Album Review – Adam Stafford

Adam Stafford -‘Fire Behind The Curtain.’ (Song, By Toad)

Album dedications don’t usually give you much of an idea about what to expect from an album. Adam Stafford’s new album isn’t your usual album. Even as a teetotaller, it’s easy to be swayed by the description of an album that is described as being ‘dedicated to anyone who has ever been hungover’, but also extends that dedication to the ‘down-and-out, running from themselves, running for their life, trapped in prisons internal and external.’ Eight years in the making, the album covers some intense and emotional ground, and gives the listener not only plenty to listen to, but also to think about.

Having been described elsewhere as ‘a neo-classical album that deals directly with depression,’ it might seem as if this album on paper (never mind on speakers or headphones) might be heavy-going. Let’s dismiss this right away: while it’s not easy-listening muzak, it’s actually an album to fall for without much difficulty, and to enjoy being swept away by. If there seems to be a lot going on here – not just musically, but emotionally, too – it is an inviting album, rather than one that seeks the alienate the listener. The opening track ‘An Abacus Designed To Calculate Infinity’ could suggest math-rock – and while there are indeed hints within, for my money, there is also a link to Virginia Astley’s 1983 pastoral masterpiece From Gardens Where We Feel Secure. It evokes images of beautiful countryside scenes being overtaken by the arrival of the factories during the industrial revolution- a fitting analogy for the struggles of the delay grind as we get older. This is a work that references the likes of American minimalist composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich, the latter a particularly acknowledged influence on this album. Nowhere more so is this the case than on ‘Zero Disruption’ with its allusion to hallucinations.

Stafford’s skill is such that even during a piece (‘Songs’ feels inaccurate for the music on this record) that’s short, the music can move you close to tears. The album name comes from ‘Strangers Care When You Burn’ which references his own grandfather’s funeral and the point at which the coffin disappears behind the curtain; how he believed that that was the point at which the cremation started. While some rely on lyrics to communicate their feelings and emotions, Stafford’s musical textures paint a thousand words – dismissing toxic masculinity on ‘Museum Of Grinding Dicks,’ or seventeenth century misogyny on ‘The Witch Hunt.’

Stafford has been open about his battles with depression and anxiety, which stretch back to childhood. I sincerely hope that this release affords him some kind of light, because it is a very accomplished album indeed. This year marks the tenth anniversary of Song, By Toad as a label. Whilst there have been a number of excellent releases over that time, this may stand as perhaps the most stunning piece of art to have been released so far on the label.


Fire Behind The Curtain is released on May 4.

Track of the day #54: Adam Stafford

Photo credit: David P. Scott

Edinburgh’s Song, By Toad Records continue to be frustratingly brilliant. Their next release will be Adam Stafford’s neoclassical album Fire Behind The Curtain.

The album, which was made over eight years, is born out of the experiences of living with severe depression, and is dedicated by its creator to ‘anyone who has ever been hungover, down-and out, running from themselves, running for their life, trapped in prisons internal and external.’ Amongst the inspirations for the album is American minimalist composer Steve Reich (who I urge you to check out, alongside his fellow national Philip Glass).

Of this track, Adam Stafford says: ” ‘Zero Disruption’ is my attempt at putting the influence of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint to bed. It was devised as an exercise in playing between the notes and layering jerky guitar figures in a staccato style. The voices are meant to sound like alarms going off, and the track as a whole is based on panic and auditory hallucinations.” 

Thankfully the track does not induce panic attacks or anxiety in this listener (who has wrestled with these conditions for many years). The video, directed by Adam Shrimpton and Rose Cleary has been described as being Wacaday meeting early [David] Lynch.

Fire Behind The Curtain is released on May 4 by Song, By Toad.





Getting ready for August in Edinburgh


As you are probably aware, Edinburgh is host during August to an unbelievable amount of music, comedy, theatre etc.. under the heading of the Edinburgh International Festival and the even bigger Fringe festival.

Many, many wonderful things will be taking place – but if you fancied checking out the local music scene (and why wouldn’t you?) then you should be checking out the Pale Imitation Festival put together by Matthew Young, AKA Song, By Toad.

