Album review – George McFall

George McFall

George McFall -‘XIV: Surrounder.’ (Tenement Records)

It’s been nearly eight years since his first album, God Save The Clean, but the artist who formerly recorded as Clean George IV, is back with a new album which has definitely been worth the wait.

Towards the end of last year, McFall unveiled the first track from the album ‘Autumn.’ If so have still to hear it, it’s a wonderfully dark track, which genuinely feels like that time of year when the days are getting shorter. It was a perfect taster for the album, fitting in with the peculiarly Scottish melancholia of bands like Mogwai and the Twilight Sad, Sad and sounding as if it had been processed through the post-punk electric sounds of Gary Numan and John Foxx-era Ultravox, them finished off with addressing of prime 1970s German progressive rock. It broods with barely contained menace, as if any moment it might jump out of your speakers and attack.

However, it’s not an album which simply xeroxes the lead single to diminishing returns. The following track ‘Practice’ comes in two parts, the first part coming on like a fight song meets mantra, before slowing down into a soundtrack that evokes the opening of space doors onto unimaginable horror. Our George could have a bright future scoring Hollywood soundtracks if the fancy took him. Meanwhile songs like ‘Repetition’ and ‘Change’ channel the ghost of a young Mark E. Smith (circa 1979) and head for the dancefloor, dragging you along with a supernatural power, sneering at Kasabian that anything they can do, McFall will surely outclass them.

Several listens before reviewing this album demonstrate on each listen just how excellent this album is. Legendary Edinburgh drummer Murray Briggs (Aberfeldy and Oi Polloi) plays drums, but otherwise everything else is played by Mr. McFall himself, leading to the feeling of an album that’s entirely as its creator intended (no A&R fool bleating about the lack of a single for the American market here). There’s a huge number of influences within, but they are interwoven so effectively that there is no question of this being written off as mere record collection rock.

Interviewing McFall earlier this year, he told me that he intends to finish two albums under his own name this year. For us as listeners, on the strength of this album alone, that’s a treat being dangled in front of our ears and noses. Yum Yum.

A resounding success.

****

XIV: Surrounder is out now on Tenement Records

Andy Anderson remembered

Andy Anderson

Andy Anderson, with his father Cliff Anderson, a well-known boxer in the East End of London.

Jeez, not a good week, is it?

Andy Anderson drummer for The Cure between 1983-84 and frequent collaborator with other acts, including Iggy Pop, Isaac Hayes and Peter Gabriel,  died on Tuesday aged 68. He had been battling cancer.

His death was announced by former Cure member Lol Tolhurst. Tolhurst wrote:

‘It’s with a heavy heart, I have to report the passing of a Cure brother.

Andy Anderson was A (sic) true gentleman and a great musician with a wicked sense of humor which he kept until the end, a testament to his beautiful spirit on the last journey. We are blessed to have known him.’

The Cure in 1984

The Cure in 1984: (l-r) Phil Thornally, Porl Thompson, Robert Smith, Andy Anderson and Lol Tolhurst.

So as a tribute, some of the tracks Anderson played on.

He first played with Robert Smith, in the side project The Glove, who released one album, Blue Sunshine, in 1983:

He first played on The Cure’s top ten hit ‘The Love Cats’ seen here on Top of the Pops in late 1983. The track was first compiled on the Japanese Whispers album later that year.

Andy also played on The Top studio album and the live Concert, bothreleased in 1984. ‘The Caterpillar’ was another top twenty hit.

Mark Hollis remembered

Mark Hollis

Of all the band’s whose evolution over their lifespan might not have been expected, Talk Talk might well top the list. Lead by Mark Hollis, who died today aged 64, they went from being seen as possible new romantic rivals to Duran Duran around the time of their 1982 debut, The Party’s Over and its accomplished follow-up It’s My Life (1984) to laying the groundwork for Radiohead and post-rock over the trio of records that is The Colour Of Spring (1986), Spirit Of Eden (1988) and Laughing Stock (1991).

So here, in tribute, a track from each of those five albums, and one from his only solo album.

From 1982’s The Party’s Over, the eponymous single ‘Talk Talk.’ Sure you can hear the similarity to acts like Duran, Visage and A Flock Of Seagulls, but there’s a scope here that suggests they are thinking beyond the nightclubs of London town.

 

From 1984’s It’s My Life, the title track (later covered by No Doubt). This wouldn’t be the last time there would be an animal flavoured video.

From 1986’s The Colour Of Spring ‘Life’s What You Make It.’ Another animal-featuring video…one of their best known songs.

