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Friday, 4 April 2014


Just gorgeous, but like Kingsbury Manx or Besnard Lakes, not so gorgeous as to mistake a perfection of surface for a justification. If you're going to make essentially 'dated' music it can gain some justification through sheer beauty sure, but also through capturing a mood that its sources haven't quite reached yet, not because they weren't trying but because they were made by other people in other times. 'Morning' captures a mood that's entirely now - the feel you get as the vocals echo is that they're almost running up against themselves, stubbornly sticking around a little longer than they should, against your desire to digest and delineate them. Hence a note struck in the first second seems to almost live through the whole track, like the whole thing is one long glorious dub of a single pristine moment of innocence, allowed to age and wither and die in front of you. I hear it's something of a 'highlight' of 'Morning Phase'. Plenty for me to be getting along with thanks. Always been a little mistrustful of him. Not any more.

"I didn't wanna hear your shit CD so I took your chipped CD and I gave your CD straight to a tramp" - the line that made me chuckle the most this month but also this comes from a soon-come EP from Boya Dee that should be unmissable, harsh harsh beats, marsh-deep bass and tons of fiery attitude seeping from the grooves of this grimey monster. Play so loud it hurts.


'Drunk In Love' (#Serfbort viral-campaign notwithstanding) is soooo tedious, 6-odd minutes of hookless meandering with a fatal disconnection between backdrop and voice that can never be bridged once noticed, no matter how authentically blathered are the swooping woozy synths and sense of shitfaced room-rotation. The one good line about waking up in the kitchen wondering how the fuck did this happen is foregrounded with a smug assurance about what a good line it is and thus immediately loses all power it might've had, and Jay's cameo-verse is as forgettable as B's own Drakeisms and RickRossisms. On the flip 'Partition' is way better, genuinely out-of-control sounding, even as the gorgeous arrangement of the backing vocals and the premonitive echoes that swirl around the hook show how much control is going on, a great great bass sound so fuzzily heavy it's like she's hijacked a grime track, slowed it to a crawl and made it her own. Genuinely sexy as Beyonce's been in a long while but crucially a track that doesn't demand worship only mutual derangement and desire. B-Side wins again.

(Big Beat)
Just a warning, this collab between rubbish US EDM act CC and rubbish singer-songwriter (responsible for Eminem's 'Monster') Bebe Rexha is out there, and will probably be a big hit, suffused as it is with the kind of pounding vacancy all the rage in these poundingly vacant times. Bebe Rexha, when asked about her musical influences said her two main ones were 'Coldplay, and The Cranberries', seriously, I shit you not. As such not entirely sure what we can DO about 'Take Me Home's inevitable rise other than to note that Coldplay are a big part of the problem with songwriting and pop at the moment, have taught an entire generation of writers from all genres that lyrical emptiness and glacially slow chord-progressions are a surefire way to be making serious great music, even if that music is designed to be danced to in a bikini. SO MUCH of this kind of chaff about at the moment, of which this is merely the newest most freshly pinched-off example. Sideswerve it if you can.

(Roc Nation) 
One of the better cuts offa Cole's 'Born Sinner', rumbling beat and moody synths laced together beautifully, would be so much better without the incessant handclaps (far too Black Eyed Peas for my liking, an attempt to make the track irrefutably party-ish when the subject matter is far too cold and tough for such jollification) but still a paniccy pathetic mea culpa from Cole re: his infidelities, b'vox from Coffman and Cults and the nutty drop-ins of cynical prayers and orisons rendering things as sumptuous and addictively crackpot as a good-to-great Outkast single. Best single he's done in a long time and should be a huuuuge hit although only B-listed by those racist motherfuckers at Radio 1. Seriously, go check out the A-list & B-list here. I guarantee you it's like the original MTV policy: keep that 'urban' shit to the margins, boost the trad, boost the retrograde, LET THE BANDS SPEAK. Racist motherfuckers.


Good lord, I haven't taken shrooms for a long long time but this track has me mouth agape and tripping the fuck out like Hansel & Gretel found a house in the woods made of Psilocybin. Deranged lyrics matched by a sluggish, thoroughly psychedelic production that crushes the digital and the analogue and some as-yet undreamed of future amalgam of the two into bizarre, gurning, fuzzed-out hip-hop that genuinely sounds like a snapshot from that moment you're peaking your scaly reptilian tits off waist deep in a nearby canal. Superb and want to hear more from Denzel C soon.

Cassidy's playing Fantasy Pop League,  the boater-n-cricket-jumper wearing superstar celeb DJ ($100K a night - wonder if he gets a free crate of beer with that) now has an album (the May-dropping 'Paradise Royale') ready to roll from which 'Calling All Hearts' is the first salvo. His methods for 'PR' (let's always call it that) are startlingly similar to Daft Punks for 'Random Access Memories': he got a list together of 25 golden age disco songs from 78-82, found out all the musicians repeatedly used on them, then, because he and his label are fabulously wealthy, bought all of those musicians' time to play on the record. He's got Nile, he's got 3 of EWF, he's got Ray Parker Jr, he's got strings arranged by Jerry Hey, he's got a cast of dozens and is proudly touting the fact the album has no samples, is all new music made by the best that money can buy.
   Problem is, 'Calling All Hearts is sung by Jessie J and Robin Thicke and reveals just exactly how alot of the old classic records Cassidy is aiming for were dependent on the singers, or rather dependent on the likeability of the characters singing them. When the only impression you get from the singers is that of utterly undeserved careers based on faintly racist boosting of their blatantly racist theft, arrogance and laziness then it's difficult to fall in love, no matter how sumptuously realised the grooves and vintage period detail. Jessie J is simply a completely detestable pop singer from any angle, Thicke appears to do fuck all as far as I can tell and so 'Calling All Hearts' though possessed of a hook that stayed in my head for an hour, is a song you want to eject from your day with laxative force. Not saying creating new ensembles from old hands never works (check out that amazing Nuyorican Soul album from waybackwhen and PR also will feature some genuine vocal talent in Mary J, Estelle & CeeloGreen) but this single makes itself loathsome before you even hear it by having such a duo of douches involved. Pass.

Goddamit Fiddy how come you keep coming up with shite albums but absolutely killer one-offs? One of the most massively offensive lyrics hip-hop will give you all Spring (not thee most offensive though - that prize goes to 100s' compellingly 80s-funk-suffused 'Ten Freaky Hoes') sits with nonchalent ill-grace over one hell of a frabjous 70s sprig of cartoon-funk, Fiddy finally seemingly settling nicely into his own voice and persona, a verbal promontory of almost spectacular grumpiness I'm in no mood to move him from when he's coming out with tracks as compellingly addictive as this. Still yet to give us a good album. I give less and less a fuck about that the more I hit rwnd on this.


Always nice when FF write a song rather than just 'realise an idea'. Nice punch to the production, nice sharp detail to the guitar licks, nice utter avoidance of faux-disco, great psyche bridge. Nice. Three billion times better than their competition, too good for their competition really. How much more interesting would the NME rock'n'roll dialectic be if these utter ponces were let back in a bit more often? Kapranos, unlike Turner, is the kind of gobshite I like.


So which one of these three will make it into a safe future learning Judo in a week for Sport Relief, providing a musical interlude for Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, joining the panel and being a good sport on Celebrity Juice, making them whoop on Loose Women or introducing their whole familial clan on All Star Family Fortunes? These are the goals now surely and in the race for sustainable survivable celebrity I'd say Harvey's the prettiest, J the safest, Fox the catchiest - they should increase their chances by forming a boyband, even if the British-boyband has become a project fatally fucked forever musically by the annoyingly persistent influence of Busted/McFly (it disturbs me that everything in this ilk has to in some small way sound like a fucking Blink 182 song ). Post 1-D (for they are surely doomed to perish once this decade's end draws near - about the same time these 3 will be legally able to drive a tractor) I can't see who's gonna pick up the slack - s'a tricky market, pre-teen girls, girls who haven't yet made the full switch to black pop or white rock, girls who still wanna play with their Monster High dolls & who haven't yet grown out of spikey biactol-bleached boys who look about 12 endlessly singing about how they want a girl like YOU just the way YOU are cos inside YOU're beautiful and how they'll carry YOU home. If the best Britpop has to offer can only keep releasing the kind of mediocrity offered on these three phuts of fuckall then a whole generation of tweenagers will be lost to Adventure Time forever. Here's hoping.

