Album review – Esben and the Witch

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Esben and the Witch -’Violet Cries.’ (Matador)

The first word that springs to mind when describing this album is ‘goth.’ Not in a pejorative sense (this is, after all, a blog names after the second Cure album), but in terms of the way that this music’s textures evoke dark and sensual sounds. Think of the first two Cocteau Twins albums, prime Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cranes (minus that godawful wailing)…it makes perfect sense that they’re signed to Matador, part of the family of long-established indie labels, also including 4AD and Beggars Banquet, who helped birth this sound nearly thirty years ago. Not in a revivalist sense – but rather, as a continuation.

Another word that would spring to mind when describing this album is ‘intense.’ Artistically impressive -most definitely! – but this album has taken quite a few listens to get to grips with. It may even be one of a canon of albums that would also include Nico’s Desertshore, Lou Reed’s Berlin and The Cure’s Pornography, albums that are artistically brilliant, but that you have to be in a strong state of mind to cope with. To the extent that I have wondered whether this may be an album to be appreciated and admired, rather than loved.

It certainly makes sense that ‘Marching Song’ and ‘Warpath’ have been the singles taken from this album so far, they are the tracks that are most accessible on the album, whilst retaining the spirit of Violet Cries. Album closer ‘Swans’ gives a sense of finding…if not peace, then at least, some respite.

In some way this could be the soundtrack to a particularly intense nightmare, such are the images that the music conjures up.Uneasy listening, then…and yet, startlingly, epicly, beautifully so.

Violet Cries is released by Matador on January 31.

The Vaccines vs. Brother

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So…

Look, I know it’s easy to take pot shots at the NME, but sometimes it’s just too goddamn easy. And annoying when you’re getting in touch with them about featuring bands and the first thing that comes back is info about advertising with them. the message is very clear: Advertise in us, and then we will (may) think about featuring your band.

Sometimes their tips are great, and I feel frustrated that they felt they got poorer sales when they stuck the likes of Destiny’s Child, Aphex Twin, Godspeed on the cover than some dire indie by numbers band.

There are some bands who aren’t amazingly brilliant, but I think, yeah, they have…at least, something. One of their tips for 2011 is the Vaccines. Now, I’ve heard this done many times before, but I think their singles are ok. Not ‘Omigodwhatwasthat.’ But ‘Aye, no bad.’ Post break-up Sex’ reminds me of a Ramones song…

On the other hand, tipping the likes of Brother…dear GOD! Arrogance was what killed Oasis. Remember guys, you have to be able to walk it like you talk it.

And yes, I know the cover was three weeks ago, but after consideration over the last few weeks, my attitude is that I would like to hear the Vaccines album. As for Brother…they dream of headlining Glastonbury. Give me Jay-Z any day.

In honour of Rabbie Burns

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I have made some odd decisions in life -but something I am very glad I did was to move to Scotland, ten years ago this August.

Robert Burns was Scotland’s national poet, and very much a hero still. he’s probably best known for writing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ but he also wrote many other fine numbers, including ‘My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose’ ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’ and the epic ‘Tam O’Shanter.’

So as today is January 25 -Burns Night in Scotland and in Scottish communities across the world – I give you four of Burns’ best known songs, done by Scots artists.

Delgados -’A Parcel Of Rogues.’ mp3

ballboy -’A Man’s A Man For A’ That.’ mp3

Camera Obscura -’I Love My Jean.’ mp3

Camera Obscura -’A Red, Red Rose.’ mp3

One thing i would love to post here -but have no knowledge of any footage in audio or video form is of Belle and Sebastian performing in Sweden singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. In Swedish. As you do…

Album review – Rodeo Massacre

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Rodeo Massacre -’If You Can’t Smoke ‘Em, Sell ‘Em.’ (Smoky Carrot)

There are some really good moments on this, the debut album from Swedish-French band Rodeo Massacre. Album opener ‘Desert man’ has a gorgeous trumpet part, reminiscent of of Calexico. With the gorgeous guitar hints of surf (think Dick Dale, rather than the Beach Boys), it’s worth hearing this album for alone.

Rodeo Massacre have a gutsy frontwoman in Izzy, the Swedish lass who met up with the guys in Paris before the decamped to the UK. There isn’t much particularly original on offer here, but what is evident is the sound of a taleneted bunch of folks who are clearly having a lot of fun. There’s a lot of love of rootsy American music on display here – be it country, blues, R&B, rock ‘n’roll, and the band are having a lot of fun playing around with this. Sometimes it doesn’t work (the flutes on both ‘Zombies Of Life’ and ‘I’m Eighteen’ are unnecessary), but often it does.

Much of what is on display here suggests that Rodeo Massacre have the potential to develop themselves a lot further. It’s a competent debut -and I hope to see them find their own place on subsequent releases.

***

If You Can’t Smoke ‘Em, Sell ‘Em is out on Smoky Carrot on January 31.