 

Whilst 1988’s Spirit Of Eden didn’t produce any big hit singles, it showed that the band had moved on leaps and bounds even from the changes that had come about on their previous album. It shows a link with pastoral records like Virginia Astley’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure (1983) and points to post-rock, particularly bands like Sigur Ros.

The band’s final album would become even more minimalist – and links to bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor!, and possibly full circle to early 80’s contemporaries like David Sylvian. This opening track is seemingly about suicide but utterly beautiful.

Mark’s sole release under his own name was his 1998 eponymous album from which this is taken. Just brilliant.

He retired from the music business to focus on bringing up his two sons. 17 Seconds sends best wishes to his family and friends.

Presenting…Rev Magnetic

Rev Magnetic

Rev Magnetic are based around the core of legendary Scottish musician and writer (Sweetmeat, Jelly Roll, Venus As A Boy – all worth reading) Luke Sutherland.

An occasional member of Mogwai, his musical project Rev Magnetic are now signed to Mogwai’s Rock Action label, and ‘Gloaming’ is the first fruits of the partnership. The single is released on 7″ at the end of this week, out now on digital, and an album is to follow.

This is glorious – and the video is fantastic, too.

 

New from Chaka Khan

chaka-khan-hello-happiness

I’ve been a bit quiet round the blog lately, but it doesn’t mean that I’ve given up.

Rather that life is keeping me busy. But I’m still listening, reading and writing.

At the moment, I’m enjoying the final part of Stuart Cosgrove’s epic soul trilogy, Harlem 69: The Future Of Soul. It follows on from Detroit 67: The Year That Changed Soul and Memphis 68: The Tragedy Of Southern Soul. The fast-moving tale of soul is intertwined with the politics of the period, and it’s educational not just about music but also about history, politics and sociology. The advantage of the modern age is that you can make a list of the music you are reading about and go and investigate it at the touch of the button…though this probably works more to the benefit of the consumer rather than the artist.

One of the people who appears in the pages of Harlem 69 is a young Chaka Khan. She’s just released her first album in twelve years, Hello Happiness. Somehow I missed last year’s first track from the album ‘Like Sugar’ which is just awesome. Fortunately, when it comes to doing my end of year Festive Fifty lists, one of my rules is that a track can qualify even if it was released as single the previous year…if it is released on the parent album that year. Seriously, check this out…

 

 

This is the title track, which is also rather fine.

 

 

Hello Happiness is only seven songs long, but it’s a joy to hear. Take the time to do so!

 

Gig review – Craig Finn

Craig Finn

Craig Finn – Edinburgh Usher Hall, February 6, 2019

The last time I saw Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn it was close enough to see the whites of his eyes. Hardly surprising, it was a living room gig in an Edinburgh tenement. At the time he was promoting his latest (third) solo album, We All Want The Same Things. Now two years later, he’s supporting Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon on solo dates, and has a new solo album, I Need A New War, out in April.

There’s no doubt that Craig Finn is a talented songwriter – but watching and listening to him armed with just an acoustic guitar (no mean feat in a venue the size of the Usher Hall, upgraded from the comparatively smaller Queen’s Hall), his skill as a raconteur cannot be underestimated. Sure, it’s irritating when people won’t shut up over the support act, but even more so when it’s someone this witty.

Introducing the Hold Steady’s song ‘Magazines’, he talks about how it was written after a girl dumped him on a date. Then twenty-four hours later – during which time he’d written the song – she realised she’d made a mistake and they’ve been together ever since, even though he wrote the song. There’s a preview of the new record’s ‘Magic Marker’ and more reflections about growing up and missing out on being a proper punk because he didn’t get to see Black Flag on ‘Punk Is Not A Fair Fight.’ There’s the melancholy of 9/11 revisited on ‘Newmyer’s Roof’ and a touching tribute to the late Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit with a cover of Frabbits’ ‘Heads Roll Off.’

As a reviewer, I was privileged to see this, but if I’d been a punter I would have been amply rewarded, too.

Album review – Katie Doherty and the Navigators

katie-doherty-lg-1170x650

Katie Doherty and the Navigators -‘And Then’ (Steeplejack Music)

‘Second album syndrome’ is an idea that’s been around so long it’s tempting to wonder how music makers were pressured pre-recorded sound. Katie Doherty released her debut, Bridges, back in 2007, but it’s only now that the follow-up, And Then, has been released.

Not that she’s been idle in the meantime, as she’s been a composer for many Northern Stage productions, as well as collaborating with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and starting a family. This second album is not a concept album per se (or if it is, it’s very well hidden!), but there is a theme running through the record, Doherty’s evaluation of the concept of change.

