Back in 2014 when the Scottish referendum debate was at fever pitch, there was an oasis of calm within its midst. For sure, it was quite a surreal oasis but Dumb Instrument’s Suffering From Scottishness, a wonderfully absurd and deadpan hymn to the nation was, for a while, the unofficial Scottish anthem. It’s too soon of course to say whether another bid for independence is on the cards but Dumb Instrument have gone ahead and released their third album, tired of waiting perhaps?
Anyhow, it’s great to be able to say that on Doubt (the title and album cover a joke in itself), Dumb Instrument remain stoically Scottish and singer Tom Murray’s humour is as pawkish as ever. The band, a seven-piece outfit led by co -founder Mikey Grant on piano and supplemented by a string section, provide some excellent ornamentation for Murray’s vocals. They delve into a breathtaking Latin styled workout on LadeDa and on Backwards Is The New Ways Forwards they’re next door neighbours to Robert Wyatt while That’s The way To Do It is an exhausting Klezmer like knees up full of parping horns and melodramatic keyboard flourishes sounding as if they were lifted from early Hollywood cliff-hangers.
Above all however, it’s Murray’s words which draw the listener in. Many of the songs are vignettes, some spinning into a tenement version of magical realism as on the driving opening song, High Jumper which is stuffed full of musical references in the lyrics amidst worrying references to skyscrapers and window ledges while the music is dizzying enough to induce a sense of vertigo. Backwards Is The New Forwards comes across as if one were reading James Kelman’s How Late It Was How Late backwards and Drunk In The Playground is an excellent capture of an incarcerated father imagining he’s waiting for his child as the bell rings. Perhaps the best of all on offer here is the excellently named, That Stupid Wee Lassie From Elderslie, an incredibly imaginative song. Here the protagonist is haunted by and goaded by a plooky wee schoolmate who wasn’t worthy of attention then. Almost in the same league is the simple guitar and vocals of Venus In A Cardigan which could be a mash up of Billy Connolly, Ivor Cutler and The Incredible String Band.
It’s important to say that Dumb Instrument are not doing comedy. There’s dark humour aplenty here but overall Doubt is an immersive experience, the music’s great and Murray has a winning way with his lightly spoken vocals. They don’t sound at all similar, but imagine if you can, if Ian Dury and The Blockheads came from the west of Scotland rather than Billericay or Upminster or where ever Dury pretended to be from, and then consider Dumb Instrument.
Doubt is available now and there is an album launch show on Saturday 19th October in Glasgow’s CCA where Dumb Instrument will unveil the album in conjunction with Doghouse Roses’ own album release.