Album Review – Belle and Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian 2014

One of my most anticipated albums of 2015 is the latest album from Belle and Sebastian Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance. The album has now arrived, and it is the best album I have heard so far this year, out of about fifteen or sixteen.

You can read my review over at Is This Music?, a Scottish online music magazine I have contributed to for many years.

‘Nobody’s Empire’ may be the best track they have done in a decade…

Getting ready for 2015 part 5: Belle & Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian 2014

One of the releases I’m most excited about in early 2015 is Belle & Sebastian’s ninth album Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance. It’s out on January 19, and there are two excellent videos doing the rounds for the songs ‘Nobody’s Empire’ and ‘The Party Line.’ The songs can be bought on iTunes as well.

For more on tracklisting and tour dates, see here

The long-awaited return of Belle and Sebastian

It feels like it’s been a very long time coming.

But January 19 2015 will see the release of the ninth Belle and Sebastian studio album Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance on Matador. The first track to do the rounds is ‘The Party Line’ which you can stream at the top of the page. It nods to recent remixes and collaborations. I wasn’t sure about it on the first play and yet by the third I really was hooked. Turn it up. The track can be streamed and downloaded at all the usual sites.

The tracklisting is as follows:

1. Nobody’s Empire
2. Allie
3. The Party Line
4. The Power Of Three
5. The Cat With The Cream
6. Enter Sylvia Plath
7. The Everlasting Muse
8. Perfect Couples
9. Ever Had A Little Faith?
10. Play For Today
11. The Book Of You
12. Today (This Army’s For Peace)

The tour dates in May in England, Wales and and Scotland are as follows:

May 3 St. David’s, Cardiff, Wales
May 4 Colston Hall, Bristol, England
May 5 Guildhall, Portsmouth, England
May 7 Corn Exchange, Cambridge, England
May 8 Open, Norwich, England
May 10 Symphony Hall, Birmingham, England
May 11 Westminster Central Hall, London
May 14 Albert Hall, Manchester, England
May 16 City Hall, Newcastle, England
May 18 Opera House, Buxton, England
May 19 City Hall, Leeds, England
May 22 Hydro Arena, Glasgow (with the Scottish Festival Orchestra)
May 24 Sound City, Liverpool, England

Record Store Day 2012

rsd+date_wide+vinyl_2012

Tomorrow (Saturday April 21) marks the now annual Record Store Day. In a lot of ways, I think it’s fantastic -I like the fact that bands are putting things out onto vinyl, that vinyl is still being made and bought by people this far into the twenty-first century, and that while some of the big stores have gone, that there are still independents hanging in there, and in quite a few cases, flourishing.

But like a lot of things, I could make a few grumbles:

Firstly, that the real success is whether people are inspired to go and buy records, CDs or whatever in record shops on the 364 days of the year that aren’t Record Store Day. It’s going to be up to stores to encourage people to want to come back, but also up to customers who like the idea of actual, y’know, physical shops (as opposed to online retailers) to go and buy them.

Secondly, whilst it’s wonderful that stuff is being produced physically, if it’s made too expensive it will put people off (though to be honest, if someone wants to pay £150 for a vinyl boxset of Disturbed albums that’s their call). I was excited by the thought of The re-issued Cure albums, but at £25 a go for the first five albums on vinyl (which I already own)…sorry, but the mortgage needs paying, there’s food to be bought and us poor public sector workers aren’t all on massive incomes. Also if it gets flogged on ebay by greedy sods who are trying to make a fast buck – you are no better than ticket touts.

Thirdly, the music business has been its’ own worst enemy for years. The pricing of CDs when they first appeared in the 1980s was ludicrous: they were more than vinyl or cassettes, and at one point double. Ironically it is far more likely that a new release CD in 2012 will cost you less than it did it 1987. The thing was that it lead to people buying abroad if they could get it cheaper, and then online, with the result that the shops were priced out. Certainly, online retailers had their advantages -but the tax loopholes were closed in a classic horse gate bolted kind of move.

