Presenting…Jesus, baby!

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August is nearly upon us. In Edinburgh that means the Festival and the way bigger than the Festival insanity that is the Fringe. Which I spend most of the year looking forward to, and most of it getting fed up at the inability to move anywhere.

This last Sunday saw me with Mrs. 17 Seconds and baby 17 Seconds, and Father and Mother 17 Seconds wandering around town before things get stupid. Sitting in the Fruitmarket Gallery, I picked up a copy of The Leither magazine.

It is hailing a track called ‘Caterpillar Tango’ by Jesus, Baby! as the song of the year so far.

Read the article in question here. If you want names to drop, well, it’s sung by Davey Henderson (that’ as in (deep breath:) Fire Engines, Win, Nectarine No.9 and the Sexual Objects Davey Henderson), as well as Bill Ryder Jones (ex-The Coral) and others involved.

Stream the track below, it really is bloody awesome:

They had three launches for this – try Avalanche in Edinburgh as your first port of call for the 7″.

The Return of Bat For Lashes

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Natasha Khan, better known as Bat For Lashes, is shortly to release her third album, The Haunted Man on October 15.

Though not the first single from the album-which will apparently be premiered in late August -’Laura’ is the first track to be released to the world from the album. Stream it below…

…and watch the video here.

The tracklisting for the album is as follows:
“Lilies”
“All Your Gold”
“Horses of the Sun”
“Oh Yeah”
“Laura”
“Winter Fields”
“The Haunted Man”
“Marilyn”
“A Wall”
“Rest Your Head”
“Deep Sea Diver”

She will also be playing live on the following dates:

Sun 2 Sep Electric Picnic

Sun 9 Sep Bestival

Thu 18 Oct Inverness Ironworks

Fri 19 Oct Edinburgh Picture House

Sun 21 Oct Glasgow O2 ABC

Mon 22 Oct Manchester Cathedral

Thu 25 Oct Leeds Metropolitan University

Fri 26 Oct Norwich University of East Anglia

Sun 28 Oct Leicester O2 Academy

Mon 29 Oct London Forum

Thu 1 Nov Birmingham HMV Institute

Fri 2 Nov Bristol Anson Rooms

Sat 3 Nov Portsmouth Pyramids

Sun 4 Nov Brighton Dome Concert Hall

Album Review: Tom McShane

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Tom McShane -’The Ural Winter.’ (self-released)

Another singer-songwriter? Hell, no.

I first came across Tom McShane when he released a split single with another Northern Irish act, Escape Act, back in 2008. The song was called ‘Fighter.’ Whilst Escape Act put out a couple of singles through us here at 17 Seconds Records and have released two albums so far, Tom had much more of a battle.

In correspondence with me, he’s spoken about a battle with depression (something I can relate to all too well – by the way, he said he was happy for me to mention this in the review, so this is not me divulging personal and private stuff). He experienced an abortive attempt at making an album four years ago, that lead to him withdrawing from music. He went on a personal pilgrimage to the US and played some solo shows there, rekindling his love for music. In the end, this album was recorded live in one day, in front of an audience, in Belfast in 2010. As he notes on his bandcamp page ‘This wasn’t a live album per se as the audience where there to bring the special atmosphere that can only be generated by performing to a crowd. The tension was raised further by the banning of over-dubs and attempts for each song being restricted to one per session, of which there were two. ‘

And it’s brilliant. Songs like ‘Love Is Hard’ and the title are not just haunting songs, but the way they have been recorded and performed leaves you with a feeling of something very special and different. Produced by Tom with Rocky O’Reilly, the effect is that of a lo-fi Phil Spector. It’s an intimate wall of sound -and comparisons may very reasonably drawn with the likes of eagleowl and Low. And as songs like ‘One Man Band’ demonstrate, many many moments of loveliness lie within.

The birthing process leading to this album may have been hellish, but for us, the listener, this is something very special indeed.

****1/2

Album Review: Can

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Can -’The Lost Tapes’ (Mute)

Quite often, compilations of ‘lost’ music or demos can present an all too obvious and uncomfortable truth: that the music contained within is simply not good enough to have made it onto regular albums and is simply released for completists. It is, therefore, very much a relief to be able to say that these three CDs of material very much deserve to see the light of day, and have some utter gems contained within. They were recorded between 1968 and 1977 and were compiled by Can keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and Mute head honcho Daniel Miller.

It’s not that there aren’t a few tracks that the world might not have missed. ‘Evening All Day’ and ‘Buble Rap’ (yes, ‘Buble’) have some wonderfully atmospheric parts while at other times descend into self-indulgent tosh. ‘Blind Mirror Surf’ is particularly trying.

But there are so many wonderful songs on here. The opening ‘Millionspeil’ with its flutes and jazzy feel. Excellent live version of ‘Spoon’ and ‘Mushroom.’ The insanely named ‘Dead Pigeon Suite’ is beautiful for six and a half minutes and then suddenly gets even funkier than ‘I Want More’ and goes like a Germanic James Brown. Other highlights include ‘Oscura Primavera’ ‘Your Friendly Neighborhood’ and ‘Midnight Sky.’

