Welcome to the latest in an ongoing series where I try and review albums by my friends without either pissing them off or sounding like I’m slathering them with praise, because we have on more than one or two occasions been spotted in the same pub together.
The Last Battle remind me, if not in sound, at least somewhat in politics of some other friends of mine, Broken Records. Both bands seemed to suffer something of a backlash before they’d really had much of a, er.. well, much of a frontlash. I’ve heard a surprising number of people spit feathers about these guys, given that they’ve hardly gone stamping about the place talking themselves up as far as I have noticed. They were greeted with rather hyperbolic levels of enthusiasm on their appearance a year or so ago, with a lot of people seemingly too hasty to find the Next Amazing Band from Edinburgh ZOMG! etc etc, and I can see how that might draw reactions, but it is hardly the fault of the band themselves.
Anyhow, in amongst all that hysteria proclaiming them to be alternately the best and worst band in the city depending on what day of the week it was, they simply got on with signing to my pal Ed’s label, 17 Seconds, and recording a debut album. Thinking for yourself can be tricky when there’s a lot of shouting going on, so with all the shrill reactions I’ve actually found it quite hard to gauge my own relationship with this record.
Edinburgh is more than well stocked with bands who tend to draw the term folk into descriptions of their music at the moment, but when you look at the likes of Withered Hand, Broken Records, eagleowl and Meursault, the Last Battle are probably closer to traditional folk than any of them. In fact, they remind less of their immediate peers and more of the folk-influenced stuff I was listening to when I first moved to Scotland in about 1994 or so.
Having not heard the full album before their launch night a couple of weeks ago I think I cemented my relationship with it when I found myself thinking ‘ooh good, this one’ within seconds of pretty much every song they played. Most bands can come up with a ‘sound’ if they’re pushed, but given the stuff that lands in my inbox I am constantly disappointed with how few can actually write songs which exist as good songs, independent of whatever signature sound the band may have developed. This elusive skill it appears the Last Battle most certainly have, giving each song its own distinct character,.
Possibly my favourite Last Battle song is absent from this though – the excellent Ward 119. That song bursts with such genuine tenderness I find myself wishing this was perhaps a more personal affair than the concept album it is, because for all even concept-based stories have to some extent be based on personal experiences somewhere I have, I think, always preferred more forcefully emotional songs like that one – they make a much stronger connection, for me.
Nevertheless, this is a really nicely uncomplicated album, and a consistent foot-tapper. Scott has a very normal-blokey voice, and it’s complemented really well by Arwen’s rather more gorgeous tones. The songs are held together by the consistent strum of the guitar or mandolin, like the constant rhythm of the yellow lines on an overnight drive, and given real pathos by the cello. As I said, it’s all done quite simply, but really well nevertheless.
Photo Credit: The Last Battle