Album Review – Clara Sanabras


Clara Sanabras -‘The Emblem’ (Smudged Discs)

Clara Sanabras is one of those artists who is quite an interesting proposition when encountered on paper, before even a note has been heard of her music. She has Sioux and Gypsy blood, was born in France, raised in Spain and now calls herself a Londoner. Amonghst the instruments she plays on this album are baroque guitar, telecaster and Indian harmonium.

To describe her as folk or world (shudder) music would be a case of very lazy categorisation, because there’s a whole heap of influences from across Europe and indeed further afield that come into play on this album. Perhaps close comparisons would be Maddy Prior and Joanna Newsom; she has the respect of folk traditions and purity of voice of the former, whilst the visionary approach of the latter. There’s a number of great tracks on this labum that can’t but help win you around ‘Dovetailing Love’ ‘Ode To Jimmy Jo and the title track, to name but three.

There’s a number of artists who get lumped in with the ‘world’ music lot who seem to produce music that’s very worthy and utterly dull, and usually leaves people rather afraid to admit that they don’t like, or don’t get it. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that Ms. Sanabras is of that ilk. This is something different, something special -and unlikely to soundtrack a dinner party near you any time soon.


The Emblem is out now on Smudged Discs.

Album Review – Mark Lanegan Band


Mark Lanegan Band -‘Blues Funeral’ (4AD)

It’s been eight years since Mark Lanegan’s last solo album, the (rightly) highly regarded Bubblegum. Since then, as well as work with Queens Of The Stone Age, he’s also made no less than three albums with former Belle & Sebastian Chanteuse Isobel Campbell. I love all three of those records – and yet I am pleased to be able to report that Blues Funeral sounds absolutely nothing like any of them.

This album opens with the frankly incredible ‘The Grace Diggers Song.’ Time it was, it might have been appropriate to say that this was worth the price of the album alone – but that may be a pointless things to say to the iTunes generation. Either way, this has been the free track doing the rounds, it’s a fantastic start to what continues to be a great album right the way through.

What Lanegan manages to do so well right across the course of the album is to marry the spirit of Johnny Cash, Tom Waits and Nick Cave to produce a gothic-sounding (without being goth, if you catch my meaning) sound that is all his own. He certainly builds opon much of his work over the last decades plus, without ever sounding particularly reminiscent of QOTSA, Isobel Campbell or his old band Screaming Trees. His voice seems to get ever deeper – the only two men I can think of who sound any deeper are Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits (both of whom have also released excellent albums in last few months).

The strength of ‘The Grave Diggers Song’ is such that this may well be the track that gets much of the attention, though ‘Bleeding Muddy Water’ and ‘St. Louis Elegy’ are pretty fine too.

Certain to do well in end of year lists, including mine.


Blues Funeral is out now on 4AD.

Mark Lanegan Band -‘The Grave Diggers Song.’ mp3 This MP3 has been removed DESPITE the fact it is still freely available AND I gave the album a great write-up.

Very sinister…

Stream the entire album here



Niteflights are a London fourpiece – or so their website says, though it does not reveal who. Digging deeper, on Facebook, it says they are Adam Hartley, Sam Hayward, James Johnston and Alex Deery.

They make music which seems to be at the point where post-punkers got into making pop music (think orange Juice and Scritti Politti) fused with the likes of Metronomy or Phonix. This is a GOOD thing. Listen to debut single ‘Marnie’ to hear these two influences playing off against each other rather well.

They have just released a free, three-track EP, which you can download from below. My favourite track of the three is ‘Emily (It’s Easy)’ but why not give all three a listen and see which one your favourite is?

There’s a video for the title track:

They have recorded a cover of John Cale’s ‘Paris 1919’ which sounds vastly different from the original, which all good covers should do.

…so what do you think?

Interview – Dodgy


During the 1990s, Dodgy rose from being indie favourites to bone fide pop stars, on the cover of NME and on Top Of the Pops. Over the course of three albums, their star rose and rose. At the height of their popularity, lead singer Nigel Clark left the band. Despite continuing with another singer, their star faded. However, 2007 saw the original line-up of Dodgy get back together and tour, and next week will see the first album of new material of the original three-piece since Free Peace Sweet, entitled Stand Upright In A Cool Place. 17 Seconds caught up with drummer Mathew Priest to find out about what led the band got back together, why they are avoiding the nostalgia circuit and how Denise Van Outen is to blame for the band all bleaching their hair back in the 1990s…

I start by asking him how things are going, and the tour went.

