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ALBUM OF THE MONTH: Niteworks - Air Faìr An Là (Comann Music)
Niteworks is Ruairidh Graham, Allan MacDonald, Christopher Nicolson and Innes Strachan. On AIR FAIR AN LA the Niteworks quartet is augmented by guest vocalists Julie Fowlis, Ellen MacDonald, Iain Morrison, Scottish Gaelic vocal trio Sian and traditional string ensemble Kinnaris Quintet. The music Niteworks plays is traditional, the title track is composed by Màiri nighean Alistair Ruaidh a 17th Century poet who lived on the Isle of Skye, but their instruments of choice and approach, I think, takes what they do as from what we understand as traditional music, as it possible to be.
Niteworks blend traditional music, voices and instruments with dance beats and electronica. Mercifully and to the bands credit it sounds nothing like those dentist waiting room albums from the 1990s where Gregory Chant was layered against electronic beats. What it sounds is exciting and entirely natural, the bubbling notes of Allan MacDonald's pipes wrap perfectly around Innes Strachan's syths and electronics, with Ruairidh Graham's inventive percussion and drum work being anything but rigid and repetitive. Quickly I found myself giving up on 'instrument or electronics?' and found myself just enjoying the music and sounds. Dookin opens with some wonderfully expansive and descriptive electronica washes that completely contrasts the fiddle and pipes. But this is no fish fingers and custard or snail porridge, the resulting sound, a kind of call and response between electronics and the traditional, traditional instruments, is simply captivating. The final trance like minimalist motif of fiddle or synth as the track closes is going to make acoustic instrument traditional music sound lacking by comparison.
SIAN, Eilidh Cormack, Ellen MacDonald and Ceitlin Smith, sound stunning against a swirling soup of synth, bass notes on the title track. Alex Smoke, record producer, electronic musician and songwriter Alex Menzies' production is superb throughout softening the hard edges on Niteworks previous album and here he drops in a little Dub to the voices. Like Wolves In The Night features a vocal from Iain Morrison, managing to alternate between spectral choir and brooding Bon Iver. Niteworks and Alex Smoke's production build a wonderful atmosphere around the singer, creating one of many strong tracks. Óran Fir Ghriminis by John MacCodrum, features Julie Fowlis sounding wonderful, again wrapped in a little studio smoke and backed by some percussive electronics. Callum 'Ruadh' Nicolson, recorded in 1968 adds an atmospheric, gritty spoken piece to Calum Ruadh MacNeacail, grounding the band very much in the tradition and history, while Niteworks add a hypnotic trance like tune that nods as much to Tangerine Dream as the Folk Tradition. Do Dhà Shùil opens with atmospheric electronics, and the sublime voice of Ellen MacDonald, 2016 MG Alba Gaelic singer of the year and frequent member of the live band. Suggestions of rain noise, weather build. The ringing looping pattern is it percussion or keyboards, it doesn't matter, the sound is hypnotic and quite beautiful. Waves of synths suggesting 70s mysterious Vangelis or Jean Michel Jarre and some wonderful drum work build the track till what is left is The Kinnaris Quartet, carrying the atmosphere on with strings. Lùths (Gabh Greim) is another atmospheric electronic track, majestic and brooding with a dark beauty. Cumhachd is a perfect melding of Allan MacDonald vocals, pipes, Fiona MacAskill's fiddle, electronics and some studio magic. The separate elements are identifiable but twine together perfectly to make a glorious whole. It's almost certainly a cliché, but the evocation of the Skye landscape is so complete the music is filmatic.
Niteworks on AIR FÀIR AN LA offer an exciting glimpse of a music that Janus like, manages to look backwards and forwards. They are not the first to try this, but without a doubt they make a superb job of showing a future music. There is brooding singer songwriter, mystical ethereal Gaelic, shimmering electronica which sometimes rocks and sometimes dances like mist, what would 1968 66 year old Crofter Calum make of the killer bass line behind him. "But I've got to sing my songs in my own fashion, in my own way, in my own manner and I'm damned if I'm going to do any other thing" he proclaims proudly. So I hope he would admire the spirt and singularity of Niteworks and their stunning album. Like the glowing graphic on the stunning album cover, the band sits proudly within the landscape, recognisably different, but complimentary and beautiful in that space.