by Neil Kulkarni.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016


We asked NEIL KULKARNI to review the new NED'S ATOMIC DUSTBIN LP. Instead, he's written one very long sentence, and one very short one. Well, you can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you might get what you need"]

Ned's Atomic Dustbin
(Furtive 478330 11 tks/41 mins/FP)

CHERRY RED doc wearing stupid Bronx hat and shorts combo sidewinding Carter shirt over PWEI long-sleeve stripey-tights pony-owning horse raced drippy please hit me Mazola-haired spotty-sack-of-subservience-girlfriend-having invade your local and share your shallowest thoughts play the juke for two hours worth of shit sit there mouthing the lyrics looking at the door trying to blend call brown ale "Newky Brown" drink it out of plastic glasses pissed on two put 'Glory Box' on to show how hip you are sit near to me and with every word of your cretinous jabber make me wanna rip your face off vegetarians apart from fish keep the spliff for too long hold it in too short blow it straight out and dribble a duck's arse all over the roach then giggle for half an hour and fall asleep as it burns off in your hand watching Blue Velvet/Wild At Heart/Blues Brothers/Angel Heart/lost Boys/WITHNAIL AND F***ING I/Rocky Horror Picture Show/Betty Blue/whatever f***ing stude movie that irritates the f*** out of all decent sane people skipping onto the dancefloor for the Poppies lean over into their mates faces and shout the words so everybody knows you know them hug everybody you meet like you haven't seen them for five years even when they've just come back from a piss NME reading MM when you like the cover do the sailor's hornpipe to The Levellers have a zany "Quotes Board" in your communal kitchen sneer at townies ruin every pub you set foot in for nine months a year phone daddy for an extra grand and fax through your skidmarked shreddies Red Witch drinking talk in cinemas as loud as possible laugh at all the most annoying moments think the people in Dogs In Space are cool and not the wretched sticks of shit they are Dennis Leary Fantasy Football Red Dwarf Newman Baddiel laughing secret Jasper Carrott admiring clog up the aisles in supermarkets individually levelling coffee granules Daddy's working-class he owns British Steel Louise Wener wanking over Blockbusters theme tune dancing Lamacq/Whiley listening tie chequered shirt round your waist goatee-beard attempting waiting for your balls to drop say pants when annoyed Terry Pratchett reading Vic'n'Bob quoting stupid dense thick crass sottish doltish dumb imbecilic dim idiotic asinine fatuous inane gormless banal snide mindless brainless daft backsliding pig c*** bastard scab insect bitch shiteating monkeyspunk gorging faced arseheaded sweaty ring-pierced f***ing SCUM. Yeah, I'm talking to YOU, MOTHERF***ER!!!
Oh, you'll love it

Friday, 16 September 2016


Bloody kids. They won't let you do yourself in. They insist instead that you first work yourself to death.  Bloody music. Hate music sometimes, oft-times, most times these days. It won't let you sleep. It insists instead that you listen when all you want is a horizontal surface and oblivion. Nags at you because there's always new music. And because there's some people you trust dammit. If you're a writer or a reader or a lover or a fighter you care about rhythm and words and clarity and Kristin Hersh has been an inspirational teacher to anyone willing to listen for 30 years now. An indupitable genius but that word would neuter her ever-revolutionary power, puts her in a lineage, the habits of mens with pens. She's too unique for that. I know you can't have gradations of uniqueness but somehow Kristin's writing and playing is always just a little bit more unique than unique. To use words to clutch at something both outside and inside yourself, simultaneously, it's a battle and Kristin has been always hugely instructive. These are merely husks that retrospect throws you by the way - while she's on, while whichever band she's in or out of are playing and she's singing her songs, you're learning nothing except how to dance, and how to keep your expectations high.

We seek delineations in our artists' output. Like there always has to be a reason to do things under different names. I'd say if you wonder why 50ft Wave songs aren't Throwing Muses songs it has to do with the methods, and where it puts Kristin, not the songs themselves. The songs are Hersh songs and you should know everything that can mean. But the songs are played by 50Ft Wave and that means something different. Throwing Muses' last album (and perhaps their last ever album) 'Purgatory Paradise' was painstaking, shattering, astonishing, a drop in on their world, a hanging-out that haunted your dreams. It was as much about the place it was made as the people who made it - there wasn't a record in 2014 that so took you to a specific place and rendered that place and time with such minimal grace and maximal tactility. It had a climate that record, a time of the day and the season - the way it conjoined with the book that came with it made it an immersive, artful, engulfing experience. In contrast, 50ft Wave's 'engagement' with you is more thuggish, an inarguable pull down their alley and a lapel-pulling snarl in the face with songs that are, as Kristin has called them, 'ultra-Muses' songs - they come beaming out from people without place, people who've plugged in and are playing right now and could be anywhere where wood and wire has been gathered to make a racket. In a sense 50ft Wave have no  'history' (although they've released alot in the past 10 years all downloadable here) and no baggage - for me they're what Kristin goes to when she needs to speak fast, nail a heat now before it evanesces, spit the flames or the ice out lickety-split. Bath White is not an LP, another tight-shot EP only, no chance for the warmth or security of a narrative to establish itself, rather the turbid frenzy of moments, an instant magic-mirror step into the room they're in. The line up of 50ft Wave this time around is the same that unleashed their pipebomb self-titled EP in 2004, Bernard George and Kristin and the drummer who Kristin describes as 'sounding like he's pushing a drum-kit down the stairs', Rob Ahler. The heat remains, the thump, the fuzz, the noise, the sharpness, the blast. What Bath White also gives is space, dazzle, a little more psyche, a little more shape, a little more glimmer. It's a total delight from front to back.

The title track lets you know the palette they'll be playing with. 50ft Wave keep things limited deliberately, Kristin's guitar on heavy, the rhythm section on clean - so what excites about their sound isn't the limitless possibilities, rather the stretchings and explorations of those limitations, what can be done with a power-trio. The riffs are diamonds throughout and the words engagingly stepping between personas to the point where you don't know if the singer is singing at someone or singing at themselves or singing at their dog or singing at god. Each song has a target, is pointed towards someone. If you want you can make it you. The directness means if you're in the same room as this music you are witnessing speech, you are in on one end of a conversation. As ever with Kristin's songs there is no selfishness, only reportage over a damaged line, a long game from which you are given the highlights. A snapshot of real talk, the way people talk. And so it's moving as fuck.

i wasn’t brutal 
i wasn’t anything at all 
consensus or confession 
i don’t recognize depression 
and all day you flaunt your addictions, buddy 
as your crowd gathers around 

'God's Not A Dick' is redolent for me of Limbo-era Muses - a nicely oddball verse of Meat-Puppets-style cubist psyche before it notices it only has a minute left and sets itself on fire, strides out from the flames, weaving home alone until the glow dims.

i’m balancing on your pretty mess 
two black eyes behind sunglasses 
tape it all back up 
you promise god’s not a dick? 
new orleans is on fire with blue flames and LA flowers 
you promise god’s not a dick?

50ft Wave L-R, Kristin Hersh (guitars), Bernard George (bass), Rob Ahler (drums) 
'Human''s structure again contributes to that snapshot documentarian feel. Never heard Kristin's voice sound so accented, the glottal stops and speed again of real talk. Next to nothing repeats bar the intro, the rest is a torsion of dread, an acceleration of fear in a world where demons drive you to self-destruction and people keep you alive, put up with your shit, let you 'crash in the attic/palms up. . . big star in the dark/note to self: it's your fault'. 'Ratted Out' has a gorgeous wide-panning psyche-swell that slips into a great stumbing kraut/post-punk groove, less a song than a natural phenomena, bubbling with lava and light, Kristin's voice aerial above, swooping, guarding, singeing its wings, dried out to dessication. My highlight has to be 'St Christopher' - from its slo-mo 'intro' build to the rattle'n'shake of its 'verse' to the tangled nest of its 'chorus', it's just utterly devestating and dead redolent of the finest moments of 'Chains Changed' and 'House Tornado'. The 'middle'of the song is dominated by this stunning whorl of drone and downered dynamics (I swear down it sounds like Janes Addiction's 'Three Days') - I put those structural terms in inverted commas because it sounds barely contained by western precepts  and again all of them only occur once bar a stunning reflare towards the end. It sounds like ritual music. Like an invocation that just might afford its protaganist a way out. The wonderful closer 'Sun Salute' could be a lysergic flashback or heatstruck delirium but it leaves your wig firmly flipped, warmed by the knowledge that you're not the only one bent out of shape here, a smile despite, feeling a little less lonely about how ill-fitted to reality you've ended up. 

we play in attics 
kicked out of living spaces 
and the basement heat-seeking 
up in the trees like that 
plain water for the man who believes that he can fly 
you wrote a pathetic play and acted it all out one day 
so tell me how you’re heat-seeking 

the air is burnt 
the ground is blue 
sun and coffee 
van in the parking lot 
magic in your back pocket 
the gods of holiday inn smiling down 

For this fan, unlike nearly everyone else, Kristin doesn't do disappointment. No time for it. New solo stuff soon come but don't wait for that, get Bath White right fkn now.  Bloody music. It won't let you sleep. 