(Virgin EMI) 
[**Andy's voice from Toy Story 2 in Woody's dream-sequence**] Byyyeee Iggyyyyyyyy, way back when she started out the odd track had me intrigued but turns out she's jussanother busted flush, here helped into deeper levels of shittitude thanks to Charli XCX's sub-Stefani/Lorde vocals and appalling lyrics ('trash the hotel/let's get drunk on the minibar' yaaaaawn you know you're scraping a barrel when you manage to make Katy Perry look like a unique stylist) coupled with  a production so weedily weak it's impossible to ever believe a sassback word from either of the pushy protagonists here. Also, melodically, the hook reminds me of Ed Sheeran's 'A-Team' for which no forgiveness will ever be forthcoming - Clueless-homage video but utterly bereft of an ounce of the heart or sharpness that made Clueless so great. Clueless fuckers.


Dark, miserable, gloriously isolated,  repetetive but with enough variation to clasp you to its pulse, sound perfectly pitched tween 80s electro-pop and vintage house, EVERYTHING this month's records by Klaxons and Kooks would KILL to achieve even an iota of. Love it, just make sure your speakers are big enough to fill your life with it.

(Digital Soundboy) 
In contrast to so much of the pastiche of  so much 'quality' major-label music, the best British pop at the moment at least admits the last 20 years happened, at least allows in some of the garage/dubstep textures that took the cutting edge so far away from the mainstream for so long - 'Somebody' is a sharp, thoughtful song about waiting for someone new, knowing they'll never come, knowing that the older you get the more bored, the less passionate you get, the more other people's decisions become something you're too tired to care about anymore. And also knowing that all that fronting out you're doing is just another way of hiding your inner crumbling and decay. In direct contradiction to a growing theory I have that it's the piano not the ukelele that's the most damaging instrument in modern pop 'Somebody' has an undeniably gorgeous few fragile piano-chords at its heart but it's the way it flies out from that root to the edges of your headspace  that makes it move emotionally, makes it move YOU. Hope it's a hit. B-listed at the moment along with the equally ace Kiesza's 'Hideaway' so don't hold yr breath. 


The original of MM is now over 5 years old so a joy to hear this ripsnorting rerub, full on bedlam-heavy grime ruffness, delicious hysteria in the vocals, astonishing heaviness to the kick. From Jammer's new 'Top Producer'  mixtape you should be picking up wherever you can find it. Oh look, it's above this paragraph. Content provision in full effect. 


"The world been coming to an end and I ain't need no Mayan calendar to feel that" -great lyrics from south-side Chicago ingenue MJ, and love the way his voice is free enough to spill from conviction to doubt, from sureshot confidence to an almost-broken breathed fragility, each line carrying with it the shadow image of its own refutation. Superbly deep, engrossing stuff even though over so brief a timespan, but helped into your inner ear via 6thBoro's beautifully subtle modal-jazz backing and thumping beats. Keep an eye on this guy.


"Lookin' like Rump Spice" heh heh - Shayna McHayle returns with this natty preview of soon-come long-player 'Satisfaction Guaranteed'. Beyond the sheer filthy aggression of the lyrics it's the delivery that has you hitting rewind on this - stealth but fury as well, sensuality but oozing with menace - Shayna has a great rap voice, half Grace Jones steel, half Althea/Donna playfulness. As with the track with Tink that came out a few months ago ('Curve Em') this is also produced by Shy Guy who has the good sense to not overwhelm the production with too much fuss, allowing JP's commanding boom to just launch itself into your day with all claws out and sharpened. 'I'm a genie in a bottle of Malibu . . . ' - drink deep and hold tight for the album.

RUMBLE (Ninja Tune) 

Zzzzzzzz . . . . Macy Even Greyer.

(RCA Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment)

Yes, of course I was one of the 7 upvoters for that Youtube comment. I applaud good critique wherever it occurs. And like anyone, I love it when people do my job for me better than I ever could.

(Akashic Rekords) [which is all well and cool but really - Distribution & Marketing by Sony Music Entertainment]
Like you I'm sure, I feared a cover of The Misunderstood's 1966 psyche-monster but I really needn't have worried, this is the Klaxons' usual big pile of piddliness, given a fantastically over-compensatory hard-hitting sheen by the Chemical Brothers (finally a solid groove and some likable noise occasionally agglomerating around it) that unfortunately can't disguise the utter paltriness of ideas and intent behind these comeback tracks. On the flip 'There Is No Other Time' is sort-of-competently (i.e not incompetent enuf) executed disco-pop not a million miles away from Peace's latest 'dance-rock' manouevres (yes I have heard the new song, can't quite believe such a thing exists anywhere beyond a five-band pay-to-play gig at the Brum Barfly)- crucially it's never really apparent for a single second of this double A-side WHY Klaxons exist, or why we should care, why anyone ever fucking cared,  how their sound benefits from being a band, being together, bothering at all - they sound like a slightly harder-edged Bastille and lord-knows no-one needs to be reminded even faintly of those cakmongering cocknuggets. In terms of 60s-beatpop pastiche that frickin Elyar Fox (see above) single hits harder, innovates more. My guess is Klaxons figure there's at least another year of indie-fan bleeding/baiting to be dredged out of their yesterdays-future-today schtik. Good luck with that bozos - for those of us with not much time on our hands just know this is as tediously terse a slice of joylessness as ever given us by the Hot Chips and Beta Bands that are the Klaxons true spiritless ancestors. I'll have a Regular Fries with that n all.


BWAHAHAHAHAHA god, I know I shouldn't laugh but is there anything funnier than shit rock bands who've milked the dugs of their usual sources so dry that they have to 'boldly' get a little 'funky'? 'Down' sups greedily from the heavy heavy monster funk grooves of the likes of the Stone Roses and Ocean Colour Scene and will be hated by Kook's normal constituency as it's an unashamed stab at pop, will be laughed at by their haters simply because it uses the words 'sexual' and 'diggidiggi' in close proximity without being about trying to pull off Twiki The Robot, and will only serve a useful purpose beyond being pointed at and laughed at once someone who knows about funk i.e a hip-hop/grime producer can be unleashed on its innards to salvage something from its cumulatively soporific 'grooves'. Horrific stuff from one of the most loathsome sounds and voices in pop.


 Lightspeed rhymes from the stunning new talent that is Little Simz - watch this girl cos with verbal skills like this she's gonna break past any barriers anyone could dare to throw around her, here her vocals sit atop an undulating slo-mo groove that only accentuates the dazzling wordplay and righteous sense of courage and linguistic intrigue Simz has on tap. Also check out the stunning, startlingly good 'Blank Canvas' mixtape free on bandcamp as soon as you possibly can. Superb.



Love the sample at the heart of this, a rippling shimmer of Saharan sand so cheesily yet convincingly exotic it's like the music from the desert-levels of Super Mario Brothers got the Sir Spyro treatment - and seriously LOVE the verse from Eyez which spits the kind of straight-up dead-ahead vicious grime nastiness that with a few more years could grow into Wiley-sized fun for all. Keep an eye out.

