The return of The National

It’s funny, considering that I was fairly immune to the charms of The National for a long time, I was rather pleased when an email from 4AD dropped into my inbox early this morning. Much of that is no doubt to do with just how brilliant Trouble Will Find Me was.

So yes, there is a new album from the National, their seventh, coming out on September 8. It’s entitled Sleep Well Beast and the tracklisting is as follows:

  1. Nobody Else Will Be There
  2. Day I Die
  3. Walk It Back
  4. The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness
  5. Born to Beg
  6. Turtleneck
  7. Empire Line
  8. I’ll Still Destroy You
  9. Guilty Party
  10. Carin at the Liquor Store
  11. Dark Side of the Gym
  12. Sleep Well Beast

The first track to be released from the album is ‘The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness’ and you can watch the video below:


Album Review – Mark Lanegan Band

It’s quite something to note that Gargoyle is Mark Lanegan’s tenth solo album. He first gained attention leading grunge godfathers Screaming Trees back in the 1980s – and a wealth of projects and collaborations have followed since 1984. If Screaming Trees didn’t quite reach the Everest-like commercial peaks of Nirvana, Lanegan has managed to successfully immerse himself in vastly different musical activities- and compared to a number of his contemporaries avoid repeating himself for decades, turning into a totalitarian bandleader or simply winding up dead.

It does, of course, help that he’s got that voice. Comparable- in a good way – to the deep bass voices of Leonard Cohen (RIP) or Tom Waits, it’s leathery and gruff, yet still inherently musical. Frankly, Lanegan could recite the phonebook or a shopping list, and his expression would still be enticing listening. When the first track to be released from the album ‘Nocturne’ arrived a few months ago, this was still there, greeting the listener like a wry smile over the airwaves.

Where does Gargoyle fit into his catalogue? There’s definitely a sense of following on from 2012’s Blues Funeral and 2014’s Phantom Radio. These albums have a sense of an alternative rock history, drawing in not just grunge and dabbling with electronics in various forms, but also 80s goth music. While you don’t hear much of this on the Screaming Trees albums, these have come to the fore far more on recent albums.

Whilst entire dissertations could be written on the meanings behind ‘goth’ and ‘gothic’ you can’t fail to pick up on these themes from the album cover alone. It’s a gothic church fence, like the kind you would find around a 19th century style church, where one assumes you might also find a, um, gargoyle. 

And this is perhaps where the album might struggle a bit. It has some great songs – in the pre-internet era, you might have said the aforementioned ‘Nocturne’ was worth the price of admission alone – and ‘First Day Of Winter’ and ‘Emperor’ are amongst other strong contenders as well. Yet somehow, whilst it’s a decent album, it can lack originality at times and the feeling can be that somehow it’s not quite the sum of its many parts.   It’s gothic, it’s noir, and it’s kind of fun, yet somehow it doesn’t quite connect at the end of the day.



Presenting…Attic Choir

It’s always great when you hear a new, local band, and think: ‘Yes!’

That’s what happened when I heard Attic Choir, a band who seem to meld post-  rock/maths-rock (whatever you’re calling it this week – and chances are the hipsters are going to have a take on it. Sod ’em.) with that glorious Scottish melancholia that runs through so many of the Scottish acts I’ve written about over the years on this here blog.

Unfortunately, wordpress or this computer are conspiring to make things very difficult, so to hear their awesome track ‘shHAarp’ either head here to their bandcamp  or alternatively head over to God Is In The TV where I have also written about them.




Gig review – The Shires

Finding itself double-booked, 17 Seconds asked a good friend, Dr. J. Sizer, to review The Shires. This is what he reported back…

The Shires, Edinburgh Usher Hall, April 20 2017.

Looking around at the heights of the Usher Hall, any band of whatsoever age might well imagine that they’d arrived when helming a gig in such a venue.  ‘It’s a long way from the Liquid Rooms,’ enthuses singer Crissie Rhodes, ‘Wowzers…!’ 

As the loudspeaker tunes intensified, swelling to the canned sounds of Big & Rich’s raucous ‘Save A Horse’, The Shires took to stage with their impressive aural backing of four young instrumentalists.  The core duo of ‘Cris’ and Ben Earle are a kind of Buckingham Nicks for the Millennial generation, and have indeed produced work modelled on the ‘New Country’ spearheaded by the mid-70s incarnation of Fleetwood Mac.  But their influences go much further into the ironic pop spectrum, as evinced by their covers of Robbie Williams’s ‘Angels’ (fresh from a BBC Chris Evans session as it happens) and the Brothers Gibb gem – retooled and countrified for Kenny and Dolly – ‘Islands In The Stream’. 

With a set of seventeen songs and two encores, The Shires delivered a powerful ‘enhanced’ sort of New – and peculiarly British – Country, further strengthened by an intensive rhythm section which at times evoked Zeppelin (‘Jekyll And Hyde’).  Indeed, Ben and Cris’s close harmonies were well served by their supporting band, with their lead guitarist trading in his Gibson ES335 for a dobro, whilst our rhythm guitar man deftly doubled on pedal steel for a plaintive High Lonesome Sound in the quieter Shires numbers.  Though the Usher Hall audience was genuinely ebullient – The Shires seemed quite touched by the overall vibe – a moment of particular poignancy came with Cris’s ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ (the band’s current single) which certainly discouraged dry eyes. 