‘We did a tour before Christmas, for two months. It was an old man’s tour, we played every weekend.’ (As a father himself, Mathew knows how things invariably slow down slightly when you have children and your focus changes.) ‘We did the tour and we knew we’d done something special. We [the band] knew that the problem was going to be convincing people that the stuff we’d done was as good as, if not better than the stuff we’d done before [the first time round].’

Reunion tours can be tricky affairs, reunion records even more so. But Dodgy felt comfortable enough that when they went out on tour, they would play Stand Upright In A Cool Place in full. There seems to have been some debate about playing their old songs – with Clark not wanting to play ‘Good Enough’ – their biggest hit, reaching no.4 in 1996. During the course of our interview, it will become clear that Priest is extremely proud of the new record.

Of course, it no doubt seemed that there was unfinished business. I ask him about the years inbetween 1997, and picking up a decade later.

‘At the time [of the original split], Nigel said he didn’t want to do it any more,’ Priest explains. ‘I’ve always regretted that I didn’t say ‘Let’s take six months off. He [Clark] loved being successful, but hated dealing with fame. He had two kids, and was looking at me and Andy (Miller, guitarist) who were then single, still going out and having the time of our lives.’

‘Me and Andy were pissed off that Nigel left,’ he says. ‘We found a different singer [David Bassey, at this time the band were also augmented by keyboardist Chris Hallam, and bassist Nick Abnett], but it wasn’t Dodgy. We couldn’t carry on without Nigel and he couldn’t carry on without us.’

This line-up wound down at the turn of the last decade – I suppose the story reminds me of Echo and the Bunnymen doing Reverberation without Ian McCulloch.
‘I made sure we got an album out. Real Estate was met with indifference. ‘ In 2001, he started managing bands, as well as touring with both the Electric Soft Parade and The Lightning Seeds. Andy Miller, meanwhile formed Hey Gravity ‘who did quite well in France.’

So how did they get back together and how did it feel? It transpires that it was the death of a close friend that brought them back together, not just as a band, but also as friends.

‘It was our lighting technician, Andy Moore, who was with us since 1993,’ Math reveals, explaining that Moore died of a brain tumour. ‘He had a testimonial before he died – got me and Nigel together in the same room. Banged our heads together! He died the week before our reunion tour,’ he adds, sadly.

There’s been several years since reforming and getting the new album out. I tell him that I enjoy the new record, but that it seems rather different to the Dodgy of before. Exactly the right thing to say to him, as it happens. ‘I would hate people to say we sound like we did before.’ The approach and situation was different in so many ways.

The first time round, he explains, over the course of the three albums they did together [The Dodgy Album, Homegrown and Free Peace Sweet] they had a producer and a record company. There was none of that this time round. Priest says ‘Because we were doing it ourselves, we had everything to prove and nothing to lose.’ As they set about maklng the album, Clark advised them to take their time. ‘No one was waiting for the new Dodgy album,’ he says, matter-of-factly.

But what Dodgy are doing is going out on their own terms, and firmly avoiding the nostalgia circuit. ‘We couldn’t do it, we literally couldn’t do it,’ he says, firmly. For some people it may be the only financial option they have. ‘With the state of the music business now ‘the money is always dwindling…if all you’re gonna do is ‘Good Enough’ and ‘Staying Out For The Summer’…it doesn’t appeal. Nigel’s too creative,’ he adds. Firmly he tells me: ‘I would rather drum for a band doing Britpop covers than hit the nostalgia circuit with Dodgy.’

We discuss the idea of reunion tours. We both agree that there’s a certain inevitability to the Oasis reunion, which seems to have been mooted over the last few weeks. Perhaps surprisingly, the parallel he draws is with Take That, and how they really have managed to reinvent themselves. ‘Their old stuff doesn’t matter!’ he says, sounding genuinely pleased for Gary Barlow and co. ‘That was our goal from the outset, that this album is as good, if not better. It’s the same three art harmonies, it’s still the same basic influences – the Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin – then the pain of life gets added and the pace of life slows down.’

