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Scan The Blue
‘Scan The Blue’ - released on Bella Union on March 25th - showcases a heady mix of guitars meeting synths and spiraling threads of psychedelia from the latest musical incarnation of longtime collaborators Danny Todd and James Smith. As the songwriting partnership behind Cashier No. 9, the band released the David Holmes produced album ‘To The Death Of Fun’ in 2011 to widespread critical acclaim.
Their new venture is propelled by a love of adventurous, psychedelic sounds, apparent from the opening bars of lead track ‘Kiss That Wealth Goodbye’. Steaming in with a filthy riff that’s the product of a guitar and a synth melding together making one sound indecipherable from the other.
"It's like early Beefheart meets Add N To X," says Danny – a measure of just how broad the duo's influences are. "David [Holmes] lent me a Korg MS-20 and then I bought one myself. That synth shaped a lot of the record."
‘Job Done’ sees the pair craft field recordings captured in and around Belfast to create a hazy garage rock crush. A song about “begging for forgiveness,” it’s formed from the unlikeliest of sources. “I managed to capture a great clip from a guy playing bagpipes.,” says Danny of the field recordings. “We tuned the guitars down to the pitch of the pipes and played around with a couple of chords that sound like they're sawing and chopping their way through the whole song.”
Elsewhere, the spaced out groove of ‘Place Your Bets’ sees a soaring falsetto echo over shuffling synthesisers, giving way to a widescreen coda and haunting trumpet solo from guest Linley Hamilton.
‘Bend With The Wind’ had a less traditional start. “I was learning to play the spoons around the time of writing this song” Danny remembers. “You can hear me clattering on them at the start. I wanted this song to sound a little bit broken, confused, nervous but at the same time triumphant.”
The broken and the lonely continues with a nod to late-period Pavement at their most graceful, sliding inside ‘Smile To The Gallery’, its gentle sway dotted with glistening beads of electric guitar, nudging towards a heady transcendence that appears later in full, psychedelic shoegaze glory on title track ‘Scan The Blue’, a shimmering ambient finale that even took the duo themselves by surprise.
“Scan The Blue changed drastically at the last minute,” says Danny. “Originally it had galloped along with a Scott Walker type vibe. At the last minute during mixing we accidentally muted some tracks, stood back and our jaws dropped at how beautiful it sounded. As if the song had been waiting to show off this cinematic side. A lot of swooning synths and vocals and a silly amount of overdubs. An optimistic sentiment on a grey day.”
Self-written and produced with the help of Rocky O'Reilly (And So I Watch You From Afar, General Fiasco, Mojo Fury), Danny and James's decision to take the production reins came from their reverential response to songcraft. Each track carefully crafted over time and only tweaked when they knew they were ready to be heard.
"The song is king,” says James. “It has to be bulletproof before we start fucking about with it at all."
After so many years of friendship and collaboration, these two songwriter-producers have fallen deeper into the music that binds them than ever before. And as for subject matter, don't expect love songs. “Hope, trust and revenge,” says Danny of their inspiration, “they always fall into those three categories.”