(Anywhere For You)
My local offy permanently has Radio 1 on. This is currently A-listed, alongside Paulo Nutini's new shitmare (more anon) & this unfortunate turn of the events-dial means that I'm exposed to this song at least twice a week against my will, even more when listening to commercial radio in the car. At least in the car I can drown it out with the usual full-fat stream of abuse of pedestrians and fellow motorists - my innate politeness means it's particularly gutting when stood in the queue at Londis with my booze and processed meat products and the DJ says 'John Martin' cos against my better understanding my brain immediately primes itself for some echoplexed funk from the mid 70s and I CAN'T SHOUT BACK.  'Anywhere For You', as I'm sure you're aware by now, is just as horrible as the kind of tunes Martin catted up with Swedish House Mafia , horrific 'progressive' dance slathered with as much 'anthemic' vaguery as the form has ever sustained, the kind of 'dance anthem' Chris Martin would knock out for David Cameron's birthday party, making sure he's washed his bib in readiness for the Number 10 scat-dungeon. In its vertiginous builds and outlooks 'Anywhere' is the sound of upward mobility, of sky-high stasis, of being able to be at any point on the planet with a call and a quick dash to the airport, arriving with nothing but your credit card and a smile and a handwritten invitation from the Prince Of Bahrain. It's all calls directed to the office in Doha, a form e-mail that tells you that you'll be answered on the recipient's return from Miami, it's a charity bash at the Mondrian Skybar attended by Pharrel and the Kardaishans and the everliving ghost of Michael Milkin , it's the pulsing sound & euphoria of a well-managed Forex portfolio, it's a Senior Actuarial Consultant with extensive ALS modelling and developing skills to provide ALS expertise to business WHEN THEY NEED IT.
   Of course, it's taken as irrefutable that Martin and his ilk 'have voices' - have a clarity and force and purity in vocal tone that's 'undeniable', that makes this a great debut solo single for him. Undoubtedly it'll be a success but it shows how unquestioning has been the steady drip-drip absorption of X-Factor diktats, pop purely as imagined by millionaire cheesemongers and other Stars In Reasonably Priced Cars (notice how the only good proper pop fan judge X Factor ever had - Mel B-  didn't last and is long gone). It shows how completely such wrongheaded ideas about what matters in pop have infected pop's body politic that when it comes to performance and vocalising  such middling mediocrity and identikit 'quality' can be so lauded, so taken at face value, unquestioned, undoubted.  Martin 'has a voice', one utterly shorn of all personality, merely the noise that comes out from the hole in the face of someone lightly-bearded & heavily-connected, on a beach, earning far more money than you, looking for love in the gaps between his next VIP DJing guest-spot and fashion-shoot. Oligarchipop, a pop that keeps you exactly where you are, that does precisely a fractionally small percent of what pop can actually do but that cons you into thinking it's going as far into 'honesty' as pop can get. Fucking evil cunts the lot of them. In the interests of avoidance may I recommend self-decapitation or the next Bolzer EP? Eyefanku.

(Universal Island) 
   I don't really watch music videos much anymore. Their ubiquity has made me listen alot more than watch, not through principle but through boredom. Alot of our pop lives, though visually saturated, is spent imagining what singers look like, or if we know what they look like, imagining them singing. When I picture singers that I love actually singing, I rarely if ever picture them in a studio, or on a stage, or in a 'musical' context at all. I might picture them fighting robot ninja assassins on a distant planet, settling down for some hot love on a picnic blanket in a cold Gdansk graveyard, chained to a radiator in a Soho walk-up, trapped under the ice on a Boering-bound floe, slipping into the crowd and checking their watch waiting for the public execution in Riyadh, crucially I always picture them moving, through space and air, trying to zero in on who or what they're singing about, at an eyeball's lick distance staring into my eyes as their words crawl in. The last thing on earth I think about is the 'recording': I most emphatically never ever ever envisage the singers I love in a studio with 'cans' on, waiting for their cue, belting it out with eyes closed, waxed-chest vested or t-shirted, beard flecked with spittle.
   Listening to any of the current crop of 'good singers' that's ALL I can picture, so studio-sheened and emotively 'centred' is every performance on every record these boring boring cunts keep sending to the top. And so even if the video angle is frequently dully focussed on the externally conventional roleplay of being a pop star (on stage/studio/backstage) the camera angle of modern pop production is endoscopic, gruesomely in and close up at the catharh-laden throat, to prove the singer's heart that beats behind the pop game they play with faint distaste. Newman & Cardle, like Labrinth or Murs or Arthur or Sheeran or Odell have the kind of voices you'd love an administrative hospital snafu & an accidental laryngectomy to eliminate from your life, the kind of occasionally-straining, immaculately unkempt 'soulful' croon'n'croaks that you'd laugh at if they occured in front of you, if you found yourself in the shameful position of bearing real live witness to this showboating tutored twattery. I absolutely fucking hate voices like this and they've taken over the male persona in pop to the point where imagining a male singer who DIDN'T have those kind of 'chops' becoming a star is becoming increasingly difficult. Even the boybands have to have at least one member who can do this gurning gritty shit - where are the voices that float, that tease, that engross and engage you not by flamboyantly showcasing what they can do like pop is a constant audition, but by gradually revealing themselves, hiding now and then, working with and against their limitations (rather than their endlessly melismic capabilities) to sound like someone you want to hear and know, rather than someone whose mighty 'real' vocal 'talent' you have to succumb/surrender to ? Male (and esp. white male) popstars are all so busy vocally dangling their Lynx-Dry-Attract-scented ballsacs in our eyes at the moment it's no wonder so many of us are blind to anything else. Fuck this nonsense and someone bring back the pansies quickly.


I reckon if a DJ tweaked this 19 minute monster up about +2000 what you'd get is a bratty 30 second noise-punk anthem, at its actual pace 'ἀηδής' is like metal after a suicide leap, reduced to a twitching puckering puddle of viscera and mud and dust, abandoning any sense of trajectory after a few minutes and becoming a series of heartstoppingly heavy droning death throes and ebbing pulmonary gore. Music that seeps so slowly, engulfs you so completely, destroys hope so thoroughly you should limit yourself to exposure only once a week if you want to remain a fully-functioning human being. Yup, I'm caning it twice a day at the moment. What's 'eating' again?


"Paolo Nutini was expecting to follow his father into the family fish and chip shop business. He was first encouraged to sing by his music-loving grandfather, Jackie". Fuck's sake Jackie, as a fellow grandparent I can only ask - WHAT were you thinking? Sure, you were probably just being nice. Jumped up little prick keeps caterwauling along when you're trying to listen to your records or do the washing up or phone the bookies? You tell the towheaded little dunce that he should 'pursue music' or somesuch BS, you can't remember,  just to be encouraging, just to get him to shut the fuck up maybe and go practice somewhere you aint, just for some peace, just to be a good granddad. I know how it is Jackie. You love the boy fiercely. I myself am encouraging of my young grandson's desire to be Aquaman, and will not stand in his way if he wants to pursue Black Manta to his undersea lair and destroy him. BUT LISTEN TO WHAT YOUR WORDS HAVE WROUGHT JACKIE, listen to the barrelload of bulbous brown pap perennially pooped out by your progeny's progeny, lookit the way he stumbles, pointy-wristed in leather and shades vainly searching for even a scintilla of borrowed-cool he will never ever actually possess, feel the revolting musical condescencion that descends upon the listener from the very first moment of the appallingly-titled 'Scream (Funk My Life Up)', the revoltingly 'warm' soundpad Nutini lets seep around you like a lift-filling fart. Check the deliberately downhome production, the attempt to make the rhythm section sound like they're playing in MuscleShoals with  Papa Willie Mitchell on the mix, actually sounding piped straight in from the studios at Maida Vale and only missing Jo Pissbag Whiley's cooing sycophancy on the outro. Check every single musician here being so tediously 'classic', so revoltingly 'respectful' listening is like anally ploughing a dessicated corpse - motherfuckers if you're not exceeding or surpassing things I've already heard WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I BE LISTENING TO YOU? Oh that's right, you're not making music for people into music, you're making music for people who've heard fuck all, or worse, have heard everything and understood nothing. Music like Nutini's isn't just aesthetically objectionable, rather in its cravenness to the past, its defeatism, its total reaffirmation of racial and sexual hierarchies, its distaste for the present and desire for a past of unquestioned reappropriative theft and exploitation, it's politically, spiritually and fundamentally fuckawful on every single level music can be reasonably appreciated on. I intensely hate you Nutini and wish you a nagging, constant toothache so deep it reaches your balls. Your fucking fault Jackie.