With an American record deal now in effect, a team of proficient Swedish songwriters for collaboration, and new realms to conquer, the Shires are well poised to launch the international phase of their recording and performative career.  This early triumph before a receptive Edinburgh audience – many veterans of that first Liquid Rooms gig of 2015 – may well prove an early milestone.  Though a case of preaching to the converted, Earle and Rhodes do impress with the quality of their musicianship and lyrics which begin to reach beyond the standard Country tropes. 

A very special mention must be made of opening act, nineteen-year old Catherine McGrath, a talented Country aspirant from County Down whose unpretentious songs – an entirely new form of Hurtin’, it would seem – won over those audience members who took a risk (and seats) long before the headliners arrived.  Her self-deprecating style only enhanced the charm of an intriguing new talent which warrants further investigation.

A song for today #44: Cattle & Cane

Today’s track comes from Cattle & Cane, who in ‘Love On Your Hands’ have produced a  song full of yearning and beauty. It’s taken from their forthcoming second album Mirrors, which is released on May 5. The band, led by siblings Joe & Helen Hammill, hail from England’s North-East and while a new name to me, are clearly going to be making a big impact over the next few months.

And if they never produce a song as good as this ever again, still they will have left us with this.

Their forthcoming UK tour dates are as follows:

2nd May Liverpool – Buyers Club

3rd May Glasgow – King Tuts

4th May Gateshead – Sage 2

5th May Birmingham – The Flapper

6th May Leeds – The Wardrobe

7th May Masham – Town Hall

9th May Manchester – Gullivers

10th May Nottingham – Bodega

11th May London – Camden Assembly

12th May Bristol – Louisiana

13th May Cardiff – Clwb Ifor Bach

8th July Tynemouth Priory – Mouth Of The Tyne (supporting Tom Odell)

23rd July Sheffield – Tramlines Festival

19th August County Durham – Hardwick Live Festival

A song for today #43: Hackney Colliery Band

I’ve long been a fan of unusual covers. And the Hackney Colliery Band’s cover of Nirvana’s ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ certainly ticks that box.

It’s by no means a novelty cover. What it does is to transform Nirvana’s 1993 hit single into a dark jazz track. Though it loses the vocals, it maintains the spirit, mystery and angst of the original.

It’s taken from the Hackney Colliery Band’s forthcoming live album, entitled, umm, Live. This will also include cover versions of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggety’ and Toto’s ‘Africa.’ The album is released on May 12, and two weeks later, the band will headline London’s KOKO.


…and in case you thought this was a one-off, their version of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ is pretty special, too:




The return of Playing House

Last year, London’s Playing House released their debut EP, New Haircut, a three-track release of joy. It was utterly brilliant, and two of the tracks from that EP, ‘Grapefruit’ and ‘New Haircut’ made the annual Festive Fifty list here at the end of the year.

So, a year later and the trio present us with their second set, another three-track EP entitled Jocelyn. Yet again, it’s another thing of Joy (capital letter intended). It maintains the spirit of that glorious debut EP, and sees a slightly glossier feel, which in no way detracts from the sound. This is perhaps due to the increased use of keyboards, much more to the forefront than before.

‘Jelly Legs’ is the first track to do the rounds here, and it’s musically more-ish, typical of a band who deserve to be stars. They remain in thrall to the spirit of the eighties, but the end result is a fresh feel. They are awesome live, too – another return to Scotland soon would be much appreciated!


Album Review – Dead Can Dance (re-issues)

Dead Can Dance – ‘The Serpent’s Egg’/’Aion’/’Spiritchaser’ (4AD)

