feature for Clash
Ask any music fan around Edinburgh who their favourite new local band is, and there’s a fair chance you won’t get the same answer twice.
This is a boom time for a city which lags way behind bigger brother Glasgow in terms of musical heritage. At the forefront of the capital city’s efforts to catch up are Meursault, a foursome led by singer and songwriter Neil Pennycook, who released a superb but slept-on debut album late last year.
Pissing On Bonfires / Kissing With Tongues was released at the height of year-end list season, meaning its many gushing reviews were quickly forgotten in the rush to put 2008 to bed and get on with 2009’s next big thing. But fans in Edinburgh didn’t forget - Pennycook is a big guy with a big heart and a big voice - why look for anyone else?
Though he tells me the word bugs him, we can’t proceed with a description of Meursault without talking about folk. Any group which uses banjo, ukelele, accordion and acoustic guitar, and which has songs that create mythologies around long-forgotten local heroes, is inevitably going to be associated with folk music. But that’s only a small part of the Meursault story, because they also use an assortment of electronic devices to add beats, beeps and rushes. Please, don’t call it folktronica - it’s much more fun than that.
Take ‘The Furnace’ for an example. “I was trying to write the catchiest, most infectious pop song with the weirdest bunch of instruments I could get my hands on,” Pennycook says, and he succeeded: it’s got a ridiculously catchy banjo melody sitting between skipping beats and abrasive scratching noise. Recent live shows under the side-project name Art Fag have demonstrated even more experimentation, with new influences like Holy Fuck and Animal Collective appearing. These recent shows have been stunning.
But then, when the noise subsists, Pennycook’s gift for straight-forward songwriting shines through. Songs like ‘Salt Pt.2’, ‘The Dirt And The Roots’, and ‘William Henry Miller’ from the ‘Nothing Broke EP’, are simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming. “There’s not a lot of hard fact out there about him,” Pennycook says of the latter titular figure, “that’s why I like it, because you can piece things together and make your own pseudo-folklore.”
But perhaps their most impressive single feature is Pennycook’s unmistakable foghorn voice, which you can sometimes hear just wandering the Old Town streets, where you used to hear bagpipes. Now there’s a new way to seduce the tourists.