Monday, 5 September 2016

Advice 1

20:31 Posted by neil kulkarni , 2 comments

Tried to read some new record reviews today. Failed.
A note for aspiring pophacks from this failed one: when you're writing about an album, at some point you're going to have to step away from facts, trails of evidence, sales-figures, celebrity-endorsements/tie-ins, biographical regurgitation, what they're saying on Twitter, rubbish jokes, stuff about how great and funny you are, and actually write about how the album makes you feel, about what the experience of listening to it is like.
I mean, you don't HAVE to, and seemingly many don't. But that's kind of the point of a review.

Sunday, 14 August 2016


Top Eight Worse FUCKING Ukelele FUCKING Breathy-Voiced FUCKING Covers For FUCKING Adverts

I can't think of any more because I don't want my head to explode with rage.

1. Dogs Trust - 'I Only Want To Be With You
2. Renault Zoe - That's Entertainment
3. McDonalds - Rhythm Of The Night 
4. T-Mobile - Teenage Kicks
5. Lloyds Bank - Mad World 
6. Kia - Ever Fallen In Love 
7. John Lewis - Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want
8. Chanel No.5 - You're The One That I Want 

My uke-hate I think came to a peak with an ad from last year. I blamed Lily Allen for the mannered vocal unmanneredness, Mumford & Sons for the fucking ukeleles, David Cameron for the ideological basis for it all, but it was AXA Insurance I blamed for that appaling cover of 'Little Things Mean A Lot"  and they will therefore burn for all eternity in the skin-flaying flames of hell, alongside Dave, Lily and The Mumfucks. Artists (esp. Britschool-alumni-style priveliged CatPowerfan-feckers like Ellie Goulding, regardless of whether she's used ukeleles) haven't helped either - seem keen to forge this new nexus between the most revoltingly pally of commerce and the most revolting 'fragile' music. Those voices, you know the ones. Those fucking windswept 'cracked' voices with a deliberate complete lack of oomph. As I said in a review of one of Goulding's dogshit songs: 

"What's so horrible at the moment is that the most dangerously influential voices are the weak ones, or rather the faux-weak ones, the ones that impart a horrible tincture of fake fragility to their singing, a prissy, self-aggrandizing 'vulnerability' that's conversational, arrogant and exhibits only the singer's self-pity and monstrous self-regard. Wonky-mouthed mediocrity Ellie Goulding (even that name seems to be permaclad in a floral dress, the acoustic geek - but a pretty geek - amazed at the good audition) is the exemplar of this. 'Fire' would have been a fairly emetic slice of EDM-folk in anyone's hands but with her 'broken' 'breathy' 'natural' tones it attained fresh new levels of hellishness. The only time such voices have ever been tolerable to me is when they're accompanied by a similar sense of brokenness and trauma in the production of the whole record (Lois, Lisa Germano). When, as with this Pudsey-boosting pool of piss (& the equally venal Passenger) they're backed by state-of-the-art 96-track pomposity (again masquerading as finesse) the package is a hateful, ghastly one, a song wherein you can almost hear the Zooey Deschanel rom-com unfolding in the background. This isn't just dreadful music, it's M&S dreadful music. Spurn it as you would a rabid dog."

Someone shoot him, he's the uke player 
These songs, these ads, are documents that truly seal the horror of the age. 
That make the stomach churn, the gag-reflex kick in, that flick all of your settings to ATTACK KILL. These are documents that make you ashamed not just to be British but ashamed to BE. 

But, beyond the ultra-emetic Pepsi Max ads of yore, if we're looking for a single document that really cemented my uke-hate it would have to be"The Girl With The Platform Smile" matchdotfuckingcom advert, an ad that would've been so immeasurably improved with a sudden silage/toxic-waste goods train collision, rendering both of the sappy protagonists hideously deformed, writhing in agony & begging for the sweet sweet mercy of a quick death. Why aren't I in advertising? 

What's more aggravating is that the Great British Public fucking LOVE these things. Check out youtube comments for all the above songs - I guarantee it's people loving them and wanting full length versions they can BUY and have IN THEIR HOME by CHOICE. We pride ourselves in the UK in being cynical, seeing through things - we're not and we don't. About a decade or so ago this creeping fucking deathmarch of ukeleles and FUCKING WHISTLING started sidling into ads (along with horrible 'poetry') and the Great British Public LAPPED it up, love the idea that advertisers are our friends and corporations are looking out for us. From smoothie bottles with chummy social-media-style messages written on them to multinational banks who pretend they're your best mate to train-toilet signs that try and sound like they're on facebook to the omnipresent fucking TWEENESS of post-millenial culture and nervy chatty conversationalism that's crept into all ad-copy we're being sold our own exploitation & death and we LOVE IT so long as it sounds as if there's a fucking cajon and a fucking emoji involved. I've said it before and I'll say it again - the geeks HAVE inherited the world. Fucking infantilisation in full effect. Were I a proper cultural critic I'd be able to draw properly-evidenced lines between the tweeness/infantilisation of culture and the way that becoming an adult male has now become synonymous with getting tatts and growing a beard, and how if you don't have those things you're looked at as if you're 'not playing properly'. Unfortunately I'm not, so I can't. I just know that this open-mic bleeding-heart culture in music, its willingness to be pimped out by big business, is indicative of everything that's fucking wrong with those in control of UK pop at the moment. The thin filament that keeps me going is that one day I will see them all in hell. 

From heaven. 

Friday, 12 August 2016


The older you get, the more trust becomes important as a listener. As the artists you grew up with grow up with you, you come back to them and hear their growth, hear the changing cadence of what they play, the increased slump in the shoulders, the sharper jut of the jaw. You also hear all the things you love to hear from them, their personality, like an old friend. Sometimes, if you're lucky you can be witness to one of your heroes writing some of the best songs they've ever written. It reassures you that you too can both change and endure. That's precisely what's going on with Thalia Zedek and her newest album Eve

For those that don't know, Zedek has been one of the most compelling players and singers of the last quarter-century of American music. I say American music. There's something European about Zedek's sensibility as well, something touched by Scriabin and Satie. I say European. What I mean is UNPLACEABLE. First with Live Skull, then with Come (probably my favourite guitar band of the 90s and that's up against some pretty astonishing competition) she has always found a way not just to write some of the most beautiful riffs and songs in all music but crucially to map out a territory in songwriting that's almost entirely her own. Zedek always came across as someone unsure of their birth, unaware of their future, always caught inbetween states, an exiled status that had none of rock'n'roll's comforts in being a renegade, rather was all-too-aware of how when you're not from round here, when your sexuality or your race or your bad-habits or your persona makes you a dissident to what's prevailing you're caught waiting, always waiting, for love, for a home. Waiting to make sense, waiting to fit or waiting to be secure in not-fitting, waiting in the place inbetween where you've been and an unimaginable, shadowy, unknown and possibly doomed future. Come's music didn't travel, rather it was always caught between destinations, wondering who or what it was. In being able to find a way of writing songs with Chris Brokaw that absolutely nailed that politically forgotten, immigrant sense of dislocation Come were entirely unique. It helped of course that the motifs of Come's music, the melodies and form were just so utterly shatteringly beautiful always. A devestatingly gorgeous mix of concision and sprawl, Brokaw and Zedek the greatest guitar-duo rock had given us since Richards-Taylor, Verlaine-Lloyd. Get the singles 'Car' and 'Fast Piss Blues', get the albums 11:11, Near Life Experience, Don't Ask Don't Tell and Gently Down The Stream and thank me in two decades once you've got halfway to the bottom of them. And get Eve cos for this fan I think it's the best thing she's made since those Come days. An almost unbearably poignant, diamond-hard bolt of blue beauty, red-white pupils, brown-black irises. 

