Mazes don’t waste any time on their debut, rattling through thirteen songs in just over half an hour. Not that they particularly evoke the Ramones per se; it is more to do with the way that they simply charge through the songs that make up this album.
There’s some good tracks on here like ‘Surf n turf/maths tag’ and ‘death house’ which are worth hearing. The thing is that while the band appear to have a very impressive DiY pedigree and, no doubt, achingly cool record collections (60s garage, classic punk, c86 etc..), some of this is just a bit too derivative to be impressive, to these ears, at least. To whit: ‘Boxing Clever’ is a Pavement rip-off, frankly, while album closer ‘Til I’m Dead’ is The Kinks circa 1964.
It’s not a bad album, but it’s not great either. There are album promos I get sent where I feel I have to buy the album for myself. Sorry to say, this is not one of them.
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart -‘Belong.’ (Slumberland)
Boom! ten seconds into the opening, title track of their sophomore album, it becomes abundantly clear that Belong is not simply a rehash of their debut album of two years ago. This track is a shoegazing meets grunge headshake of a tune, and it’s like 1991 all over again (unless you were a raver, I suppose). ‘Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now’ the second track is perhaps closer to their debut.
This album has taken a kicking in certain quarters, and it’s not just the fact that it’s not TPOBPAH II but rather the way that they have changed their sound quite a lot in places. the record can feel overproduced at times – ‘The Body’ and ‘My Terrible Heart’ are way too indebted to New Order for their own good. There’s nothing wrong with New Order – but by the time of their second album, a band should have forged their own way far more. However, ‘Girl of 1,000 Dreams’ and ‘Too Tough’ are excellent tracks.
Sure, it’s not as strong as their debut – and it took me a while to get to grips with it – but there’s enough here to recommend a listen. It’s certainly much better than some of the bile that’s been thrown its’ way.
Musically, for those who have not heard them, The High Llamas sit somewhere right between Brian Wilson and Stereolab (mainman Sean O’Hagan and ver ‘labs Tim Gane have collaborated, and the latter mixed this), with a bit of sixties jazz scattered lightly over proceedings. This is their ninth album, though their first for four years.
Quite simply, it is an utterly gorgeous album. Beautifully summery, and it’s been getting quite a few plays around these parts over the last few weeks. Twelve tracks in total, it flows from start to finish. The only downsides to the album are that O’Hagan’s voice can be quite far down in the mix at times, to the extent I wasn’t quite sure which tracks were instrumentals at first, and if on too quietly, more so than many other albums, the gorgeous subtleties can be lost.
But on at a decent volume, this album runs gently from opener ‘Berry Adams’ to closer ‘Callin Up, Ringing Down’ and provides a perfect spring and summer soundtrack. Soothing and joyous, this album should be heard.
**** Talahomi Way is released on April 18 on Drag City.
What a difference thirty years makes…or perhaps it doesn’t. To whit: a Royal Wedding making all the headlines, frustration about unemployment, revolution abroad…is 2011 just too close to 1981 for comfort?
This week marks the release of a truly remarkable single ‘Insurrection’ by Hiatus. The vocals on the track come from the legendary Linton Kwesi Johnson, and deal with the riots that happened in Brixton in 1981. The video for the song features footage from the time, the poverty of that area of South London, the unemployment and the unrest which characterised day to day life for many in the area. Linton Kwesi Johnson had come to Britain as a child, and still calls the area home today.
As does Hiatus, the name that Cyrus Shahrad records under. I called him up for a chat about the single, his experiences of Iran and how film-making is as much a part of what he does.
First up, then, why the choice of name? ‘When I finished Uni,’ he reveals, ‘my first ambition was to start a magazine. The word [‘hiatus’] first came to my attention through a skateboard magazine. It just sounded…otherworldly.’
With the idea of a break, or a pause, almost Pinter-esque?’ I ask, thinking of the late playwright whose use of pauses characterised much of his work.
Cyrus’ family fled Iran at the time of the revolution and have lived in the UK since then. Telling him (without I hope, sounding too sycophantic) how great I think the single and video are), I ask him what his experiences of Brixton then and now are. I ask him about the riots of 1981.
‘I don’t really recall the riots…I was three,’ Cyrus points out. He adds that a lot has improved in Brixton since the 1981 riots, and he speaks warmly about his experience of living there Living there, he’s noticed a sense of pride in the area. He recalls how living in one block of flats on the border with neighbouring (and still more affluent) Clapham, the residents were adamant that they lived in Brixton, not Clapham. He also recalls how as a teenager, the area still had a pretty harsh reputation. Attending a Beastie Boys gig at the legendary Brixton Academy, he confesses that his father waited in the car outside.
