U.S. Highball is a Glasgow-based two-piece consisting of long-time best friends Calvin Halliday and James Hindle. Their debut album, Great Record, arrived in 2019, while taking a break from playing together in The Pooches, Its follow-up, Up to High Doh, wasout in 2020 and now the pair have returned with A Parkhead Cross Of The Mind. It’s their third record for Philadelphia’s Lame-O Records and second in collaboration with Yorkshire-based upstarts, Bingo Records. Recorded entirely at home during Scotland’s third lockdown period, A Parkhead Cross of the Mind picks up almost directly where Up to High Doh left off. Lyrically, the record deftly expands on Hindle and Halliday’s distinctive and comically fatalistic worldview. Nestled within the record’s twelve melodic nuggets are ruminations on unrequited love and professional tennis, alongside off-kilter odes to heroes like Neil Young and Frank Sidebottom. A Parkhead Cross Of The Mind sees jangly college rock guitars twinned with the addictive chug and fuzz of classic ‘70s power pop, all tethered by earworm basslines and propulsive programmed drums. Among their influences the duo follows the Scottish indie pop tradition and they cite The Pastels or early Teenage Fanclub, along with the Sarah Records roster.
The Housemartins – Anxious
Probably the biggest influence on my songwriting in recent years has been The Housemartins. Nobody does frenetic, jangly pop music with biting lyrics better than them! Anxious is the perfect example of this. The jittery rhythms and guitars, coupled with PD Heaton’s nervy vocals sound exactly like the title implies. It’s also short and catchy – always a recipe for success in my book! If someone was to ask me what music I liked, I would play them this song.
Don Lennon – Travelling
Hands down the greatest living songwriter. Nobody’s music means more to me than Don Lennon’s. The enigmatic Bostonian’s five albums are pure perfection. Travelling is from his last album Nick & Mary, released in 2010. The first time I visited Barcelona a few years ago, I wandered the streets on my own listening to Don Lennon’s catalogue on shuffle for the whole trip. This song specifically always makes me think of then, and how happy I was to be there. It is near-impossible to pick just one Don Lennon song to showcase his genius, but this one will always have a special place in my heart.
Jason Falkner – Afraid Himself to Be
I have been a fan of Jason Falkner now for over 25 years. It’s kind of crazy to think that his music has been with me for so long. I have always been amazed that he has never reached the level of success he so richly deserves. Those first two solo albums totally set the blueprint for second-wave power pop. This song blew my mind when I first heard it, and it sounds just as amazing today as it did in 1996. I used to be a very nervous flyer, especially on landing, and I always listened to this song on repeat whenever a flight started to descend. I guess I thought, “If I’m going to go down with the plane, it may as well be listening to the greatest song of all time.” Whilst that is probably hyperbole on the part of young me, it isn’t far off!
Jonathan Richman – Now Is Better Than Before
One of the most beautiful songs ever. I remember seeing him perform this on Later…with Jools Holland when I was a teenager and thinking I had never heard or seen anything like it – so simple, charming, funny. It was my first exposure to Jonathan Richman. I remember going into Leeds the following day to try and find his music and coming home with a best-of CD. This is definitely one of my favourite love songs, and it never fails to make me smile all these years later.
Old Nick – The Worst Vampire
A good friend of mine, Michael, recommended Old Nick to me a while back, and they’ve been one of my most exciting and energizing musical discoveries of recent years. The band takes a kitchen sink approach to black metal, incorporating elements of dungeon synth and anarcho-punk. Calling their music tongue-in-cheek would be doing it a great disservice, but they’re evidently keen students of black metal, and approach the genre’s tropes in playful ways that only true believers could conjure.
Jackie Leven – Straight Outta Caledonia
Jackie Leven was another recommendation from Michael who introduced me to Old Nick. It’s great having friends with incredible taste in music! The title track from the recent retrospective Straight Outta Caledonia, put together and released by the very friend who first let me hear Leven’s music, is something of an outlier in his catalogue, swapping out his usual lush folk-rock for lively, Smiths-y guitars. The rousing chorus of, “If I should die in some foreign land, bring me home to rest in bonnie Scotland,” says it all, really. The true sound of the North.
Leila K – Ça Plane Pour Moi
This fantastic cover of Plastic Bertrand’s punk classic came to my attention when it was used in a film I was doing subtitles for. I can’t remember the film in which it was used, but I’ve listened to the song on a weekly basis since I heard it. It’s amazing to think this came out in 1993, as it sounds decades ahead of its time. In some ways it’s almost a precursor to the frenetic hyperpop sounds of today, the frantic video perfectly complimenting the song’s pummelling, insistent synths. Just try and sit still while this is on.
The Hippos – Far Behind
During my teen years, I was into ska in a big way, first starting to play music in a ska-punk band with friends from school. A fair amount of the music that I loved in those days does very little for me now, but the album Heads Are Gonna Roll by The Hippos has remained a constant throughout the years. As soon as I stick it on, I’m back in my friend Adam’s bedroom after school, laughing my head off. Interestingly, the singer from The Hippos, Ariel Rechtshaid, went on to produce music for Charli XCX, Haim and Madonna, among countless others, though he rarely addresses his checkered past in interviews.