Release Date: May 27, 2016
Record label: Nude Records
Malcolm Middleton has been a very busy chap these past few years, but there's a strong chance much of his fan-base have yet to realise. Human Don't Be Angry, from 2012, was a timed Record Store Day exclusive; a beautifully put together collection of original instrumentals, skits and maudlin pop which received an equally lovely follow up in 2015 (Electric Blue - Human Don't Be Angry). Then there's Music and Words; a collaborative pic'n'mix of hysterical spoken word vignettes written alongside visual artist David Shringley.
Following an outlandish spoken word collaboration with visual artist David Shrigley and a pair of quirky instrumental releases as Human Don't Be Angry, Scotland's Malcolm Middleton returns with his first proper solo album since 2009's Waxing Gibbous. Much has changed for the former Arab Strap member in the seven years since donning the "Red Travellin' Socks" of that folkier outing, most notably the dramatic electro makeover that informs most of Summer of '13. Recorded at the Clocktower in Fife with the aid of Glaswegian producer Miaoux Miaoux, Summer of '13 pits the wry gloom of Middleton's earlier, more organic work against shimmering synths and bright EDM beats.
Back in the halcyon days when Arab Strap were stirring up some boozy-bloke maudlin, Malcom Middleton was seen as the ‘musical’ half of the duo, leaving the narrating duties to Aidan Moffat. Since their disbanding, Middleton has stepped up to the microphone with wry tales of disillusionment and the doubts of being a man, albeit with tongue placed firmly in cheek. Quite what is so prescient about the summer of ’13 is never revealed on his latest work, but it’s a welcome return from the ‘miserablist-maverick-with-a-tune’.
“Won’t someone please come on and diagnose me with something,” urges the curiously uplifting opener Steps. “I’m not making progress, and all of my time is running out of my lungs.” Such lyrical candour is precisely what we’ve grown accustomed to with a Malcolm Middleton record; his has always been introspection cannily framed. And while you don’t have to always take this pithy brand of fatalism at face value – irony is a useful weapon, after all – his post-Arab Strap career tends to be understood with a little more clarity when the honesty is left unfettered.
Released on the newly refreshed Nude label, Malcolm Middleton’s first solo album in seven years finds him reinvigorated by his collaborators, a slight musical change in direction and – dare we say it – a little bit of hope for the future. Possibly this new outlook is down to a change in his personal circumstances, if the lyrics of Big Black Hole (among others) are anything to go by. Middleton (or at least, our narrator) has a new life to care for, and the tone of this confessional is typical of a new father.
It’s been seven years since Malcolm Middleton has released an LP under his own name - and at times it seemed unlikely that he would ever do so again - but now the veteran songsmith is back with something new. And when we say “new”, we really mean that: Middleton has gone electro-pop. Middleton - a founder member of Scottish indie titans Arab Strap - is well-beloved, cherished as an enduring talent in British music.