33 1/3 Part 10


Sunn O))) -‘The Black One’ (Southern Lord, 2005)

I guess the reality is that if you find heavy metal too dark, noisy and full of frightening imagery then this album is not going to change your mind.

However, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, the two men who make up Sunn o))) (pronounced Sun, so stop worrying about it!) show that as well as being quite scary sounding and extreme, sonically, it can be powerful, artistic and even beautiful. In teaching fifteen year olds about Aesthetics, I have often played ‘It Took the Night To Believe.’ Most of them cannot take it, just as I could not take Philip Glass when I was their age.

Thing is, it’s not heavy metal as it’s stereotyped to be. OK, so here are riffs aplenty, it’s very loud and they have pretty big hair. But that aside, this is slow, expressive stuff. Most recent album Monoliths and Dimensions has seen the band experiment with brass and choirs, while live album Domkirke was recorded in a Norweigian Cathedral.

Hugely influenced by Earth and Black Sabbath, Sunn O))) take metal and play it slow, incorporating noise, drone and ambient. Yes, they sometimes sound like the heaviest thing you’ve ever heard and the slowest. But the sheer scope and width of the way they approach sound and music is breathtaking. Added to which, they introduced me to the likes of Boris, Merzbow, Earth -and made me relisten to the early Sabbath albums.

Proof that if you take an album in small doses and think outside the box, something really wonderful can be revealed.

Sunn O))) -‘It Took The Night To Believe.’

33 1/3 Part 9


Orange Juice -‘You Can’t hide Your Love Forever.’ (Polydor, 1982)

I had heard of Edwyn Collins before 1994, I’m guessing, but ‘A Girl Like You’ was what got me into him and soundtracked the greatest summer of my life, in 1995.* As time went on, though, I felt the urge to investigate his back catalogue and this legendary band, Orange Juice…

This has been easier said than done, however. Not just because I still prefer vinyl to CDs, but because much of the Orange Juice catalogue has been out of print for so long. A shame, because this album is beautifully crafted, and stands as one of the great debut albums, not just from Scotland but in general. IMHO, Psychocandy by Jesus and Mary Chain might be the only album which betters it as a debut.

It’s the not the soundtrack to a childhood growing up in Scotland (I wish!), or Uni days in Scotland, but the second year living in Scotland. I was sharing a flat with my brother, doing whatever jobs came along to pay the rent and spending what little money I had on second hand records. Finding this was a real achievement (finding Rip It Up on vinyl took even longer, and I’ve never really fallen in love with that album of all Edwyn Collins’ records of his thirty year career). It’s like the soundtrack to a wistful dream. Or in my case, working for not much more than the minimum wage in a bookshop/call centre/wherever but grateful for simple pleasures.

I love the anti-macho stance of the record -‘Consolation Prize’ with its’ lines about trying to impress with a Roger McGuinn fringe, failing and ending up camp. ‘Felicty’ – proof that Collins was not the only talent in the band, the cover of ‘L.O.V.E. love…’. Orange Juice were on the seminal c81 album, but so much of what they produced feels like it’s a blueprint for indiepop of the next thirty years.

It’s a travesty that this album isn’t available in the UK at the moment – but get your hands on a copy, even if it’s on an ancient C90. Then tell the world about it.

Orange Juice -‘Felicity.’ mp3

Orange Juice -‘Consolation Prize.’ mp3

*Other singles that would definitely count here would be ‘Common People’ by Pulp, ‘Alright’ by Supergrass’ and ‘Try Try Try.’ Oh yeah and the two obvious songs…

33 1/3 Part 8


The Cure -‘Disintegration’ (Fiction, 1989)

Very few bands make it to an eighth album. (Actually, I suppose you could argue, given the amount of bands that must form and split up, very few make it to actually releasing anything). But ten years after they released their debut Three Imaginary Boys, The Cure released their eighth album Disintegration in May 1989.