The track ‘Insurrection’ – built upon from the version that appears on his debut Ghost Notes, from last year – accompanies a video made by Cyrus himself. I ask him what it was like to make the video, pointing out that the final version is one of only two to ever nearly reduce me to tears (the other is ‘Hurt’ by Johnny Cash).
‘It was intoxicating to work with that sort of footage,’ he says thoughtfully. ‘You see stuff in it that you wouldn’t normally see.’ As for the vocals from Linton Kwesi Johnson, Cyrus says: ‘For better or worse, I’ve been very rooted in sample culture. [the vocal] came from a recital [Johnson] did in France, I think.’ The two have yet to meet. ‘He was cool with it,’ Cyrus says of the poet, whose work is a massive insight into the experience of the Afro-Caribbean experience in the UK. ‘He’s sadly unwell at the moment, recovering from an operation.’
‘Insurrection’ isn’t the only amazing video that Cyrus has produced. The video for the first single ‘Save Yourself’ is made up of astonishing footage of how life changed in Iran in the twentieth century, finishing with the Shah leaving Iran to go into exile, and the return to Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini. As he says on his YouTube page it’s made ‘using archive footage of the last century of social and political upheaval in Iran: from the industrialisation program of Reza Shah to the revolution that unseated his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and led to my family fleeing Tehran when I was barely a year old.’ Astonishingly, the video for this really only took a few hours. ‘It was made in a morning on iMovie.’ Really? ‘Genuinely done by lunchtime.’ the video is dedicated to his father who, he says, was genuinely moved by it.
In the UK, of course, the Middle East is barely out of the news, and often for all the wrong reasons. Cyrus seems perfectly happy living in the UK, but he had always felt a link. ‘I’d lived there as a baby,’ he reveals, ‘but my Dad didn’t think there was a future there for us. At twenty-four I got this insatiable urge to go back. Anyone with two cultures,’ he says thoughtfully, ‘ is doubly blessed.’ In 2004 he made his first visit to go back there, and he’s been back every year since then.
I ask about how he sees Iran as being represented in the UK media, even from the point of view of someone who is a journalist.
‘The media portrayal of Iran is as the bogeyman in the Middle-East. 70% of it is rural and poor. Journalists go to Tehran (the capital) and assume that’s what the country is like.’
It was whilst there covering the Iranian 2005 presidential election for the Sunday Times, that he found himself exploring at his Grandmother’s house. Amongst the things that he discovered was his Father’s record collection of music, much of which was banned by the revolutionary government. Having Djed through his teens and twenties, he returned to London, and started mixing the music of his Father with that of his own experience growing up in the UK. It would still be another five years before he felt ready to release an album, the aforementioned Ghost Notes. It mixes UK bass culture with Middle-East melancholy, drum’n’bass and reggae.
And the future? ‘At the moment, I’m in transition from being a full-time journalist to being a full-time musician.’ He tells me that he’s hoping to start his second album in July. He’s in talks with Iranian musicians in London and anticipates that it will be less sampled-based.
Whatever Hiatus does next, it’s sure to be worth waiting for.
Forst of all, next week it is Record Store Day on April 16. As part of this, we [17 Seconds Records]will be giving away a free CD sampler at Avalanche Records in Edinburgh. More details to come nearer the time – BUT -artists confirmed to appear on it so far include Fiction Faction, The Last Battle, the Wildhouse, Chris Bradley and X-Lion Tamer.
The Last Battle will be playingas part of Record Store day in Edinburgh at Avalanche, they join Frightened Rabbit, Penguins Kill Polar and Gordon MacIntyre from Ballboy, all from 1pm… they have also announced that they will be playing with Jesus H. Foxx and The Travelling Band at the Electric Circus on May 31 in Edinburgh. Not only that but they will be playing at both the Insider Festivals and Homegame in Scotland. And they are working on a NEW EP.
The Wildhouse are headlining a noise-pop all-dayer in Glasgow at the 13th Note on April 30th -read more about the line-up here.
In other news…Fiction Faction are working with Saraseto Records for their next release. As with when they worked with us, this is a single deal, and we are really chuffed for them. ‘Apparitions’ is still available on download from us, mind you… 😉
Just for fun, here are a number of 17 Seconds-related videos from the two and a half plus years we have been going:
Some bands are just so painfully bloody cool it hurts.