It helps that the band she's got together have now got a wonderfully instinctive and intuitive understanding of each other. Was worried about the departure of ex-Bluetip drummer Dave  but she's still got a brilliant, unmacho, supple rhythm section in Winston Braman and Johnathon Ullman. The album also features some really sublime viola from Willard Grant Conspiracy's David Curry sounding like Raincoats, like Rachel's but crucially sounding like you can't imagine these songs without it, not an afterthought but a vital voice in the maelstrom, a very human quiver in the silences. So colonised have the sounds of guitars and strings become by schmindie pootlers and hipster wankers I have to overcome my prejudices at first on the stunning 'Afloat'. The guitar lines give you hints that she's still a player like no other. You can see her as you listen. You can tell it's her within a moment. She still writes melodies that hold your hand, touch your brow, hold you rapt. As soon as Zedek starts singing all doubts are immolated. What we left behind. Someone else will find, washed ashore. The song breaks into its constituent parts, light as a stream on pebbles, then reconverging for the surging - to overflow, in our minds we've flown, the city's so remote, the lands are distant now, pulling back from the shore, and now we know how far we can flow. Behind this narrative, no, not behind, amidst this narrative, part of this narrative is the band's masterly blending of light and shade, never a wasted moment. You feel like you've been taken somewhere so you can listen, a clearing of distraction, a farewell to screens, a journey within and without and 'Afloat' takes you to that promontory from which the rest of the album will unfold. Stunning. 

 Throughout the record you find yourself realising that Zedek is still brilliantly refining and refracting her craft - this is someone GETTING BETTER at something they were already incredible at. '360°' pivots on a bluesy-curlicue that could only be Zedek, a beautiful descending piano line making your hairs stand up in a 'Moonlight Mile' style. 'By The Hand', a sublime chiaroscuro of guitar, droning strings, moments that build and evaporate into heartbreak, is almost a definitive Zedek song, confrontational, so real it's unreal, somewhere between a dream and confusion - Zedek only sure of her own heartbeat and her permanent dissidence, dreaming of being 'chased by the army' wondering 'is this the dream?' Waiting. Waiting. 'Illumination' has some of Curry's most bewitching viola-work, redolent of John Cale circa Bryter Layter - a slo-mo song that drives each line into that little canyon where your heart got broke, a song about darkness, about self-loathing, that's somehow shot through - by sheer dint of the melody - with crucial little glimmers of redemption. 'You Will Wake' closes the first side so spectrally it could disappear, again the journey the focus, the waiting, the travelling on whether that's from city to city or border to border or life to death. Like all Zedek's music it leaves you reeling with questions, the perfect balance between the dead-ends of despair and the realisation that this turbid onward drift, eternally unresolved and unrequited, is perhaps our only option.  If I'm reading the deep questions of existence, of whether and why to bother, of bereavement, of mortality, of the heartbreak that is hope, into this music it's because I think that's what Zedek writes about. The only things that really matter. The only questions worth asking. 

The arrangement on 'Northwest Branch' shows how Zedek's moved beyond her early years - at no point does the track rip forth from it's compelling stealth and pulse, it stays in control right up until 3 minutes in but the breakdown and bedlam that follows isn't noisy, rather it's unsettling precisely because it's played by the whole band without anything fraying into feedback or atonality, those arabic/eastern-european textures and melodies Zedek's always touched on really coming to the fore. 'Not Farewell' really reminds me of later Come in its sparseness and form - Zedek's always able to make seven/eight/nine minute songs not just fly by but seem like models of concision and subtlety. Where a song like this 20 years ago might've been blazed over eventually by Brokaw's firetrails, here it's just allowed to sink into itself and peel out, the band responding to the guitar but crucially responding to the words with supreme sensitivity and restraint. Subime. 'Try Again' is a lovely almost-countryish waltz about being a laughingstock, struggling on, never letting anyone's bad treatment of you poison your generosity, refusing to quit - it feels like a song fully formed and beamed in and created on the spot and its message is all the more moving for that spontaneity and freshness. 'Walking In Time' I swear down makes me think of 'Led Zep III' - all weird broken folk drones, a skip and a bounce and a final feedback-laden freekout as odd as its melody before 'All I Need' closes Eve out stripped down to acoustic and with the journey mapped by 'Afloat' reaching its destination, a simply heartrending love song that admits what it can't talk about, talks plainly about how its protaganist has changed, the pain that remains, the healing that love always promises. It's a hard-earned, gorgeous moment of rest at the end of an utterly ravishing record. Zedek has changed but it's still Zedek and with her band she's making perhaps the most spellbinding, crystal clear statements of her entire career. Like 50ft Wave's stunning 'Bath White' (of which more anon) 2016's strongest proof that you should never forget those you've trusted, those who raised you when nothing else would even lend a hand. A dignity of spirit always. You might love this record. Some of us definitely NEED it. 

Eve is out on August 19th on Thrill Jockey Records and you can buy it here.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

KHOST [Deconstructed And Reconstructed By] GODFLESH ‎– 'NEEDLES INTO THE GROUND' EP REVIEW

13:18 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , 2 comments


Khost's 'Corrosive Shroud' was an ungainly, unpleasant, coruscatingly timely and consequently FEARsome slab of nastiness from 2015. Here they aim at PEAK MAXI-BRUM CARNAGE by giving the tracks to J.K Broadrick and letting him vivisect seven shades of splatterfest shite out of them. The results are the finest noise you'll hear all year, filling you with the kind of tension (as they describe it) 'akin to being in the proximity of a large, unstable machine on the verge of meltdown. 
“If it was a painting it would be about a kilometer wide held up by old, thick metal supports and wires that creak in wind, in parts abstract, in parts quite hard to decipher, and the materials would be oil like and seeping, never quite drying out”'.

The thing I don't dig about alot of noise is its lack of purpose. And the fact it makes that purposelessness its point. This isn't happening here. Though never explicitly political or polemical this is a record determined to chart where we're at and where the band and JKB are at in relation to the global-shitfest that is 2016. Like I say, TIMELY as fuck.

Opener 'Inversion' lashes down a monstrous industrial throb, a pounding heavy-manners bass (JKB is incapable of not making dub music) over which shards of the original are put on the rack and stretched out until their skin films to a unicellular thinness and breaks - think of the heaviest bits of Ice/God/TechnoAnimal given a terrifying reanimation and kitted out with a whole new vibe of turbid doom and panoramic warfare.  'A Shadow On The Wound' finds a similarly bone-crushing groove and puts a whole mile-high dome of psychedelic smeared guitar and groggy vocals over it - like Terminal Cheesecake got really fucking miserable, while 'Revelations Vultures Jackals Wolves' emerges as somehow, impossibly, even more of a headwreck than it did on the original, every surge turned into an assault on your senses,  what sounds like an ebbing lost long-wave frequency pumping itself up with steroids and PCP and transmogrifying itself into the internal sound of hebraphrenia, a shuddering crack in the sea-floor of your consciousness from which all kinds of gigantic beasts and superbeasts emerge. What's gratifying is how scant the relationship of this rerubbed rancour to the original, but also how the visceral trajectory of the originals hasn't been sacrificed - Broadrick smart enough to know that the best noise is noise you can bang your head to, never arrhythmic until it needs to be, the track closing with whorls of sheer unmitigated din akin to Crowhurst but a fuck of a lot more concise and likeisaid purposeful. The closer 'Deathsset' is a completely new Khost track untouched by the hand of JK - grindcore vox, a bat that's pure Scorn/Unsane, a building sense of imminent armageddon and those slightly Arabic/ancient touches that take this beyond Brum (or rather more reflective of the real Brum than every other band from Brum is willing to be at the moment) and out to the burning desert, across the refugee camp, down to the junkie corner.

This is music that screams of loss, loathing, division and fear. Why isn't more music doing this in 2016? Essential.

'Needles Into The Ground' is out on Cold Spring Records NOW and you can get it HERE.

Thursday, 28 July 2016


Derivativeness is a pejorative in most music critique, music where you can clearly hear the sources must clearly not be 'challenging' and must be confronted for it. I think that's utter bullshit. I don't care if what I'm hearing is totally new in those terms - the newness of music comes from the people involved and how they put together what's fed them up to the point of their own decision to express themselves. All music is derivative - it's whether people are able to surpass their sources and implant themselves in the mix. So though I hear all kinds of familiar pleasures in Cats Of Transnistria's music, the haunted vocal plangency of Tarnation, the blitzed-and-blissful feedback of MBV and Windy & Carl, the spectral suggestiveness and radiance of Young Marble Giants, the bleak doom of Nico, it doesn't matter in terms of my enjoyment - this self-nailed 'slow and deep duo from Helsinki' have created two records in the past two years that I absolutely love and that express their own beautifully melodic, abstract sensibilities.

