SOMEWHERE, there’s a kid looking forlornly at the UK singles and download charts, praying that there’s more to life than Justin Bieber and Adele. If that kid shifts his or her gaze to the flood of magazine and music blog "best of 2015" lists that have appeared over the past month, they’ll certainly discover an array of critically lauded releases that will spice up their listening life. I’m the first to admit that Sufjan Stevens, John Grant, Blur, Natalie Prass, The Decembrists, Ibeyi and Julia Holter have never been off my playlists this year.

Yet again, however, it’s my evangelical opinion that Scottish acts have been hard done by in those end-of-year polls. Sure, you’ll find names such as Django Django, Belle And Sebastian, Chvrches, Kathryn Joseph and Young Fathers recurring on a few of them but, as ever, the local indie labels and self-released projects from up this way just don’t get a look in. And I won’t even mention the travesty of London-centric big-bucks industry promotion that goes by the name of BBC Sound Of 2016 …

This is the fourth consecutive occasion that I’ve compiled a Top 50 Scottish Albums of the Year for the Sunday Herald. And, although it’s something of a cliché, it’s true nevertheless that each and every time, the bar is raised higher and it becomes harder to squeeze stand-out favourites into the final list. For 2015 I listened to a longlist of around 140 albums; by the time I was down to 80 I was suffering genuine anguish.

I didn’t feel too bad about some big-name casualties – Texas, The Proclaimers, The View and Hudson Mohawke delivered great individual tracks but I don’t believe the resulting albums rank among their most significant. A few welcome blasts from the past – Dominic Waxing Lyrical and Looper among them – fell slightly short too. But it’s with heartfelt apologies that I just couldn’t find space for Sweethearts Of The Prison Rodeo, Inspector Tapehead, Mairi MacInnes, Shooglenifty, Southern Tenant Folk Union, The Cathode Ray and many others.

It was particularly disappointing to have to draw a line in the sand before I could include several acts making their debut, so a belated hats-off to Vasa, Batteries, Kill The Waves, Cherri Fosphate, Numbers Are Futile, Ross Ainslie, The Deadline Shakes and We Came From Wolves. Check them out, even if they’re not named below.

Actually, debut albums were perhaps the most defining factor when I looked back on 2015. By my count there are 17 first-time releases in my final Top 50, the strongest proof yet that Scottish music is forever reinventing itself, moving forward and discovering new talent. In the space of four years, it’s also remarkable how many of the albums that make this list are self-released, available either through Bandcamp, iTunes or from the musicians’ own website. All the more reason for bringing them to your attention.

Talking of means of release, I was also impressed by a few acts who devised ingenious ways of launching their physical formats. Borders collective Roy’s Iron DNA released Exposure as an augmented virtual reality album, with pages of a tabloid newspaper scannable by smartphone app that then played individual videos for each track. Prehistoric Friends lived up to their name with a limited release of 50 download links encased in hollow plaster casts of ammonite fossils. I’m less drawn to the fad of cassette releases, but in general all of these ideas proved that creativity is high even when marketing budgets are low.

I’ll stress again that what you are about to read is not a committee decision but a personal list, shaped by my own blind spots and preferences, coloured by the genres I lean towards and those that tend to come my way in a professional capacity. Sometimes my in-built objectivity tells me something is good even if I don’t head-over-heels love it myself. These, however, are the Scottish records that really did set my heart racing in 2015. Feel free to disagree. I really hope you do, and that you’re encouraged to compile your own year-long list, to open the ears of others – mine included – to even more great music.


For the purposes of this list, a Scottish album is defined as something produced either by musicians based in Scotland or by Scottish musicians based elsewhere, which was released in 2015 between January 1 and December 31. Compilations, live albums and self-designated EPs don’t qualify. This is not a committee effort or a poll of Herald/Sunday Herald reviewers: it’s a one-man job and, as such, is skewed by subjective taste and the unavoidable fact that on occasion certain albums just don’t cross my path in a professional capacity. Others may have been overlooked purely by human error.

50. Start Static / Arguments (

Self-funded and self-produced, the rock-out debut album by this Glasgow four-piece weaves vocal harmonies over a thunderous rhythm section and across crunching guitar parts. Hear for yourself when they play King Tut’s on January 21.

49. Alistair Ogilvy / July Moon (July Moon Records)

There’s a who’s who at play here – Karen Matheson, Siobhan Wilson and Jerry Burns on backing vocals, Admiral Fallow’s Louis Abbott producing, Craig Armstrong arranging strings – but the sweeping romanticism of the songs is Ogilvy’s own.

