A song for today #18


It’s been a while since I featured Zola Jesus on this blog (my inability to cope with emails, certainly not hers) and yet within a few seconds of starting to stream this track, I knew I had to feature it on the blog. I first heard her when she did ‘Sea Talk’ which was no.3 in my annual Festive Fifty back in 2010.

It’s called ‘Nail’ and it’s the latest track to be taken from her album Taiga (out now on Mute). It’s beautiful, and I sorta like the video too (even if it does encapsulate the thought of suffocating).

Take the necessary three and a half minutes to enjoy this.

Viv Albertine Interview (repost)

Yesterday evening, I went to the Edinburgh Book Festival to hear the legendary Viv Albertine reading from her autobiography Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys and being interviewed by Ian Rankin. Afterwards I queued to meet her, and she was absolutely lovely (according to the ‘net, she is 60 this year…is she hell.) and she even signed my copy of Cut, The Slits’ seminal debut album from 1979.

In honour of this, I am reposting the interview I did with her in 2010. At the time, she had just released her EP, Flesh, which would be followed by the album The Vermilion Border in 2012…


“1979 and 2010 actually seem to have a fair bit in common, thirty or so years apart as they may be. A Labour government struggling to run the country -and as with then, the scary as hell prospect that there could be a Tory Government making it even worse, just around the corner. Yet despite that, healthy DIY music scenes, people taking the ethos of punk and making their own, far more exciting records, people publishing their own written work and setting up their own labels. Oh, and Viv Albertine being behind some of the most amazing recorded work of the year.

In 1979, that work was the seminal album Cut and one of the most wonderful cover versions ever, when the Slits totally transformed Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine.’ In 2010, it’s her first recorded work in twenty-five years the wonderful ‘Flesh’ EP.

When I call her at her home on the south coast of England, she’s wonderfully warm, and it’s quite clear that I’m not the only man on earth rather in awe of her. I’m in the company of non other than one Thurston Moore, alternative rock icon, Sonic Youth guitarist -and most significantly for our story today, the man behind the Ecstatic Peace record label.

Viv met Thurston when she went to see Sonic Youth with none other than Gina from the Raincoats, the fabulous band who were the Slits’ contemporaries (and made one of 1979?s other phenomenal records with their self-titled debut.) As Viv puts it, she and Thurston ‘hit it off and hung out for the rest of the evening.’ She let him hear some of the songs that she’d been working on. ‘They weren’t ready [for releasing] I thought,’ she says, however ‘he liked them and thought they should be recorded as part of my musical progress.’

For now the EP is the only thing that’s available, but she says ‘I’ve got so many songs I’m desperate to record. Like with the Slits, I’m getting into my head how I want them to sound.’ She’s playing live and adds that ‘when I play live, the people there are often moved. [The songs] resonate for people.’

This EP is nakedly personal. I have to confess that I find myself desperate to ask about some of the lyrics, yet they feel so nakedly personal that it feels rather like quizzing someone on something that you read when you stole their diary, slipped it back and are desperate to ask them. Yet despite this, I can play it on repeat for several listens, several months after it dropped on the doormat.

I also can’t resist myself from asking about the punk-era that the Slits came through. It’s clear that the Slits found the times they were living in difficult. More than thirty years later, even John Lydon (AKA Rotten) has said that he feels it’s been talked up into something it wasn’t. How does Viv feel about it all, looking back?

‘It [the punk movement] was important to us at the time. We lived in London – and still there was nothing going on! It’s amazing how lacklustre things were.’ But when punk started ‘that small punk movement did attract like-minded people.’ Did it change things for people? ‘Everything was picked to pieces – it was like ground zero.’ And Viv found herself in with some of the people who changed the musical shape of Britain in the late seventies, in a way that despite challenges, still reverberates over thirty years later. Amongst those she knew were people like Sid Vicious and John Lydon -’we were all mates or cohorts.’ The Slits’ original drummer Palmolive (born Paloma Romera) would go onto join the Raincoats, being replaced by one Peter Clarke, better known as Budgie, who drummed on Cut and then went onto join Souxsie and the Banshees and marry Siouxsie Sioux. He in turn was replaced by Bruce Smith, who also played with Bristol’s The Pop Group.

Not that this should give an impression of some kind of punk happy family. Because it’s clear that being in the Slits meant being under attack from a lot of sides. ‘People were so antagonistic,’ she recalls. ‘We were smuggled out of hotels. We were attacked physically.’ The clothes they wore -and this at a time when Vivienne Westwood was laying the ground for what would happen- seems to have shocked people to their very core. As Viv describes it ‘We dressed like something out of a porn mag and bovver boys.’ A tough time, then? ‘It was extremely tough for us. The only person who was kind and open to us was John Peel,’ she says referring to the legendary Radio 1 DJ. The Banshees may have been refusing to sign to anyone -or at least giving the impression that they were, but the Slits had recorded two sessions for Peel before they were signed by Island Records in 1979.