Last year's Away EP was the first transmission I heard from them. Couldn't quite believe I was falling in love with ANOTHER Finnish band on Soliti Records with 'Cats' in their name (you should know by now how much I love Cats On Fire) but the music was utterly spellbinding. You know I have problems with guitar music that's not metal. I kind of want anything that isn't utterly monstrously heavy and doom-laden to have an interesting urge behind it, to have something in its attitude and desires that saves it from indie-rock's typical bumptious pushiness, a feel that justifies it. COT seem to want to disappear, wink out of existence with a beautiful Cheshire half-smile. The songs on Away make such a trick real, imprint themselves on your consciousness and memory thanks to the gorgeous arrangements, writing and melodies, but still seem to leave barely a footprint that you can trace, fill every possible pressure-point with snowflakes and mist. Its music that swims in, engulfs you, then departs and leaves you puckered to recover the spell that's just been enacted on you - music so gaseous, so evanescent your hands can't reach it, can only be flailing and dispersing the magic until your fingers find the rewind button. 'Violet' picks out a beautifully unsettling melody over harmonium and building, dazzling feedback a la Desertshore-era Nico, the lyrics hinting at a dissatisfaction that pulls at the cells, that tumbles you over until your whole life becomes a long dream of not being in your body, not being in the space and place you take up, music clearly massively in need of oblivion or escape, but also massively unable to enact those dreams for its protaganists. It's also raw, a little imperfect, brilliantly so - on 'San Fransisco' the fuzz and surge gets as fast as the duo get which isn't very but seems to have been recorded with no overdubs bar the vocals (with two of them, obviously there are overdubs but miraculously it all sounds simultaneous, like the room they were in and the instruments started humming along) - the vocals coming through like the Shangri Las are in the booth and Shadow Morton's on a long dark night of the soul. 'Good Night' really nails for me that Tarnation memory, the vocals perfectly pitched in a deep blue well, the guitars skyhooking themselves up and over a cliff before 'The Departure' sees things out with the first sign of drums on the whole record, the wurlitzer dead dead reminiscent of YMG/Pram, the fuzziness of the whole thing like the purple patches in your vision on a hungover morning, the vocals again twinned with a proximal impossibility of disentanglement. S'a Nordic thing I reckon, that close-voiced avoidance of traditional harmonising to create something altogether ghostlier and spookier and more ravishing. Less a high-five closer than a hand from the grave, luring you under to the bliss of being buried. Away is a stunning record.

Hyped by my addiction to Away (I kept sipping at it, like a cuppa-morphine) was delighted to find the Cats' bringing out a full-length LP this year. Initially, because by now I was familiar with the duo's sound, Divine was less of a surprise, almost less of a delight, but the longer I've lived with it the more I've realised what a necessary development it is from Away and how it will sustain and engross me until the next transmission. It's a wider, deeper record - with more space in it, a record that involves the listener even more, your mind filling in the gaps left, populating the spaces in the lines with your own imagery, your own falling clouds and rolling reverse waves. 'Let It Happen This Way' is surely a shoreline moment, a stroll into the depths, a farewell to the world, a summoning of the end but one still tinged with fear. An indescribable song. 'Feel The Divine' is almost structurally conventional, a verse, and a chorus, but the verse's hopeful cadence is so comprehensively extinguished by the bleak words and the chorus' agonised spiral into sheer noise you're again minded to see the whole song as a deeply felt love-letter to death. 'Seperation' and 'Trust' are sparse, the vocals again dreamlike and hallucinatory,  music whose reverb and echo is as important as its first touch, a first touch that never feels macho or forceful, only obscured, indeterminate. Like most Cats Of Transnistria songs it leaves you adrift, floating off to regions Antarctic, trying to magic itself off the edge of the world. The ten-minute 'Displacement' recalls Labradford, or Come's most spectral moments without the band-surge ever coming, and here the ocean can actually be heard to the point where even listening feels almost dangerous, like you're too far from the beach and the big drop-off is about to pull you down. The closer 'Thunder Comes' is perhaps Cats Of Transnistria's most gorgeously hung-together moment, the vicious feedback licks flaming through the pulse, finding them and you perhaps truly over on the other side of life, perhaps finally rewound/fast-forwarded into the freedom of total disappearance. Beautiful music for the doomed. That means all of you. Seek and get lost.


10:08 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , , , 3 comments

Like Curren$y (who of course he worked on with this year's superb 'Carrolton Heist' mixtape) I love the fact that Alchemist is so BUSY these days. By far the best project he's dropped since last year's astonishing 'Israeli Salad' is this set with Mobb Deep legend Havoc. Where 'Israeli Salad' benefitted from its outrageous psychedelic luridness, this is a way more minimal set of beats and loops, conscious that Havoc's voice and rhymes deserve close non-distracted attention and thus hitting on a kind of minimal almost-drone-like hypnosis that's utterly compelling.

Opener 'Impose My Mode' actually nails it lyrically when Hav says 'stealth mode' - this isn't flamboyant music, it's private, isolated, dark, riding shotgun and worrying the driver, simmering with tension, twitching with imminent menace. As ever with Havoc the flow is both stop-start and fluid, having a continuity thanks to persona and atmosphere but slipping jarring phraseology in just as you get comfortable - the way the track ends in a pile up of reverse sampladelic madness is indicative of how when he's liberated from having to dazzle with his productions (as he feels he has to on his solo records) Alchemist has been able to create tracks that exert supreme control over their excesses. Cumulatively the album builds like nothing else he's made. 'Maintain (Fuck How You Feel)' a gorgeous summery splash of soul-funk that again winds up on a gloriously dubbed out welter of Carnegie-sized jazz-freakiness. 'Out The Frame' is as close as we get to something hook-laden, a twinkly high-keyed riff allowed to pirhouette under Hav's diamond-tight, brilliantly nonchalent rhymes, some Bert'n'Ernie cut-ups (big KMD flashbacks!) and that's yr lot. Again the ending is utterly mindblowing - a pulsing drone vortex around which flickers of vocals bend and refract like Amon Duul. This drone then feeds into the stunning 'Seize Power', Hav spitting syncopated as Camp Lo over this deeply crepuscular low-slung doom-stank funk "Speak my mind, never bite my tongue, that shit for cowards/Any time a nigga get the chance, I'm seizing power". Hav's not really moved anywhere as a lyricist, just got older, just got a little less agitated and a little more stoned and paranoid, still has that capacity for sudden violence - Alch meets him swing for swing on the great arrhythmic freakfest of 'Never Trust A Soul' and the simply staggering 'The Gun Holds A Drum' where old partner Prodigy tag-teams over smeared neon electro-funk worthy of 'Infamous' or 'Hell On Earth' (not in terms of sound but in terms of feel - fucking hell this is a dark and grimy masterpiece). The verses are split by a riot of gunfire and bedlam akin to Public Enemy's most noisy, beatfree collages. Halfway in and you know you're in the presence of a startlingly unfriendly, utterly addictive, uncompromising and brilliant album. From at least one source you didn't expect that from in 2016.

'Smooth Ride Music' lets the beat abscond entirely, like an assassin screwing on a silencer, just a lethal bassline, a keyboard leant on like Miles in coked-repose, little details popping off in the peripheries, divine little scratches and loops, an utterly unique stake-out sense of drift and doom. 'Buck 50s & Bullet Wounds' laces a simply heartbreaking piano loop under solid subtle beats and vocals and even if you're not meant to think about 'Survival Of The Fittest' you do, because it's Hav, but you realise how what you dug about him you can still dig about him but you can also dig the increased depth to his flow and feel, the way he's now able to step out of the street and to a birds-eye-view, a more despairing perspective than he's even managed before (and Mobb Deep made some pretty fucking despairing music). The Method Man cameo actually detracts but more of that dubbed-out noise sends us into the wonderfully atonal 'Just Being Me', as cold and hopeless as prime Kool G Rap - I think Alch has seen 'Silent Partner' as his golden chance to pay total homage to the grittiest and greatest 90s NYC rap, and I hear so many echoes of Show & AG, Real Live, Kool G etc it can't be an accident. Crucially though, Alch pushes it beyond just homage, hits upon a vibe and sound that could only really be created now, a mix between dub/avant-garde sonics and hip hop that's totally his own and that Havoc sits in with glorious ease and natural poise. Closers 'Throw In The Towel' and 'Hear Me Now' wind Havoc home in the frosty dawn with Cormega taking the wheel, both veteran voices nigh-on choked with regret and memory but clearly unafraid of apprehending how doomed and damned and justified they both are, Alch letting everything become a bewitching rumble of grey city drift and diffuseness. 37 of the most irresistable minutes hip hop will give you in 2016. Don't let the hip hop media's meh-ness about this album blind you to it. On the quiet, a stone-cold ice-hot masterpiece.