48. Pale Fire / Pale Fire (

With the influence of Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad embedded in their own anthemic tunes, the Clydebank band’s self-titled debut, produced at Chem 19 by Jamie Savage, flies the flag for the next generation of Scottish indie rock.

47. Best Girl Athlete / Carve Every Word (Fitlike Records)

Katie Buchan was a 15-year-old pupil at Aberdeen Grammar School when she released her first long-player, back in March. The result is an indie-folk/indie-pop hybrid with a melancholy air that’s wise beyond her years.

46. Paul Vickers & The Leg / The Greengrocer (Alter Ego Trading Company)

Uncompromising surrealist Paul Vickers finds himself in his most tuneful and accessible surroundings yet, alongside eccentric-art bedfellows The Leg. The manic free-jazz-goes-bluegrass-punk arrangements are but one small part of the music’s singularity.

45. Alex Cornish / Beyond The Serenade (Bellevue)

He’s played the Royal Albert Hall and recorded a Radio 2 session for Dermot O’Leary, so it’s a mystery why Dunbar-born Alex Cornish isn’t a household name. This wonderfully melodic fourth album, his best yet, is commercial pop with extra class.

44. Sophie Bancroft with Louis Durra / Songs (Lisaleo)

You want to know how a cover should be done? Listen to the achingly tender version of Jolene that opens this album; same song, personal vibe. Elsewhere, low-key jazz originals are evocatively played, meticulously sung.

43. Prehistoric Friends / Prehistoric Friends (

They call it “organ and viola-driven atmospheric casio-tone/dream-pop” and while that’s a fair description of this debut from multi-instrumentalist Liam Chapman and string-champ Nichola Kerr, it doesn’t do justice to the shimmering beauty of these tunes.

42. The LaFontaines / Class (889 Records)

Having built a rep for their full-on live gigs (they stormed the Barrowland in November), pressure was on the Motherwell band’s debut album. No need to worry: rock guitar, blues holler and Kerr Okan’s heavyweight rap combine for a serious contender.

41. The Wynntown Marshals / The End Of The Golden Age (Blue Rose)

Scottish Americana with dust on its boots, the follow-up to The Long Haul shrugs off the worries of a working week with some terrific bar room harmonies, alt-country guitar riffs, soulful horizon-wide organ and an uplifting sense of release.

40. Lyle Christine / The Landed Gentry (

From a one-man recording industry operating from the confines of his Glasgow bedroom, Lyle Christine’s music is as complex as it is unpredictable. Rock guitar crashes against psych-folk vocals and hip hop beats, with Beck peeking round the corner.

39. Ela Orleans / Upper Hell (HB Recordings)

Produced by Howie B, the Poland-born, Glasgow-based artist-musician takes an electro journey through Dante’s Inferno. At times you could call it disco-noir, at others art-school retro-pop, but it’s her most accessible record yet.

38. Sorren Maclean / Winter Stay Autumn (Middle Of Nowhere)

A rising star on the indie-folk scene, it was about time the 25-year-old Mull singer-songwriter released a debut album. The laidback vocal style sets a mood that plays against an islander’s restless concerns of leaving, travelling and coming home.

37. Linden / Rest And Be Thankful (AED)

That emotively high voice, those definitively Scottish guitars … this is beauty poured into the shape of music. The latest from ex-Superstar man Joe McAlinden distils everything that needs to be said into 10 songs that rarely stretch beyond three minutes.

36. Woodenbox / Foreign Organ (Olive Grove)

No album better caught the emotional mood post-indyref than this, all the better for doing so via personal rather than political reflection. A more intimate record than earlier mariachi blasts, but one that can kick into an upbeat gear at a moment’s notice.

35. The Grand Gestures / Happy Holidays (

The last album from Jan Burnett’s project goes out on a sublime, sometimes uncomfortable breeze. A seasonal album like no other, it wafts on chilled ambient air, with vocal offerings, sung or spoken, from Jill O’Sullivan, Grahame Skinner, Sanjeev Kohli and others.

34. Trapped Mice / Sacred To The Shades (Armellodie)

Drama in the narrative, drama in the delivery – Ian Tilling’s voice could make the shipping news sound like the climax of Moby Dick. Tension builds inside every story-song on this second album from the Edinburgh five-piece.

33. Garden Of Elks / A Distorted Sigh (Song, By Toad)

Psychedelic thrash pop with overtones of grunge, post-punk, indie jangle and US hardcore – that’ll do nicely, thanks, from a trio whose rule-bending approach to songwriting on record is matched only by their raucous live sets.