What was even more astonishing was not only how good the album was -and is, it’s dated extremely well – but the contents therein. The Cure had gone from being yet another band out of the Post-Punk/New Wave who had taken the possibilities of what had gone before and run with them. From their second album, 1980’s Seventeen Seconds, they had become associated with what would become known as the raincoat bands/positive punk/goth…call it what you will. Two further albums over the next successive years, Faith and Pornography, saw them get darker and fiercer. A surprise then that under Robert Smith’s leadership they would discover pop and get bigger and bigger, managing to retain and pop sensibility, maintaining a loyal fanbase and attracting ever more folk to the cause. The next three albums, The Top, The Head On The Door and Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me saw them reach ever successive heights, as they gained not just NME and Melody Maker covers but appearances in Smash Hits and on Top Of The Pops. So the expectation for their eighth album was pretty high.

Disintegration is a wonderful album, twelve tracks long (the LP misses off ‘Homesick’ and ‘Last Dance’; it’s one of very few albums I’d rather have on CD than vinyl) that for much of it is extremely sad and dark. As they headlined festivals and drew bigger and bigger crowds, they might have been expected to have gone completely pop. Instead, they released what would become viewed as a sister album to Pornography in its’ intensity (this would later form part of a trilogy with the release in 2000 of the Bloodflowers album, perhaps the most underrated album of this band’s career).

The opening song ‘Plainsong’ would continue to open gigs for over a decade afterwards. It really is plainsong, managing to be simple and yet majestic at the same time. Your hair stands on end without needing to be backcombed, as slowly the band come in, one by one. The closer ‘Untitled’ with similar motifs to ‘Plainsong’ played on the harmonium is a perfect matching bookend. Smith had married his long-term girlfriend Mary the previous year, and a tape of the second single Love Song was his wedding present to her. It’s an honest love song, about how he feels, but also acknowledging that there may be difficult times. They’re still married now…

Other hits from the album were ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Pictures Of You’ (the US also got a single of ‘Fascination Street’). In Lullaby, Robert Smith envisaged himself being eaten by a spider man, and a fantastically creepy video ensued. It became the band’s biggest hit in the UK, reaching no.5; ‘Love Song’ would also reach no.2 in the US. Thus, two years before Nirvana’s Nevermind is perceived as opening the door for ‘alternative’ music, The Cure had already done it two years earlier.

It’s not an upbeat album, but by no means is it as harrowing as Pornography. All shades of life as seen here; Smith coming to terms with being thirty, just as Bloodflowers would deal with hitting middle-age ten years later. It contains hit singles, that were deservedly hits, which reached out to the casual observers. Other tracks like the title track, the full album version of’ ‘Pictures Of You’ and ‘Prayers For Rain’ showed that emotionally intense and epic songs could still be their forte.

20 years later, you’re left to conclude that the title might almost be ironic. Though long-serving keyboardist (and formerly drummer) Lol Tolhurst left during the recording of the album, this is not the sound of a band disintegrating. Rather, it’s the sound of a band firing on all cylinders, lyrically, musically, emotionally.

This post originally appeared, written by me, over at The Vinyl Villain on May 26.

The Cure -‘Plainsong.’ mp3

33 1/3 Part 7


Sex Pistols -Never Mind The Bollocks (Virgin, 1977)

It’s funny, but I think I fell in love with the idea of the Sex Pistols, even before I knowingly heard a note of their music. As a twelve year old, I had a folder splattered with band names with the Psitols writ large. There were the names -Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious. To a nice middle-class kid from a nice home, it offered something other.

So I asked for -and got – the album for my fourteenth birthday. My long-suffering Mum bought it for me, along with Cut The Crap by The Clash (again, a band I loved the idea of and hadn’t heard a note of their music, hence why I started with that album!) Poor Mum. Like a lot of things she probably thought it was a phase I’d grow out of (see also: vegetarianism, socialism, wearing black, listening to The Cure etc..)

And it proved the soundtrack to my surviving one miserable year at a boaring school in the Midlands that shall remain nameless. It was hell. In Decline and Fall Evelyn Waugh wrote: “Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison”. I haven’t ended up in prison -yet – although being couped up with a load of materialist, racist, Tory voting bigots, many of whom supported hunting, had snide views of people who went to state schools…you get the picture.