All the gigs, bar one, take place at Henry’s Cellar Bar on Morrison St, just off Lothian Rd, except for the Supermoon and Rob St. John one, which takes place at Summerhall (a block away from the south-east end of the Meadows). A number of the acts I have featured on this here blog over the years (including eagleowl, who topped the 17 Seconds Festive Fifty back in 2010),

Saturday 1st August – Numbers Are Futile, Beam, DTHPDL
Thursday 6th – Garden of Elks, Bat Bike, Passion Pusher
Saturday 8th – Sharptooth, Lush Purr, Breakfast Muff
Thursday 13th – Spinning Coin, Min Diesel, Dune Witch Trails
Saturday 15th – Save As Collective (featuring Jonnie Common, Glamour Muscle, River of Slime & MC Almond Milk)
Thursday 20th – eagleowl, Now Wakes the Sea, Faith Eliott
Saturday 22nd – Adam Stafford, Wolf, Tryptamines
Thursday 27th (at Summerhall) – Supermoon & Rob St. John
Saturday 29th – Happy Meals, Apostille, Clip Art

All the gigs start at half seven and are £5, with a season ticket available for £25. As Toad puts it ‘As the cherry on the top, the awesome Kitchen Disco will be DJing and providing free cakes for everyone on each and every night.’

You can get tickets online here

And Matthew has even put together this very handy playlist of all the bands playing.

What are you waiting for?

Presenting…Adam Stafford

Adam Stafford

I first encountered Adam Stafford as the frontman of Y’all Is Fanatsy Island and then solo playing support to The Twilight Sad eighteen months ago. And when people talk about Adam Stafford performing solo, he does, working with his guitar and effects units and looping – it’s really something to behold live, as well as on record.

He’s just about to release his second solo album Imaginary Walls Collapse on Edinburgh’s Song, by Toad Records. To my shame I am still working through a lot of stuff but this track is the free download and it is brilliant. If you like this, go and buy the album (available on vinyl – yum!)

This is an earlier track called ‘Vanishing Tanks’ released on Gerry Loves Records, also based in Edinburgh.

Gig Review – The Twilight Sad/Adam Stafford

The Twilight Sad/Adam Stafford, Edinburgh Bongo Club, November 16

Formerly of Y’All Is Fantasy Island, Adam Stafford appears on stage solo. Armed with his Fender Jaguar, two mikes and (I assume, it’s out of sight) a guitar effect unit, he sets about his work. And work it most definitely does. He loops his voice and guitar and effects to produce a spectacular result. The early songs in the set he plays are new songs that he is just trying out but he does give a nod to his solo albums. He’s politely grateful to the crowd for being responsive to what he does – apparently Aberdonian audiences are much chattier than us Edinburghers. The crowd are respectful and responsive, giving him the space he needs – and deserves to work his magic. The second track he plays sees him starting off as a human beatbox, giving a DIY-style Hip-Hop approach to proceedings, but there is also a post-punk sensibility to what he does. Having been aware of the name, but not the work I will be investigating further (and you should start here.

By the time the Twilight Sad come on stage, the Bongo Club is heaving. Interviewing singer James Graham before the gig, I told him about the first time I saw the band, on a bill at the Queen’s Hall, sandwiched between headliners Idlewild and newcomers Broken Records. They impressed me that night, but even before they walk on stage, the sense of expectation in the air is high. The feeling is that their time has finally come. Their third album No One Will Ever Know is out in February. At the time of writing, only two songs have been heard by most of the public -album closer ‘Kill It In The Morning’ and current single ‘Sick.’

Having been privileged to hear it, it sees them move into a new area that is darker than they’ve ever been before. Think Closer. Think The Holy Bible. Think The Twilight Sad will be massive this time next year and if not there’s a serious injustice at work. Whilst there has been rumours about the wall of sound being gone, there was no evidence of that last night at the Bongo Club. It was as loud as anything, but still there is the delicious lingering of the folk melancholy as a wave of noise to lose yourself in. Yet there’s a sense creeping in of a band who are growing ever more in confidence, of James as a frontman who knows he has the power to move people, to inspire and move people. (And even if he doesn’t, that’s the effect).

Looking at my notes I can see that I wrote at one point I wrote ‘Band sound like Joy Division meets My Bloody Valentine. It becomes a place to lose and simultaneously find yourself in.’ They give us now classic songs like ‘Last Summer’ and ‘Mapped’ and these now form part of their history.

On the evidence of this gig, their story is just beginning…

The Twilight Summer -‘That Summer, I Had become The Invisible Boy.’ mp3