Forthcoming from Swans

Swans

Swans have announced a new album, which will be the ‘last album of their current incarnation.’

The Glowing Man will be released on June 17. The tracklisting is as follows:

1. Cloud of Forgetting
2. Cloud of Unknowing
3. The World Looks Red / The World Looks Black
4. People Like Us
5. Frankie M.
6. When Will I Return?
7. The Glowing Man
8. Finally, Peace.

An excerpt of the title track can be heard below:

Swans main man, Michael Gira, has issued this accompanying note with the press release:

“In 2009 when I made the decision to restart my musical group, Swans, I had no idea where it would lead. I knew that if I took the road of mining the past or revisiting the catalog, that it would be fruitless and stultifying. After much thought about how to make this an adventure that would instead lead the music forward into unexpected terrain, I chose the five people with whom to work that I believed would most ably provide a sense of surprise, and even uncertainty, while simultaneously embodying the strength and confidence to ride the river of intention that flows from the heart of the sound wherever it would lead us – and what’s the intention? LOVE!

And so finally this LOVE has now led us, with the release of the new and final recording from this configuration of Swans, The Glowing Man, through four albums (three of which contain more complexity, nuance and scope than I would have ever dreamed possible), several live releases, various fundraiser projects, countless and seemingly endless tours and rehearsals, and a generally exhausting regimen that has left us stunned but still invigorated and thrilled to see this thing through to its conclusion. I hereby thank my brothers and collaborators for their commitment to whatever truth lies at the center of the sound. I’m decidedly not a Deist, but on a few occasions – particularly in live performance – it’s been my privilege, through our collective efforts, to just barely grasp something of the infinite in the sound and experience generated by a force that is definitely greater than all of us combined. When talking with audience members after the shows or through later correspondence, it’s also been a true privilege to discover they’ve experienced something like this too. Whatever the force is that has led us through this extended excursion, it’s been worthwhile for many of us, and I’m grateful for what has been the most consistently challenging and fulfilling period of my musical life.

Going forward, post the touring associated with The Glowing Man, I’ll continue to make music under the name Swans, with a revolving cast of collaborators. I have little idea what shape the sound will take, which is a good thing. Touring will definitely be less extensive, I’m certain of that! Whatever the future holds, I’ll miss this particular locus of human and musical potential immensely: Norman Westberg, Kristof Hahn, Phil Puleo, Christopher Pravdica, Thor Harris, and myself mixed in there somewhere, too.”

“I wrote the song ‘When Will I Return? specifically for Jennifer Gira to sing. It’s a tribute to her strength, courage, and resilience in the face of a deeply scarring experience she once endured, and that she continues to overcome daily.

The song ‘The World Looks Red / The World Looks Black’ uses some words I wrote in 1982 or so that Sonic Youth used for their song ‘The World Looks Red’, back in the day. The music and melody used here in the current version are completely different. While working up material for this new album, I had a basic acoustic guitar version of the song and was stumped for words. For reasons unknown to me, the lyric I’d so long ago left in my typewriter in plain view at my living and rehearsal space (the latter of which Sonic Youth shared at the time) and which Thurston plucked for use with my happy permission, popped into my head and I thought “Why not?” The person that wrote those words well over three decades ago bears little resemblance to who I am now, but I believe it remains a useful text, so “Why not?”. Maybe, in a way, it closes the circle.

The song ‘The Glowing Man’ contains a section of the song ‘Bring The Sun’ from our previous album, To Be Kind. The section is, of course, newly performed and orchestrated to work within its current setting. ‘The Glowing Man’ itself grew organically forward and out of improvisations that took place live during the performance of ‘Bring The Sun’, so it seemed essential to include that relevant section here. Since over the long and tortured course of the current song’s genesis, it had always been such an integral cornerstone I believe we’d have been paralyzed and unable to perform the entire piece at all without it.

‘Cloud of Forgetting’ and ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ are prayers. ‘Frankie M’ is another tribute and a best wish for a wounded soul. ‘The Glowing Man’ contains my favorite Zen Koan. ‘People Like Us’ and ‘Finally, Peace’ are farewell songs.”

