About Ed

Music fan by instinct

Presenting…Half Formed Things

Sometimes, over what has been very nearly thirteen years of blogging, I have forgotten just how much it can be a thrill to still discover new stuff. In amongst the 100+ emails that arrive each day (the amount of stuff that I will never get around to listening to is really absurdly high), once in a while there will be something that reminds me ‘this is why I’m still doing it.’

Tonight’s offering comes from Edinburgh band Half Formed Things. They are Matthew Bakewell (guitar and voice), Morgan Hosking (piano and voice), Nici Hosking (percussion and voice) and Edwin McLachlan (drums). They’re about to release their debut album To Live In The Flicker. Despite the name, there’s nothing half-formed about these guys and gals at all, in fact they specialise in a gorgeous cinematic kind of rock, informed by the likes of 17 Seconds favourites Kate Bush, the National and Talk Talk.

They release their debut single ‘February’/’April’ last year and followed it up with ‘the Apostate’ this year – all three tracks can be found on To Live In The Flicker. That title, by the way, is loosely informed by writer Joseph Conrad (Heart Of Darkness, The Secret Agent), each peering briefly into people’s lives. They’re playing at the Wee Red Bar at Edinburgh College Of Art this Saturday (May 25), and a tour is planned for later this year.

One to treasure, I think.

You can order their album over at their bandcamp

Album Review – The National

The National – ‘I Am Easy To Find’ (4AD)

The National could have quite easily titled this, their eighth album, I Am Easy To Love, and they would have been absolutely right. Over the course of sixteen tracks, this is 62 minutes you’ll want to listen to again and again. Right from the digitally manipulated guitar line that starts off album opener ‘You Had Your Soul With You’ to the beautifully sad closer ‘Light Years’ this is an album that gently brings you in, and you don’t want to let go.

Perhaps the thing that regular listeners to the National will notice is the use of female voices throughout the record. I keep changing my mind about what is the best track here, but the Gail Ann Dorsey- assisted ‘Roman Holiday’ is one of them. Other vocalists who appear throughout the record include Sharon Van Etten and Lisa Hannigan. Their contribution is far more than mere backing vocals; think of the way that Gram Parsons would bring in Emmylou Harris, or Leonard Cohen worked with a long list female vocalists. It’s that kind of special effect.

Yet at the basis, it’s the songs, dammit. Too many highlights to list individually, but they make up one hell of a collection of songs. While the National may be seen as being a critics and bloggers sort of band, the reality is the deserve their ever-growing fanbase. It’s a very unique kind of melancholy from a very special band. Make sure you spend time with this record.

****1/2

I Am Easy To Find is released on May 17 on 4AD.


Album Review – Cranberries

Cranberries – ‘In The End.’ (BMG)

I must confess to feeling a little guilty. Around the time of their first two albums, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We and No Need To Argue, the Cranberries were never far from the tape deck. Yet somehow, I’d stopped paying attention around the time of the third album.

I have to say, though, that the release of their eighth, and sadly, final album, appropriately entitled In The End, is a fantastic record that reminds me of why I really loved them all those years ago, and shames me into going to investigate the years I missed out on them.

Lead singer Dolores O’Riordan sadly died last year. The Limerick band decided to finish the album, which in many ways seems to have been heading full circle back to how they had sounded when they had started, over twenty-five years ago. What that means is that there’s a soft-sung voice, music that runs from the folk sound of their native country meeting the US grunge sound. ‘Wake Me When It’s Over,’ for example, evokes the 1994 single ‘Zombie’ but cleaner in its sound. There’s the anger within, meeting the gentle, which made this band so winning to start with.

Too many artists will have their final work poured over for signs of premonitions that they were making their last record. It’s not healthy; instead focus on what they have achieved and how they had come together to make a record that should bring old and new fans into the fold. This is the sound of a band who sound reawakened. The title track is melancholy, and reflective, and a fitting end.

Remember Dolores – and the band – this way.

****

In The End is out now on BMG

I’m back…actually I never went away

Indeed. A couple of weeks ago, just as I was attempting to write a link to my review of Craig Finn’s excellent new album, I Need A New War, there appeared to be difficulties with actually posting anything on the blog. This was followed with problems trying to find out who and how to get it sorted.

So here I am, and finally, here is the link to said review over at God Is In The TV:

Craig Finn – I Need A New War

Just to whet your appetite:

Album Review – Carrie Tree

carrie tree

Carrie Tree -‘The Canoe’ (Wild Cedar Records)

Over the years of writing this blog (and to anyone still reading, it may come as a surprise to you to learn that it’s coming up for thirteen), I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with singer-songwriters. But cutting to the chase, whilst Carrie Tree had been unknown to me until the release of this, her third album, it’s an album that has grown on this listener, and become an album that’s a pleasure to listen to, rather than one simply to be reviewed.