Monday, 25 July 2016


11:01 Posted by neil kulkarni 2 comments

Of course, goes without saying that I would dearly love everyone and everything in this video to be consumed by a ball of fire and that this is not a 'true definition of an artist' (as stated on the horrific FB EDM rave page I stumbled across this on) but a true definition of a wanker. However, it does identify something I've noticed among younger musicians, and some dipshitted older ones - this idea that your 'quality' as a musician resides in 'how much' you can do. How many notes you can play quickly, how many notes you can force into the singing of one syllable, how many instruments you can play like you're Roy fucking Castle. This is why bands are lauded for 'playing the hell out of their instruments'. This is the way music ends up getting 'judged' when there is no critique, only cheerleading. And we end up with music with no space, no suggestiveness, only a endless shrill desire to 'impress'. A far way to come perhaps from a video of thousands of tasteless wankers in a tent but here we are.

Sunday, 24 July 2016


11:55 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , , , 2 comments

After its nephews, the cousins d'n'b, grime, dubstep faded in the 00s inevitable that hip hop would reassert itself as BASS-music's most powerful drunkuncle-like force, coincidental with hip-hop's ongoing journey in from the coasts and back to the party, back from the real and imagined frontlines to the trap called home, the home called Trap. The best dubstep is touched by hip hop for me, hits some of the exact same pleasure centres - and in recent lean years it's mainly meant stuff on Deep Medi, Mala and Commodo in particular. Last year's double 12" LP from Commodo, Gantz & Kahn "Volume 1" was one of the year's highlights - a deeply cinematic bass-heavy soundtrack to a late night neon-smeared drive round the ringroad, as concrete and brute as it was diffuse and suggestive. One of the most useful and USED records in my 2015 life of endless transit. Have been gagging for this, his debut full-length LP and it's been worth it. Even beyond the modern link with the kind of textures that the likes of Metro Boomin' and Future toy with, Commodo seems to reach further back - I hear RZA and Timba and even Mantronix in his productions. His productions on 'How What Time' are as follows.

'Hej' - a good boy howdy, lets you know the kind of mayhem to expect and the kind of frequencies your body should get acquainted with. [Sampled voice: 'if you call that music? I'm a-tell you what it reminds me of. It sounds like those PEOPLE who SMOKE THAT PIPE . . . I DON'T THINK THAT'S FUNNY, THEY'RE HOPPED UP WHEN THEY'RE PLAYING . . . YOU'RE NOT']. Ruptures, heavy heavy kick, wickedly ungainly breaks and fills, lysergic iridescent sea-kelp tendrils dragging you under. Look, it's an instrumental LP in the main, these are the things I see.

'Pea Souper' - y'know how a while back d'n'b seemed to be taken over by a load of EDM fuckers who didn't understand the BASS part of d'n'b? Same thing has been a problem with much dubstep for me, made by people too young or too white or too dumb to secure the low-end properly before faffing about with all the other peripherals. Commodo never makes this mistake, always makes his bottom-end OOZE menace so the hooks and licks snag you even deeper.  Pump it, fuck your floorboards and your neighbours UP.

'Itchin' - ` straight-up D.I.T.C/PeteRock/DiamondD style frabjousness to the beat here but the bass is dubbier than even they could manage. Great vox from Trim and hats off to Comm for getting only two guest MCs in on the album and ensuring both of them aren't heard anywhere else. It's the weird drone that sits amid the track, the way it warps around the words and kick, that makes it more than just another 'guest' track. Superb.

'Hadi Hadi Ha' - very much picking up where last year's tracks like 'Bitchcraft' and 'Kibosh' left off, heavy manners on the bass, a real Arabic vibe to the percussion and vocals, straight-up Drill/Trap-style synth stabs. Fearsome.

'My Liege' - another thing you notice, some of this shit sounds fucking MEDIEVAL. Harpsichords will do that of course, but this isn't just lazy little shards of chords, Commodo plays some wonderfully bleak plainsong-style pre-Rennaissance motifs on much of the album. This has such a great ending as well.

'Russian Glass' - sometimes he just leaves earth entirely, or rather returns to something ancient and English and dissident which might as well be another world now. I hear Robert Wyatt, Ultramarine, Brotherhood, the bleakest bits of the Bosworth archive but mainly I hear a heroic, visionary gloom.

"Floods" - all the titles up until now have made sense. Have no idea why this is called 'Floods' but then hear the weird aquatic sonar-sounds and realise, somehow he's managed to take that sound when your ears fill up with water and apply it to a rippling hip hop instrumental in an entirely disorientating and unsettling way. Fab.

"How Dare You" - would love to hear someone utterly fucking stupid spitting bars on this utterly thuggish banger. A rapper called Yung something or Travis something should do it.

'Sleepwave' - by now you realise that no matter what tech Commodo uses to make his music, the results sound almost non-digital, non-Cubasey/Logicy, like they were punched together using an SP-1200. Dead effective use of samples utterly unlike anyone else I can think of at the moment. In a world of CGI special-fx yawnfest electronic musicians he's like Ray Harryhausen.

'HWT' - if you had to ethnically place Commodo just from listening to his music you'd think he was part Tunisian, part Morrocan, part Asian, part Jamaican. In other words all-British, or rather the Britain that 52% of us don't want anymore. THIS is the sound of the neighbourhoods in England I know of. This is me and mine and you and yours writ in sound.

'Set It Straight' - another rap track, this time with verbals from Rocks FOE, snarly, necksnapping, surging, intense.

'Kofte Cloud' - burned the album to a CD in backwards order so this always comes up first which I'm dead pleased about cos fuck me the bass, the creepy insect loops - for me it recalls the brilliant recent work of Telemachus aka Chemo, and the same kind of Paul-Bowles-esque stealth and derangement of Jehst's 'Sheltering Sky'. If you don't understand what this high-praise refers to seek it all out.

Throughout, 'How What Time' is so good your kids will tell you to turn that racket down and neighbours three-doors-down will be feeling strange ructions in their innards and in your car your rear-view mirror will judder like a motherfucker. Like I say, Commodo makes incredibly USEFUL music. Get all you can.

Thursday, 21 July 2016


15:49 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , , , , , , 2 comments
If there was one doom-metal/sludge release from last year that was really addictive for me it was Windhand's amazing 'Grief's Infernal Flower' set. If it slipped on by you, acquaint yourself. Riffs big and baleful as hell and beautiful beautiful songs sung by Dorthia Cottrell in a voice part Sandy Denny, part Linda Thompson, part nobody else. It's a wonderful record, but it made me think alot about why I loved it so.

See, I've always tried to write in a gender-neutral way about music but the female-fronted nature of Windhand DID make a difference. Although there was plenty of heavy male-fronted stuff last year that floated my boat, I kept returning to 'Grief's Infernal Flower', getting heady off its pungency and funereal fragrance, couldn't damn-well leave Windhand alone and couldn't help concluding that the presence of Dorthia had a big impact behind that. Her vocals weren't just perhaps the best singing on any doom-rock release of 2015, they lent this kind of music a new suggestiveness and confidence, a new depth and a new way to rock without always coming across like weed-encrusted macho retweaks of past manly self-obliteration. Much as copping a few shit sleeve-tatts and a beard you could lose a badger in is the way that today's young men earn themselves a fake gnarly gravitas, so much of the heavier end of metal in 2015 seemed able to flick the right switches on the right equipment, hit the right thresholds, but come off as curiously bereft of purpose beyond facsimile and simulation. That's down to vocalists. Commitment in metal singing derives from finding your own style - where bands in metal benefit from being able to distill the past to new levels of purity and heaviness, vocalists need to find something from themselves that's unique, that separates their voices from being a mere agglomeration of cliche (cliches are crucial of course, but anything made purely of cliches is coldly uninvolving and there was plenty of that kind of music in doom last year), voices that make you listen to the words properly because they sound like they believe in them. Windhand, with Dorthia's supremely measured, shatteringly evocative vocals resonating within and over the band's gloriously bruising bleakness, seemed to operate at a level beyond doom's usual self-piteous holding patterns. 