•- Michael Gira 2016

Album Review – Mogwai

Mogwai atomic

Mogwai -‘Atomic.’ (Rock Action)

The late, great John Peel used to say about his favourite band The Fall, that they were ‘always different, always the same.’ It’s something that could be said about Mogwai, too. ‘U-235’ was the first track to do the rounds ahead of the release of this album, and the minute the listener presses play, it is unmistakeably them. It may sound a little bit more ‘electronic’ than some of their work, but the soundscape of darkness and beauty, dread and possibility could not be anyone else. Yes there’s other post-rock bands out there, but no-one could do Mogwai like Mogwai do.

It’s not the first time Mogwai have leant themselves for soundtrack work – they have previously soundtracked both the French TV series Les Revenants (The Returned) and Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. In this case, this album is composed of reworked versions of the music recorded by the band for the soundtrack to director Mark Cousin’s documentary Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise. Though I should probably declare that I have yet to see the film – the strength of the work is that it appears to fill the brief, as described in the press release – ‘Constructed entirely of archive film, an impressionistic kaleidoscope of the horrors of our nuclear times – protest marches, Cold War sabre-rattling, Chernobyl and Fukishima – but also the sublime beauty of the atomic world, and how x-rays and MRI scans have improved human lives.’ I mentioned dread and possibility in the last paragraph – that’s exactly what this soundtrack does. Evocative, in a word. Right from the start of album opener ‘Ether’ up to the closing bars of ‘Fat Man.’

As with much of their music, each listen reveals something more of this album. It may not rate as their greatest achievement, but for those who are new to Mogwai, this is a good place to start. For those who have loved the band for decades, it adds a new chapter to what is already an impressive tale. Mogwai probably vie with Belle & Sebastian for greatest band in Scotland at the moment; both acts are now beginning their third decade of music, and neither show any signs of slowing down. For which lovers of great music across the planet should give thanks.

****

Atomic is out now on Rock Action

Presenting…Chappo

Chappo

There are, as ever, no shortage of artists for me to write about here at 17 Seconds. And normally, a follow-up email is usually consigned to the junk folder without being opened. But in the case of Chappo, I decided to give it a go, and I’m so very glad I did.

The band formed in the East Village of New York in 2009. In the words of the press release ‘Drawing on both the guitar-driven psychedelia of ‘60s west coast rock and the legendary Dr. John,’ they have supported the likes of Of Montreal, Imagine Dragons, and The Flaming Lips. They are due to touring the UK and Europe in 2016. Their second album Former Future Self was released in January of this year, from which ‘Mad Magic’ is taken:

The delightfully mad video for this has just been released:

CHAPPO – "Mad Magic" [Official Music Video] from CHAPPO Music on Vimeo.

The return of Michael Kiwanuka

Michael Kiwanuka

It’s been a while – but Michael Kiwanuka has announced his sophomore album Love & Hate. Produced by Inflo and Danger Mouse, the first track to be released from the album is ‘Black Man In A White World.’ The video for the single, which can be seen below, was directed by Japanese director Hiro Murai, who has previously worked with the likes of Earl Sweatshirt and Flying Lotus.

Love & Hate will be released on May 27. The tracklisting for the album is as follows:

1. Cold Little Heart
2. Black Man In A White World
3. Falling
4. Place I Belong
5. Love & Hate
6. One More Night
7. I’ll Never Love
8. Rule The World
9. Father’s Child
10.The Final Frame

Orkestra Obsolete vs. New Order

It’s funny to think that it’s now 33 years since New Order released the genuinely revolutionary ‘Blue Monday.’

As has been repeated numerous times, it is the best-selling 12″ single of all time, and there have been many covers. This, by Orkstra Obsolete, sees the song played in a 1930s style. I can find out precious little about Orkestra Obsolete, so just enjoy this at face value:

Here is the original. Still fabulous.

Album Review – Underworld

Underworld

Underworld -‘Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future.’ (Caroline International)

This year marks twenty years since Underworld’s most famous moment ‘Born Slippy’ was a massive hit, helped in no small part, if we’re honest, by its appearance in Trainspotting. The reality is, of course, that there was always more to Underworld than just that song, and that they were a dance act who had more vision and ideas than simply just producing a few bangers for nights out. With this album, Underworld underline that once more.

This is their first album in six years, and the reality is that this is an act who just sound totally invigorated. It opens with the first single ‘I Exhale’ and over the course of seven tracks and three quarters of an hour deliver music that is both for the head and feet, and indeed, ultimately the heart
The strong opening continues throughout the album. ‘If Rah’ is a hypnotic electro-workout, while the closing ‘Nylon Strung’ is a sublime finish to an excellent record.