(Caroline International) 

Always been a sucker for his voice, here given some gorgeous melodic corners to rub itself around in a little pocket-planet of a song, v. reminiscent for me of Eric Matthews but also Scott, Bowie, Ayers - see no reason on earth why SFA remain on hiatus when this sounds like it could be one of theirs but who cares, ace fuzz guitar solo seals the deal.

Bought to you by the Citroen DS3, George From Asda pants and bras, Veet hair-removal products, Impulse Body Spray and Pro-Tools autoshit prog-house settings. Six months til the split and Frankie going solo I reck. Taking all bets.


S45 absolutely killing it with JME on this unstoppable grime banger with a chorus that pipes summer into your cells irresistibly. Great reggae-vibe on the chorus but nothing overly optimistic derails the forward-motion here, it thumps and rings the ear-drums with the ferocity of its beats, the ear-filling hum of the bass, the way that though it'll doubtless only be heard among grime & bass-music fans it actually operates like daisy-age hip-hop at its frenetic, colourful best. Love it.

Punjabi banger aka the desi 'Work Bitch'? Hey, that's racist but damn near the truth.

19 credited writers apparently. Fuck me,  surely one of them just happened to make the tea? I can't even begin to imagine how a single song could entail so much delegated resposibility or exactly how the labour got divided, though this slice of fairly by-rote raptronica works a treat because Benga adds some typically mournful minor-key wierdness and cos Young is smart enough to keep her vocals engagingly monotonic and rapid, perhaps even more rapid than the MIAs and Santigolds she might lazily be compared to - I WANT MORE from this track, it settles too soon and then just keeps going, but a good sign that DYU will be someone to watch for those of us missing our Missy. For me and my girls, girl pop par excellence.

(Virgin EMI)
 If there's a default cliched position to write a song from on Planet Pop in 2014 it's the hangover. It's a handy device EVERYONE's been overflogging it to death - allows you to list all the kerrrayzy things you did last night (kissed someone/danced on a table/sung your favourite songs uhh, that's usually about it) with the chance to add the usual Facebook-status-style simpering apologetics about not being able to 'remember much'. Reflection and faint regret sitting alongside the 'rock'n'roll' moves you pulled in your t-shirt of a band you've never needed in your life. Thing is these Larry Lightweights who use this cliche (Perry, Swift, Miley, & now The Vamps) always stack up such a paltry innacurate/identikit list of 'bad behaviour' it seems none of them have properly experienced the bitter shame and abandonment of a decent night on the lash. Until one of these squeaky-clean fucknuts sings a song about threatening to glass a close friend, cop off with a close relative, pukeing in a cab or shitting in a bed I'm inclined to think that they're simply rotating the most fashionable prosaisms currently up on the big black-board at Songwriters camp and wouldn't know a good night out if it chinned them in the kebab queue or made them sob expansively in the toilets while the attendant gazes with gimlet-eyed boredom into the middle-distance. None of these freshly-scrubbed fucks have ever felt their K-holed feet stick to a floor or their fists ball up in a cider rage (well, except Miley maybe) & I recommend never trusting them again.

Probably the most Michael Jacksonesque song offa the pristinely dark'n'depressing 'Kiss Land' LP, 'Wanderlust' has more of the feel of autumn/winter than this March release might indicate but what an immaculately realised pulse of dark, heavily-synthed r'n'b this is - more electro-pop than anything else, and more about textures than trajectory. Love the way the b-vox start to swim together so entangled and deep you feel submerged in breath, love the way it's totally radio friendly but not totally radio overfriendly. Happy to forget about reality to this, and wish The Weeknd would slip his low-tempo leash more often. See you all in May, if the end hasn't come by then. And how silly will I look then!

Friday, 28 March 2014


You should know better . You’ve been here long enough. Wasn’t it back in 31 when you hopped the Idlewild on Rose Island and stowed away to Louisville, the Fontaine Ferry Gun Shy still ringing in your ears? They changed her name to Avalon and you still hung on, through the floods of 37 and the winds of 74 and here you are, in 1992, about to get hit by a train, a creaking hulking stealthy truck of wonder called ‘Rusty’. You should know better than to be over Floyd’s Fork Creek this time of night. Unique acoustics round here. You can’t hear the trains coming. You won’t see the Pope Link Monster  til the last moment. Till his syphilitic blue eyes roll over white . . . .blue over white, water over foam over water over foam and the deluge keeps on coming: rotate yourselves downriver and ask what is it about this place that means the music it makes is so clear, so engulfed, so utterly out on its own? You may have been told that Louisville sounded like Squirrelbait first and then sounded  like ‘Spiderland’ afterwards, but ohh what a withered reductive way to hear this city’s music, this city that for the bulk of the 90s was making some of the most fascinating American music of all. Forget Spiderland, for a while at least, stop its bullying presence and it’s easy digestion as totem of post-rock seminality. Eternally love ‘Rusty’. For its suggestions haven’t been wrung dry, its wonders not fully explored, its poise and poetry and perspective still intact, unravaged by bad-copyists and the stultifying stasis of being in the cannon. This is music yet to be discovered, fresh, vital, stimulating, new-fangled, radical, raw, novel, every time you hear it.  
   Rodan were formed in Louisville Kentucky in 1992. You could call them punks but they were also into making hip-hop, found-sound collage, industrial music, classical music, films, theorems, art both moving and static, everything. They made a cassette-only demo in 92 called 'Aviary', including some ambient weirdness, then re-recorded the songs from the demo for their one album called ‘Rusty’ in 1994, made a Peel Session and then split. That's next to nothing to go on so you've no option but to listen and try to figure this magic out. They made music with humility, played live incessantly,  had only the most tangential and hostile relationship with rock’n’roll, let everything they’d ever heard, seen and loved up the ante on what they made. Their music was both immense and intimate, immortal and life size. The power they exert over those who’ve heard them is still as livid  as it was when they were extant. ‘Rusty’, especially for those of us who never got to see them live, is a large part of that still-tangible mystery. It’s one of those rare, remarkable records that seems to tear a hole in the fabric of ‘reality’ and point eagerly at what seethes beneath & behind, as if to say “look, see? This is what’s REALLY happening”. As such it was, and remains, an immortal revelation.

   ‘Rusty’ starts like a stream, a spring, lapping ripples over stone and soil, generating its own impetus gradually, gently surging, leveling out. Where ‘Bible Silver Corner’ takes you is a place where even the tiniest thing, a single-string guitar line, a wending bass, the space between working fingers and hearts and the silence that permeates through the sound mesh, can tune your melancholy and resignation to its own pace. Four and a half minutes in you sense trouble ahead, in the peripheries you hear the stirrings of something else, something low and lurching with menace. Told you, you should know better. This time of night. The train, “Spreading a rash of arsenic, magnolias and crushed coal/A fire in its heart will not let it die”. Shiner gurns in almost-metallic relief, grinding rails and gears past your too-close head, a two-minute takeover of you, too fast and too sudden and too unexpected even after you know it’s there, “PopPop! Down goes the enemy” the band holler, waving at you from the backboard, your consciousness smeared thin over the trundled tracks. So this is what Rodan can do. They can time-lapse, they can hold a moment between tick and tock and let you linger there, reach out and leisurely pull nature’s tendrils into your lap. But they can also make a day go by in the blink of an eye, accelerate you round blind alleys, place you at the frictive fulcrum of modern mechanics, the boiler room of the Avalon, the trellis over the creek, the switchback in the canopy. They have proven this in 9 minutes. The remaining half hour that ‘Rusty’ has you they’ll prove how they can do both at the same time.

