“Scottish rap” might not sound like the most appealing genre, but dismissing Glasgow’s The LaFontaines would be a huge mistake. Though the rapping is a key element of their sound, there’s much more to them than that. A little bit of hip-hop, a big bit of indie, and some rock and electronica thrown in for good measure.
Common Problem is the band’s second album and sees them producing a tighter sound that’s sure to propel them far out of the confines of the Scottish music scene they’re currently dominating.
Explosion sets the tone for the album and makes it clear the band are ready to get political – Brexit is mentioned within the first fifteen seconds and the theme of frustration with the world continues throughout the record. The lyrics are excellent and in fact, so they are throughout the whole album; it’s one of the strongest elements overall. Original, dark and just plain funny (“We need heat in the coldest season / even though Scotland’s fuckin’ freezing.”), it pays off to listen closely to what Kerr Okan has to say.
Title track Common Problem shows off the band’s softer side with its more melodic chorus. Okan isn’t the only vocal talent in the band; guitarist John Gerard is also impressive and deserves more recognition for his ability to create the perfect singalong hooks. This type of chorus pops up often throughout the album and is best on Goldmine and What Do I Know?
The album’s heaviest track is Hang Fire and it is excellent. The screeching guitar that appears out of nowhere is brilliant and somehow doesn’t sound out of place. The whole song has a frantic sound and shows exactly why they smashed their set at Download festival this year.
Yet another sonic element is the electronic flavours on the likes of Too Late and Atlas. It’s not the strongest side of their sound, but it works best on the latter track, the chorus of which is an odd little one, but very fun to dance to.
Release The Hounds was the first single from the record, released almost a whole year ago now. It’s still one of the standout tracks, full of the band’s trademark swagger. That attitude and confidence is such a strong part of The LaFontaines’ identity, but their humour undercuts it and stops them from veering too far into cockiness.
The record is rounded off by Asleep, a slow burner of a track that crashes into an intense finale and leaves you thoroughly impressed with the eclectic album. It’s another very political track so it brings Common Problem full circle, ending with, “Everybody’s running blind to the borders / When paranoid days turn to paranoid nights, everybody runs blind to the borders / nothing to lose.“
On paper, nothing about The LaFontaines makes sense. The Scottish rap, the wide range of influences and diverse mix of genres should spell disaster, but they always pull it off. Their sound is hard to pin down and while that may be confusing for some listeners, it’s worth it to sit back and take their songs at face value.