I really didn’t know what to expect with Culann’s debut album.
As I write this, the band have won Best Rock category at the Scottish Alternative Music Awards, headlined at the 2013 Tiree Festival, and are preparing their first headline show at Broadcast in Glasgow. Before this though all I knew of them was their frontman PJ Kelly who I’d spoken to a handful of times on Twitter a few months back who sent me a link to their video ‘Salvation’. It was just so different to anything I’d ever heard before. The layering of the guitars, the composition of the track; well thought-out, challenging breaks, rousing harmonies and very distinct vocals made it a million miles away from the tousle-haired Hollyoaks-clone bands doing the rounds . How had I not heard of them before?
They’ve played King Tuts an astonishing 10 times, supported The Datsuns, Band of Skulls and Capdown, featured on Jim Gellatly’s In:Demand radio show and have Rab Affleck (Gangs of New York, The Big Man) at their disposal when it comes to videos. Culann was very much an album I could not wait to hear.
‘Jerusalem’ sets the album up perfectly – tribal drumming, harmonies, prominent keys and PJ’s unique vocals. It conveys imagery of a man on the run and under pursuit. The prog-rock feel is all Culann and when the middle-eight breaks into the warm acoustic you feel like you’ve been on a hard journey – an excellent opener for a debut album.
Tracks like ‘Homegrown’ and ‘Beat Your Chest’, as well as having traditional folky undertones, feature massive arm-in-arm choruses and a usage of keyboard that is brilliantly prog-rock. ‘Beat Your Chest’ is 6:08 long and every bit the monster its length suggests. ‘Boomerang’ takes the tempo down with a soothing, clean sound and PJ’s lyrics carry the song along on a chilled-out vibe building to a harmonious chorus in the inevitable Culann style; booming, heartfelt and melodic.
‘The Lowlanders Great Hatred’ shows off the bands lyrical brilliance as well as their musical side too. A particular stand out lyric of this 5:44 monolith is “…here’s to you and here’s to me, Best of friends we’ll always be, but if by chance you should disagree, fuck yourself and here’s to me” Burns couldn’t have put it better himself.
‘Salvation’ was the first Culann track I ever heard and I still get the same felling as I did all those months ago. A Jim Gellatly In:Demand featured track, it is the stand out track from the album for me. Perhaps first love but this encapsulates that Culann sound, this is simply an absolute stamp your feet sing-along anthem. The intro is attention-grabbing, the harmonies are tremendous, the breaks work perfectly and the video captures the dark complexities of the track as a video should.
“I am the grafter, I’ve got no destination but my life is on track”. Who hasn’t felt like that? ‘Grafter’, as well as being relatable on many levels really shows off Ross’s keyboard skills which I promise you won’t have heard the likes of on a Scottish rock band’s album in many a year. ‘I Am the Red’ is a bouncing up-and-down rock track which drives a deviation from the sound of the rest of the album. It still has that Culann sound; PJ’s vocals are brilliant, Greg and Calum’s guitar and bass respectively drive the track forward, Sean maintains his primitive drumming style throughout and the use of keys is subtle yet effective. Plus, you can’t beat a good guitar harmony.
‘Brain Canyon’ is another lengthy number on the album at 7:39. This I respect. It shows a band totally confident in their sound and style to do whatever they want. As complex as its seven minutes suggests. Key-heavy in parts, well-thought guitars, that ‘Culann chorus’ but with a poetic, lost-love feel to it: “Kathleen, whose fire was but maddened, In her chains, Kathleen”
After hearing the album I feel I’ve been part of a highland battle. I’ve beaten my chest and sang along arm-in-arm, I’ve been under pursuit, fought, toasted to friends and mourned lost ones along the way and this last track is the reflection of it all. ‘Friendship & Honour’ sends the album out on a gentle note with a heartfelt, brotherhood sing-along – “Friends forever, Close as brothers, Follow the river, Part at the sea”.
You can buy it now on iTunes.