an equal partnership, suggesting that The Sound of Young – and slightly older – Scotland is in wonderfully safe hands” The List 4/5
“Cuts like the glorious Cressida and Dear Josephine jig with rhapsodic guitar as Leo Condie sneers apathetic missives; while The Man Who Took on Love and Won is a brilliant swoon of effervescent melody. Yet, for all the jaunting finesse, it’s the ostentatious Mankind that truly conquers, knee deep in The ‘Miffs penchant for burlesque dramatics” The Skinny 4/5
Footnote: For anyone who knows me you will be aware that I have often ground my teeth into pulp at some of the patently nepotistic and OOT decisions by the Scottish Arts Council Music policy, though their recent funding of popup’s “A Time and a Place”, the new International Showcasing Grant, The Fallen Angels Club Americana Festival, The Drake Music Project and this venture has left me enjoying an ever so small slice of humble pie.
The Low Miffs and Malcom Ross