Through its electronic pop sheen, Summer of ’13 saw Malcolm Middleton heading in a clearly defined, new direction. It was his first album for seven years and the sixth solo album from the ex-Arab Strapper, that was released on Nude . In Malcolm’s songs hope and optimism have always existed (they were just well hidden) and ‘catchy’ has always been his prime prerogative, but with the new album glimmering with heady production, this clearly shines through.
After a brief hiatus following 2009’s Waxing Gibbous album, Summer of ‘13 began taking shape in-between Malcolm’s 2012 instrumental project Human Don’t Be Angry and collaborating with David Shrigley on their Music And Words album in 2014. Moving to the wilds of Fife and making his new base a haunted old clocktower provided the ideal seclusion and isolation to allow creativity to flow and re-ignite that latent pop spark.
A wonky tonk fun-land of squelching synths and sweeping strings, ‘Steps’ is a cosmic space ride through pitch bends and vocal manipulation whilst ‘Information In The Voice’ unexpectedly drops pop RnB hip hop. But it’s never without feeling; take the romantic ‘You & I’ or shimmering and rhapsodic ‘Big Black Hole’ with its twinkling piano hook. Put together, there’s a neon glow of 80s new wave, alongside smoggier shades of the Chromatics or Johnny Jewel‘s Glass Candy.
Calling upon the expertise of Glasgow-based dance producer Miaoux Miaoux, the album also features guest appearances by Beta Band/The Aliens founder Gordon Anderson aka Lone Pigeon (also creator of the album’s artwork, technicolour photography and who became a ‘soundboard’ for Malcolm after he moved into the cottage next door). De Rosa’s Martin John Henry and First Aid Kit’s Scott Simpson also add to the albums sonic swirl and sense of fun, perhaps best heard in ‘Little Hurricane’ which was written for an episode of Dawson’s Creek (in an alternate universe) after being recorded at the end of a Human Don’t Be Angry tour.
Malcolm has always enjoyed challenging his listeners and this time around is no exception; his ‘newly re-found’ pop personality shouldn’t come as a surprise or out of character; “It’s just a natural progression from my previous albums,” he offers casually, “when you reach rock bottom artistically, and I believe I have done on occasion. Then the only way from there, as Yazz once said, is up”.