The Scotch Snap: Martin John Henry finds some Breathing Space

There probably isn’t a more loathsome genre title in music than “folktronica”.

Rock and roll was (quite literally) sexy. See also, jazz, bebop and jive. Hip-hop, ska and punk have onomatopoeic titles that herald the rhythms of the genre. The two syllables in Reggae, if pronounced correctly, give the impression of the lilting upstroke so associated with it. Even all encompassing labels like “country” give a sense of the expanse and geography. Dance, two-step, shuffle, break-beat… you get the idea.

Folktronica is a Frankenstein’s monster made from pieces of Frankenstein’s monsters. Electronica? Electronic music? Surely that net covers almost every aspect of popular music in the last half century, but Bob Dylan’s Newport Festival shows sounded somewhat different to Jean-Michelle Jarre’s gigs at the Pyramids.

Equally, “folk” music now encompasses so many strands it has become obsolete. Everything from The Dirty Three to Donald Where’s Your Troosers? seems to fall under the same category. As the great Louis Armstrong once said: “All music is folk music, as I ain’t never heard no horse sing”.

If Radiohead favour the Mac to twist their work, and Dr Dre is (seemingly all too) happy to turn to the PC, then Martin John Henry is a musical version of Babbage’s Difference Engine. The music is mechanical and still seemingly futuristic, but human, analogue and organic. Parts of it are produced electronically, elements of it function through moving parts. Computers are involved and it bears more hallmarks of a certain genre than Mr Folk, the acoustic singer-songwriter, who drives a Volkswagen and lives in Folkstone. But it's better than that.

Breathing Space is the debut solo album from Martin John Henry, the former lead singer of Lanarkshire’s De Rosa. Picking up pieces of the earnest, acoustic songwriting that brought so much critical praise for the band, Henry has glued together something more subtle, more crystalline and more heartfelt.
Breathing Space is one part Letting Go-era Will Oldham, one part early Malcolm Middleton gigging in Superman's Fortress of Solitude: it evolves, breathes air, grows feet and eventually stands upright. Only Colour kidnaps Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt and takes it out to the Western Isles to try to tend its wounds and soothe it's anger. Do you miss Grandaddy? Wish someone Scottish was capable of the kind of 21st century "folk" that has propelled Bon Iver from Wisconsin to the world? You might just have found what you’ve been after. John Martin Henry releases The Other Half of Everything on the 10th October.

Is October/November traditionally a time for bands to go on tour? Is there some music marketing expert out there somewhere that has decided the autumn months are when people want live music the most? Is it just coincidence that so many great acts happen to be in the country at the same time? Whatever the reason, this is an exceptionally busy week for the Scottish gig goer. Word count is perennially my enemy, so I’ll keep this as short as that boy from Saturday’s X-Factor who looked like a face drawn on a thumb.

With the future of Bloc Party somewhat uncertain, bassist Gordon Moakes will take his Young Legionnaire project for a sortie this week. They play King Tut’s on the 5th October. We Were Promised Jetpacks, who we spoke about at great length last week, play the Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh on Thursday 6th.

Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat play Paisley Arts Centre on Friday 7th. Their Everything’s Getting Older album is probably the best collection of songs released this year. But the best single I’ve heard in ages was the new Ultrasound record, so what do I know?

Gruff Rhys originally planned to “split up his solo project” and return to his day job in the Super Furry Animals, but has thankfully kept creating wonderful psychedelics all of his own. He plays the Bongo Club in Edinburgh on Saturday 8th. Speaking of such mind alterations, Spiritualized play the Queens Hall in Edinburgh on Sunday 9th

As a tip for all wannabe musicians, a lupine band name is a sure way to gain critical praise – see also Wolf Parade, Wolfmother, Patrick Wolf, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, Sea Wolf, Peanut Butter Wolf, Wolf People. The latest in such lineage, Wolf Gang, play King Tut’s on Monday 10th.

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