This wasn’t the soundtrack to my misery per se (though I also discovered The Cure, Nick Cave and The Smiths around this time), but when really upset I would listen to ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and it would calm me down. And there was always the comfort from the fact that some people found the lyrics to ‘God save the Queen’ a bit shocking, a mere…ooh, fourteen years after it came out. It was a loud, angry album, nihilistic and full of (cartoon, in retrospect) anti-establishment themes.

I had a poster on the wall that bore the legendary Sid Vicious and featured the immortal:“Undermine their pompous authority, reject their moral standards, make anarchy and disorder your trademarks. Cause as much chaos and disruption as possible but don’t let them take you ALIVE” quote. I remember one teacher looking at it in horror and saying “I’m surprised at you.” I was in the school choir, after all. She would probably have been even more amazed to note that I was with my dad when I bought it.

So did the Sex Pistols soundtrack my youthful rebellion? Did they hell. They soundtracked my survival, and the slowly realisation that rebellion wasn’t necessarily just against authority but against your peers. As the years have gone by, I’ve come to the realisation that punk was perhaps more important as a catalyst for what happened afterwards, that Johnny Rotten’s defining statement is Metal Box, and that Sid Vicious might have been a hero briefly, but Robert Smith and George Orwell would make a far longer, lasting impact on me. But they helped me through.

Oh, and if the Labour Party would like to do away with private schools*, I might even consider voting for them again.

Sex Pistols -‘Anarchy In The UK.’ mp3

Sex Pistols -‘EMI.’ mp3

* See the Labour Party’s 1983 manifesto. Often dubbed the longest suicide note in history, and the one with the best ideas in it. Then again, when the opposition have engineered a war to gain support, it does get rather difficult…

33 1/3 Part 6


The Delgados -‘The Great Eastern’ (Chemikal Underground, 2000)

The Delgados third album, The Great Eastern was released in 2000. It wasn’t the album that got me into them -that was their sophomore release, Peloton, a couple of years previously. But it was the album where the fantastic four, Emma Pollock, Alun Woodward, Paul Savage and Stewart Henderson truly reached their peak.

How much do I love this album? The best album of 2000? Obviously. The best album of the decade? Well, it’s my favourite. My favourite album by my favourite Scottish band? Unquestionably. My favourite Scottish album ever? Too right.

This album is utterly, utterly sublime. It’s completely scottish, folky and indie and even psychedelic. This scottishness might seem to be in spite the fact that it was recorded in Upstate New York with Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips). Then again, Transformer is totally New York and that was recorded in London, so that proves nothing.

It’s a ten track album, that just begs to be played again and again. It’s widely seen as their best record, and it’s nothing short of frustrating that despite the plaudits it got, it still didn’t bring the band the recognition they clearly deserved. Listen to the opening brass on album opener ‘The Past that Suits You Best,’ the dreamlike state of ‘American Trilogy’ or the killer bass line that forms the long, drawn-out coda to ‘No Danger.’

It formed the soundtrack to living in a damp Cambrdige bedsit, as I tried to work out if I wanted to be a teacher or not. Then I moved to Scotland, eventually setting up my own record label, dreaming that it could be as cool as the one the Delgados released this on, their own. It’s been an album that has stayed with me through the many highs and lows of this decade, through rain or shine, euphoria and despair. What more can I ask?

The Delgados -‘Accused Of Stealing.’ mp3

The Delgados -‘No Danger.’ mp3

33 1/3 Part 5


Miles Davis – ‘Kind Of Blue’ (Columbia, 1959)

This record celebrates its’ fiftieth anniversary this year. It won’t even be the oldest record in the list (which is great fun to compile, by the way, and absolutely no apologies whatsoever to anyone who thought it was all going to be scottish boys and girls wi’ jangly guitars). It remains the biggest selling jazz album of all time, and one of those albums that seems to crop up in the homes of people who don’t seem to buy many albums.

