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Artist of 2018: Adam Stafford

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ADAM STAFFORD discography

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Adam Stafford

+ {Y’All Is Fantasy Island}

Born 24th February 1982, Sunderland, England, but raised since six years of age in the town of Falkirk, Scotland, avant-roots singer-songwriter ADAM STAFFORD seemed determined to achieve his goals since being told he might not advance further in the writing department – despite having severe dyslexia, he worked hard to overcome this difficulty as a certain “Great Rock” band biographer.
From early projects trying to find his niche with the pounding psychedelic trip of pre-millennium Sula Basana; to the formation in February 2001 of the lo-fi trio/quartet Y’ALL IS FANTASY ISLAND; to becoming an independent filmmaker and a solo artist (just as Y’all said ta-ta to the biz), STAFFORD has been a busy boy; after a spell in Glasgow, he duly married his school sweetheart Gylla-Fiona Simpson and returned to Falkirk; they have a daughter born in 2014.
Overcoming his fears of playing live (through local Falkirk gigs at Rialto’s and Behind The Wall), Adam ventured further afield as his education took him to Napier Uni in Edinburgh; a project to set up a label to produce an unknown Stirling-based act proved fruitless. A couple of low-key releases (the mini-cassette “Wisconsin Death Trip” in ’02 and “Skeletal Demos” in ’05) under his solo moniker Y’ALL IS FANTASY ISLAND, spread the word that Adam was not going to be passed over as another wannabe indie act.
Inspired by WILL OLDHAM, The WHITE STRIPES, MOGWAI, Kurt Cobain and hundreds of others he loved to write about, Adam and Y’ALL expanded to become a trio in 2005, adding sound engineer Tommy Blair (guitars) and Jon McCall (drums, percussion and clarinet). It was this line-up that rehearsed and duly recorded (in a day-long shift) their debut album, IN FACELESS TOWNS FOREVER (2006) {*9}. If ARAB STRAP had ever shared a studio with a filmic RY COODER, the closing track `Culdra’ might’ve been the result. Tugging the heartstrings by way of `God Is Love, But So Is Arthur Lee’, `I Bet You’re Flying Inside’ and the acoustic-Zep-like `A Sight In Sailsbury Falls’ (or was that “Salisbury”), Adam created a polaroid vision of life in a small-town. Possibly yearning to crash-and-burn, MOGWAI-esque, `Order Of Music For Home Movies’, reluctantly bypassed a “Like Herod” double climax.
Possibly missed as one of Scotland’s most saddest introspective songs of all time, `God Bless And God Damn’ (aka “Swimming With The Sharks”), STAFFORD opens up his heart by way of lyrical scalpel. As important to Scotland’s heritage as “Trainspotting” and ARAB STRAP’s debut set, Adam wrestled with the ghost of Cobain on `I’m Always Here By The Darkness’, `That We Are All Doomed’ and `These Are The Days’; one day Drag City or Merge will release this in the States.
Subsequently filling out to include live/studio auxiliary Robert Lesiuk (on bass and keyboards), until he and Jon were replaced by drummer/guitarist Steven Tosh and percussionist Paul Tonner, Y’ALL IS were ready for album number two, “RESCUE WEEKEND” LP (2008) {*7}; Blair was posted missing after laying down the master tapes. Sounding as if he’d stayed all his days growing up on the West Coast of America rather than taking up residence in the west coast of Scotland, Adam was still adamant to write songs about life in the slo-fi lane: `Years Of Living Here’, `What A Way To Run A Railroad’ and `Madiston Stance’, more or less the lad’s answer to “Road To Nowhere”. It still irritates the big man – me – that the warts ’n’ all screechy string-frets seem to spoil an otherwise doleful and poignant set of songs.
Adam, Tommy, Steven and fresh bassist Jamie Macleod surfaced for what turned out to be Y’ALL’s third and final album, NO CEREMONY (2008) {*8}. Despite Adam’s obvious allegiances to the FOO FIGHTERS for `Punk Rock Disco’ and punk rock itself, in opener `Consider Yourself Swallowed’, the group playfully toy with scores of influences, but here, that’s no bad thing. Marking a significant change of direction (actually, it’s more like they’re being pulled everywhere), the set contrasts Kurt Cobain-punk grunge, particularly on `Hell-Bent O My Love’, `Campus, Outsider’ and `I Know We Are Living On The Branches’. The FUGAZI-like `With Handclaps’, the more reflective and mournful `Jack Montgomery’ and the punkabilly `Wreck On The Highway Boy’, should’ve at least granted the band a decent contract – despite the culling recession.
Under the banner of Size Of Kansas, a couple of low-key releases went unnoticed (the LP `Digital Is Dead From The Beginning’ 2007 and the EP, `Four Or Five Loose Horses’ 2009); it seemed a prolific period for young Adam.
