In this weekly series of articles you will discover what are the business insider’s favorite albums and tracks. We have contacted a broad selection of industry experts and each Wednesday you can discover one of those guy’s favorite albums and why this is so. Check out our previous “Favorite album of” articles here: https://headfonia.com/category/fav-album-of/
This week’s honor goes to Colum Fraser. Colum is RHA’s new Marketing Manager and everyone of course knows RHA. We’ve also reviewed their gear several times
RHA MA600i & M1750i: https://headfonia.com/rha-ma600i-and-ma750i-scottish-lowlanders/
RHA DacAmp L1: https://headfonia.com/review-rha-dacamp-l1-energy/
Who am I:
Picking a favourite artist is pretty hard: it varies depending on mood, setting, who you’re with and what you’re trying to do. Currently when I’m working, I listen to instrumental music; electronica (Mogwai) and classical (Ludovico Einaudi); otherwise lyrics end up in the emails and copy I’m writing. When I’m testing equipment I’ll listen to impressively arranged and mastered music (Radiohead, Robyn), at home I’m more a fan of Scottish indie (Admiral Fallow, Belle & Sebastian) and classic rock (Guns n’ Roses).
The band I will forever come back to is Frightened Rabbit, a Scottish indie band from Selkirk: they were introduced to me via some friends at uni in 2010 that just seem to keep growing and changing in genre, style and maturity. They can be pretty miserable – it’s quite a popular trait in Scottish writing – but mix it with excellent musicality, range and deep, black humour.
Their third studio album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, is outstanding. There’s not a weak song on it. It is, in turn, inspiring, heartbreaking, funny and really compelling. It’s also when the quality of the production caught up with the quality of the lyrics: it was Frightened Rabbit’s first album with fully considered production; each instrument recorded separately; and mastered in Scotland and the US.
The story behind the album; recorded in a small town on the Scottish coast; also lends the record a quintessential Scottishness; raw honesty, dark humour, and profound sadness mixed with defiance, hope and redemption. It was the band’s last album to be fully recorded in the country; the next was on tour, the most recent in the US; and there’s definitely a tangible difference; these are songs written for old, sweaty Glasgow music halls, pub basements and student unions; a bit anthemic, but with a knowing wink and intimate self-examination. There’s still elements of folk music under layers of electric guitar and keyboards. Oddly it’s often similar to The Smiths (another favourite) in that often a punchy, almost cheery riff provides backing to sad, dour lyrics; somewhat suicidal Swim Until You Can’t See Land’s backing is almost calypso, The Wrestle’s tight percussion and plucky vocal backing hides the reality that, on paper, the lyrics read like a grotesque poem.
Of course, any ‘favourite album’ pick is going to be tempered with personal context. I was at university in Glasgow when the album came out; indeed Frightened Rabbit were one of the first bands I saw live in Glasgow, a city riddled with excellent music. This is the record I had on repeat when I struck out on my own and met a lot of the people I still see today, including my now fiancé. It spoke to me as an angsty early twentysomething with a lot to say but none of the confidence required to do so. It was angry, sad, naïve, doubting, self-important, idealistic, hopeful, self-satisfied and frustrated all at the same time.
It is excellent.
The album, played fully and in order, makes a lot more sense than any single song: thematically it builds layers and layers of obstacles, hang-ups and resentments; all until Not Miserable, which I’ve picked out as my favourite track.
It sits near the end of the record and, musically, it strikes out from the rest of the album; it starts with a simple keyboard riff instead of guitars; in major, not minor; with positive, quick opening lyrics instead of sadness. The left channel is a repeated, siren-like guitar lick upwards; in the right a hopeful male voice repeats a riff, like a lone voice in a gospel choir. It ends with the repeated “I’m not miserable now, no one knows”, over the guitar riff and vocal riff from the main body combined, adding a violin and percussion (which you realise was missing from the rest of the song). It builds in power and volume, then ends. It’s hard to listen to the track and not feel hope, defiance.
In the context of the album, it’s great because it addresses every track that’s come before it: in each he introduces and addresses yet another problem, another obstacle to a happy life, then in Not Miserable decides to get rid of them. It leads very quickly in Living in Colour; a catchy, energetic acknowledgement that his life has been improved by the decision to stop being so miserable all the time. It’s a story that requires a bit of patience and work, but it pays off.
I’ve always been more into portable audio because I have a tiny flat in Partick, an old industrial district of Glasgow. I do have the album in vinyl, which I’ve played on a friend’s – one day I’ll have enough space for a full home setup. The production of the album isn’t the most subtle or complex, so you don’t get a huge amount extra from listening to it on high-end gear. It’ll mostly be played from Tidal (HiFi) on my OnePlus or desktop, into some combination of RHA Dacamp L1, Schiit Magni 2 Uber/Modi 2 Uber, RHA T20i, RHA MA750, Meze 99 Classics or Oppo PM3s depending on when/where I’m listening.
If you want to check out Culum’s favorite album, you can do so here:
Thank you Colum for being on the series and for giving us a little insight in what you like to listen to. If you have suggestions of who we should feature in this article series, let us know in the comments!
Up to next week…