Stand Upright In A Cool Place is most definitely – and I mean this as a compliment – an album made by three men in their forties. He’s thrilled to bits that Mark Ellen in The Word has said that they were good before, and they’re now better. ‘It’s the three of us – and that’s what people are picking up on. There’s grey, there’s autumnal [elements to the sound.’ He adds, firmly: ‘If I die tomorrow this [album] is testament to what we have done.’

And finally, I have to ask, what about the drastic image change that happened about the time of Free Peace Sweet? ‘I didn’t like it!’ he says, comparing it to the Hitler Youth. Harsher than my comment – that it was like The Police in their days of Wrigley’s adverts. ‘Andy Miller was going out with Denise van Outen at the time, and dyed his hair. Then Nigel dyed his hair. I was really upset!’

Stand Upright In A Cool Place is released on Strike Back Records on February 20.

Album Review – Beth Jeans Houghton & the Hooves Of Destiny


Beth Jeans Houghton & the Hooves of Destiny -‘Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose’ (Mute)

Rather like the recent album from Laura J. Martin, this is a fine debut album from a female singer, who deserves to be tagged with more than just the ‘folk-singer’ tag.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a folk singer, but in a world full of singer-songwriters, it’s genuinely great to be able to report (or remind you, if you’ve been paying attention before) that here is an act who leaves so many others standing. Yes, it’s folky (in places) but it’s also hymnal, it’s also glam, it’s also sad, it’s also uplifting, and all in the space of thirty-five minutes.

I’m clutching for superlatives here, and wishing that ‘lovely’ and ‘sweet’ didn’t seem so loaded and pejorative. Because this is a genuinely gorgeous album, that’s sung with the voice of a shy angel, that you want to hear again and again (I already have played it several times since it arrived).

What the hell. It’s a mighty fine album from a great new talent. Just go and buy the bloody record and listen to it loads.

Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose is out now on Mute

The return of Haight-Ashbury!


Yes, indeed!

I first reviewed Haight-Ashbury nearly five years ago when they supported The Waterboys.

Now, time has flown and little more than a year after they released their debut album Here in the Golden Rays they are set to return with their new album Haight-Ashbury 2:The Ashburys, due out on May 7.

The first single to be released from the album is entitled, perhaps rather appropriately, ‘Sophomore’, which will be released on February 27.

The band, meanwhile, will be playing the following tour dates:

23/02/2012 Gwdihw, Cardiff
25/02/2012 Fibbers, York
26/02/2012 Hebden Bridge, Trades Club
02/03/2012 Birmingham, Hare & Hounds
03/03/2012 Brighton, Green Door Store
06/03/2012 Oxford, The Cellar
07/03/2012 Edinburgh, Sneaky Pete’s
08/03/2012 Glasgow, Captain’s Rest
09/03/2012 Halifax, Dog House
10/03/2012 London, Club Surya

Gig review – Frightened Rabbit/Augustines/Fatherson

Frightened Rabbit/Augustines/Fatherson

HMV Picturehouse Edinburgh, February 10

It’s been a long wait for yours truly to see Frightened Rabbit. I’ve enjoyed their music for many years – and yet somehow the chance to see them has eluded me. To the extent that earlier on in the day of this gig, I had been drafted to help out at Avalanche Records in Edinburgh where the band were doing an instore -and I had to leave before they arrived.

First up tonight on the bill (and at a gig that’s full to the rafters, by the way) are Fatherson. Fatherson are equal parts ninties grunge, scots indie and epic folk. Whilst I can’t quite catch the song titles, it doesn’t matter – they win me over and I’m eager to see the Kilmarnock band again soon.

The Augustines seem to be in thrall to U2 circa The Joshua Tree. Very passionate performance and all, yet bordering on being overwrought. One song sounds like The Jam’s ‘That’s Entertainment’ meets The Cure’s ‘Grinding Halt’ without much of the greatness of either. They are well-received by the corwd though, so it’s possible that the joke may be on me…

By the time Frightened Rabbit come on, it’s not just me but pretty much the entire venue that’s ready to explode with anticipation. Early on in the set former single ‘Nothing Like You’ sets the tone. It’s now an anthem and the excitement can be felt even right at the back. As the Frabbits tear into ‘Old Old Fashioned’ it’s clear that whilst yours truly has failed to see them before tonight, this is a band who now inspire mass clap-and-singalongs, They won’t be playing venues this size for much longer. The set is drawn mainly from their last two studio albums, which have been seeping into the consciousness of their ever-growing legion of fans.