   “The Everyday World Of Bodies”is where Rodan really start suggesting to you that music is in new hands here, that the curious mix of personalities and abilities that makes up the band has led to something entirely unique. A flurry, a giggle, a cough, and then this almost arrhythmical new type of rhythm, pulled to the ground with a jackhammer relentlessness, a buzz saw riff but nothing you can cling to that seems to correspond with the normal architecture of rock. This is built with an almost industrial disregard for beauty, a civilly engineered construction meant to function as a tower for the torment being portrayed lyrically. And of course, in so doing Rodan create something truly beautiful and truly for the times they inhabited then and we still inhabit now. It’s that paradox at the heart of Rodan’s sound that’s crucial, that sense that the constituent parts in addition lead to a crazily out-of-proportion sum, the voices merely characters that wander through the factory, down to you whether their breakdowns, emotional & mental,  are changing the music or whether the changing music is compelling their breakdowns, mental and emotional. 4 people conjuring a whole singular environment - like James Brown, like Suicide, like Minutemen, like Big Black, like Wu Tang Clan,what Rodan pursue is the ability for human beings, in collaboration, to come together with the implacable force of machines, all the better to artistically express our modern loneliness in this ongoing mechanization of life, all the better to unlock the true magic of feel, that ability for people to make the body move by fusing one’s own heartbeat with others.
    This is why Rodan get so close to being some of the greatest American music ever – on ‘Bodies’, after two minutes, when it drops down to this gorgeous refraction of dappled-light and thrumming undertow yes it’s about Mueller and Noble’s guitars, the delicacy of the harmonics, the ebbing flow and shark-like constant motion of Tara’s bass, Coultas’ always-diamond-tight maneuvers between the beats (only American drummer to get close to Orestes, Scharin or Narcizo) – but there’s something ELSE you can hear, something you can’t trace to source so easily, something like the feedback of the world outside that studio, outside that room, somehow sneaking its way into the swell, that train again, head on into the headlights, and you should know better. Tara and Jeff whisper “You can trust it/This is your sound/ The clock's unwound/ We make the sound/I will be there, I will be there I swear I will be there” and you’re left trembling, dependent now on what this band are doing, unable to leave, uncoupled from anything approaching comfort but a willing witness & accomplice now in this act, committed to riding Rodan’s  wave all the way to whatever terminus they’re taking you to.
   It’s no accident that at times in Rodan’s music you can hear things that aren’t there. Eventually you start putting them in there, humming cello parts, adding counter-harmonies. In the work all of Rodan would do after the band split these things they hinted at would be further explored. Rodan was the first solid band any of them were in. Self-admittedly they couldn’t play, couldn’t write songs, couldn’t get sounds out of what broken busted equipment they had. All of it had to be learned, made from the ground up. Louisville is not a swinging town, every night is not a party, consequently people who live there feel they have time to just create. All that lull-time leads to intriguing backwaters that bigger cities would’ve muddied and swirled into the need to be current and out there and part of a scene. Rodan became who they were on the quiet, and then when unleashed zeroed in on nothing but themselves. One thing that’s apparent from “Rusty”’s first moment is that Rodan have no problem with considering their music as art, as much a visual experience conjured by sound as an aural one. Rodan cared about sleeves, cared about feel and look, cared about moving you deeply. Never casual, never chaotic. Always every moment for a reason. An artists eye for detail, and an artists heart for meaning. Serious business, no matter how much a laugh they were having playing and touring. Serious business.

   “Jungle Jim” (not the Hugo Largo cover you might’ve dreamt of but just as good) seeps forth with Tara singing weakly over a gorgeously downered opening melody heavily preminiscent of her later work with The Sonora Pine. Whenever melody clearly occurs on 'Rusty' it’s of an almost orchestral aesthetic, or at least seems to occupy the same fin-de-siecle post-romantic pre-modernist lines of Satie’s piano work, Debussy’s tone-poems, Bartok’s string quartets. When these ornate melodies give way to the unholy racket that Rodan could make all musical bets are off, there’s no safe ground, no root note, just surge, just fwd motion under tremendous funky duress and lashed with the fire of Noble/Muellers attack and Tara’s unforgettable voice, her  lines veering ‘tween Plath-like morbidity & ravished love-confessional (“done with one touch lying on my thighs/ no i didn't come/TOUCH ME HONEYFINGERS WENT INSIDE/you looked most tempting”) as the music underneath flits tween, unbridled desire, ash-flicking afterglow, post-fucked wreckage. And the song ends on a moment of silence, then the slow build of a drone, as chilling as the first 30 seconds of Throwing Muses ‘Colder’, that ebbs into ‘Gauge’.  By now, Rodan are truly out on their own, shedding any relationship but the most tangential with 'rock', recalling Unwound at their most skin-puckeringly odd, lyrics a disturbing trauma-diary shot through with sedatives and nightmares, at the precise point an album should be aiming for redemption instead suggesting that only madness is liveable with, the guitars a tritonic mathematical mess of unsettling angles and angelic light. Closer 'Tooth Fairy Retribution Manifesto' starts on a bewitching gamelan tinkle and shimmer before gliding on another new dynamic, that sense of water and flow back again, like the album's initial trickle finding the bay, able finally to lose itself in something wider than itself, ending up with a volcanic grinding rumble that sounds both troglodyte and cubist, a sound that doesn't contain notes, only urges, has no rhythm, only impacts, only craters, all before you can realise why or how you're being effected. And then, suddenly and forever, 'Rusty' is over.

   And you're left struck dumb. Wanting more. Wanting resolution. Wanting to hear nothing else. Perhaps even wanting to form a band. Too neat to say Rodan perfected themselves and thus had to be destroyed. Pure coincidence – varying rumours about mental problems & frictions within the band notwithstanding, in 1995, a year after 'Rusty' dropped, Rodan was over.

   As we see so often in any look at the truly important American music of the 90s, one band leads to another and another and you've got to stay aware of what members do after the main event and the attention THAT got slipped on by. With Bitch Magnet, you go to Seam. With Codeine you go to Come but  you'd also be demented to forget about what drummer Doug Scharin did after Codeine split cos then you'd miss out on his astonishing solo work as HiM (a truly odd dub side-project that ended up heard alongside equally odd mid-90s American instrumental hip-hop by the Crooklyn Dub Consortium & other freaks of the anti-industry like Ui) . . .

   AND you'd be totally unaware of his Brooklyn-based crew Rex whose eponymous debut remains one of the great lost classics of 90s slow-core . . .

   These trails are tangled but so rewarding, not just for completists. With all of the musicians we've looked at so far in A New Nineties American Edition, from Oberlin, from New York, from Louisville it's crucial that you follow what they did AFTER what they're mostly known for. In the case of Rodan this is doubly important because with June Of 44 and Rachel's, Jason Noble and Jeff Mueller made music almost equal to Rodan's in terms of shock, perhaps even surpassing Rodan in terms of wholeness and revelation.

“I am the one who has had an obsession with sailing for about five years and for me boats do represent archaic technology, things that die, things that get overlooked, things that pass away." - Jeff Mueller.

   June Of 44's 'Engine Takes To Water" initially reminded me so much of Slint's 'Good Morning Captain' in its lyrical obsessions it was almost a guilty pleasure. Over the course of the album though it becomes much more than just maritime monomania, a briny blathering bruising beauty to be shackled to, to plummet the depths with. June Of 44 (the name refers to the period in which Henry Miller & Anais Nin engaged in their hottest correspondence) were made up of members of Lungfish, Rex, Rodan and Hoover and they played music of brutal heaviness, infinitesimally finessed precision and rampaging radiance. Dubbed 'mathrock' by the clueless, '44 were propelled beyond such petty and inadequate categorisation by Scharin's stunning drums, Mueller's tremendously suggestive and evocative lyrics (further explored in the band Shipping News that he and Noble formed after 44's demise) and the impossible-to-imagine near-prog painstakingness of the guitar arrangements – they'd make three more albums that mixed in electronica and jazz to their swirl and slam but nothing they'd ever make would eclipse 'Tropics & Meridians' (their second LP) and the still-astonishing 'Engine Takes To Water', one of the most beautifully packaged fully-realised visions in the history of American rock.