Dorthia Cottrell, frontwoman of Richmond VA's  stunning Windhand. 

Great songs helped of course, careful arrangement and playing too - but I'm convinced that for me at least, something about the female voice reinvigorates doom, gives it a fresh impetus, lends it an airborne grace but also pulls it into the magik earth too. Dorthia, whose voice could also be heard in 2015 on her stunning solo debut seemed to be, as any frontperson would be, the fulcrum and focus of what makes the band so special - crucially though, beyond sonics, her presence in the songs, the grave promontory her voice put her on in relation to the music, gave Windhand a sense of purpose and point that eluded so much other doom rock from 2015. This is no fluke for me. I'm finding a similar sense of joy and drive in the music of two other female-fronted doom acts in 2016, Horehound from Pittsburgh and Messa from Italy. In all three cases on one level the gender of the vocalists wouldn't matter for shit- the basics have to be secured, and if they weren't, all three bands would be just another half-decent bandcamp obscurity.  But doom and stoner rock, like hip hop and grime,  have an accumulative life - can build up and bore you after a while if the initial ideas aren't problematised and made new by the people involved. I have never written about any musician differently because of their gender and I ain't about to start now. I'm supremely aware of the danger, that as a male, hearing a female voice singing on doom-rock I positively-discriminate for sheer rarity, or start attaching all kinds of stereotypical gendered 'qualities' to the music that perhaps aren't there. But in all three of these bands I want to point out that the vocalists, for this jaded auld fecker at least, utterly recast and renenergise my need to hear more of this music, all three twist and bend a formula until it breaks into new and thrilling spaces. Horehound & Messa have already made two of my favourite albums of 2016. 

Horehound's stunning self-titled debut does everything a great rock record should do. One, it absolutely fucking rocks. This band have clearly got their shit together in close rehearsal in the short time they've been around (they came together via Craigslist ads in 2015) and have figured out not just how to sound, but how to arrange and sculpt that sound. For a bandcamp release it's stunningly recorded, tactile, heavy, clear. Where much doom has a problem not in establishing a feel but in maintaining a feel, Horehound keep things fascinating throughout their 7 track debut and know when to stop shocking us and start hypnotising us. Opener 'World To Come' ("This has become the world we've won/With no chance and no change"sets out stalls - a gratifyingly filthy guitar sound, a fucking awesome grind and thump to the rhythm section and Shy Kennedy's vocals and lyrics instantly (d/r)efusing predictability. You WANT predictability in heavy music, in all music, you want it to do the things you want it to do when you want it to do em. But if that's all you get, you get tired quick - Horehound are wonderful because their songs absolutely deliver those moments where you pin your head roughly half-a-foot from the floor and groove the fuck out but every song has quirks and tangents that reflect a deeper wider set of musical influences than just doom or sludge, that lifts the album into areas of angular oddity more akin to the best of all kinds of underground music (I'm reminded of Godflesh, Chavez, Nymphs, Babes In Toyland and Kylesa and a ton of others). 

Lyrically as well, every song Horehound have made avoids the cliched fucked-up haziness of stoner/doom lyrics for a more ambiguous, unsettling and utterly compelling sense of ghostly disconnection with reality - a disconnection that actually starts revealing exactly how wired to life, and aware of its complexities Kennedy is as a lyricist. Three minutes into 'World To Come' and the drums abscond a moment, kick back in on a new riff and the whole band lift off and Shy lets her vocal become a muezzin-like high level drone and you realise nigh-on no other doom record of the year has had a moment in in where you haven't known exactly what's going to happen next. The drums drop back in with a rolling brilliance that's pure Bill Ward and the song ends with a Babes In Toyland style grind-out but two-thousand times as heavy as that brilliant band ever got on record. 'Sangreal' ("Soaring as high as the ceilings allow/ Floating free with mischief, loud")  pivots and pummels its way into a high-velocity slam of occult heaviness, 'Crowns & Thorns' tickles your pleasure centres like prime Electric Wizard but feels unshackled from the kind of size-obsession EW have, no need to plug into a planet-sized Hawkwind-style wall of racket when the riffs are so fucking hot and Shy's vocal is such a deeply reverbed thing of wonder. 

Horehound, pic by Paul Werkmeister 
Highlight of the whole album for me is the epic 'The Dead Don't Lie' which really reveals why the vocals are so key - they're vocals unafraid of themselves, vocals that don't try and hide themselves in murkage and grogginess. Shy's sense of end-of-tether desolation seeps out of every line , little psyche notes and codas, an almost-Eastern sense of singularity and resolution slipped into all the right turnarounds. When she steps off and the band clamp down for a stunning bout of accelerating carnage at the end it gains that extra power from the sense you've made of what words you can make out "what are these words crawling in my mouth/ glued to my tongue wanting to come out/an unfelt passion in me/an unke(m)pt dream it will stay/A touch of bliss, an unsensed"), the feel that all you hear is holistically borne at the same moment. 

'Waters Of Lethe' slips some monstro-cubist riffage your way, hints that as we move further through 'Horehound' things will get more and more unique, before 'Myope' applies epistemology to the self and then to politics over an utterly thrilling, beautifully ugly rolling riff that veers into a lunging pit of despair. Closer 'Waking Time' posits waking up from the fug of modernity only to disappear, end the pain, warns that stepping out of the dungeons we make ourselves might end up plunging us into a nightmare in which we run from our pursuers until we're caught. It's creepy as fuck.  So refreshing to hear doom where the lyrics MATTER. I want Horehound to create something full-length that picks up where this debut leaves off, I want to hear an album-length transmission that refines their songwriting while retaining their rawness because fuck me they're onto something special here. Seek it out and pray they'll make their way to Europe some time soon cos live, you sense, they're gonna be fucking awesome.

Thursday, 30 June 2016


09:35 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , No comments

Listening? Good, then continue. 

Lately, I’ve been transfixed by a transmission I have no desire to stop listening to. Crucially, listening, I have no desire, because every desire my heart ever had is expressed far clearer than I ever felt it in what I’m hearing. There’s something about the music on Radio Golha that makes it perhaps the most violent assault on your ongoing desensitisation to sound, a reconfiguring of your most ingrained listening habits, and a factory-default reset of your expectations when you retune to Radio Realworld, like a fallen angel, a wiped-away tear. In an age where every radio station is trying to exceed its own expectations/ RAJAR predictions, Radio Golha is, by intent and necessity, entirely limited in output. It has 200 hours of programming that it broadcasts in rotation. Those 200 hours are a mere fraction of 1500 hour-long programmes recorded over the course of 23 years, 1956-1979, for National Radio in Tehran. The ‘Golha’ (‘Flowers Of Persian Song and Poetry’) broadcasts comprised 1587 transmissions of Persian music and verse, ancient and modern, making use of a repertoire of over 250 classical and contemporary Persian poets, and innumerably more musicians, singers, orchestras. What you hear in the Golha is a combined effort of vision, preservation and innovation that changed the perception of musicians and poets in Iran (music was on the brink of illegality before the programme’s success), and an encyclopedia of traditional Persian music and ideas.

Beyond that, you get goosebumps, an arched back, the starriest romance, the calmest voice, the most cosmic awe. Broadcast from an ex-pat Iranian site in the Netherlands, Radio Golha provides a tantalising snapshot of a touchstone in Persian culture, a touchstone in danger of disappearing off the map. I spoke to Jane Lewisohn, a former SOAS student given a grant by the British Library to save the Golha archive from destruction. For her, the programmes are an untapped treasure trove imperiled by contemporary indifference in Iran.