There will be those who sneer at She’s Hit: ‘I own all those albums by the Fall, Pere Ubu, Suicide, the Jesus and Mary Chain and The Cramps, too!’
To which I reply: ‘But if you haven’t found a way of taking your record collection, running with it and creating something that sounds fresh and as vital as they do…SHUT.UP.’
She’s Hit are painfully cool for so many reasons.
1. They have promotional pictures of them as a five piece and describe themselves as a fourpiece.
2. One of them, the ‘fifth’ member is one Scott Paterson, who’s also the lead singer of Sons & Daughters. Talk about having your cake and eating it.
3. Their band name shares its’ name with a song by the Birthday Party.
4. They run their own label called Re:Peater Records.
5. Their first release, also called ‘Re:Peater’ was a split single, which is one of the best old-school indie things you can do. It was a split with Jacob Yates and The Pearly Gates, who were formed out of the ashes of the much-missed Uncle John & Whitelock. This made it to no.6 in that barometer of cool, the annual 17 seconds Festive Fifty at no.6 *knowing ironic wink*
6. They’re friends with many of the great and the good on the Glasgow scene. As well as the aforementioned, Their song ‘Part One’ features vocals from Jen Paley of Astral Planes. Not only that but the second disc on the album is remixes of all tracks on the (first disc of the) album, including contributions from The Unwinding Hours and The Errors. 7. They’ll also be playing a show with Kid Congo Powers who was in both The Cramps and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.
7. They sound great.
The next single is called Shimmer Shimmer ‘ and it’s due out on May 23.
As with James, Carter the Unstopppable Sex Machine and Les Negresses Vertes, Sebastian dangerfield is not the name of a singer but a band.
Hailing from Edinburgh, the four friends (who reportedly have covered Panjabi MC and T.Rex – is this a trick to see if people are actually reading press releases and/or mindlessly recycling them? We may never know) are shortly to release their new EP. It is entitled The Sound Of the Old Machines. Leaving behind their bhangra and glam rock roots (!), it is a beautiful fusion of indie and country, if these two tracks are anything to go by. I have played these tracks several times this evening already – not sure which one I like better, they’re both pretty damn excellent.
The band, by the way are (fanfare please): Jason Irvine,Stuart McGachan, David Thompson and Jim Watson. Though they’ve released stuff before, this is a big step forward for them. I am trying to work out who does what in the band -but arguably, when it sounds this good it doesn’t matter. The EP will be released at a launch party on April 22nd at The Wee Red Bar in Edinburgh (Edinburgh College of Art -c’mon, keep up!), with support from We See Lights and Adam Thompson (of We Were Promised Jetpacks fame). It will then be available digitally from May 2nd through iTunes and Bandcamp.
I suppose, because I got into Callahan through (Smog) songs like ‘Strayed’ and ‘Dress Sexy At My Funeral’ that I still expect him to sound like that. There is a part of me that feel that the rather wry sense of humour on songs like that is missing in the work he has put out under his own name.
This is perhaps rather unfair. Those songs were over ten years ago, QED Callahan is ten years older, and (loath as I am to admit it) so am I. It is a mellower sounding album, perhaps having more in common with an album like Nixon by Lambchop than one of (Smog)’s. There’s even a whisper of the soul meets country with a hint of gospel thrown in of a Van Morrison album like Saint Dominic’s Preview.That said, by and large it’s a fairly straight forward, almost stripped down album ,which suits the seven songs therein rather well. The standout track here is probably ‘Riding For The Feeling’ though the album hangs together well as a whole.
Those unfamiliar with Callhan’s work might suspect something rather more violent from the album’s title, yet you sense that Callhan’s version of the Apolcalypse is more likely to be rather more thoughtful than many other people’s.
It is nice to be shown to be right, every so often on 17 Seconds.
Back in February 2009, I wrote a feature on a band just about to release their first single, called Help Stamp Out Loneliness.
At the time I commented that I thought their best song was ‘Record Shop.’ Well, fast forward just over two years, and that same song (which wasn’t a single but I was so enamoured of it that the band sent me an mp3 of it, bless ’em!) is now a free download fron the rather fine wiaiwya (Where It’s At Is Where You Are). I also commented that there were several lazy comparisons that people would make about their music; but I think about from two well-known Glasgow bands, It’s like an androgynous-voiced Nico fronting Stereolab. Oh yes indeedy…