These moans aren’t new, and they will be doubtless be made elsewhere. The thing is: I still love record shops. It may be a romantic idea -and one that my thirteen month old soon may grow up to sneer at, but there’s far much more soul (hopefully literally!) in a bricks and mortar record shop than an online one. I tend to go into my local independent record store, Avalanche in Edinburgh, at least twice a week. It has to be said that seeing -and still seeing -releases that I have put out
in the window there gives me far more of a thrill than seeing them on iTunes ever could.

Independent Record stores -like good independent book shops-should have staff who know what they are on about. Sorry, but the ‘other customers who bought this also bought’ feature is not the same as a personal recommendation. Not when your taste stretch from Schubert to Slayer like mine do.

But bring it on. Great that five years down the line there are still record stores with open doors to celebrate, even if for some artists and their big record companies it will be another marketing ploy, without any of the artists needing to die (and invoke the scenario set out in The Smiths’ ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’). Stuff needs to be happening right the way through the year. People making the effort to go to the shops (I realise easier in a big town or city than a small market town, where the chances are that since Woolworths went bust you can only buy what’s on offer in the supermarket). Record shops staff not being arsey, though the customer may not always be right.

Use them or lose them. My eye is on those Leonard Cohen and PiL 12″s, and the Arctic Monkeys and Belle & Sebastian 7″s…

From some of the special releases available for tomorrow:

PiL ‘Lollipop Opera’ taken from the ‘One Drop EP’:

Arctic Monkeys ‘R U Mine?’

Belle and Sebastian ‘Crash’ (Primitives cover)

Love Your Libraries Day

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Today is Love Your Libraries Day or National Libraries Day in the UK.

I feel pretty strongly about this for several reasons: I would maintain that reading is perhaps the most fun you can have by yourself, music helped open me up to reading even more, and I work for Library Services.

Amongst two events I’ve been responsible for helping organise today are events just outside Edinburgh: the appearance of Comedians Frankie Boyle and Miles Jupp at Dalkeith Library (which lead to this rather cool article in the local paper) and two 17 Seconds Records bands playing at Penicuik Library – The Last Battle and Matt Norris and the Moon.

So today is a music and book-related special here on 17 Seconds.

My favourite band, The Cure not only gave their name to this blog and the label (the title of their 1980 album is Seventeen Seconds, do keep up), but they also took inspiration from literature. Their debut 1978 single, ‘Killing An Arab’ is not a racist rant, but is instead inspired by Albert Camus’ existentialist classic The Outsider (L’etranger in the original French, for those of you who like your despair to be even cooler). Not surprisingly, they did have problems with the title and idiots who misinterpreted it – interestingly on their most recent live album the title has now been changed to ‘Killing Another.’ Sadly, possibly rather wise…

The Cure -‘Killing An Arab.’ mp3

The deliciously haunting children’s book ‘Charlotte Sometimes’ by Penelope Farmer gave the inspiration -and indeed most of the words for the Cure’s 1981 single ‘Charlotte Sometimes.’ A fine book and single – the hair on my arms is literally standing on end just thinking about it, the single was a minor hit, but a firm favourite amongst Cure fans, and also inspired two other Cure songs ‘Splintered In Her Head’ (b-side to ‘Charlotte’) and according to Wiki, ‘the Empty World’ from 1984’s The Top album.

The Cure -‘Charlotte Sometimes.’ mp3

It wasn’t just Camus who was essential reading of choice for the raincoat brigade. Both The Fall and Josef K took their names from Franz Kafka’s books: in the case of The Fall, this is one of his novels, and Josef K. is the main protagonist in The Trial.

The Fall -‘Spoilt Victorian Child.’ mp3

Josef K -‘Endless Soul.’ mp3

Joy Division’s lead singer Ian Curtis was an avid reader and film-watcher, the opening track on the bands’ sophomore (and sadly, final) album Closer takes its’ name from J.G. Ballard’s book Atrocity Exhibition (though according to Wiki, he only read the book after writing most of the lyrics).