There’s no shortage of musical acts whose output changed over their lifetime. Talk Talk evolved from challengers to Duran Duran to minimalist post-rock, for example. And who would have predicted the trajectory of Everything But The Girl from being King and Queen of bedsit Bossanova to drum’n’bass and clubland acceptance? Yet perhaps the most astounding evolution belongs to Dead Can Dance. Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard were lumped in with the goth-industrial scene of the 1980s when they released their self-titled debut in 1984. This may have been to do with being signed to 4AD but that debut, whilst strong, was not typical of the sound that Dead Can Dance would become most noted for. The Australian pair would produce a series of albums that drew on traditional music that at times crossed continents and centuries. The results were always high in quality, bewitching and beautiful, and some of the unusual music ever to be filed under ‘Rock & Pop.’ 4AD were probably the most suitable label for them to be on – it’s hard to imagine label head honcho Ivo Watts-Russell grumbling about the lack of an obvious single.
Between 1984 and 1996, the band produced seven albums, which have been re-issued over the last year on vinyl. (They reunited in 2012 to produce an eighth album, Anastasis.) The final re-issues (not quite sequentially) are their fourth, fifth and seventh releases.
The Serpent’s Egg, (****) originally released in 1988, was the last album made while Perry and Gerrard were still a romantic couple. The press release describes this album as ‘minimal but grandiose’, which is actually pretty accurate, and makes perfect sense when you listen to the album. The album opens with the glorious ‘The Hosts Of Seraphim.’ The album blends medieval and eastern influences – but so coolly and brilliantly it doesn’t need dance beats to try and bring it up to date (which, paradoxically, usually leaves results sounding very dated very quickly). Other highlights from the album include ‘Severance’ and ‘Ullyses.’ Usually when people talk of music being timeless they mean it sounds like it was made in the 1960s. So much of this – in the best possible way – sounds like it could have been made 500 years ago (technology notwithstanding).
1990’s Aion (****) is a great example of how judging a record on its cover might actually be pretty accurate: it’s  a section from the Earth phase of Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch’s famed triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights. The album is a mixture of medieval and Renaissance styles. It’s a record that follows on logically from its predecessor. The highlight here might well be ‘Fortune Presents Gifts Not According To The Book’. ‘Black Sun’ is another strong track on the album – which sounds almost untypically modern, yet utterly belongs on the album. There’s Celtic hints at times, too – but unlike so much music that tries to incorporate Celtic music it avoids tweeness or bombast. As with much of DCD’s music, it goes a long way to making you rethink the much criticised ‘world music’ label.
Spiritchaser (****) appeared in 1996. Over the previous few years they had gained a bigger following in the US, with their sixth album, 1993’s Into The Labyrinth selling half a million worldwide. Gerrard had released her debut solo album, The Mirror Pool in 1995 (she would go on to do soundtrack work, winning a Golden Globe for her work on Gladiator).
As with Aion, the album had been recorded at Brendan Perry’s Quivvy Church studio in the Irish Republic (as opposed to Egg being made on London’s Isle Of Dogs) by the album’s title, the band had moved  from the sound of the preceding albums to work with African and Caribbean tribal rhythms. Yes there are drums and percussion on earlier albums (check out ‘Mother Tongue’ on Egg) but this is an album driven by rhythm. This wasn’t intended as the band’s final album – rather that a planned follow-up was abandoned. Though the distortion on album opener ‘Nierika’ is a seemingly intentional false start, it again brings home the point that once you thought you had defined DCD, they would then surprise you. ‘Indus’ sees them share a writing credit with George Harrison – the melody is strikingly similar to The Beatles’ ‘Within You Without You.’ As an album it’s perhaps the most modern sounding (in a good way) than they had been since their debut.
It’s a joy to hear these albums as they were intended – they show how creative and original an act DCD were, and why they were more than just another goth band.
nbb techno gremlins have attacked – check out dead can dance on youtube, spotify, deezer etc..

A song for today #42: Sista Strange


Sometimes, you just connect with something.

A couple of weeks ago I was sent the debut track by Sista Strange, entitled ‘Friday Evening.’ It’s wonderful to hear something fresh and original sounding.

Sista Strange are a duo from South London. They are two girls – Jesley and CJ – and are both respectively 17 and 18 years old. ‘Friday Evening’ was written by the pair and  produced by them in their living room.

Over the course of less than two and a half minutes, they manage to sum up their influences and lay out their plans like a manifesto. I hear electronica, soul, hip-hop and drum’n’bass, served up as a kick-ass tune.

In their own words:’Sista Strange started through a series of experimental tracks we played around with in 2016 and passed back and forth through voice notes and emails. These felt super alien compared to the music we had been making in bands we were in at the time, and so we decided to turn them into a project that allows us to build our sound by mixing, chopping and freely incorporating whatever the hell we feel sounds good at the moment; whether that be minimalist drum and bass, sampling random sounds around London or integrating world sounds.’

I’m looking forward to hearing more very soon. Stream and download for free below.


A song for today #41: Simian Ghost

It has been a bit quiet round the blog, hasn’t it? Anyway, still here and every so often, something reaches me that I want to write about.

Today, it’s a track from a Swedish act called Simian Ghost, who will shortly release their new, self-titled album. It’s been a beautiful day today here in Scotland, and somehow this gorgeous piece of dancefloor pop just hits the spot.

Simian Ghost started out as a recording project by Swedish songwriter Sebastian Arnström and after two well received solo releases became a fully-fledged band a few years back.

In Sebastian’s own words: ‘“Stop Moving is a straight up disco track. We have done some stuff like that before, and we really liked it, especially playing it live. We wrote it last summer, when the world was still somewhat comprehensible. Now, as it continues to spiral out of control, we’re happy to offer a brief moment of musical respite from the chaos. It’s a song about letting go of your insecurities and falling into the arms of a well meaning stranger. It’s about giving yourself to the waves, trusting that they will carry you to a good place. We all need that sometimes.”

Don’t we just.

Not only that, but an unofficial fan video has emerged of Donald and Melania Trump appearing to dance to the song. Make of this what you will…