Back in the heady days of the Scottish Referendum the Ayrshire based troupe Dumb Instrument were all over the airwaves with their deadpan hymn to the nation, Suffering From Scottishness. A perfect combination of our ability to poke fun at ourselves and our gift for self deprecation (which is only there to hide the fact that we do believe we are the “greatest little nation on earth”) the song captured the zeitgeist (as we journos say) and there were even suggestions that it become the national anthem for the newly emerging independent nation.
Well, we all know where that got us and now, two years on, we’re facing a future where we might all be forced to become Little Englanders while a bouffanted buffoon across the pond might be considering invading us in order to stop wind farms spoiling his view from the links. It may be farfetched to consider that in the title song to their new EP, Backwards Is The new Forwards, Dumb Instrument have again got their finger on the pulse of the national mood but at the very least the song can be considered a parable about the dash to the past that has characterised these political catastrophes; as if walking backwards will take us back to the days of Empire (or in the US, glorious isolation). If so then it’s a masterstroke, if not then it’s just a bloody great song.
The undoubted humour inherent in Suffering From Scottishness and other songs such as Buckfast Vs. Hash on the album The Silent Beard somewhat overshadowed the musical prowess of the band. On this EP it’s almost the reverse. The title song, a whimsical piece that in its subject recalls The Goons is delivered swathed in a stately jazz rock arrangement that recalls some of Robert Wyatt’s work. The horn section is alternately muted and then swollen as the song progresses over a metronomic drumbeat and some beautiful double bass work. Singer and writer Tom Murray’s use of Scots idiom is perfect, the song overall a miniature absurdist masterpiece that is just glorious to listen to.
The third song, Shug, is also set to a somewhat ponderous beat as Murray sketches a portrait of an idiosyncratic artist (one is tempted to consider this almost a self-portrait). Here the music achieves prominence over the words as pedal steel glides in towards the end with a fine otherworldly sensation against an ethereal choir which recalls some of Eno’s work on his Apollo soundscapes. In between these two songs is the electronic bounce of Blin Bobette which harks back to Euro disco with plenty of synthesized burps although it seems to be about a woman’s descent into a religious madness who sees Jesus rising from her soap dish.
On the strength of the title song alone this is a tremendous listen and apparently it’s the first of a series of EP’s the band are planning to record over the next year, one a month. Dumb Instrument are appearing at a charity show at Mono, Glasgow on 22nd December in aid of Glasgow Night Shelter along with Rulers Of The Root and The Primevals.