Joy Division -‘Atrocity Exhibition.’ mp3

This could, of course, go on and on as a list: William S. Burroughs got an entire post of his own on this blog several years ago: Soft Machine took their name from one of his novels while Steely Dan got their name from Steely Dan III from Yokohama -a strap-on dildo referenced in The Naked Lunch.

Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ takes its name from the Emily Bronte novel, whilst ‘Infant Kiss’ is (ultimately) influenced by The Turn Of The Screw and ‘Cloudbusting’ as inspired by Peter Reich’s autobiography Book of Dreams, about his relationship with his father, Wilhelm Reich.

So, let’s sign off here – with these two tracks:

Belle & Sebastian -‘Put the Book Back On the Shelf.’ mp3

Echo and the Bunnymen -‘Read It In Books.’ mp3

Christmas 2011 Posts #8

mark-e-smith

Whatever your views on religion, chances are if you grew up in the UK, at some point you went to a Christmas Carol Concert.

And much as I would no more wish to hear tuneless singing of these perennial favourites than many of you will, Christmas Eve’s essential soundtrack has got to include Carols from King’s College, Cambridge to hear them done well.

So, for today’s post, a selection of half a dozen songs you might hear at a Christmas concert done in the bands’ own inimitable styles. There may be many more of these out there, though I drew the line at posting Cliff Richard’s version of ‘O Little Town Of Bethlehem’ or Bros doing ‘Silent Night.’ There’s post-modernism and then there’s being stupid.

Can -‘Silent Night.’ mp3

Belle and Sebastian -‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel.’ mp3

Bare Naked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan -‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.’ mp3

Blondie -‘We Three Kings.’ mp3

Fall -‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.’ mp3 {Mark E. Smith above)

Camera Obscura -‘Little Donkey.’ mp3

Belle and Sebastian Vs. Cold Cave…and Richard X

belle-and-sebastian_come-on-sister

Next week* will see the release of a 12″ single from Belle and Sebastian, entitled ‘Come On Sister’ which is not getting a digital release.

Its tracklisting is as follows:
Come On Sister (Tony Doogan mix)
I Didn’t See It Coming (Richard X mix)
I Didn’t See It Coming (Cold Cave remix)
Blue Eyes of a Millionaire

Cold Cave’s remix of ‘I didn’t see it coming’ can be downloaded via Stereogum below.

Belle and Sebastian -‘I Didn’t See It Coming.’ mp3 (via Stereogum)

There’s also two videos available:

This first one, for ‘Come On Sister’ reminds me of the one for ‘I’m A Cuckoo’ (in a good way)

This animated video for ‘I Didn’t See It Coming’ (with the Richard X remix) is awesome, too:

* I should clarify: it’s out on Rough Trade on July 18 in the UK, and July 26 on Matador in the US.

Christmas posts part 11

belle-and-sebastian-british-band

I’ve long associated Belle and Sebastian with Christmas. Not necessarily to do with these songs, so much as the Christmas of 1996, when I returned home from my first term at university with a recording of their then recently released second album If You’re Feeling Sinister, and my brother and I listened to it repeatedly during that holiday. As the years went by, I fell more in love with the band’s music and a romanticised idea of them. Still, I have met both Stevie Jackson and Stuart Murdoch and they were lovely folk.

Apologies to whichever member I drunkenly harangued in a pub in Glasgow circa 2004. ‘Oi, mate, you know that last track [‘Stay Loose’] off your last album [Dear Catastrophe Waitress]…you fuckin’ taking the piss out of Elvis Costello, or what?!?!’

There is a reason I don’t drink any more…

I don’t know much about how the following tracks came into being (all information gratefully received etc. etc.) but I hope you enjoy them as part of the latest installment of my Christmas posts, which you seem to be enjoying. Mostly…

Belle and Sebastian -‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.’ mp3

Belle and Sebastian -‘Are You Coming Over For Christmas?’ mp3

Belle and Sebastian -‘Christmas time is Here.’ mp3

We will all die poor having had our say?

threads_lead

Ever see Threads?