The urge in the digital age may be to cherry-pick tracks or simply just move onto the next track. Not only does this album hold your attention, but when it’s over the urge is to play it once more. I was sent this album to review, but the fact of the matter is that if I had bought a copy, I would be thrilled. There’s scarcely a foot put wrong here. This is no 90s revival, but a modern record that should delight old fans and win new ones.

****

Barbara, Barbara, We Face A Shining Future is out now on Caroline International.

Presenting…Throws

I’ve been meaning to post this track and video from Throws ever since it arrived in my inbox last week.

The Icelandic duo have just unveiled their debut single ‘The Harbour’, and the video features someone skiing on their head.

You did read that right.

Recorded, at their studio in Reykjavik’s old fishing harbour, it was an experience the pair say left them feeling “refreshed and powerful”. Through the studio’s big windows over-looking the sea, synths and a trove of old guitars came to make up a track that somehow manages to be ghostly and galloping in equal measure. As for the video, the band explains:

“The Harbour is an Ode to being true to yourself and if people can’t deal with the true you, then they’re not the people for you. Hold on to the strange and wondrous wonky parts of your personality, and treasure those parts of your loved ones…… Head Stand Skiing man is doing exactly that and we treasure those strong arms, balancing legs… tough neck and badass Jumpsuit … we want you just as you are, the one and only innovative, stylish head stand Skier!!”

Their album is due out on June 10, the single is out now. It’s utterly sublime and one of the best tracks I have heard this year.

Interview – Terry Christian

Terry Christian

In which 17 Seconds gets to speak with a truly cool music geek, and finds out about going to school with the Buzzcocks, being friends with the late (but great) Tony Wilson and a little bit about an infamous 1990s TV show called The Word.

‘I’ve never had a career, just a series of jobs.’ So says Terry Christian when he rings me at home. Now aged 55, but with a youthful outlook that would shame many decades younger, he’s had the sort of life and career that most music geeks can only dream of. And that definitely includes yours truly.

Much of this stems right from his childhood. Originally from Old Trafford in Manchester -‘a fantastic area to grow up in’ – and no doubt a major contributing factor to his being a diehard Manchester United fan, and says that at school there was a divide between soul fans and rock fans. Yet it seems that he bridged the divide of finding out about music himself – and throughout our conversation, I find myself constantly trying to write down more stuff to check out later on. To his eternal credit, he takes down my address and offers to send me stuff.

He fell into music long before punk. ‘I used to go out for a whole day round Manchester on my own on a Saturday and come back with six albums.’ His first job was not, in fact, in a record shop or on the radio, but in fact stewarding at the Old Trafford cricket ground. ‘I went to a Catholic Grammar School and they thought we were honest! he recalls, chuckling at the memory.

While he never knew Morrissey – though he grew up not far away from him in Hulme – one of the first people he knew growing up was John Maher, drummer with the Buzzcocks. ‘It was seen as unbelievable that he left school at sixteen,’ he recalls. Although he shamefaced (well, as shamefaced as you can be over a phoneline from a few hundred miles away) about the fact he no longer has his copy of the Buzzcocks’ seminal EP Spiral Scratch – he pinned it to his wall at university – he’s still immensely proud of the contribution that the Buzzcocks made to Manchester’s music scene. I ask him if he went to the Sex Pistols’ famed gig in Manchester in 1976, as documented in 24 Hour Party People.

‘A lot of the stuff about Manchester is absolute bullshit!’ he tells me matter of factly. He recalls punk in Manchester has being a fairly small scene, and that it was the Pistols later gig that year at the Electric Circus, not the earlier Free Trade Hall gig. This tallies with a conversation I have a day or so later with Billy Duffy of The Cult who tells me that if everyone who claims to have been there at the Free Trade Hall gig, there would have been about 14,000 people there.

Of course one of the people who attended the gig was one Tony Wilson, who was working at Granada TV, and would host one of the first music TV shows of the era So It Goes. Terry recalls it as being ‘fucking brilliant.’ Wilson was a maverick, still fondly remembered by many, including Terry, Even if Wilson’s approach wasn’t always the most straightforward, it was often the groundbreaking one. Terry recalls Wilson telling him ‘when you’re the one who kicks the door in, you get crushed in the rush through.’ Of course, before the end of the 70s, Wilson would have signed Joy Division, featuring them on Granada Reports as early as 1978, and signing them to his label, Factory Records.

