Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

The Skye group Niteworks has carved out a niche where traditional Scottish melodies balance with electronic beats, rhythms and patterns. Their latest album, 2018’s On the Holiday, doubling down on the combination of Gaelic song and electronic textures to mesmerizing effect. Now the journey goes a stage deeper: the music more widescreen, more urgent, more cinematic; the songs now also in Scottish and English. The album’s title is Gaelic for “the sun”, and the sound is less nocturnal than before, as if awakening in a brighter but less frenetic world.

The opener, “Each-Uisge”, is a close cousin of the group’s soundtrack to Edinburgh’s Hogmanay fireworks of 2018. It begins with Innes Strachan’s explanatory electronic piano chords on an arpeggiated sinth pattern, with the distant sound of sirenes; then a bagpipe tune by Allan MacDonald and drums that let for a moment clatter as if Ruairidh Graham had stormed in and was still taking off his coat. The music breaks for a moment before being recreated in a deep bass pulse and radiophonic sine waves. The pipes and Christopher Nicolson’s bass pull it all together: a four-minute Scottish cyber-noir soundtrack.

Album cover of 'A' Ghrian 'by Niteworks

“Gura mise tha fo Èislein” has a skewed, steady bump: Ellen MacDonald’s choir links the persistent bouncing of a crying song with the steady build of a rave. The harmonies of her vocal trio, Sian, regular collaborators with Niteworks, later come to the fore on “Teannaibh Dluth” against what sounds like a church bead and a clatter of dry sticks. West Lothian singer Hannah Rarity performs the traditional “Gloomy Winter” straight, with the mere scurrying of drum machine. “‘Under the brae, the burnie jouks and ilka-ding are merry Oh,” she sings ironically merrily, before the keyboards rise to a bright spring sky. The instrumental “Guns of Ajaccio” has a Napoleonic intransigence. “Bumpth” is a set of syncopated collisions corresponding to its onomatopoeic title.

Of the other ballads, Beth Malcolm’s “John Riley” is a story of a missing sailor with a bassline like an engine room full of diesel. From the island of Mull, Alasdair Whyte brings a tremendous sound to “Thèid Mi Lem Dheòin”, his voice channeling centuries of singing. The contemplative title track concludes the album: it is sung by Kathleen MacInnes, from South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, to a backdrop that sometimes sounds like little more than clay pots hit with twigs; the singing part welcome, part blessing, part invocation, its final fragments completely unaccompanied.

★★★★ ☆

The sun.‘released by Niteworks

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