There’s no firm news on a fourth album yet, but the delight that occured when ‘Swim…’ became their first big breakthrough will be nothing compares to when this long-awaited release hits the shelves/download service of your choice. Towards the end of the set the band go off after an excellent ‘Love In A Hole’ with Scott returning to do a solo ‘Poke’ before the whole band rejoin him for ‘Good arms versus bad arms’ and ‘Loneliness In A Scream.’ We’re literally left wanting more as the house lights come on.

Scottish band most likely to do a Biffy Clyro in 2012? That’ll be the Frabbits, then.

A Frightened Rabbit EP by Frightened Rabbit

Album Review – Django Django


Django Django -‘Django Django’ (Because)

Are Django Django an indie band? Well, up to a point. It’s a great relief to be able to start of by proclaiming that this very much NOT indie by numbers (which I think I reached saturation with several years ago -and I think is why guitar bands aren’t selling in the way they sometimes do at the moment). There’s a family link with the much missed Beta Band (drummer David Maclean is the younger brother of Beta Band’s John Maclean), and while there might be something in common with The Betas, there’s a krautrock (or German Prog-Rock, if you prefer) vein going through the album. They might be playing drums, guitar and bass, but these guys know there’s a world beyond the meat and two veg guitar world. Positive comparisons might be made to the way that both Vampire Weekend and Bwani Junction have influences that they have built upon that aren’t standard NME/Evening Session fodder.

Are Django Django a Scottish band? This much is clear: they met at Edinburgh College of Art (merely a block or two away from 17 Seconds Towers) and formed in 2009. The Beta Band were Scottish. There are people now popping up out of the woodwork to say that they saw the band at small venues in Edinburgh (these are rapidly disappearing) in the previous few years. NME says they’re Scottish; The Guardian refers to them as being from East London.

Are Django Django worth listening to? Oh God, yes! These young men have produced a psychedelic wonder of an album that makes you want to dance and charge around. It’s not everything but the kitchen sink eclecticism, but it is music made by people who understand the beauty of the pop song, the art of experimentation and share a common vision and spirit of adventure. Tracks like ‘Firewater’ and ‘Hail Bop’ will doubtless be blaring from far more than just a handful of Hoxton Hipsters’ headphones before long.

Have they chosen a silly name, especially as you end up saying the same word four times? Yes, but on the strength of this (debut) album, I think we’ll forgive them. And let’s face it, The Beatles might be a silly name, but it would be stupid to change it now…

Django Django is out now on Because.

17 Seconds Records update


Yes, we know, last year was quieter, but the big release round 17 Seconds Towers was the arrival of the wee man nearly eleven months ago.

Anyway, Matt Norris and the Moon have finished their fine, forthoming five track EP, and it sounds ace.

There will be all sorts of wonderfulness to come very shortly, think lots of gigs and launches and much, much more…

In the meantime, enjoy this, the first track to do the rounds from it:

And this is the four track demo that convinced us we had to work with them in the first place:

Album Review – Chris Devotion and the Expectations


Chris Devotion and the Expectations -‘Amalgamation & Capital’ (Armellodie)

Armellodie – yet again – have come up with another awesome rock’n’ roll album.

Though there’s parts of this record which look back over half a century, there’s somehow a feeling that CD/EX (heh!) manage to feel constantly fresh and exciting, right across the entire album.

Kicking off with second single ‘A Modest Refusal,’ the Glasgow band tear through their debut with an impressive energy that could make the lame jump for joy (and I should probably refrain from any more gags along this line before the PC brigade and the religious nutters go berzerk). I’ve long maintained that a debut single should be like a band’s manifesto – and last January’s ‘I Need Your Touch’/’Pinhole Suit’ was most definitely that – here they take their manifesto and and write it large over the course of sixteen tracks in just thirty-six minutes.

Even at the end of a long tiring day, this album is like a much needed shot of caffeine to the senses. There’s no frills, but there’s plenty of thrills (and thankfully, nothing that sounds like The Thrills). They impressed me live a year ago – and they’ve built on the promise of their singles to deliver a debut that we need.


Amalgamation & Capital is out now on Armellodie.