   “I’ve spent 20 years collecting tapes of the Golha broadcasts from private collectors in Iran and elsewhere and what always shocks me is how dangerously close to vanishing the Golha really were. Private collectors, who taped the shows when they were broadcast, die and their kids just junk them. I’ve still managed to retrieve 1500 hours of original broadcasts. It’s been an urgent process. Which is odd considering the Golha programmes used to literally stop traffic. Every Thursday and Friday night for an hour Iran would grind to a halt so people could hear the Golha. It is a shared national memory that could’ve quite easily, in a physical sense, have simply disappeared. That would be a crime.Iranian music only started using notation in the Twenties. Before then this music was purely passed down ‘chest to chest’ as the Iranians say, heart to heart. Some of the music you hear in the Golha is truly ancient, older than ancient Greek music – of which none survives.”
The 1979 revolution returned the Golha musicians to the same status they held before the Golha programmes started. By the 20th Century, musicians were denigrated as minstrels, had to use pseudonyms to avoid disgrace in everyday life, and developed as musicians under the private, reclusive tutelage of elder musicians who had carried the old songs for their whole lifetimes.

Jane: “Performance in public was unknown, this was a private, court music. At one such private party at the Italian Ambassador’s house in the early Fifties, Davoud Pirnia, the eventual producer of the Golha, hit upon the idea of mixing contemporary poetry with this music and modern orchestration, and actually bringing this music to the public. The first Golha programmes were extremely scholarly, intellectual and highbrow – pretty soon the producers realised the incorporation of modern poets and orchestras interpreting the ancient forms would be more interesting. We’re talking about Fifties Iran here, a nation in which public music was banned, in which 85 percent of the population were entirely illiterate – so the Golha became something the whole nation enjoyed and made time for. It was a sudden supreme flowering of Persian culture.”

So is the music and poetry you can hear in the Golha ancient or modern?
   “Persian classical music, especially because it survived for so many thousands of years without notation, hasn’t really progressed through key ‘works’ or key composers as such. It’s a different notion of music than we have in the West. Here we think of music constantly developing new forms – in Persian music, as well as the Indian and Afghani classical traditions that grew from it, we have an alphabet of music that was laid down millenia ago, mainly by Sufi mystics, and then everyone who plays within that musical vocabulary is free to interpret it. So it’s always an ancient music but it’s always totally brand new and unique to the person playing within that tradition. Tradition isn’t a creative straitjacket in Persian music, it’s the building blocks from which you can make anything.”

   For over 30 years the Golha programmes explored that tradition, committing some of the most astonishing music you’ll ever hear to tape. After a few hours in Golha’s company even the snatches of Persian poetry start making total sense – the cadences and suggestions are unmistakable, and the way they occasionally blend with the full-blooded orchestral or solo piano renderings of old Iranian music makes what you’re hearing blessed with both ancient glamour and postwar/ pre-revolution grit. These heartstopping intros then give way to a longer musical performance within which you might get Sufi setar, a solo ghazal, a Santur-backed torch singer or Khamenchi solo firestorm, or a nomadic love poet backed by the Golha-orchestra. 

   Sometimes only God is meant to be listening.
   Sometimes only a lover. All of it would be silenced by the ‘79 revolution.

   Jane: “Because all of the music played on the Golha comes from the Sufi tradition of Islam, Khomeni was quick to stop the programmes, and pretty much outlaw all forms of musical expression for over a decade. When he finally relented to let musicians create again, he gave only 12 musicians in the entirety of Iran permission to play music – with strict curtailments that they couldn’t play anything ‘provocative’. Inevitably, the love poetry and songwriter tradition died a death – female singers, truly amazing voices who had contributed to the Golha’s most incredible programming, were banned from performance, and still to this day women can’t perform for mixed audiences in Iran.”
   Would you say that this music is now entirely forgotten in Iran?
   “A very small group of musicians are still playing it, but with a disconnected emphasis on technique and abstract academia – that ’chest-to-chest’ communication between elder and learner has gone. The memory is being erased. My final goal is to create an online database of the entire 1500 hours of programming, so people like you, like anyone, can explore this treasure trove. That’s the dream – it’s just sad that it takes people from outside of Iran to maintain this, because for Iranians the Golha are part of the national bloodstream, these songs are iconic to Persian culture. No one had bothered to make sure it wasn’t lost forever.”

If the Iranian revolution was prophetic, then the music contained in the Golha archive sadly isn’t: I hear very little else from anywhere right now that quite matches its mysteries and magic, it’s compassion and transcendence. Last word to Jane. Historical analysis aside – how does this music make you feel? “This music makes me travel. It takes me somewhere inexplicable, incredible – it links anyone with a heart to thoughts and longings as old as civilisation itself. It’s basically one of the most deeply beautiful creations of the last century. It’s up to the world to listen to it, learn from it and preserve it.”

Wednesday, 22 June 2016


"Enoch was right" 
Even a stopped clock etc. 
This is all good but skip to 37 minutes. 

Was I really so foolish to expect this kind of standard of debate in the hastily called EU Referendum? Perhaps so, but perhaps I was just foolish for watching this clip in the first place, especially way back in January, when I was (seems insane to recall such daffy hope) actually looking forward to the referendum campaign, not knowing then exactly how cretinous and contemptuous the campaign would get, thinking it might be bad for the Tories when in actual fact it's been bad for both parties (or rather all 4 parties i.e the two Tory and two Labour parties we have now), and us as the electorate. Politicians would be better judged by actions than rhetoric but when did rhetoric get soooo dumb? It's been a nigh-on 40 year process now & I'd say the biggest moves towards the current glossolalia of guff our great and good generate began in the 80s when Thatcher's govt and Murdoch's media made sure a mutually-assured destruction of nuance and a rush to the bottom of stout commonsense was in order. Any obsessive viewer of BBC Parliament's election-night repeats from every election 60-82 (c'mon I KNOW I'm not the only one) could see that weirdly, once upon a daydream when we had iron and steel and coal, politicians weren't trained to habitually talk down to people, dumb everything down to soundbite brevity and emptiness. Watching footage of the 75 campaign what strikes you isn't just the uncanny similarity of arguments but the different-league eloquence of politicians, the lack of intellectual fear, the collosal regression in oratory since then. Of course spin and lies have always been an essential of political discourse but since when did elegance, clarity, concision and incisiveness have to be written out of rhetorical stances and public debate? This is the full Oxford Union debate from 1975, with just a few days left until the vote. Peter Shore, Jeremy Thorpe, Barbara Castle, Ted Heath, FEEL. THE. HEAT.

A withering condemnation of our current political realities that the above 41 year old vid is by far and away the best EU debate I've seen in 2016. Although I admit I'm perhaps indulging in the same kind of cultural nostalgia for a lost epoch that fires the 'kippers I ask you to note that nothing that is said by anyone in this video could not be immediately understood. This isn't about obfuscation. It is clear and direct talk, intended to be heard beyond the debating chamber but not feeling the immediate need to get out the crayons and the fuzzy felt in awareness of that wider audience. It also demonstrates an innate respect between its combatants - what the debate reveals, in marked contrast to much of the debate in this year's referendum. is that impossibly, back then, politicians didn't think of the electorate as needing slow-talk and head-pats and simpleton sloganeering. All year the seriousness of the referendum, this crossroads moment, has been emphasised by both sides. Yet the way both sides have conducted their campaigns has been clownish, not worthy of us or the supposed immensity of the decision, always emphatic about the 'power' that has been put in our hands while treating the public as nothing more than docile cattle, easily mollified by bullshit promises, easily panniced by scarifying warnings.

In that sense, in making us gruesomely aware that we're getting the campaign and the politicians we truly deserve, the 2016 referendum has undoubtedly been the single most depressing political event of my lifetime. Perhaps inevitably, because it's the only referendum that I have memory of. I don't want another one. I don't like referenda, by definition cowardly derelictions of parliamentary duty, and this one in particular is borne from the grisliest of selfish motives, causing long-term damage to the country for short-term benefit to a single party. There was no EU treaty or proposal that demanded a referendum should take place in June 2016, but the divisiveness of the Tories and the rise of UKIP meant that Cameron needed a quick fix, and so he put party and immediate self-interest before long-term national interest as you'd expect from a PR man. Thanks to a non-legally binding, purely advisory referendum the country has been spun round, force to apprehend itself, forced not only to see itself break apart but actually choose a side and contribute to that divisiveness, whether WE wanted to or not, just so Cameron could buttress his position, or give himself an 'honourable' reason to disappear.