There’s a beauty within this album that bewitches and entices. The songs are beautifully scored, and actually command your attention. Rather than just being about the singer and her songs, they are delivered and presented in a way that suggests magic is at work here. It’s really not just another pop-folk record like…too many to list, really. Mostly recorded in the UK and Iceland, with a whole host of international musicians

While the record is perhaps still finding its feet over the first two tracks, the power within kicks in on the title track, the third one on the running order. Particularly poignant is ‘Human Kindness.’ In well-intentioned but less skilled hands, this song about a refugee fleeing a war-torn country could have been worthy but dull. Sung with her twin brother Mark, the lines about ‘I’ve slept in the rubble/screaming at the bombs this is not in my name’ have both poignancy and humanity.

The minimal approach to scoring the record is reminiscent at times of later-period Talk Talk, particularly on ‘Deep as We Dare,’ a beautifully autumnal song. It’s effective, and never once does it get syrupy over the album. In fact, it’s a mark of strength that not only do individual songs start to stand out over repeated listens, but that what the best track is changes.

There’s no doubt that most singer-songwriters write from the heart, Carrie Tree has the ability to deliver upon the promise within. Those who aspire to tread this well-worn path would be advised to take note. What they may struggle to emulate is the voice, simultaneously fragile and smoky…

The Canoe is released on April 26 on wild Cedar Records

 

New Dead Can Dance video

Dead Can Dance 2019

At the end of last year, I gave Dead Can Dance my album of the year for their first album in six years, Dionysus (you can read my review of the album here  and look at my list of albums of the year here.)

The duo of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry have been responsible for some of the most exciting and original music over the last forty years. This excerpt from Dionysus, ‘The Invocation’ is accompanied by a rather lovely video. It was made by a Bulgarian company called Wonderswamp who state in the press release:

When we were contacted by Dead Can Dance we were very excited, as we had been fans of the band for many years and this was a great opportunity to create something for an act we admire.
When we heard ‘The Invocation’ the excitement grew as the song features motifs inspired by Bulgarian folklore music, and to see that our music and traditions can inspire them motivated us further. It was also an opportunity to create a narrative for a video based on ancient traditions that used to be practiced in our country and are still somehow preserved to the present day.
The match between these peculiar rituals and the band’s music could not be better.”

 

 

Dead Can Dance are conducting a European tour in May and June, and if you are going to see them I am very jealous…

The continuing story of Oceans Over Alderan

Oceans Over Alderaan

Just after New Year (indeed on January 1), I wrote about Oceans Over Alderan, who were just about to release their debut single ‘Sevenfour.’

The band are Alice Deacon (vocals), Steve Trenell (bass), Joe Wylie (drums), and Barry Parkinson (guitar).  As is the way with with these things (usually, when things are going well), the band are due to release their second single ‘Falters’ on April 19, and you can stream the video below. It will be released on their own The Recording Industry Is Dead Records. It is another sublime slice of post-rock meets shoegaze, and very welcome to these ears. Please spread the word.

Future live dates can be found here.

 

 

 

 

Interview – Jenna Reid

Jenna Reid

Ahead of her Queen’s Hall gig this weekend, Jenna Reid calls up 17 Seconds for a chat.

Earlier this year, Jenna Reid released her latest album Working Hands. Her fourth solo album is fabulous – drawing on traditional Scottish folk, and feeling utterly contemporary at the same time. Apart from three traditional Shetland tunes, she’s been responsible for writing it. The Queen’s Hall gig is the first time she’s played it as a solo artist – indeed ‘the first we’ve done the album since we launched it in January at Celtic Connections.’ She adds: ‘It will be really exciting – the Queen’s Hall is a favourite of mine, it’s an amazing venue [17 Seconds can totally agree to this, by the way!]. It’s probably a special one for McFalls, as well, because that’s their home turf, as it were, and they’ve probably played in there countless times, so it’s really exciting for me to be playing with them there.’

(Ah yes, McFalls…otherwise known as Mr. McFall’s Chamber, the group lead by Robert McFall, who have played on a number of 17 Seconds faves. We digress…)

Raised in Shetland, she’s now based with her family in a small village not far from Glasgow. ‘I’d love to say I lived up in Shetland,’ she says, wistfully. ‘I moved to Glasgow when I was seventeen, it’s the nearest I can get to Shetland, here!’