32. Treacherous Orchestra / Grind (Reveal)

The sheer joy of playing music together is never more infectious than when this virtuosic 11-strong folk ensemble lets rip. Pipes and flutes soar, fiddles and accordions fly, banjos and beats remain tight and never cheesy.

31. Urvanovic / Amateurs (Survivalist)

Slightly folksy within a distinctively Scottish chamber-prog style, Edinburgh’s Urvanovic use every element in their seven-strong arsenal to add layer upon escalating layer to their harmonically intricate, icily sprinkled songs.

30. A Mote Of Dust / A Mote Of Dust (Babi Yaga)

Post Aereogramme, post The Unwinding Hours, Craig B finds arguably the best musical match yet for that yearning quality in his voice. When stripped back to an elemental state of guitar and piano, his songs break the listener’s heart.

29. Pinact / Stand Still And Rot (Kanine)

Three men making a tremendous racket, Pinact lean towards US grunge rather than any guitar trends closer to home. Unlike American counterparts, however, they recognise a tune when they see one, as Anxiety, Scars and Terrapin attest.

28. Belle And Sebastian / Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance (Matador)

In the year that they achieved hometown arena status by playing the SSE Hydro, Stuart Murdoch’s genre-defining troupe delivered their ninth studio album, even finding room for a bit of dancefloor action on The Party Line.

27. Errors / Lease Of Life (Rock Action)

The latest from the Glasgow trio is still driven by a hard electro pulse but now female vocals more regularly break up the instrumental patterns – lone human elements in a man-made world of music that refreshes the Errors sound.

26. Prides / The Way Back Up (Island)

The glossily produced debut album from the synthpop trio peaked at No 24 in the UK album chart, tying massive pop hooks to a harder Glasgow underground groove. Modern mainstream anthems don’t get bigger than this.

25. Daydream Frenzy / Pride & Wonder (Daydream)

Only 27 minutes long, but the band designate it an album, not an EP, and so it shall be. The title track and closer Destinations are enough in themselves to push these young rockers from the shadow of Biffy and Twin.

24. Miaoux Miaoux / School Of Velocity (Chemikal Underground)

Three years ago, Light Of The North thrillingly fired off in several directions at once: dance music for indie kids, or vice versa. This one is more coherent as a floor-filler, another showcase for songwriter-cum-production-maestro Julian Corrie.

23. Iain Morrison / Eas (Peat Fire Smoke)

There’s a generational tension of styles here, from the stark austerity of Suibhal 47 to the multi-layered climax of You’re My Letting Go. But with piobaireachd at the root of each song, tradition becomes an affecting personal vision.

22. Rura / Despite The Dark (Rura Music)

What at first feels like two albums shuffled together slowly reveals its measured pacing as breathtaking folk instrumentals alternate with atmospheric songs by Adam Holmes that grow organically from the strains of traditional music.

21. Young Fathers / White Men Are Black Men Too (Big Dada)

With a SAY Award (Tape Two) and Mercury Prize (Dead) beneath their belts, the Edinburgh trio further refine their utterly unique hybrid of hip hop, world beats and urban soul. Lyrically uncompromising, musically hypnotic.

20. The Spook School / Try To Be Hopeful (Fortuna POP!)

Second album from the Edinburgh quartet breathes life into well-worn C86 indie jangles, fuelling its perky lo-fi power-pop with a fuzz of guitars while trans singer Nye Todd keeps one anarchic eye on gender issues.

19. The Phantom Band / Fears Trending (Chemikal Underground)

After offering up the melodically accessible Strange Friend last year, the ever-inventive ensemble return to a world of rhythmic density, prog-rock spirals and opposing textures, where pop hooks snag on anxious soundscapes.

18. Inge Thomson / Da Fishing Hands (

Centuries of communal heritage are rooted in Thomson’s music and the late Lise Sinclair’s lyrics, creating an almost documentary-like portrait of Fair Isle and its fishing industry. But it’s beguilingly poetic and personal too.

17. Sarah Hayes / Woven (Night Vlad)

Boldly setting traditional folk lyrics to her own compositions, Admiral Fallow’s Sarah Hayes threads together a beautiful, flowing piece of music that dwells movingly on themes of memory, loss, love, family and friendship.