So is it jazz? Sure, it’s jazz. The Fast Show made liking jazz almost something to feel self-conscious about, though its’ spoofing of those who listened to it in a particular way was spot on. Davis clearly had a real feel, understanding and love for the trumpet, and that’s infectious.

I’ve had a chequered relationship with jazz. Like rock, those who don’t understand it see only what they want to lampoon, either being tuneless or too over the top to take seriously. Someone gave my brother a copy of Courtney Pine’s seminal British jazz debut Journey To the Urge Within about ’86 or ’87, and as a pre-teen I found it too hard to get into. I generally, and genuinely preferred rock and classical to jazz. ‘Three chords good, four chords jazz’ was a maxim for a my late teens and early twenties, and a suspicion of much music pre-1976. (Unless it was Bowie, obviously.)

But just as I started to realise that punk might actually be more exciting as a catalyst for what came after than in itself – and see just how Jazz influenced much of post-punk and no-wave – I took the plunge about 1999. I’d just bought a portable Minidisc player off a friend and this was one of the first MDs I bought.

This is the dividing line between trad jazz (which had quite a revival in Britain in the early ’60s; see the Temperance Seven and Aker Bilk) and what came after – ‘cool jazz.’ This was the music of the hipsters, that influenced so much of what would shape music, created by blacks and whites in years to come. Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Sade, The Pop Group, Mos Def, Public Enemy and huge swathes of Hip-Hop, Radiohead, the aforementioned post-punk and new wave…it’s telling that in 2000 when the NME did their list of the top 20 most influential artists of all time; ahead of Kraftwerk and The Sex Pistols.

‘Easy Listening’ is often used as an insult – rightly so, and no less an authority than my parents would use that as an insult – but if you find jazz hard to listen to, too self-indulgent, no song to speak of, start with Kind Of Blue. Don’t forget also to check out Sketches Of Spain, Porgy and Bess and In A Silent Way too. Then check out the likes of Herbie Hancock and John Coltrane.

If It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back opened me up to Hip-Hop and the sonic possibilities of music, then Kind Of Blue showed me just how beautiful it could be, and how a catalyst could be causing echoes fifty years down the line.

Miles Davis -‘So What.’ mp3

Miles Davis’ official website

33 1/3 Part 4


Public Enemy -‘It takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.’ (Def Jam Recordings, 1988)

Boom! In your face.

Public Enemy’s sophomore album from 1988 more than developed the promise of their debut Yo! Bumrush The Show, it showed that they were major contenders, not just in hip-hop but in music generally. There’s more righteus anger here than in one hundred punk albums, and whilst you could party to this album, it was a wake-up call for many.

‘Too black! Too strong’ runs ‘Bring the Noise.’ ‘Radio stations…I question their blackness. They call themselves black – but let’s see if they’ll play this’ says Chuck D. They may not have been knocking on the door of the daytime playlist in the UK then (and this is twenty years ago, remember, much less variation in what was available), but they were breaking into the charts. Political, in your face music. Hip-Hop was here to stay, producing not just party jams, but music as political as punk, as the protest singers of the sixties. Public Enemy clearly felt like outsiders and they were not taking crap off anyone.

Politically of its’ time – Hip-Hop was described as being the black person’s CNN, pointing out that mainstream media in the US was not speaking to a united nation. It was twenty years since Martin Luther King had been assassinated, another twenty years until Barack Obama would be elected US President. Whatever had been achieved, there was a hell of a lot to do.

I was eleven when the album came out – and to my shame it was nearly ten years later when I properly started to listen to it. For me, this was the album that taught me how to listen to how an album was produced and put together. There is a very strong possibility that this could be the best-produced album ever, so kudos to Rick Rubin. This is an album that much can be learned to from listening on headphones. Not wasted on ghastly muso musings, but listening to intricacies on here, the beats, the samples, the tightest rhythm ever.

Singles that made an impact were ‘Bring the Noise’ (later re-recorded with thrash metal band Anthrax to stunning effect in 1991) and ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’ but for me the standout track is ‘She Watch Channel Zero?!’ one of the most intense things ever committed to vinyl.