The album Cut still sounds ahead of its’ time even now. The cover with the three girls – Viv, singer Ari Up and bassist Tessa Pollitt covered in mud was not designed to titillate but unnerved many. The only question I ask her about the cover, I tell her, is whether she’s heard the rumour that the Rough Trade Record shop had a meeting about whether or not to stock the album because of the cover. [N.B. This is mentioned in the sleeve notes to the Rough Trade Shops Post Punk 01 compilation]. Viv laughs and says she hasn’t heard this rumour but it wouldn’t surprise her. Though the Slits were later signed to the Rough Trade label, then linked with the shop, Viv says that head honcho Geoff Travis ‘didn’t think we were PC enough! We weren’t considered feminists.’

As the seventies became the eighties, so the scenes shifted and times got tougher. ‘ Punk was so wonderful…and then the eighties happened.’ The Slits played a final gig at the Hammersmith Palais and split up in November 1981. Viv’s unquestionably influenced many people over the years -’I’d be flattered if Madonna took influences from us’ – but it’s not all moved her. The 1990s saw the emergence of the Riot Girl movement, but ‘the riot girl movement didn’t grab me.’ She reflects that ‘After the Slits…after a year, I felt the whole music scene was dead. I started to make films and literally downed the guitar.’ She went to film school and proudly states on her website that ‘she didn’t drop out.’

Not involved in the recent Slits reformation for either the ‘Return Of the Killer Slits’ EP or the Trapped Animal album, Viv is still continuing to persue her own path. I hope there’ll be more albums. She’s playing live and tells me that she’s planning to come to Scotland towards the end of the year, and we round off our conversation by discussing venues in Scotland.

Check out the EP – there’s more ideas and better songs there than on some people’s entire careers. Viv Albertine continues to make her presence felt -and it’s great to have her back.”

The return of Deerhunter


It’s been a while since I featured Deerhunter on this blog, but with their fantastic new track ‘Snakeskin’ doing the rounds, frankly, there’s no reason not to!

The Athens, Georgia band are shortly to release their seventh album Fading Frontier on October 16, on 4AD. It includes contributions from Tim Gane (of Stereolab fame) and James Cargill (of Broadcast). The song is the first to do the rounds from the album and you can see the video below:

The album tracklisting is as follows:

1. All The Same
2. Living My Life
3. Breaker
4. Duplex Planet (ft. Tim Gane on Electronic Harpsichord)
5. Take Care (ft. James Cargill on Synthesisers and Tapes)
6. Leather And Wood
7. Snakeskin (ft. Zumi Rosow on Treated Alto Saxophone)
8. Ad Astra
9. Carrion

Presenting…Peppermint Fiction

Peppermint Fiction

(I get no shortage of submissions here (and frequently ‘follow-up emails’ despite the bit on the right which clearly asks people not to. More embarrassing, however, is when I have promised to write about bands and then life gets in the way.)

Today’s presenting act are Glasgow four-piece (and occasionally five) Peppermint Fiction. According to the bio they supplied me, the band began in a bedroom in Scotstoun, Glasgow. Initially Ben White (bass), Cammy Bryce (guitar) and Jack Harris (drums) learned their instruments together through endless jams and trial and error. There was never any clear direction or “ sound” in mind, they just played what felt good. However these shapeless jams needed some vocals, and around 2010/11 the band turned to Cammy’s older brother Forbes Bryce (Vocals/Guitar) to fill that role, and began writing songs such as ‘secrets that topped the Glasgow’s reverb nation alternative charts. From this they further developed their screw-loose alternative rock with songs such as ‘Blue Ghosts’ that won a NIGMA award (judged by acclaimed songwriter John Reid).

Individually, the members of the band draw influence from a deep pool of music and culture- everything from horror-core hip hop to feel good house anthems- but their musical tastes cross over somewhere between the Pixies’ Purple Tape and and ESG’s A South Bronx StoryA Peppermint Fiction, with the help of the fifth member of the family and guitarist Andrew Still. Despite the fact the boys have been making music since 2010 (the band often referred to by themselves as the ‘ false start band’ ), this is their first official release.

Funky and dark? This six track EP sounds good to me…(the laughter on ‘Green Lights’ is genuinely unsettling, by the way).

The return of Lana Del Rey


Lana Del Rey has confirmed that her latest album Honeymoon, will be released on September 18. While the hipsters seemed to turn on her as soon as they’d latched onto her (quelle surprise!) a few years back, I who took a while to fall for ‘Video Games’ and then couldn’t let go, am certainly looking forward to this album.

Whilst there is no confirmed tracklisting that I can find online (as yet), she has so far shared two tracks which give us a flavour of what the album might be like. Summertime noir might be one description.