16. Andrew Wasylyk / Soroky (Empty Words)

The alias of Andrew Mitchell (Idlewild, The Hazey Janes) references his grandfather’s Ukrainian roots although the music itself lives in America in the 1970s, as sweeping singer-songwriter tales alternate with an old-school country vibe.

15. Django Django / Born Under Saturn (Because Music)

Second release from the Mercury nominees builds on everything that made its predecessor great. Strong rhythms are to the fore and vocals float in a prog haze, while the likes of Giant and First Light set a template for modern pop.

14. The Waterboys / Modern Blues (Harlequin And Clown)

Mike Scott set up camp in Nashville with compadre Steve Wickham and seasoned session musicians (David Hood on bass, Paul Brown on keyboards). The music reeks of southern boogie, but the wandering Celtic mystic is never far away.

13. FOUND / Cloning (Chemikal Underground)

Down to a duo after the departure of Tommy Perman, FOUND’s latest takes its analogue synths for a motorik drive along a route that’s as much M8 as autobahn, passing 1980s pop tunes and post-punk edges along the way.

12. C Duncan / Architect (FatCat)

Famously recorded in Chris Duncan’s Glasgow bedroom for a mere £50, Scotland’s sole contender for the 2015 Mercury Prize brings a light but deft touch to the dream-pop genre. Angelic vocal harmonies soften the edges of each composition.

11. Thirty Pounds Of Bone / The Taxidermist (Armellodie)

Not your average concoction: Pink Floyd-style prog-rock vocal harmonies, sheets of distorted shoegaze guitars, harmonium drones and banjo plucks from a folk hinterland. Together they form the dark and wonderful vision of Shetland-born Johny Lamb.

10. Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat / The Most Important Place In The World (Chemikal Underground)

Modern life in the city as seen through the acerbic eye of former Arab Strap man Moffat and the sensitive fingers of jazz pianist Wells. They lift the male mid-life crisis to a poetic level, creating vivid pictures in words and music.

9. Rachel Sermanni / Tied To The Moon (Middle Of Nowhere)

This second studio album marks a big step forward for Carrbridge’s finest. Her flawlessly arranged songwriting slips through deliciously dark shadows, her guitar discovers some grit, her voice is miraculous in the fullness of its range.

8. Idlewild / Everything Ever Written (Empty Words)

Back with swaggering confidence, Scotland’s foremost melodic rockers begin a new chapter in their storybook. Roddy Woomble’s voice has matured, and now he and Rod Jones aren’t afraid to throw free jazz, disco guitar or prog sax into the mix.

7. Laurie Cameron / The Girl Who Cried For The Boy Who Cried Wolf (

It’s the diversity of skills and styles that truly impresses on this remarkable self-released debut from the young Perth-born singer-songwriter. The folk-pop tunes are tremendously catchy; the quiet, intimate tales are wrapped in heart-stopping arrangements.

6. Chvrches / Every Open Eye (Virgin EMI)

A huge success story on both sides of the Atlantic, the synthpop trio now take on EDM chart-toppers at their own game and win hands down. Lauren Mayberry’s voice is more forceful, each dancefloor anthem a punch-the-air powerhouse.

5. Dean Owens / Into The Sea (Drumfire)

There’s world-class songwriting on the latest by the Leith man. Everything here steps up a gear – the production, the fuller band sound, the vocal delivery – but it’s the songs themselves, and the narrative backbone in the lyrics, that really shine.

4. Admiral Fallow / Tiny Rewards (Nettwerk)

Previous releases have used Louis Abbott’s songwriting as their starting point; here, however, the entire five-piece ensemble put their music conservatoire backgrounds to good use for an album of even more thrilling textures and tunes.

3. Hector Bizerk / The Waltz Of Modern Psychiatry (

Conceived as a soundtrack to stage play Crazy Jane, the third long-player from the hip-hop stars raises their game on every level: production is skin-tight, words flow at an impossible rate, ideas about voyeurism and misogyny are turned on their head.

2. Kathryn Joseph / Bones You Have Thrown Me And Blood I’ve Spilled (Hits The Fan)

On the surface, it all seems so simple: one voice, a piano recorded with ambient pedal squeaks, minimal percussion. And yet underneath vast currents of emotion ebb and flow. The winner of the 2015 SAY Award is a haunting masterpiece.

1. Lau / The Bell That Never Rang (Reveal)

The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards carry a fair bit of prestige, even beyond the parameters of traditional music. So if you’re named Best Group in 2008 and 2009 and 2010 and 2013 then there’s a good chance you’re not a flash-in-the-pan, flavour-of-the-month type of outfit.