Inevitably, it may not be the best place to start for those new to Can (may I suggest Future Days or Tago Mago?, but it is a fascinating document that definitely reveals so much of what this fantastic band produced.

****

The Lost Tapes is out now on Mute.

Album Review: The Cast Of Cheers

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The Cast Of Cheers -’Family.’ (School Boy Error)

Nope, nothing to do with Ted Danson, Kelsey Grammer and a bar where everybody knows your name, but instead, a rather fine quartet from Ireland.

Next predictable question: no, nothing like U2.

They sound young, fresh and have produced a rather good debut album. There is more than a hint of Bloc Party at their finest about this band, who have suggestions of Celtic melodies buried just below the surface in the sound. What they have ably demonstrated here is that they understand both the idea of the 3 minute pop song and a hook. This is not an album the re-writes the rulebook, but it doesn’t set out to.

But in an era when so much stuff pertaining to be indie is boring guitar rock by numbers, it’s a relief to hear something sounding vibrant and enjoyable.

A band to keep more than just an eye on…

Family is out now on School Boy Error

The continuing adventures of Thurston Moore

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Thurston Moore is 54 today. He is currently touring in support of his latest solo album, Demolished Thoughts, which is a very fine album indeed. And while many of us sit and wonder whether Sonic Youth will ever play together again, now that he and Kim Gordon have split up, he has formed a new band called Chelsea Light Moving. As well as our hero, the band consists of Keith Wood (guitar), Samara Lubelski (bass) and John Moloney (drums).

They have put out a new song today, which can be downloaded for free, entitled ‘Frank O’Hara Hit.’

Chelsea Light Moving -’Frank O’Hara Hit.’ mp3

There’s a couple more free songs that they have made available for free download via the Matablog:

Chelsea Light Morning -’Groovy and Linda.’ mp3

Chelsea Light Morning -’Burroughs.’ mp3 (Of course it’s about the late William S, what did you expect?!)

More info over at the Matablog

Album Review: Huw M

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Huw M -’Gathering Dusk’ (Gwymon Records)

There’s no shortage of singer-songwriters in pretty much any part of the UK. And for all I know, there are people in Senegal, Argentina and Papua new Guinea bemoaning that there are so many people doing the same thing.

But there is something really rather pleasant about Gathering Dusk, Huw’s second album (I haven’t heard his first Os Mewn S_n – but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt). Featuring rather nice instrumentation and carefully arranged songs sung in both English and Welsh, it’s gentle without being bland, soothing without being soporific.

I can’t speak Welsh any more than I can speal Arabic or Swahili, but the songs in Welsh sound lovely, whatever it is he is conveying.And there’s something affecting about the simplicity of songs like ‘The Perfect Silence’ which brings to mind fellow Welsh songsmiths like Euros Childs and Gruff Rhys.

This album may not break new ground or challenge anything, but it is certainly a very pleasant soundtrack to thirty-five minutes, like hot chocolate for the soul. Worth a listen.

***1/2

Gathering Dusk is released on Gwymon Records on July 30.

Interview: Artmagic

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There’s all sorts of things that bring bands together. Music is, presumably, a common one, probably the most likely of the lot. A love of drinking and illicit substances has brought bands together-and more often than not, torn them apart. The desire to be thought attractive for commitmentless sex. And quite possibly a combination of two or all three.

In the case of Artmagic, though, it was actually down to Dr. Who. ‘We met because one of my best mates is a massive Dr. Who fan,’ explains Sean McGhee, singer with Artmagic. It turned out he knew Richard’s brother, once we got togther…’ something clicked.

Richard, by the way is none other than Richard Oakes. Way, way back, in 1994, shortly before the release of Suede’s second album, Dog Man Star, guitarist Bernard Butler left the band. His replacement was none other than a young man named Richard Oakes, barely eighteen. As an eighteen-year old bedroom guitarist -one of many in my school and across, well the world- we were green with envy that this talented young man, the same age as us, had got to join Suede. They had, after all, just released what many still hold to be one of the best albums of that decade.

Over the course of the next nine years, Richard helped co-write numerous Suede songs across their next three albums, Coming Up, Head Music and A New Morning. Coming Up was Suede’s biggest selling album, reaching no.1 in the UK and spawning no less than five top ten singles. Head Music also reached no.1, but by the time of A New Morning, the sales were no longer as high as they had once been.

Then, at the end of 2003, Brett Anderson split the band up, announcing that he needed to do whatever it took to get his demon back. This, it transpired, meant getting together with none other than Bernard Butler to work as The Tears, though Suede reformed in 2010.