   The cardboard it came in mattered, had an odour, a feel, a rub that matched the decaying antiquity and pristine drive of the music. That attention to detail, that attempt to make a record not just a document of sound but a fully engulfing experience that stretched from the look, feel, smell of the sleeves to the sounds contained theirin, reached it's pinnacle with Jason Noble's next project after Rodan, Rachel's. Ongoing from 1991 as Noble's solo project, gradually more and more Louisville artists and musicians became involved, Noble collaborating strongly with core members, violist Christian Frederickson and pianist Rachel Grimes. Their debut, 95's 'Handwriting' was a gorgeous, fragile, plaintive mix of minimalist and classical instrumentation combined with a  rock-band backline but it was their second, incredible album, 'Music For Egon Schiele' that really crystallised something entirely unique from this free-floating pack of freaks. Here's what I said in 1996, from the Melody Maker:

Music For Egon Shchiele
"One has to realise what restraint it needs to express oneself with such beauty. Every glance can be expanded into a poem, every sigh into a novel. But to express a novel in a single gesture, joy in a single breath, such concentration can only be found where self-pity is lacking in equal measure"- Arnold Schoenberg.
   Rachel's "Handwriting" LP, 13 infinitely evocative songs without words but with plenty of
orchestration, was THE great lost underground American classic of 1995. Such gorgeous shocks are never repeated. Here they're surpassed, "Songs For Egon Schiele" is, if anything, even more of a unique delight. It is, in a word, incredible.   
   This suite of pieces was written for a piece of dance and theatre based on the life of Schiele, performed in Rachel's home town of Louisville. But, for a piece so specific in it's reference, you find your mind running further than you've felt it in years. I want my retirement to sound like this; while it's on, I can't stop thinking about my childhood.
   More minimal than it's predecessor (Rachel's are now often pared down to just strings and piano) this LP, from it's stark opening to its sparse, shattering coda, is a million miles away from the implicit superiority of most "classical" music.
   Rather than being concious that you're listening to Something Without Guitars Or A Beat, you're so instantly transported within your own imagination that within a minute you're locked into its spell, the piano lacing fingers over your spine, the cello and violin filling out the sound, picking out melodies that seem to suffuse the room with changing moods as they wind their way around you.
Dark, mournful at times; even though training and the like are probably involved, I prefer to think of Rachel's as writing these pieces like pop songs and then tearing them light years from the moorings of band and noise and letting them float free in the emotional chiaroscuro that only these instruments can create.
   It's less important that this is the most impossibly moving American record you can hear right now, or even that the care in it's recording and exquisite packaging make it feel like a personal gift to you . IT IS).  What's important, what's overwhelming, is that your room can be a constant stage with this record. Be ready for your close-up and let your mascara run.
There'll be no stopping it.
Perfect and unafraid. Let it in."

I still stand by every word of that, and urge you to hear it if you haven't. And despite my youthful purple-ponciness of expression something deeper emerges over time listening back to Rodan, June Of 44, Rachel's, something beyond mere artistry and taste. What the Louisville bands all did was crucially not just informed by aesthetics but informed by attitude – in an era in which bands from America were trying to reconjure the 70s and bands in the UK were still trying to resurrect the 60s, bands like Rachel's were engaged in something entirely different, trying to reconnect with a spirit of suprising modernity, & elegiac clarity more akin to the artistic impulses of Post WW1 Europe than anything so dead as the recent past. In so doing they not only isolated themselves from the prevailing grunge/metal impulses in American music but they posited a way of working that now seems curiously ahead of its time – small dedicated groups of artists working together across multiple artistic disiplines to create their own cottage-industry of perfection, records that were utterly unconcerned with place in any lineage but totally concerned with YOU, and your multi-sensory relationship to what you were hearing.

   It's a tempting old habit to try and see something in relation to the mainstream it both reflects, reacts to and rejects but really the Louisville bands weren't some last-gasp attempt to save rock, or recalibrate it for a new future. They were an attempt to create entirely new music, and not even worry about that music's place, not just afterwards, but EVER. Lots of bands say they don't care – about other bands, about authority, about fitting in, about success – and it's always transparently obvious that in their denials they're masking their insecurities and entirely conventional yearnings. Rodan, June Of 44 and Rachel's were revolutionary, and seem so eerily prophetic of those cabals and communities that fascinate us now in music because at a time when music was still so dependent on the conventions of the music industry they DID care about EVERYTHING other than what bands are meant to care about.  Certainly, the times they emerged in had the feeling of running down, of the great countercultural and creative surge that was post WWII popular music reaching a point where it had nothing more to say, its craft becoming nothing more than reassemblage. Alot of rock fans simply abandoned guitar music, or in my case got my jollies from metal way more than anything you'd call 'indie'. Crucially though, however vague the Louisville bands' awareness of rock's dead-end might be, it never seemed to be what was animating them. You'd get these records from out of the blue and have to figure out what they meant, where they fitted, and frequently you'd end up transported by bliss to you know not where. In the ongoing battle for music's heart and soul, these bands were reclaiming playfulness, innocence and creativity without any kind of ideological impetus behind those decisions, without a masterplan or a strategy or anything that could get in the way of the naivete of that expression. And because of that innocence, they left some of us auld cynics, in the mid 90s, wondering how we'd ever listen to rock'n'roll again, beginning not to care if we ever heard indie rock again.

The band I want to talk about next left us in no doubt. It was all over. And something new had to be mapped out. Something so distant from rock that to even mention conventional rock in relationship to it was absurd. Unique. Undimmed. And unlike the Louisville bands, nearly entirely forgotten. Labradford.

This piece is dedicated to Jason Noble, 1942 – 2012. You can download a  tribute mixtape to Jason here - all proceeds go to his family.

Thursday, 27 March 2014


(all txt from 'Eastern Spring' by Neil Kulkarni, published 2012 by Zero Books)

1. Lata Mangeshkar - Ghanu Waje Ghun Ghuna (from the album ‘Amratachu Ghanu’, song by Hridnyath Mangeshkar)

“Happy daze - I hear the Seekers and the Sex Pistols and Val Doonican and it all sounds the same. I also hear this song and I realise that music can make me cry and choke. This song is about moonlight, shelter, looking in the mirror and not seeing yourself looking back. It's by Maharashtrians of a similar vintage to my parents, Hridaynath Mangeshkar and his sister Lata, a familial combination that created gold whenever it collaborated... but at age five I knew none of this. I just knew it felt funny, that this song woke and walked into new chambers of my still-growing heart, instrumentation I couldn't quite picture that pulled the brine from your eyes in pure melodic yearning and sent you on through your day levitating a few inches above the ground. A poem that's over 1000 years old. Hits you like it were writ tomorrow."

2. Lata Mangeshkar - Are Are Dnyana Jhalasi Pavan (devotional Abhang to the Saint Dnyaneshwar, arranged by Hridnyath Mangeshkar)

“That dislocation increases with age, even if the future generations of people who are going to call themselves proud to be British will be similarly composed of phantom solidity, but in numbers will find STRENGTH from that non-alignment with the monolithic, the strength us nervous pioneers had to keep locked up, sipped from in those moments alone after the freshest latest despair. When we didn’t have the advantage of numbers, our music made us strong, gave us voices upon voices, calling us back, pushing us on.”

3. V.G Jog & Ustad Bismillah Khan – Dhun Karhawa (from the album ‘Sublime Notes’)

“Listen to Bismillah Khan, perhaps the single most inspirational musical artist of the 20th century this side of Miles Davis, and remind yourself how little any of us know, how much any of us can feel.”

4. Lata Mangeshkar – Ya Chimanyanno (composed by Shrinivas Khale, words by Ga Di Madgulkar)

“Lata Mangeshkar, like all Marathi singers, sang songs about Shivaji because he was a hero to Marathis.”

5. Lata Mangeshkar – Avachita Paramilu (from the album ‘Avachita Paramilu’, musical director Hridnyath Mangeshkar)

“Melodies I couldn’t explain, rhythms without time conjured by the all-powerful multi-tracked voice above the drone. Another Hrydnath/Lata gem, another 1000 year old libretto by the Saint Naneshwar who translated the Gita into street-level Marathi from Sanskrit and that has the good sense to know that God is a perfume, and his stink is everywhere.Screens off if you can bear to be reminded of pure sound, and the pure vision that can come from it. Format matters.”

