Album Review: Sonic Youth

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Sonic Youth -’The Eternal.’ (Matador)

And so it comes to pass that in 2009, two of the most important bands of the last thirty years, The Fall and Sonic Youth are signed to independent labels. Both of them have been there before, of course, but given that it was Sonic Youth signing to Geffen which led to Nirvana signing to them…it’s arguable that had this not happened, guitar music over the last twenty years could have turned out very differently. With the majors panicing big time (hint: focus on your artists and not your shareholders), we see The Fall signed to Domino and Sonic Youth signed to Matador. How will this shape the next decade or more?

Record company issues aside, every release from Sonic Youth feels like An Event. This is their first studio release since 2006′s Rather Ripped, although being Sonic Youth there have been other projects in the meantime, including Thurston Moore’s Trees Outside The Academy, Kim Gordon’s side project Free Kitten’s Inherit, and of course the ongoing SYR releases, including the weird and wonderful J’accuse Ted Hughes. Sonic Youth, rather like the aforementioned Fall, have managed to straddle the difficult gap between underground credibility and mainstream acceptance, difficult at any time, but even more impressive over the course of nearly thirty years. It’s quite fitting that previous members include Jim O’Rourke, collaborators have included Lydia Lunch, Chuck D and Merzbow and that the fifth member for this record is former Pavement bassist Mark Ibold. All of which is topped off by the fact that the cover art was done by none other than John Fahey.

The approach for this album has been that instead of writing and rehearsing a cycle of songs in one time period, instead they have composed two or three tracks one weekend and recorded them the next. So this impressive abum has come together over the course of a month.

Opening track ‘Sacred Trickster’ which has been doing the rounds for a month or so now as a free mp3, is a good example of the album in a nutshell. Combining hardcore influences with a proper, y’know, song, in the course of a little over two minutes it maps out the course of the rest of the album rather like a manifesto. There are the usual allusions to pop culture and the counter-culture: ‘Anti-Orgasn’ is inspired by the story of berlin’s 1960s model/activist Uschi Obermaier and the gang at Kommune 1, for example.

Sonic Youth came out of New York’s early eighties No Wave scene, and over the course of their career, some albums have been more accessible than others. the first album of theirs I heard was 1990′s Goo, which featured trademark guitar motifs but is fairly accessible. Other works like Goodbye 20th Century threw people. To these ears, the Eternal is prime Sonic Youth, in that it features experimentation but is accessible. After several listens I find myself comparing it favourably with albums like Sister and the seminal Daydream Nation.

Like I said earlier, every release from Sonic Youth feels like an event – not because they are a band trading on past glories and people are wondering if they have finally produced a really decent album for the first time in decades, but, rather, because they’re that exciting, that creative, that damn good, that we have to hear and investigate it. Will it win over people who have previously been detractors? No, because Sonic Youth are not that kind of band. But it will appeal to long-term fans, and hopefully, prick the ears of those who have not heard them before.

****1/2

Sonic Youth -’Sacred Trickster.’ mp3

The Eternal will be released on matador on June 8 in the UK and June 9 in the US.

Sonic Youth website
/Sonic Youth myspace

Presenting…Forest Fire

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It’s possible that some of my US/Canada readers will have heard of Forest Fire before today, but as they have yet to be released in the UK, I have only just had them appear on my radar.

Forest Fire hail from Brooklyn, and it’s clear that the hope is that across the blogs they will prove this year’s answer to Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes. On the basis of their album, I’d say that would be a realistic, worthy and achievable aim. To me they sound like the Velvet Underground might do if they’d been obsessed with Americana -and come along forty years later, obviously. Lofi folk with nods to a punk spirit and attitude.

Their debut album Survival was released last June in the US and will be released in July in the UK. It will be preceeded by a 7″ limited to 250 copies (which is pretty limited when you think about it). The album came together over eight months in Oregon and Brooklyn. At ten tracks and twenty eight minutes long, there’s experimentation but no room for self-indulgence.

Here’s hoping 2009 is their year.

Forest Fire -’Slow Motion.’ mp3 (from Survival)

Forest Fire -’She’s Building Something Out Of Me.’ mp3 (On the link I was sent this was described as being a non-album track, though it is on the US version of the album).

Forest Fire myspace

Note: Survival is released in the UK in July. It is not available on iTunes UK, though it is on eMusic.

Is this the most sublime track of the year?

mono-2009

I’m not quite sure when I first heard Mono, though I think it may have been through a blog somewhere, but I’m glad I did. The Japanese post-rockers recently released their seventh album (at least, I make it their seventh), Hymn To The Immortal Wind, and it may be the best thing they have ever done.

It’s almost a bit too obvious to compare them to Mogwai, but there’s a similarity in that at times they seem to be producing almost classical territory, and at other times more in common with Sunno ))) or compatriots Boris. The album is recorded by Steve Albini (the man never uses the word p*o*u**d -c’mon!) who captures the magic in the same way that he did for the Wedding Present, PJ Harvey, Low, The Breeders…

This is the closing track on their excellent album – like John Peel said of The Fall -’Always different, always the same’ and it’s one of the greatest tracks I’ve heard this year.

Mono – ‘Everlasting Light.’ mp3

Let me know what you think!

Mono’s website/Mono’s myspace

(More mp3s on the website!)

Presenting… Peter Parker

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I love it when this happens. Seriously.

Three years into blogging, I get quite a few letters/emails/whatever from bands wanting a listen. And I do try and get through it all, and I’m touched when people want me to feature their band. Every so often I pick something I’m even more pleased when people actually leave feedback to say they like it. It happened a few weeks ago when I wrote about the Gothenburg Address.