‘By the time Suede finished, I was pretty glad not to have to deal with about 90% of it [music business crap],’ says Richard. ‘I moved house -which took forever -and by this time thought Sean would have dropped off the map! We had one meeting -and we wrote two songs together. It was quite obvious, even on the first day we were writing we were onto something.’

When I speak to them, the album Become The One You Love has been finished. It was a relatively slow process, despite the chemistry between them. ‘It was only at the beginning of 2010 that we were able to sit down together,’ remembers Sean, though they first met in 2008. ‘At this point, it wasn’t a band it was ‘let write some songs.’ Sean had worked with a number of different artists, including Robyn, Imogen Heap, Alanis Morissette and Britney Spears.

But working together, it became clear that these were songs they needed to do themselves. ‘The songs are very personal,’ Richard says. ‘ When we’d written a handful of songs, it was clear we had to sing them ourselves.’

‘It was always going to be: let’s explore these themes -but accessible!’ chips in Sean.

Become The One You Love is, it should be noted, very different from any of Suede’s albums. the same can be said for the rather fine, four-track EP I Keep On Walking that they released last year. McGhee’s voice bears no relation to Brett Anderson’s, and it’s a different listening experience. This applies to both the songs and the music – in his initial email to me back in January, Oakes wrote: ‘We’ve been describing the album as spectral, often melancholy, adult pop. It’s a collision of influences – Talk Talk, Magazine, Caravan, Field Music, Gary Numan, Scritti Politti – but we’re looking forward, not backwards.’ And this also applies to how the album was made.

Describing the album as ‘very home made,’ Richard tells me that ‘it was all done at home, in a small back room in North London! That’s the way things are done now. The songwriting has evolved [just as] the industry has.’

‘Every record I’ve done has been done this way,’ Sean notes. ‘ The old thing of the big studio and the record company is kind of gone now.’ Of course, some things do have to follow a more traditional approach, such as for gigs. Live they expand to a five piece, and they tell me that they are looking to play live ‘whenever it’s appropriate!’

They’re also surprisingly modest about their expectations for the record. Sean tells me: ‘We are aware that very few people of fifteen, sixteen could be into this record…we’re not imagining an audience.’

But with a new Suede album on the horizon, what does the future hold for Artmagic? It’s clear that the pair of them do not wish this to be simply a one off. Sean revelas that there will be another album and that the two of themhave ‘talked about ideas’ they have had for it, and Richard has been writing as well. But it’s different than being in Suede.

‘With Artmagic,’ Richard tells me, ‘there’s no rules.’ But what they have managed to do is to -quietly -ably prove themselves in their own right.

Become The One You Love is out now

Album Review: Piano Magic

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Piano Magic -’Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet’ (Second Language Music)

In an ideal world (hah!), I would be spending the first part of this review writing authoritatively about the Genesis thus far of Piano Magic. The reality is that whilst I have been aware of them for a number of years, this is the first time I’ve listened to an entire album of theirs. So I have no idea how this -their eleventh album-compares to thir fourth, how the changing lineup has affected the band’s soundchange, nor can I brag about rare stuff of theirs I own on vinyl.

Still with me? Piano Magic have produced an album that is quite an English sort of sadness (in contrast to the Scottish melancholia of Meursault, eagleowl, Mogwai and others that I have written about here before). It’s fitting that they have collaborated with members of Dead Can Dance -their music is perhaps the point where the slowcore of Low meets the instrumentation of Dead Can Dance (speaking of which, the first album from DCD has arrived at 17 Seconds HQ, it’s awesome, and I will be featuring here soon. But more of that anon).

There’s a wry sort of humour to the title track -not a wallowing in misery-woe-is-me – but someone who has realised that there is no need to commit suicide. It’s delivered with a knowing wink. It’s a reflective album, but it’s certainly not an emotional drain (-think more Cocteau Twins or The Cure, rather than say Joy Division or Nico).

And it’s a real pleaure to listen to -I’ve played it several times this week already, and am already wondering which friends I really should be pointing in the direction of it. Not bad for a band I was only vaguely aware of until a few days ago.

****

Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet is out now on Second Language Music.

The continuing rise of Letters

lettersI have featured the rather fine Edinburgh noiseniks Letters on this blog before, both last year and earlier this year.

It’s privilege to be able to feature them again. Two important things you need to know:

Firstly, they released the awesome (****) Older Motion Pictures EP a couple of months ago, the follow-up to the brilliant ‘The Halfway House’ single. You can get it from all good digital distributors. Although some were ready to cry ‘foul!’ last year when people got very excited about Letters before they had even released a record or played much by way of gigs (I saw one of their earliest, supporting The Last Battle), tracks like ‘Torrent’ and ‘Older Motion Pictures’ show a band who are continuing to grow, to the point that they are firing on all cylinders.

Stream it below, and then go and buy it.

Not only that, but on August 14 they will play a late night slot at The Space in Edinburgh, as part of The Fringe. This will take place form Midnight. Nightowls and music lovers, get yourselves along.