6. Sudhir Phadke  - Jag He Bandishala (literally ‘Imprisonment As Metaphor For Life’ from the 1960 movie Sakharam, a Chaplinesque tragedy of blindness, gangsters and revenge. Lyrics by G.D.Madgulkar and music by Sudhir Phadke)

(Lyrics Translation) “This World is a dungeon/ Nobody here is virtuous / Everyone is a wanderer off the path/ Everyone loves his cell / Friends and consorts in the cell/ Be it handcuffs or heavy gyves - everyone sticks to them/ Everyone clings to his place ! Nobody's vision goes beyond the walls/ Worms in a fig, in the fig they exist/ Nobody knows what's the term/ From where he comes nobody knows/ Everyone fears his deliverance/ Every one is happy with confinement”

7. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi – Raag Puriya Pt 4 of 4 (from the album ‘"Raag Puriya Dhanashree: Vilambit Bandish - "Ab To Ritu Maan" In Ek Taal (12 Beats) / Drut Bandish - "Paayaliya Jhankar" In Teen Taal (16 Beats)")

“Joshi’s music is proof that Raga is simply a framework within which anyone and anything can happen, his melodies the most astonishing modernist improvisations within that ancient framework, his songs as Islamic as they are heathen, as prehistoric as they are futuristic, as civilized as they are untamed.”

8. Asha Bhosle - Ya Dolyanchi Don Pakhare (from the film Paath Laag, 1964, Music & Songs by Datta Davjekar)

“Haunted by who you are, by the idea of being someone. I don’t lend vinyl anymore but there’s a song at the heart of this. It’s a song sung by a dead woman, a ghost to her husband, warning him that wherever he goes and whoever he’s with she will be in his heart. It’s soundtracked by vamping keys, insanely heavy reverb, spooked and wracked sound fx and was made in about 1964, (just before Marathi song started being bulldozed out of Indian cinema, just before my mum and dad decide to blow Mumbai for the other side of the world) for the film Paath Laag and is called Ya Dolyanchi Don Pakhare.”

9. Asha Bhosle - Vikat Ghetala Shyam (from the film Jagachya Pathivar, 1960)

Lyrics translation: “Didn't spend a farthing, neither did I spend a penny/ I acquired my Shyam (Krishna)/ Some may think Its a theft, some may think I borrowed him / But as many as thebreaths in my whole life I've counted His Name/ Child Shepard from Yamuna river, naughty child of Sant Poets/ He has names as many as owners he has/His habitats are as many as hearts are there in the world/ But still nobody knows Him/ He still remains a poor nameless orphan”

10. Suman Kalyanpur – Jhite Sagara Dharni Milte (from the film Devbappa, 1953)

“The pictures are out-of-synch and so is anyone who escapes the world they were born to, to step and stumble out into another. Out of synch as is anyone who's walked on these black beaches barefoot and finds themselves grown up and trudging through a substance called snow that they'd only read about before.”

11. Lata Mangeshkar - Karangali Modali (from the film Padchhaya, 1965 music by Datta Davjekar)

“Born out-of-synch. Because 'Indian' culture as perceived by the English is either hidden or horrific by then, bar the odd gem precisely those pale imitations and painful malapropisms of contemporary western pop that the west loves so much, the camp failure of all these Bengalis-in-platforms trying to look like they belong on the dance floor where it's unlikely they'd make it past toilet-attendant. I don't need that neediness cos with the Indian music I hold close in my juvenile 16-year-old fogeyness there's no attempt to ingratiate, only the instant ability to fly, to be yourself where that self is free, where your eyes hurt because you've been waiting for god too long.”

12. Lata Mangeshkar – Om Namo Ji (‘Invocation Of Saint Dyanyeshwar’ from the 1971 album ‘Dnyaneshwar Mauli’)

“Crucially, Indian music at its best reminds me that I had music before I had words or categories for it: at its best, it suggests to me that it’s time I shut the fuck up about music and spend a few years just listening. Care less about having the final word than exploring those moments for which there aren’t words, let those folk who mistake music for the accumulation of taste have their lists and lineages and things You Must Hear Before You Die. Get busy finding out what and HOW I must hear before I can start living again.”

13. Asha Bhosle – Gyansham Sundara (from the film Amar Bhupali, 1952, music composed by Vasant Desai and lyrics penned by Shahir Honaji Bala)

“I suggest it to you because I love you. Because you’re my friend. Because we’re living proof that it never was about finding out who you are. Just about making sure who you aren’t, who you’re not gonna stand alongside, who you’re going to share your impure bastard-past and fucked-up future with. Sorry to have kept you so long. Let our eyes meet on the nearest star through the silhouetted branches. At the start of a new day of eastern spring. The summer soon come.

Vultus oriens, Ecce Homo Sacer, Rodus Dactlyus Aurora I don’t have long so listen now, before your house wakes and time starts stealing your future again an ancient song for a new dawn. Hear the sun? Hear the noise it makes?

Feel it in your heart.”

Eastern Spring page at Zero Books 
Eastern Spring on

Thursday, 20 March 2014


Smiley Culture & Asher Senator from Saxon Sound, in the NME: " . . .  we started making what we call ‘style’ by writing rhyming lyrics that went on and on without finishing… continuous style. The way I see it, some MCs live off six lyrics for years and years, never changing. Whereas we’re on the move all the time because time is running, y’know… Smiley and I took a break once and developed 10 new lyrics each and then appeared at the Nottingham Palais. We chatted on the mic non-stop right through to the end of the evening. A wild feeling . . . "

I've never had much of an idea exactly what the fuck's going on in alot of the soundclash tapes that have ever come my way, but I do know that's partly why they so often excite me. I know that sense of WTF is what's always excited me about all Saxon Sound tapes -  listen to any (and there's dozens) Saxon Sound clashes from the early 80s on Youtube (particularly rich pickings tween 82 & 85 by which time SS gained an 'official' release on the awesome 'Coughing Up Fire' album) and you're confronted with the necessity of having to totally overhaul the official version of British music you've been reared and raised on. Of course, when reading any history you look between the lines, you look at what's been left out, particularly in any history of UK music, this entity so splayed and lashed and divided by lines of class and race it's a temptation to forget about what doesn't get heard any more, and just to be grateful for what can survive. Most of what's been written about post-punk and new pop, that dizzying five years of innovation from 78-82, sees things as a musical rather than lyrical development, and focusses on those bands you know & love making the classic albums you know & love that touched on a rich lineage of those anti-classics you know and love. And don't get me wrong, I know and love all of them. But  to hear something from that time that absolutely turns that (anti)cannonical safety on its head, taps you into a whole bunch of British people making music whose main resource wasn't a cannon of alternative-music made by experimental psychonauts but rather old-testament prophecying and civil-war-borne production-line doom about the end-times  - inevitably this music touches you more now than all that reshuffling and reiteration of the usual pack of underdogs. Can't ever get enough of these Saxon Sound System tapes, although wish even more had survived, to further flesh out my growing apprehension that in Tippa Irie, Peter King, Asher Senator, Maxi Priest, Daddy Rusty, Smiley Culture and Papa Levi, Saxon basically assembled thee greatest crews of lyricists and DJs that have ever existed in the UK (no accident that so many of those names ended up signed to majors). Crucially the 'importance' of these fuzzy, distorted, sometimes barely-musical, decayed transmissions, which is massive, doesn't obscure the sheer pleasure they give, how compelling they remain as listening experiences. And just how much Saxon Sound owned things, everywhere they went, dominated, crushed all opposition. We should've shouted about them more. We should never forget to listen. 