And now I’m hoping the same will happen with Peter Parker.

The four-piece Glasgow band are set to release their debut single ‘Swallow the Rockets’ on July 6. And I’ve been sent a CD-R but this is a track so good, I’m going to place an advance order. Fronted by Roz Davies (vocals, guitar, keys) and Jane McKeown (vocals, bass), the sister of JOhn from the 1990s, the band are complimented by Tori on drums and Jeremy on vocals and sax. They deliver a great line in glam-stompers that recalls the aforementioned 1990s, the late-lamented The Royal We and I sense a bit of common fround with Isa and the Filthy Tongues. Swallow the Rockets is addictive, and I don’t want to be cured. These guys deserve to do well. Watch them clean up over the next few months.

‘Swallow the Rockets’ will be released on Lucky Number Nine Records/Say Dirty records on July 6.

Peter Parker -’Swallow The Rockets.’

Peter Parker’s myspace – pop over and make friends with them.

Does there have to be a reason?

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So…best single by The Jam, commonly reckoned to be one of the greatest singles bands ever, and quite rightly so?

‘Going Underground?’

That would get many people’s votes – but not mine. Close, but no cigar.

‘Funeral Pyre?’

I love it, and it was nice to see it on Ashes To Ashes last week – but no.

‘News Of the World?’

Now you’re being silly, aren’t you?

No -as the clue at the top may have given it away, it’s got to be ‘Strange Town’ – ‘In the City part 2′ it may be lyrically, but this beats all the others hands down.

The Jam – ‘Strange Town.’ mp3

Oh and best non-single Jam song? I’d go for ‘Ghosts.’

No, not the Japan song, but can be found on The Gift

Riffling through my 7″s #3

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I’m not quite sure what the story behind this was. But it came to pass that – in that most indie of old-style indie traditions, Franz Ferdinand and the Fire Engines released a split 7″. Each of them covering one of the other’s songs. So Franz did ‘Get Up And Use Me’ and the Engines did ‘Jacqueline.’ The Engines did briefly reform, playing a gig in Edinburgh which I was at, just somewhat the worse for wear, having already got there for Aberfeldy and Sons & Daughters. Ah well…

Franz Ferdinand -’Get Up And Use Me.’ mp3

Fire Engines -’Jacqueline.’ mp3

And if anyone knows any more about his this 7″ came to be, please let me know.

Album Review: The B Of The Bang

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The B Of the Bang – ‘Beginning.Middle.End’ (Jelly Maid Music)

Back in January, I was pretty impressed by the debut single from the B Of the Bang ‘Alfred, Light the Fires.’ I was inspired to write ‘Imagine Broken Records invading the sul of neil hannon out of the Divine Comedy and driving the Duke Special out…rather special.’

Well, the band have more than delivered on the promise of that single. It’s astonishing to believe that this is only their debut album (and I’ve just checked the press release to confirm that), because like the forthcoming Broken Records album, this is an astonishingly accomplished record. Debut or not, it is a pretty staggering record that becomes addictive astonishingly quickly.

So many bands claim, almost always wrongly, that ‘Our music is pretty hard to categorise’ on the grounds that it’s preferable to saying ‘We sound like a third-rate Coldplay.’ The B Of the Bang are actually impressively hard to pigeonhole -yet even more impressively, it works together very well. Gorgeous moments that might be folk (or should that be anti-folk?), eastern European influences here and there and epic moments MINUS the bombast.

Look, I’m going to lay my cards on the table here. This is one of the best albums you will hear this year. Please go and buy it when it’s released. If you buy it and don’t agree…well, let’s just say subjective opinions can sometimes be overrated.

****1/2

Beginning.Middle.End. is released on Jelly Maid Music on June 8.

The B Of The Bang website/myspace

The B Of the Bang – ‘Lung.’

The return of Ash

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Whilst I’ve habitually bought most of their albums since they came out, since, well, their debut LP proper, 1996′s 1977, and loved most of them, Ash have always been an excellent example of a singles band. Back in 2007, I was slightly panicked when it seemed that Ash were about to call it a day. It transpired, in my muddled state, that what the band were in fact doing was stopping doing conventional albums.

From September onwards, in a new approach to record releases, Ash will set out to deliver the ultimate singles collection – a year long series of fortnightly single releases, with limited edition collectors vinyl.

For the past year they have been in their New York HQ, Atomic Heart Studios, writing and recording a series of songs that will form the “A-Z series”. From September, every fortnight for the next twelve months, Ash will release a single on limited 7” vinyl and digital download. Starting with ‘A’ and running through the alphabet, all 26 songs will be released on Ash’s own Atomic Heart Records and will be available through shops and by subscription through the band’s website www.ash-official.com. To start this off, they have made availbale as a free download from their website their new single ‘Return Of White Rabbit’ which will be available in a very limited edition 7″ on June 8.

So, will this beat the records previously held by Elvis Presley and the Wedding Present for most hits in a year? Will these be viewed as a marketing gimmick or the next logical step for the iTunes generation? Well, I still love Ash, and I’m rather fond of this track with its’ electro feel. Bring it on…

Ash -’Return Of White Rabbit.’ mp3

Ash’s website/Ash’s myspace

Back in Business!

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Yup, 17 Seconds blog is back in business, so to speak. The bandwith, which gets refreshed every month had been used up earlier than normal. So glad people are reading this, if you’d like to leave comments that’s nice too, and could the people who keep spamming me please go away!

Apologies if you’ve been trying to read this and wondering what on earth was going on.

Hope you enjoy this, it’s one of my favourite songs of the year…

St. Vincent -’Actor Out Of Work.’ mp3