Unknown Pleasures‘ was a [Martin] Hannett album,’ Terry reflects, referring to the maverick producer who produced Joy Division’s debut. ‘Live they were like Zep!’

Given the mythologising that has continued to grow around Factory, Wilson and Joy Division, it’s not saurprising that Terry’s somewhat suspicious about the films. He did witness this all at first hand. ‘The true story of 24 Hour Party People no-one would believe!’ he roars. He reckons that Factory partner and Joy Division/New Order manager Rob Gretton ‘was much smarter than Tony. There would never have been 24 Hour Party People or Control [if Gretton had been alive]. The way Tony allowed himself to be presented…he was nothing like that,’ he reflects. ‘The Hacienda was never an indie club, it was never empty,’ he remembers – though he admits that it really was a former yacht showroom.

It’s perhaps telling that Terry – like all of us over 35 – grew up in a pre-internet age. ‘In my day, because we were so hungry for it, we would go out of our way to find the good stuff. Now, it can be found, but no-one knows what they want.’ In his case, of course, he kept digging, exposed to a lot of the music coming out in the UK, and certainly far beyond just what may have been happening in London clubs. He recalls Steel Pulse as being the best British reggae band, and we discuss just how great the Birmingham band’s debut album Handsworth Revolution is. ‘I saw them hold their own against Marley,’ he recalls. ‘They had a definite sound of their own,’ singling out their song ‘Prodigal Son’ as a particular highlight -‘all about the fact that liberation – Africa – is all in their head.’ He also fondly remembers X-O-Dus, a Manchester reggae band, who were signed to Factory.

As a walking music encyclopedia (and I mean that as a compliment), he is often aware of those whose achievements are perhaps under-represented in history, musically speaking. ‘No Smith and Mighty…no Soul II Soul,’ he says of the Bristol based team, who came out of the Dancehall scene, and laid much of the groundwork for two of the 1990s defining sounds, drum’n’bass and trip-hop.

He’s DJed on most radio stations across the north of England, and worked in TV, most famously on Channel 4’s late night music show The Word. He presented the show right the way through. It’s hard to imagine – in what were not only pre-internet but pre-social media and pre-reality TV times too, just how radical The Word was. It might seem daft to talk of a late night music show aimed at ‘Yoof’ as being post-modern – but that’s exactly what it was. There were numerous first appearances from many bands on the show, many of which would cause the chattering classes to choke on their vol-au-vents – though presumably, they must have been watching for the opportunity to do just that, because unless they had set the VHS they wouldn’t have been able to watch highlights on YouTube for a good decade to come.

The Word started at the height of Madchester, the coming together of rave and indie culture as spearheaded by the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays. ‘It was the biggest organisc scene in the UK. Punk had a thousand involved, Madchester had tens of thousands – it was a more openly pop scene. I used to get down on my knees and say I wish I was eighteen again.’

Fortunately, if in the name of curation rather than nostalgia, it is possible to see events like L7 getting naked, and probably the infamous moment when Kurt Cobain described Courtney Love live on TV as ‘the best fuck in the world.’ ‘Nirvana was a no-brainer!’ he says of the band’s first UK appearance. Whereas five lads from Manchester ‘I had to argue for six to eight weeks to get Oasis on.’ Jo Whiley, now DJing on Radio 2 – was involved for a spell in booking bands for a while. But by 1995, the programme had run its course. While there was a rumour that the Kamikaze Freak Show had cuased the show to be taken off air, Terry says that the commissioning editor’s departure was far more to blame. But he’s clearly glad to have been involved – and at no point does he criticise any of his fellow presenters.

Into the present, he DJs, writes and still has a contagious enthusiasm for new music. Two weeks after we speak – over the time in which Tony Wilson would have been 66 – we exchange numerous texts about music. Our conversation lasted an hour and a half – if our respective others hadn’t needed to eat, we might well have continued a very geeky conversation. But it’s worth remembering that while people like Tony Wilson may have battered the doors down, it’s people like Terry Christian who keep a passion for music alive in a world of constant saturation.

Terry Christian’s website and blog can be found here.