Saxon started in 76 in Lewisham as purely a party set-up, soon progressing to supplying sound systems at local venues, functions and weddings in and around Lewisham, spending the rest of the 70s building their rep as the number one sound system in the UK. Clear to anyone who heard them that their MCs, dubplates and DJs were a cut above. Perhaps clear that anyone who heard DJ Peter King (who always had such a stunning ability to switch his voice, going from lightspeed chat to slow drawling cockney within the space of a syllable) at the DJ Jamboree dance in Lewisham in 82 were witness to the birth of a totally new style, the reverberations of which still seismically rumble through UK rap, grime and d'n'b.  Crucially a style that in a sense cut the umbilicus between UK dancehall and Jamaican dancehall. 'Fast Chat', as the style came to be known certainly had its antecedents in the artists that Levi, Smiley, Aher, Tippa and King were raised on, the U-Roy, Brigadier Jerry and Nicodemus yard-tapes they were listening to. But in the hands of Saxon the style got stretched out, extended, elaborated upon, given up to English as Londoners speak it and crafted by consciousnesses that were pure black British, straight from the streets and shops and homes and intellects that struggled in Lewisham and elsewhere to come to terms with their own 1st & 2nd Generation immigrant identities, their parabolic relationship with international black consciousness and the tightrope tween slackness and roots they walked every time they stepped to a mic, with charm, grace, humour, poetry and an almost-frantic inability to stop themselves. Only white guy to come close at the time is Mark E. Smith and that's not an altogether daffy comparison, there's a similar sense of eccentricity and irresistable life to the best of Saxon's output. Because if your day-to-day life tells you you're at the margins, that you've got to remain silent, try and sneak by for fear of violence, for fear of bigotry, then when you get that mic in your hand there's a very real danger no-one will be able to stop you talking. The 'Fast Chat' style enabled the artists on Saxon to say the unique things they had to say in a totally unique way, to push themselves and their experiences out as compellingly breathless art. It was as complete a simultaneous homage and immolation of a 'homeland' culture as Two-Tone was, and should be listened to at least as regularly. 'Rapid rappin' was another name for the style Saxon pioneered and it fits, at a time when the UK was just waking up to hip-hop Saxon were delivering British rhymes, lyrics that could only have been birthed in the minds of British people, delivered with supreme finesse at dizzying speeds, freestyled over thumping bass-heavy beats to a point where sometimes all you can hear is a 2-speed kick-drum pulse and somebody's deepest'n'darkest, funniest 'n'lightest thoughts coming at you like a nuclear train - perhaps the only British artists to get close to the kind of thing Treacherous 3 and Run DMC were pulling over in NYC at the time, even though how conscious of hip-hop Saxon were who knows. King explained the birth of the fast-chat style in an 85 issue of Echoes: 

“A lot of English MCs was chatting like yardies, they weren’t trying to be original. I heard a lot of MCs copying and pirating, not entire lyrics – just the style. It all became rather the same … I did the fast style in 1982. People was already coming to Saxon but they used to love the fast style … People from other sounds used to say the “fast style” was bad. They come to me and say “drop it in now”, in the dance so that they could hear it. Everybody was doing a style off a it – just said, well, cool runnings, at least they know who originated it.” 

Listening to the tapes, you hear Levi, Asher & Tippa in particular stretching the possibilities of breath, of thought, of throat. Nothing compares to it - nothing contemporary at least but it does recall later work by SUAD,  London Posse (both of whom were regular attendees at Saxon parties), or the most frenetic mindblowing grime to come much later- there's also a warmth, a humour, a turn of phrase simultaneously so English and yet so revolutionary you frequently have to note down where you're gonna rewind to, just to check you were right to believe your ears. Just as Jamaica had discovered its own ska sound in 62 beyond mere plagiarization of American r'n'b sources, so you can hear in tapes from 82 onwards Saxon discovering their own sound, a new way of both grounding themselves but also propelling themselves into totally new territories lyrically and musically. 
   Of course, Saxon's innovations lyrically offer stark counterpoint to what was going on in Jamaican dancehall at the time. A waning of political emphasis, a growth of slackness and a proto-hip-hop kind of assertive individualism opened up that space for Saxon to reaffirm the lost Rastafari consciousness of roots reggae, apply that dialectic to dissecting the ravages suffered by young black Britons in Thatcher's first two terms. It's not as simple as a rejection of Jamaica's changing lyrical emphasis though - there's still plenty of slackness in these tapes, these guys were too big fans of Yellowman to totally excise that stuff and you wouldn't want them to. And as Saxon started playing and winning clashes back in Jamaica that speedy-style fed back into Jamaican dancehall itself, reinvigorated a style that had only fleetingly been hinted at before. Listening to Shinehead or Supacat from later on in the 80s it's clear that Jamaica fed back Saxon's impetus and explorations - that Jamaican crews returning home after battles with Saxon had been infected a little by just how odd, just how convincing Saxon were. It's Saxon's fluidity, their ability to melt together their roots, their present, and glimpses of the future in their music that makes these tapes so compelling. You can hear the crew's diasporic disconnection get fused, get fixed and lived with and that's an incredibly liberating, joyous thing to hear. Never just bleak, though sometimes bleak, never just happy, though often happy, Saxon summed up the defiance, despair and triumph of their times like no-one else, stylistically AND in terms of the topics and things they chatted about. Helps that in comparison to Jamaican tapes from the time tapes of clashes involving Unity, or Fatman Riddim, or Coxsone or Saxon in England are just more lively, funnier, with way more crowd interaction & way more bedlam. These tapes document a desire to party hard, because the Monday that beckons will be hell, because the mean time between dances is a mean time indeed. 
    It's inevitable, looking back, that Lewisham would be the birthplace of Saxon, the place they so often returned to. After all, it was Lewisham where Jah Shaka's record shop opened up, Lewisham where Jah first started his dub soundsystem Shaka Sound, Lewisham that contained the Moon Shot Youth Club, the Moon Shot Youth Club raided and vandalised by police in 75, adding to tensions that would grow and explode into the Battle Of Lewisham in 77, Lewisham that was witness to the horrors of the New Cross Fire, Lewisham where the NF and other fascist groups focussed their terror and thuggery, making every walk out for young black kids an exercise in running the gauntlet of hatred and violence. You can hear that tension teasingly hinted at in Saxon tapes, even if the main impetus is liberation and joy - the soundsystem, the clash, the dance as safe-haven, as transcendental refuge, a place where black unity and autonomy was celebrated,  a space where pleasure and politics could co-exist. Dr. William 'Lez' Henry, who started out as a soundbwoy with Jah Shaka was in no doubt about exactly why Lewisham would prove a fulcrum for British dancehall in  this fascinating interview from 2013

"They were alternative public arenas and alternative public spaces. That’s exactly what it was. DJs in the UK were articulating about absolutely everything; from love to hate to life and death.You know they say that hindsight is a fine thing because when I was immersed in the culture and DJing as Lezlee Lyrix, although I appreciated certain things, you don’t really understand just how profound the nature of what you’re doing is until you reflect on it. And when I was doing my doctorate work, I concluded –and I’m not asking people to conclude with me, it bothers me not if they do or don’t – that what was being articulated in reggae sound systems in the UK from probably 1981 to 1987 is probably the most pro-black, African-centered voice to ever come out of the UK. We governed that space. We were judge, jury and executioner of what happened. It was almost like an autonomous space in that sense, and a self-regulating one. Personally, I don’t think people really appreciated that. Especially, in the contest of the Black-British sound system and DJ culture . . .  people would be articulating what you could do to get yourself out of your situation. What you can do about a particular situation. That’s why on the sound systems, the DJs would talk about everything from being stopped and searched by the police to how to deal with love problems. The focus wasn’t just on race or racism. That was just one aspect of our live or our “livity” as Rastafari would say. People need to understand that these were transcendental spaces and not just spaces of resistance"

   Still topping the youth unemployment league table (JSA claimants currently outnumbering available jobs 14 to 1) Lewisham is still suffering in sight of the city, finding itself the victim of both all-new brutalising cuts to youth services by the Coalition and all-too-familiar police-tactics of racist stop & search both before and since the riots of 2011. How much would Lewisham benefit from a transcendental space again, and from a set of artists who could  summate and surpass these times as effectively and elegantly as Saxon Sound did? Needed now more than ever. Here's a few clashes I've stitched together. An 80s you're being kept from in most nostalgia from that decade. Get that wild feeling and then go find who's doing this now and report back to me. Cheers boss.