Album review – Shona Foster

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Shona Foster -’The Moon & You’ (Republic of Music/Universal)

Looking at my notes for reviewing this album, I see that the first thing I have written down is, simply ‘gorgeous!’

It is. There’s something quite special about this album. Towards the end of last year, I reached the point where the phrase ‘singer-songwriter’ was becoming severely troubling. So all credit to Shona Foster. The Scots-born, Yorkshire-based singer is genuinely unique, and this is an exciting album. It would be impressive by anyone’s standards -but all the more so, considering it is a debut album. And it draws you in, right from album opener ‘No.34.’

There’s a creativity at work here, in conjunction with a gorgeous voice, that manages to remember the importance of the song. Shona Foster understands decent music and thinks outside the (musical) box. The reference points here are not yet more anodyne singers a la Dido, but the likes of PJ Harvey, Joanna Newsom and Bjork, and even the mighty Kate Bush. It’s as much cabaret and torch singer as it is pop and rock; in fact, probably more so. There’s a touch of Feist, too (‘Bad Intentions’ is reminiscent of ‘My Moon My Man’ – in a good way.)

It’s haunting, without being histrionic. Passionate and not pathetic. It’s immaterial whether or not you think this record belongs in 2011; because it’s strong enough and deserving enough to exist in any time.

****1/2

The Moon & You is released on Republic of Music/Universal on February 7.

Presenting…Breakfast With Wolves

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(photo credit: Nic Stevenson)

Breakfast With Wolves are three young men (well, they look younger than me, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt!) who have just released their debut single ‘Hello My name Is Not Important.’ They hail from Shoreditch in East London…come back! They’re not a bunch of trendies but instead making a name for themselves by going against the grain of the cooler-than-thou set in East London.

Sure, they’ve a lot of indie and post-punk influence but also I hear the same urban paranoia and dread that I hear in Burial and Massive Attack. There’s an awkwardness here – a wariness -and that’s what sets them apart from their peers.

The single is made up of two tracks ’88mph’ (not sure if this referencing the speed of the Delorean in Back to the Future or not) and ‘Adam West For President.’

88 mph by Breakfast with Wolves

Adam West for President by Breakfast with Wolves

Rough Trade are stocking the single; you can also buy it off iTunes. Go without your takeaway coffee tomorrow morning.

For more Breakfast With Wolves tracks, check here

Sam Cooke remembered

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The legendary Sam Cooke, who was shot dead in 1964, would have been eighty today.

Pretty much the pioneer of soul music, trying to list who he influenced would take up several blogs, but is pretty far reaching. The entirety of soul, but also into the R&B that the Beatles and the Stones loved, copied and then sold back to America, Hip-Hop…even Rod Stewart revealed that he spent his teens trying to copy Cooke’s vocal stylings*. Though chart positions indicate he was more popular in the US than in the UK, he made an impact that lives on. Rolling Stone magazine considered him to be judged him the fourth greatest singer of all time in 2008, and no.16 on their 100 greatest artists of all time.

He was shot dead in December 1964; at the time it was ruled as ‘justifiable homicide’ though conspiracy theories have run ever since. Etta James said in her autobiography -having seen the body in the funeral home – that he had been so badly beaten that his head was nearly separated from his shoulders, his hands were broken and crushed, and his nose mangled.

I’m not an authority on his life or his work, but these are two songs everyone ought to here. I’m not posting mp3s -go and buy the records/CDs/mp3s!

Sam Cooke ‘A Change Is Gonna Come.’

(if you don’t have a tear in your eye after that, I worry for your soul)

Sam Cooke

*17 Seconds would like to make very clear that it is in no way holding Sam Cooke responsible for ‘Do ya Think I’m Sexy’ or ‘Sailin’ which were visited on the record buying public.

…and more music from my inbox

Often there’s so much music coming into my inbox that I really struggle to write about it all, even when it’s stuff i want to cover.

So I’m going to kill three cliches, sorry, birds with one stone and write about three things I’m enjoying right now.

First up, Anna Calvi’s self-titled debut album has been getting folks in a lather. While I haven’t heard it yet, on the basis of this very fibe track, I’m pretty anxious to. And nick cave and Jarvis Cocler are fans…what more could you possibly need?

Anna Calvi -’Suzanne and I.’ mp3

Charles Bradley may be sixty-two, but he’s just about to release his debut album, entitled No Time For Dreaming. This is the first track from it, entitled ‘the World(Is Going Up In Flames)’ and it’s awesome. A classic bit of soul.

Charles Bradley -’The World (Is Going Up In Flames).’ mp3

I’m pretty excited about Mogwai’s new album Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, and I posted ‘Rano Pano’ from it before Christmas. Another track, entitled ‘San Pedro’ has been posted to download, from the album which is out on February 14 (15 in the US):

Mogwai -’San Pedro.’ mp3

The video for Rano Pano can be seen here

Finally, PJ Harvey’s ‘The Word That Maketh Murder’ single is out now to download, from the forthcoming Let England Shake