I first came upon Lau near the start of that heady run of awards and, at the time, their reputation as a live phenomenon preceded them. Indeed, it seemed as if there was one of those elusive and mythical telepathic links between singer/guitarist Kris Drever, fiddler Aidan O’Rourke and accordionist Martin Green. Having seen them play the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh at the end of last month, I can vouch that they’re still one of the most exciting live bands in the country.

However, when their third studio album, Race The Loser, came out in 2012 I realised something else about Lau: they had also become one of the most exciting studio bands in the country. It’s a personal conviction that has only been strengthened by the release this year of The Bell That Never Rang.

On record and on stage Lau capture the virtuosity of classical music, the freedom of jazz and the emotional surge of rock, all on traditional instruments augmented by electronic effects. Their music breaks down textbook definitions by creating something fresh and distinctive, fusing melodies and rhythms and textures to the extent that Lau now exist alone in a musical genre of their own making.

The Bell That Never Rang pushes the trio into new areas. The first few tracks reveal a rockier punch to Drever’s electrified guitar and the bass end of Green’s electronica, while the 17-minute title track (premiered under the New Music Biennial banner at Celtic Connections in 2014) sees them virtually sitting out half of its duration as the strings of the Elysian Quartet intertwine before both ensembles combine for a thrilling, sustained, hard-won climax.

“Normally we come to the studio with completely formed ideas and work with the producer, leaving enough room for it to be malleable to some extent,” explains O’Rourke. “This time we had lots of ideas but not joined up. And part of the process after we finished it was to reassemble it, in a way, to perform it live.”

It helped, therefore, to have a producer who was attuned to their way of thinking. Lau found her in Joan Wasser, aka Joan As Police Woman, the American singer-songwriter who once upon a time had played with Boston University Symphony Orchestra and who joined the band at Castlesound Studios in Pencaitland, to the east of Edinburgh.

“I think she’s got a very specific sonic taste that we’re all really into,” suggests Green. “And there’s an element that seems like a very New York thing to us – the place where pop music meets avant-garde music. I’m not suggesting that Lau are either pop or avant-garde, but it helps to bring strings and electric guitar and fiddle into the same world if you’ve had some experience of trying to mould those things together.”

The running order of the tracks on The Bell That Never Rang is key to its success. After the natural climax of the long title track the album ends with something that’s almost a coda – Ghosts, a heartbreakingly beautiful song about second-generation immigrants and refugees. The lyrics speak of “ghosts on the motorway… ghosts on the sandflats as the water gets higher and higher… ghosts in the brothels… ghosts and their children in prison food halls”. And yet, for me, it’s the fact that the character portrayed in these words (and in Drever’s soft, mesmerising Orkney accent) retains a dignity that shames his oppressors: “I’m not an incomer/My parents were ghosts/Sir, I was born here/So where would I go?” That polite single syllable – “Sir” – floors me every time.

“Sadly, it has been relevant ever since it was written, and almost monthly something happens where it’s still really relevant,” says Drever simply.

Ghosts first appeared in a different form on the 2011 EP Lau recorded with London-based musician and producer Adem Ilhan. The band point out how that the EP – and another released the previous year on which they collaborated with Karine Polwart – put them in a more experimental frame of mood when it came to recording full-length albums. On their earliest releases, as is often the case with traditional folk music, the aim was to capture as faithfully as possible the band’s live sound. Now their goals are more ambitious.

“It’s not about how fast and accurate my fiddle can be, it’s all about the take,” admits O’Rourke. “Our sound palettes have developed and increased but I think we’ve found where it all sits, rather than it being a blur of new things.”

“Every tour someone bolts something else to the pedal board and we have to work out where it fits,” jokes Green.

“But at the same time I think we’ve become more controlled,” O’Rourke continues. “There are more things but we’re more in control.”

“A bigger picture, but we’re better at looking at the overview,” adds Drever.

The new year brings a flurry of solo projects – Drever’s third album, If Wishes Were Horses, is due in March; O’Rourke launches a five-track EP, Imprint, in February; Green is involved with a project provisionally titled Flit for the Edinburgh International Festival – but as a trio Lau are committed to playing live throughout 2016, not least on the summer festival circuit which they missed this year as Drever had just become a father.

“Obviously we were all there for the delivery,” jokes Green. Lau couldn’t be closer as a musical trio, but perhaps that would be taking things too far.

Links to all the bands’ websites and videos from each album are on the #ScotAlbum2015 hashtag at the @mralanmorrison Twitter account