It was a film scripted by Barry Hines (of A Kestrel For A Knave/Kes) fame, about a nuclear bomb being dropped on Sheffield.

It was very good, seriously bloody scary and hugely influential on me. I saw it at school -and when I was teaching and used it I found it had lost none of its’ power on me, or those I was teaching. ‘How could anyone think nuclear weapons were a good idea?’ said the stunned students. I was actually asked not to use the film after a while, my head of department was getting nervous…

This song ‘Final Day’ is only ninety seconds long, even shorter than ‘Velocity Girl,’ but if you got any of the fear of living through the cold war, I guess you realsied you were not going to have long to reflect on nuclear annihilation:

“When the rich die last
Like the rabbits
Running from a lucky past
Full of shadow cunning
And the world lights up
For the final day
We will all be poor
Having had our say

Put a blanket up on the window pane
When the baby cries lullaby again
As the light goes out on the final day
For the people who never had a say

There is so much noise
There is too much heat
And the living floor
throws you off your feet
As the final day falls into the night
There is peace outside
in the narrow light”

Welsh band Young Marble Giants were a short-lived but awesome band and this song was covered a few years back by belle & Sebastian:

Young Marble Giants -‘Final Day.’ mp3

Belle and sebastian -‘Final Day.’ mp3

Update: Just reminded by the editor of Is This Music? of this classic:

See here for Peter Porter’s original poem

33 1/3 Part 26

belle-and-sebastian-if-youre-feeling-sinister-album-cover

Belle and Sebastian -‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ (Jeepster, 1996)

I once told a (perhaps understandably rather incredulous) member of Aberfeldy that Belle & Sebastian were one of the reasons I moved to Scotland. An overstatement? Well, not much of one, and it served as an important introduction for the band for me.

I hadn’t heard Tigermilk when this came out, towards the end of my first term at University. Not many copies of the 1,000 pressed had made it down to London, so when a friend at university played this for me, I was somewhat hooked. Thanks for that, Ben.

I recorded, and and took it home for the winter holidays. During that holidays I took my brother to his first gig (The Cure –quelle surprise), but the musical memory of this time is listening to this album almost on repeat. I’d heard twee-pop before in many guises, but coming at a time when the musical goliaths, for better or worse, were Britpop, The Spice Girls, and drum’n’bass, this was something totally different.

I fell hook, line and sinker for them.I’ve bought pretty much every single, EP and album as they have come out, even if it took me a while to see them live. On a visit to Scotland in 2000, I was briefly introduced to guitarist Stevie Jackson in Fopp on Byres Road, which is there to this day (the shop, not Stevie Jackson). A couple of years later I was even privileged to go round to his flat with a mutual friend 9thanks Sandy!), where he played me a track from the then-forthcoming Storytelling LP ‘Fuck this Shit.’ And awed as I was, I even managed not to make an idiot of myself. The only thing that disappointed me was that the stories on the sleeves of the back of the records weren’t true (!).

THe occasion when I did make an idiot of myself involved the drummer in a bar in Glasgow in 2004. Several pints down, having been introudced by the same mutual friend (and chatted up the woman who’d directed The Delgados’ ‘No Danger’ video) I took it upon myself to raise something with the drummer. ”ere, that track on your new album [‘Stay Loose’ from Dear Catastrophe Waitress], are you f**in’ takin’ the PISS out of Elvis Costello or what?’ Sorry mate. I gave up drinking a few years later.

This is just a gorgeous, gorgeous album. There others have been great, too, but this is the one for me. And is it any worse to move to another place for a band than a girl (or boy))?

Belle and Sebastian -‘The Stars Of Track And Field.’ mp3

Belle and Sebastian -‘Fox In the Snow.’ mp3

Belle & Sebastian