This is the title track:

This is the new single ‘High By The Beach’ (this video has already racked up several million plays in a matter of days since its release)

The return of Joanna Newsom

Joanna Newsom

Five years since her last album, Have One On Me, Joanna Newsom will release her fourth album, Divers on October 23.

Released on Drag City, the first track to do the rounds from the album is ‘Sapokanikan’, the video for which can be seen below:

The album tracklisting is as follows, while the album artwork can be seen below:

1. Anecdotes
2. Sapokanikan
3. Leaving the City
4. Goose Eggs
5. Waltz of the 101st Lightborne
6. The Things I Say
7. Divers
8. Same Old Man
9. You Will Not Take My Heart Alive
10. A Pin-Light Bent
11. Time, As A Symptom


Presenting…Delta Mainline

Delta Mainline

Another night, another mountain of emails containing more submissions than I will EVER have the opportunity to listen to.

So I am incredibly grateful that I took a gamble and listened to Delta Mainline’s debut single ‘Vultures.’ A band who have been described as ‘Gloriously out of step with the rest of Scottish music’ this is an Edinburgh-based band who take the shoegazing/dreampop template and run with it. Shimmeringly beautiful and a song that deserves to be turned up as high as it will go. ‘Vultures’ is released this Friday (August 14).

There are also two excellent remixes available from Miaoux Miaoux and Remember Remember.

…and indeed a whole heap of stuff to investigate on their soundcloud page.

Finally, the video:

Forthcoming from The Twilight Sad

Twilght Sad

Long-time 17 Seconds faves The Twilight Sad have announced the release of a new album Òran Mór Session, which as the name might suggest, documents a stripped back performance at Glasgow’s Òran Mór. It’s released on long-term label Fat Cat on October 16.

This is a gorgeous version of ‘It Never Was The Same.’

The album tracklisting is as follows:

1. Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave
2. Last January
3. It Never Was The Same
4. Pills I Swallow
5. I Could Give You All That You Don’t Want
6. Drown So I Can Watch
7. The Airport
8. Leave The House
9. I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face

Harmonium Project at Usher Hall


One of the consequences of writing this blog over the last nine years or so is that I get invited to all sorts of events. Some of them are things in Australia and America but being based in Scotland means I can’t go.

And then sometimes, it’s something that’s happening just a few blocks away from where I live. Like on Friday night (August 7) when the Edinburgh International Festival launched with an amazing double bill of Beethoven and John Adams at the Usher Hall. I was privileged to be at the concert inside the Usher Hall of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia in C Minor and John Adams’ Harmonium. Performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in conjunction with the Edinburgh Festival Chorus it was awesome.

And then outside we were treated to Harmonium again with projections by 59 Productions. Some kind person has recorded the entire event on their mobile – and it was great to see so many people (must have been 10,000) taking over the normally busy Lothian Road to watch and listen to awesome music.

It’s always pained me when people see something like classical music as being elitist and difficult to get into. It doesn’t have to be.

Take the time to watch this…

Read more about it here

Album Review – Maccabees

The Maccabees_Marks To Prove It_album artwork[3]

Maccabees -’Marks To Prove It.’ (Fiction)

The Maccabees have spoken about this, their fourth album, as being a difficult one to make. The word ‘traumatic’ has been banded about. This seems to be as much to do with the fast-changing world around the five-piece in their base of Elephant and Castle in South London as well as the pressure of following up their most commercially successful album yet, 2012′s Mercury-nominated Given To The Wild.

The album opens with the fantastic rush of the title track. Strangely, it’s melodically reminiscent of Beck’s ‘The New Pollution’ (without actually sounding much like it). It’s an opener that grabs your attention and sets you up for what newcomers might assume is a mix of the fun of Supergrass meeting the energy of The Cribs.

…only, the album doesn’t actually pan out like that. The next couple of tracks are melancholic, which is fine in itself, but it’s a dirge-like melancholy like you would find on a run of the mill indie-by-numbers record. Whilst it strives for authenticity, it’s not anything new, and despite listening to the album several times, I found my attention wondering at this point, frankly.

On the fourth track, ‘Spit It Out’m the Maccabees start to rediscover themselves, as the track slowly builds and builds like it’s getting itself on track. The second half of the album is much stronger than the first, holding your attention far better, and it’s here that the albums two strongest tracks lie.

‘River Song’ with its refrain of ‘You’re not getting any younger’ (oh, don’t I know it) is hauntingly beautiful. And the album comes to a close with the gorgeous ‘Dawn Chorus.’ This can be alikened to Syd Barrett discovering brass and Americana, and the only fault I can find with it is that it’s over far too quickly.

Some alright bits, some excellent songs, and some bits you’ll find that you can live without.


Marks To Prove It is out now on Fiction