When STAFFORD branched out on his own accompanied by a few friends, Y’ALL IS FANTASY ISLAND were put to bed after a farewell gig at Sneaky Pete’s in March 2011; Lesiuk filling in for Blair. Sticking with his own Wise Blood Industries imprint, who’d issued his band’s final two sets, Adam’s first batch of self-financed releases, AWNINGS (2009) {*6} and MINIATURE PORCELAIN HORSE EMPORIUM (2010) {*6} went almost unnoticed – even in Scotland’s so-far complementary rag, The List. As Adam Stafford & The Death Bridge Convention, the mini-set `Music In The Mirabel’, was a covers record, with an array of varying styles, namely DANIEL JOHNSTON’s `Blue Clouds’, DEVO’s `Big Mess’, The HANDSOME FAMILY’s `Tin Foil’, Georg Trakl’s `Music In The Mirabel’, Sterling Richard Smith’s `Nancy Sings’, The POLICE’s `Invisible Sun’ and The TWILIGHT SAD’s `Walking For Two Hours’.
Having distinguished himself as a film-maker, working with “Boyracer” author Alan Bissett on the BAFTA-winning short, The Shutdown, after completing a video (`Seven Years Of Letters’) for the aforementioned The TWILIGHT SAD, he was now being described as a youthful cult-pop polymath by The List. Billed as his first proper solo debut, BUILD A HARBOUR IMMEDIATELY (2011) {*8}, Adam was again on top form. Nicola Meighan reviewing for The List, best summed up the set thus:- Stylistically merging poetic alt-rock (`Fire & Theft’) with gorgeous, home-spun, WILL OLDHAM-ish ballads (`Cathedrals’, `Police No Speech’), hair-raising, octave-scaling arias (`A Temple Of The Holy Ghost’) and jaw-dropping Central Belt beat-boxing (`Shot-Down You Summer Wannabes’), STAFFORD’s album is lyrically vivid, vocally striking and roundly impressive.
Also about to play a role in his Wise Blood Industries freak-country proposition, SWEETHEARTS OF THE PRISON RODEO (led by David King and also comprising Lesiuk and Andy Hill) for the album, “On The Desolate Hillside” (and their split cassette EP “Welcome Vessels Shifted”), STAFFORD found time to deliver his sophomore solo set, IMAGINARY WALLS COLLAPSE (2013) {*8}. Breaking free of the shackles of almost doing everything himself, this time the fledgling Song, By Toad imprint was responsible for its release; licensed out to Kingfisher Bluez in America. Adam was no stranger to experimenting with sound (and vision), and the excellent 7-minute opening title track almost took him back to his psychedelic Sula Basana salad days. His backing beat-box kicked into gear for tracks, `Vanishing Tanks’ and `Cold Seas’, no doubt saving him the cash to hire a drummer. Stripping out the psychological barriers that can curtail creativity (when residing in an insular community), the freedom of the big city enabled Adam to extend his range of genres; doo-wop gospel track `Please’ almost exploded into avant guitar-pop territory. It’s clear that Adam had learned a lot in his many years as an aspiring artist, and with `Carshulton Girls’, he almost created a beast of a hit single – had it been released a decade ago. While one can think of TORTOISE and BOARDS OF CANADA for `Invisible Migration’, Adam spread the song beyond any limitations, plus the sequence of the nine songs was indeed perfect and essential in closing horizontal track, `Phased Return’. One to watch and very collectable.
Almost three years in the making while Adam concentrated on domestic life, TASER REVELATIONS (2016) {*8}, restored the baby-faced crooner to some sort of semblance. The multi-talented Robbie Lesiuk was again behind the controls (and an array of instruments), whilst Greggor Douglas (on omnichord/Roland Juno) and Maple Leaves’ Anna Miles (delicious harmonies), secured falsetto Adam’s attempts to search for his inner soul. Probably not everyone’s cup of char (reviewers fell short of giving his syncopated song style a second spin), earworms `Black Lung Applications’, `Phantom Billions’, `Atheist Money’ and opener `Let A Little Love Inside’ were as far removed from the ED SHEERAN’s of the day to champion proper “alt/indie” rock/pop.
Adam’s love of STEVE REICH and synth soundtrack music was relevant to his one-take/one-track semi-improvised live set, REVERSE DRIFT (2017) {*7}. Atmospheric loops and soundscapes that virtually forced the listener to move with its rivers of rushing currents, 40-minutes seemed to pass relatively quickly.
If ARAB STRAP were the closest thing to alt-rock God supremacy in Scotland’s middle-ground/central-belting Falkirk, then unsung hero ADAM STAFFORD surely was the next big thing to take the genre a step further. 2018’s monumental double-set FIRE BEHIND THE CURTAIN {*9} – surely Scottish Album of the Year – oozed class from every shimmering symphony. From the delicate opening salvo, `An Abacus Designed To Calculate Infinity’ (catch the wily whistle) to the darkly desolate conclusion `I Dreamed I Was A Murderer’, each track encompassed the essence of experimental rock; musician Pete Harvey (from Modern Studies) helped Adam climb his cathartic ladder to composer elite. Many “post-rock” acolytes will subsequently rue the day they missed out on garnering an ear-shot to the shining Adam’s most absorbing work to date. `Zero Disruption’, `The Witch Hunt’, `Museum Of Grinding Dicks’ and, arguably, his cinematic `River Search Into The Night’ (very PIANO MAGIC), get into one’s skin and bones.

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