This is a record that probably will be described as folk, for convenience if nothing else, but that shouldn’t mean that it isn’t hugely contemporary in terms of the lyrical concerns within. On the title track she looks at the issue of looking perfect in the age of social media:

And they filter out the lines that show you’re living

They paper over cracks where light gets in

And that fire in your belly is a safety hazard

And they’ll smother it before it could begin

Please, please don’t let them win‘ she implores the listener.

Elsewhere she looks at just how overwhelming being a parent is on ‘Tiny Little Shoes’ and takes a tough stance on standing up for yourself as a woman on ‘Angry Daughter.’ If you ever thought that folk music was little more ‘than hey nonny no’ needs to listen to her powerfully proclaiming that ‘this is owed to resilience, stand up for what is wrong.’

It’s not just about the power of Doherty as a lyricist but it’s also about how compelling the album is, over repeated listens, musically. Shona Mooney (fiddle and vocals) and Dave Gray (melodeon and vocals) make this very much a group record, along with double bassist Ian Stephenson, producing something very powerful to listen to. The atmosphere conjured up to listen to on ‘A Rose In Winter’ particularly is a spinechilling listen, and the centuries-old traditions meeting the twenty-first century head on in the instrumental ‘Polska.’

The standout track, though, is ‘Heartbeat Ballroom.’ Reflecting on lovers who met at teenage dances, it’s actually pretty moving, even more so when combined with Ian Fenton’s video. even on its own, it is an extraordinarily visual song in the images it conjures up. If it doesn’t bring a lump to your throat, then something’s wrong.

There’s no need to spend hours debating what folk music is or attempting to justify this album’s place. Take it at face value, and live with it until you love it. Then keep playing…

****

And Then is out now on Steeplejack Music

 

 

 

 

Interview – Michael Franti

michael-franti-4

The legendary Michael Franti talks about collaborating with William S. Burroughs, supporting U2 and the enduring appeal of ‘Rapper’s Delight…’

17 Seconds: Hello Michael! How are you, where are you and what’s the weather like?

Michael Franti: I’m doing great, I’ve just completed a new film called Stay Human and an album to go along with it called ‘Stay Human Vol.II’. They are both about how we hold onto our humanity in challenging times like the ones we are living in today and my personal battle of optimism over cynicism that I see playing out all over the world today.

17 Seconds: Where are you based these days?

 MF: My home throughout my adult life has been in the Hunter’s Point neighborhood of San Francisco, where I live with my wife Sara and our four-month-old son, Taj. We also own a boutique yoga hotel in Bali called Soulshine Bali where we live part of the year, I’m passionate about yoga and our hotel puts on over 40 yoga retreats annually and my wife and I lead two music and yoga retreats a year. As a touring musician my home is a tour bus for 6-7 months on the road.

17 Seconds: What are your hopes for the political situation in the US in 2019? 

MF: I hope that Americans wake up to the fraud that President Trump is and that we either elect someone else in 2020, or that he is unceremoniously removed from office before then.  Regardless, he’s already done damage to our nation that will take decades to recover from.  That being said, I see this as a wakeup call for everyone in our country – sometimes things need to get super bad in order to wake and shake folks up to become active. Our nation needs to heal the epidemic of gun violence, opioid deaths, racism, sexism, and our dependency on fossil fuels and make real investments into education, healthcare for all and creating an economy that is run on 100% renewable energy.  That’s a lot for 2019, but hey we gotta start somewhere.

17 Seconds: Would you ever consider running for political office? 

MF: No.  I’m not someone who believes that a random guy off the street (or in my case a stage) would be better at it than people who know the business of how to get stuff done in government.  Experience matters.  I’m not gonna ask a plumber to fly me from San Francisco to New York, just because they “think” they might be good at it.  That being said I think I’d make a pretty good campaigner, I just feel I can be more productive promoting optimism and issues through music.

 17 Seconds: In 1993 you collaborated with William S. Burroughs, what are your memories of working with him?

MF: He was a very kind, mysterious man. I’m very proud of that record and the claymation video for The Junky’s Christmas that was made.

17 Seconds: In the UK you first gained attention as part of Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy. What are your thoughts on the project, a quarter of a century on? 

MF: It was a life changing experience for me to go from being in an aggressive-afro-industrial-punk band like The Beatnigs, to putting out a song like “Television The Drug Of The Nation” with Disposable’s and then being invited to open for U2 in stadiums around the country for 50,000 people every night.  Being at those shows and watching U2 do their thing also taught me that melody can be as powerful as lyrics and that anger wasn’t necessarily my super power. 