‘It’s been a lot of years since I did any solo touring,’ she reflects. In her early years she titled it the Jenna Reid Band, ‘but it wasn’t really a band, like Blazin’ Fiddles, it was a solo effort and I was being accompanied by musicians.’

‘I’ve got a really close relationship with Harris Playfair, who’s a piano player from Shetland from the same village as me [Quarff],’ she adds. ‘To me, on the piano, he’s untouchable! We’ve played together for maybe fifteen years, maybe more, and I specifically wanted to work with him.’

She was nine when she first picked up a violin, found in her grandmother’s attic in Ayrshire. It sounds like something out of a fairy story, but in her case, it’s true. The culture of the time helped too. ‘In Shetland at the time, all schools when I was growing up, had fully funded music tuition. I think there was, like, five fiddle tutors that went round every school in Shetland.’ She recalls; ‘There were twenty children in our Primary – and so we were getting a one-to-one lesson every week! It’s unheard-of now, unfortunately.’

And the fiddle from Granny’s attic? It’s played by her Bethany in RANT, another of the groups that Jenna plays with. Jenna herself  was lucky enough to get a bursary from the Donald Dewar Awards Fund in 2008, which enabled her to get a new instrument to her. Said violin is two hundred and fifty years old.

She kept on studying – and at the age of seventeen, she left Shetland for Glasgow, to study at what was then the RSAMD [Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland]. It was here that she joined Dòchas, the Gaelic band, and latter played with Blazin’ Fiddles, of which she modestly confesses to pinching herself about playing with. 

I ask her about what to expect from her live performances. ‘It’s always seated, a listening kind of audience. Largely, even with the Blazing Fiddles music, which is louder and rockier, it still works better for us to play to a seated audience.’

She won’t be resting much – after this gig, she has performances in both London and Scotland, and then goes back onto RANT and Blazin’ Fiddles calendars. ‘But there’ll be some down time in Shetland to look forward to!’ she adds with a twinkle in her voice.

Jenna Reid plays Edinburgh Queens Hall on April 7, with Harris Playfair and Mr. McFall’s Chamber. She will also be playing at London’s Kingsplace on April 28 and Perth’s Horsecross on April 29.

 

 

Scott Walker remembered

Scott Walker.jpg

Still kinda stunned a couple of days later to realise that Scott Walker has died. He was truly an original (and dammit, 2019 looks set to be one of those years when you start to worry when you see someone’s name trending on twitter).

I’d covered Scott Walker’s releases both here and over on God Is In The TV, and you can find links to pieces I wrote here:

 Soused (with SUNN O))) review at 17 Seconds

The Childhood Of A Leader OST review at GIITTV

We Had It All re-evaluated at GIITTV

And some thoughts on what I think might be the best Scott Walker track, ‘It’s Raining Again‘:

The opening track from Scott 3 is heartbreaking yet sublimely beautiful at the same time. On the surface it’s a ballad, yet dip just below and there’s more at play, as Scott continued to experiment ever more than before. It has left the screaming fans of the Walker Boys days behind and looks to a future that’s more reflective and full of unknown possibilities.
In many ways, this might be seen as the definitive Scott Walker track: aware of what’s behind him, certainly not at a cross roads but combining chamber pop and an ever more avant grade approach. This is the piece that completes the jigsaw of fifty years plus of music making.

 

Album Review- Kevin Armstrong

Kevin Armstrong

Kevin Armstrong – ‘Run’ (Wishing Tree Records)

While the name Kevin Armstrong may not be known to many readers, the list of people that he has played with over a career stretching nearly forty years is pretty impressive. It includes, amongst others, Iggy Pop, Prefab Sprout and Sinead O’Connor. Perhaps the two artists that most connect with this collection of songs are David Bowie (still missed around 17 Seconds Towers) and Morrissey.

Armstrong has written seven of the songs on this album himself, and the other four songs are co-writes with Bowie and Morrissey, two apiece. From Bowie we have ‘Run’ (recorded with the much-mocked Tin Machine project), and Morrissey ‘Oh Phony’ and the standout on the record ‘He Knows I’d Love To See Him.’

He’s a pretty reasonable singer, and an excellent guitarist. Whilst it’s not Slaughter On 10th Avenue, it’s a pretty solid collection of songs. ‘On Beachy Head’ seems to be a touchy without moping lament for a friend who died at that notorious suicide spot, and ‘Dog Ate My Giro’ is far better than a song with this seemingly daft title has any right to be. To say that this will only appeal to Bowie and Moz diehards is unfair. It’s a gentle listen, without some next textures throughout. Not lifechanging, but a steady grower.

***

Run is out now on Wishing Tree Records.

Stream via Spotify.