Frequently appearing in ‘best of’ lists for the eighties and Hip-Hop, this is simply one of the best albums ever.

End of.

Public Enemy -‘Bring The Noise.’ mp3

Public Enemy -‘Don’t Believe The Hype.’ mp3

Public Enemy -‘She Watch Channel Zero?!.’ mp3

17 Seconds Blog – The 1,000th post


Yes indeed!

Technically, it is more than 1,000 posts, on the grounds that I have lost a few posts after clashes with the DMCA last year, but here it is, the 1,000th published post on the blog.

So, what’s happened since I started the blog back in July 2006? I’ve reveiwed lots of albums, and quite a few gigs, interviewed some great bands, and started a record label. It’s been hard work, I’ve been driven to distraction, but I feel that there are lots of people who enjoy the blog, as it generally gets over 1,000 hits a day (1400 seems to be the record).

I’ve also enjoyed writing about bands that have come and gone – the posts on the Shop Assistants and Motorcycle Boy, for example, seem to have struck a chord. Hopefully one day those records will be properly re-issued.

Thanks is due, first and foremost to the wonderful Sam, Mrs. 17 Seconds, for all her love and support, and patience. As well as to all the readers (whether I know you or not) who have left feedback, artists who got in touch about stuff they are doing, fellow bloggers who supported me through thick and thin and linked to me, and anyone who sent me mp3s when I begged for them.

Many thanks to to everyone who has helped with the label – Mrs. 17 Seconds, my business partner Laurent, Scott for doing all the mailouts and support; my parents and brother; our five artists; Shona Donaldson, Bruce Finday, Julia Nicolle, for vital work and support; and the DJs who have supported us on the radio: Jim Gellatley, Tom Robinson, Iain Baker and especially Vic Galloway, and everyone who has come to the gigs, stocked our records, bought the music, written about us and supported us. Apologies to anyone who really should be on here that I have forgotten.

(And no thanks to the person who tried to use this against me. God is watching you.)

The song that started it all:

The Cure -‘Seventeen Seconds.’ mp3

The most popular song to appear on the blog:

Manic Street Preachers -‘Umbrella (Rihanna cover).’ mp3

One of the bands, gone but not forgotten that I have championed:

Motorcycle Boy -‘Big Rock Candy Mountain.’ mp3

…and proof, if proof should be needed after all this time, that this blog is not just about white men with guitars:

Nina Simone -‘Feeling Good.’ mp3

Bless you all XX

Album Review – Lou Barlow


Lou Barlow -‘Goodnight Unknown.’ (Domino)

It’s been four years since Barlow’s last album, Emoh….well, sort of. In that time, he’s reunited with Dinosaur Jr. to make two fine albums in the form of Beyond and Farm, as well as re-issuing three of Sebadoh’s albums. He’s clearly had fingers in several pies.

So, of his own stuff, what gives? Well, Dinosaur Jr. are back on noisy turf (hooray!) and it seems that this is Barlow’s acoustic side coming through. Not that he hasn’t experimented with acoustic-sounding stuff before. It’s a grower of an album – my initial reaction was well, this is nice but nothing more. The free track made available for promotional purposes ‘Gravitate’ is good, but not the strongest track on the album, by a long shot.

But on listening to this album again, whilst it isn’t up there with Bakesale or the like, this is a really nice collection of songs. I have found myself warming up to it, the way that after the fifth play the harmonium on ‘Gravitate’ starts to prove itself beautiful. It showcases that Barlow is a very good singer-songwriter and also shows just how well his voice has matured. Closer ‘One Note Tone’ sums up the album well; a melodic, acoustic pop song that nonetheless has a great deal of the energy of prime Dinosaur Jr. because of his asscoiations with leftfield indie-rock it’s sometimes been easy to forget that Barlow can write honest, heartfelt pop songs (see also ‘Forever Instant’ recorded with the Sentridoh).

So…give this several listens. It may not win barlow many new fans, but it should be heard, and given the chance that it deserves.


Lou Barlow’s official website/Sebadoh website/Lou Barlow myspace