Guess who's back with a brand new track? If you said Rammstein, Amon Amarth, or Sabaton then you'd be technically correct. However if you already read the title and guessed Stara Zagora then you'd be actually, contextually, and correctually correct. And I don't mean Stara Zagora the sixth largest city in Bulgaria, home to Vesselina Kasarova the opera singer. I mean Stara Zagora, the brainchild of Ayrshire bearded wonder Sean McGeoch. It's due to be released on all the usual platforms this Monday the 22nd of April. So after you're all done getting over the resurrection of some guy fae 2000 year ago (who as far as I ken never made any music worth talking about) let's get ready tae talk about the return of Stara Zagora.
The track opens with a distant moothy creeping into your ears in some strangely familiar way. It's the kind of thing that conjures up images of chain gangs in striped jump suits and lonely steam trains. To me it's actually very "Man With A Harmonica", from Ennio Morricone's sound track to Once Upon A Time In The West. It's an eerie opener. Especially considering the track doesn't quite keep the same motif in any obvious way. Instead it keeps the atmosphere through sparse and repeating parts as the track develops. In fact listening back to the track I almost forget it's there despite being so prominent. It's almost a separate piece of music to when the vocals first enter.
It's a completely different feel when they do enter. Sean McGeoch's (laying down the guitars, bass and synths also on this track) singing at first only accompanied by a piano playing a constant pulse (Played by Michael McGeoch). Really contributing to the mesmerising feel of things taking over from the harmonica from earlier. The vocals themselves are in quite a high register and very smoothly delivered. The lyrics are often being stretched over several beats, like he's seeing if he can rip the words open and get to what's inside. So far in the track everything has been there for a reason. Nothings random it's very precise. Which is a fantastic thing to achieve with only a rhythmic piano, swelling vocals and some soulful oooohhhh-ing in the background.
There is a bit of a drop coming of course. When the vocals and keys are joined by a guitar absolutely drenched in echo, a drumkit (pan smashing on this track provided by Colin Hunter) left very far back in the mix so the cymbals aren't too shocking compared to the rest of the band, and a bass which now that I listen again sneaked in somewhere earlier in the track. Bravo for the stealth bass McGeoch, Bravo indeed. Around the midpoint of the track here you start to realise it's a minimalist piece at heart. By all means the instrumentation builds up. There are many layers to this wee onion of a tune. But there is very little movement in terms of song parts or chord progressions. For example it tends to be the lyrics that define the choruses rather than the feel of the track. Instead the song is driven forward by dynamic changes. Changes such as that echoey guitar taking the spotlight from the vocals for a while. Playing one or two notes and leaving about half an hour until the next one. It's a rare thing to get a guitarist to practice restraint and subtlety at times but we get it here. I really feel that much more in the way of licks and showing off would have taken away from the track. If there's lessons to be taken from the likes of Neil Young and Pink Floyd it's that gaps in the music are good. In fact they're necessary. There are moments too where the bass is underpinning the whole piece with descending lines and the odd flourish in the end of phrase turn-arounds. These parts aren't entirely adventurous on their own but in the context of the whole tune they soar out from their positions in the band. It's the variation that minimalism needs to not be repetitive or tedious.
As I mentioned the movement with in the track is very subtle, so much so you almost don't realise how much of a triumph it grows into by its ending moments. Until the instrumentation falls away and leaves what was left at the beginning. (minus the distant cowboy lamenting through his moothy). And as quickly as the track rose it falls back to the vocals, piano, and ends on the drums playing the ever slowing beat...as If they don't want to leave...in the way you don't notice it's coming to an end until it happens...and you have to stop listening there's not much of the track left anymore...until there's none.
It's a very sweet song to listen to however mournful and lamenting it is. I consider it a fantastic way to get lost for five minutes. If you are hoping to discover a gem of Scottish music this Monday the 22nd of April, Stara Zagora is the way to do it. McGeoch will be taking a live band out to Sleazys on the 12th of May and Kilmarnock's own K Fest on the 27th of July. I get a feeling they'll be well worth checking out.