17 Seconds: What are your plans for Spearhead (and beyond) for 2019? 

MF: We are releasing the Stay Human album and film on January 25th and will be touring with them throughout the year.  The first single, “The Flower” is all about gun violence. In 2017, there were 39,773 deaths from gun violence in America. That’s way too many. Our goal as always is to inspire optimism, make people dance, appreciate every precious second of life and to stay in the fight to make the world a better place.

17 Seconds: This year marks forty years since ‘Rapper’s Delight’ became the first top forty hip hop record in both the UK and the US. What are your thoughts on the record? 

MF: I still love it and still own a cassette of it that I recorded off the air when it came out, and yes, I can still recite the entire song word for word.

17 Seconds: Finally, what music are you currently listening to? 

MF: Victoria Canal, who’s an inspiring artist that was born with one arm and taught herself to play piano.  She has the voice of Nora Jones and Alicia Keys and a message of self-empowerment that is so important today. I love almost everything Diplo does and recently dug into Dominic Fike’s Ep, ‘Don’t Forget About Me’.

 

Stay Human II is released on Boo Boo Wax on January 25.

 

New from The Killers

Killers 2019

It has been a while since I featured The Killers on the blog. If I’m being honest, Hot Fuss is the only album I ever really listen to.

But this new standalone track ‘Land Of The Free’ is quite good, and the video directed by the legendary Spike Lee is incredibly pertinent.

Can’t wipe that wind blown smile from across my face
It’s just the old man and me
Washing his truck at the Sinclair station
In the land of the free
His mother Adeline’s family came on a ship
Cut coal and planted a seed
Down in them drift mines of Pennsylvania
In the land of the free
In land of the free
When I go out in my car I don’t think twice,
But if you’re the wrong color skin
You grow up looking over both your shoulders
In the land of the free
And we got more people locked up than the rest of the world
Right here in red white and blue
Incarceration’s become big business
And it’s harvest time out on the avenue
In the land of the free
Move on, there’s nothing to see
So how many daughters?
Tell me how many sons
Do we have to put in the ground
Before we just break down and face it?
We’ve got a problem with guns
In the land of the free
Down at the border
They’re gonna put up a wall
With concrete and rebar steel beams
High enough to keep all those filthy hands off of our hopes and our dreams
People who just want the same thing we do
In the land of the free

Album Review – You Tell Me

You Tell Me

You Tell Me -You Tell Me (Memphis Industries)

You Tell Me is the new project of Field Music’s Peter Brewis and Admiral Fallow’s Sarah Hayes. Their self-titled album has grown out of a meeting at a Kate Bush celebration concert and the discovery of a shared love as music diverse as Tortoise and Rufus Wainwright. On paper, this sounds like an album that has the potential to really be a brilliant album…

Both artists have an impressive track record – Sarah is additionally established as a contemporary folk artist- and this is very much an equal collaboration. When their voices come together it’s gorgeous, and they really meld together well. However, whilst there’s a lot going on here on this album that demonstrates their considerable individual talents, it’s possibly a bit too clever for its own good, with the result that several tracks just leave the listener feeling really rather overwhelmed.

The album really does not get off to a good start. Opener ‘Enough To Notice’ sounds a bit sickly sweet, and the idea of ‘Water Cooler’ – that of an inept office romance- is interesting enough on paper, but in reality has so much going on that it’s really rather distracting. ‘Clarion Call’ aims to sound like Fairport Convention (an aim that no artist should ever be criticised for, admittedly) but doesn’t quite get there.

On the other hand, ‘Springburn’ is a success because it’s shorn of too much cleverness, and the end result is absolutely lovely, pretty much as stripped down as this album gets. Album closer ‘Kabuki’ manages to combine the duo’s experimental tendencies and to produce something as equally gorgeous.

There’s a lot going on here, rather too much to deal with (thankfully, it’s not a long album). Perhaps three or four tracks would hang together well to make up a pretty decent EP. Instead of which, we are presented with a series of ideas that obscure the songs underneath. Yes, it’s well produced, but that really isn’t enough to make a decent album. Frustratingly, even repeated plays do not start to illuminate the album, as if to make it something worth persevering with, but instead, leave it as something that listened to as a whole make it more of an endurance test.

There’s no doubt that Messrs Brewis and Hayes are talented songwriters with a desire to experiment. But on the evidence here, at the risk of sounding harsh, the tendency is to say ‘don’t give up the day jobs.’ Or, alternatively, develop the ideas more carefully next time.

**

You Tell Me is released on Memphis Industries on January 11.