Britain see thyself. Looking at the debate this year, and contrasting it with '75, it's the infantile hysteria from both sides that most characterises both us and our times. It was a hysteria that didn't so much build slowly as start at a frenzied windmilling pitch, tighten and ramp up ever since, encoded into the terms of the debate by the decade-odd suffusion of social media into our habits and our personas and the obliteration of subtlety this entails.  I think it was round about February I realised that the absolutism of the 'debate', the way it had turned not into an adult conversation but an infantile series of monologues,  was destroying nuance, and actually destroying our ability to learn about those issues that are important. Personally, I rapidly gave up on the idea of 'discussion'. Wanting to at least debate the referendum with someone, anyone, I found that even venturing the suggestion that I hadn't made my mind up was enough to cause friends, family, most of whom seem to have made their mind up to Remain before the campaign began, to be appalled at me, 'disappointed' that I couldn't 'see'. That same tone of patrician disappointment I've heard alot in my life, that same exasperated tone that laughs at racist spelling mistakes and racist stupidity and racist poverty while never actually questioning how such opinions, such devastating pretty passes are arrived at, probably because those expressing that disappointment would never be directly affected by poverty, or racism. At all times I looked in vain for constitutional guidance, hints at the ramifications and meanings behind a vote about an eternal principle. Instead I found no-one willing to stop talking about the here and now, no one willing to stop exploiting present ills for political advantage.   The remain camp kept churning out lists of businessmen who were on their side as if that would convince anyone but the most glassy-eyed capitalist. The Brexit side had their own 'experts'. Both sides bleated loud about 'facts' they could never know and futures they could never predict. The campaign, very quickly, settled into its holding pattern, squawking from beneath us, a colossal noisy cajoling. Keep Calm And Fucking Kill Me.

I kept waiting for personality to disappear from the debate instead of steadily impose itself. I kept waiting for prognosticating claims and their counter-claims to quieten down so we could get to the nub of the debate - what power means and with who it lies and how the EU affects it. This never happened. At all times the pressure of the debate was towards discussing short-term economic and political realities. At no point was discussion allowed to become conceptual or principled - rather what was emphasised was the NOW-ness of the debate, how it must be in response purely to current events. The issue of sovereignty, which is  the issue I was most interested in hearing about,  received pitiful lipservice from Brexiteers with vague talk about 'taking control back', nearly always combined with anti-immigrant rhetoric as ever in response to current 'crises', not as an impassioned statement of political principle. The limpness of the way the Leave campaign actually talked about the constitutional realities of sovereignty suggested to me they'd worked fuck all out and would be happy post-Brexit to see the UK further surrender what meagre sovereignty it has left to business and asset-strippers. As a lover of parliament, as someone who prefers my democracy in its most direct and closest form, I also searched in vain for a single remain-camper who could explain to me how any of their listed great-things-about-the-EU could not be achieved by us on our tod. Always the talk was of the present government, not possible future governments, and I found myself getting nauseated by the idea that this vote is basically about what kind of fucking Tory party I want.

Everyone in the debate has claimed a monopoly on facts about the future, 'facts' that (like possibilities about the past) simply weren't logically sound or even factual. Both sides screamed about risk, while never actually crediting the public with the ability to cope with the concept of risk, and how crucial it should be in such a vote.  That tone of endless condescension was also the hallmark of the well-meaning liberal left Remain case throughout the campaign. Much talk about how many people shouldn't be ALLOWED to vote (the old, those resistant to immigration, basically those who think differently from a vaguely internationalist/liberal-capitalist standpoint), about how lovely lovely pluralist righteous London should secede from the UK,  long lectures about business and economics (none of which left me thinking anything but that I'd be fucked either way) from the IMF and the CBI and other assorted cabals. Even suggesting on social media that the EU had plenty to not be proud of, in the treatment of Greece and others, the two-tier discimination against non-EU migrants,  in the sham(e) of the Turkey deal that basically leaves the legal door open to mass-deportations and dehumanisation, led to accusations that I was a freedom-hater, a racist. a Tory, a bigot, someone who wanted to destroy people's lives - always with the assertion, 'why would you want to take away my freedom to travel around Europe?' Not a single Remainer seemed even dimly aware of how their assertions of that freedom might sound to anyone who couldn't even dream of affording travel to a different city let alone a different country, how their positing of a beautiful beckoning Europa where the young and sexy and creative could travel to any point on the Gare De Nord destinations board might actually sound to those of us daily scraping up pennies for bus-fares to another 12 hours of wage-slavery every day. If there was one thing you weren't allowed to be, without being condemned by both sides, it was 'undecided'. If you were undecided, with Remaincamp looking more and more hysterical/scaremongering to Brexiteers and Brexiteers looking more and more deluded/xenophobic to Remain-campers, inbetween them you felt well within your rights to stick your fingers in your ears and plan on staying in and washing your hair on the 23rd, the lookout for the future reduced for a while to the brute realities of a  Brexit accompanied either by a swing right by the Tories, or the rise of UKIP, perhaps with a new name, as a national force for social conservatism a la Front National, pulling working class Labour voters away from Labour until Labour dies roundabout 2021 after an even more devastating election. Whichever way I looked, the referendum increasingly insisted that the future, no matter the outcome, would be horrible. Two Labour parties. Two Tory parties. An entirely depressing notion of ourselves as incapable of sustaining peace, rights, freedoms, without the comforting headlock of the EU. The remain picture would've still not have convinced me, would have had me merely spoiling my ballot or not voting if the Leave campaign hadn't been swimming on such an ever-darkening plateau of ordure. Lead, whether the Leave campaign wanted it or not, by this 'legend', one of the most duplicitous, mendacious shitbags in British politics. His utter cuntishness, even more than Farage, will force my hand in the booth tomorrow. The public love him. Britain see thyself.

Of course, even back in March I expected the likes of Johnson, IDS, Gove, Farage, to quickly start snarling about immigration control, bitch about the free movement of cheap labour that has benefitted so many of them in their 'other' jobs. A more loathsome pack of populist  rats would be difficult to conceive, even if one of the earliest and most persuasive statements about Brexit was actually from Gove (like most persuasive Brexit cases, a positive statement of confidence rather than a negative statement of fear and hatred). Though the left-wing case was barely stated I found myself cocking an ear towards  the likes of Frank "The Undertaker" Field and his gloomy predictions about Labour failing to connect with the working class, I went and saw speeches by Dave Nellist and TUSC in Coventry which persuaded me way more than Labour leavers. Though doomsayers like Field and Cruddas have a vague point about Labour divorcing itself from its core electorate I still smell rats, see without a doubt a desire to simplify and generalise about working-class responses to immigration that simply doesn't marry with my observations at the frontline that most of us are at. In my experience real racism towards immigrants comes almost universally from those classes who don't actually live next-door to immigrants, the middle-class who don't like the idea of those inner-city neighbourhoods where immigrants are placed percolating into their own leafy suburbs. I read with interest about groups of builders busy unionising arriving construction workers in order to combat their poor treatment and wondered whether EU migration policy was just another step in dehumanising labour, another brutal equation of people with capital. As the campaign progressed however it was the unremitting nature of the talk about immigration, Farage in particular endlessly dragging things back to it, that persuaded me Remain would have to be how I voted. People will keep drowning, children will keep starving in inhumane conditions as the EU make shady deals and avert their eyes and yet I will still have to vote Remain. I am not a success for the Remain campaign. I am the failing of the Leave campaign, a campaign so squalid, so wretchedly small-minded and divisive it has me voting for an institution I don't trust, for a relationship I see as helpful and empowering only to the already powerful. A vote utterly without joy. 

Without joy, with a slight sulkiness that I've been forced to vote Remain because of who I'd stand with if I didn't. A sulkiness that the Leave campaign was so comprehensively hijacked by Little-Englander racist fucknuckles like Farage. A sulkiness that Europe, and being a European, as I proudly am, had become over the course of the campaign entirely equated with the EU, with supporting all those unelected rich white men who control it.  A sulkiness that even though I consider the EU a non-progressive shoring up of the same old interests in the same old hands, I simply can't vote to leave when contemporary political realities make such a choice stomach-turning and repellent. Eventually your gut has to kick in, no matter what your heart says. I cannot vote for anything that even remotely would make Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Britain First, BNP, UKIP, the Tory right, happy. It's a shitty reason to vote the way I'm going to vote, but the campaign has broken me, has thrown my pretensions to making an intellectual choice on the bonfire of its lividity, its witless monotony and cant, a campaign that has reduced this vote to the pitiful status of another general election, where like any member of a minority has always done, I vote not from hope but purely tactically, purely from fear. And I vote knowing that we have all learned a bit more about ourselves this year. We are nationally proud of our belligerence, doubtful of doubt, sure that we can quickly, easily learn everything and know the facts, hungry for prevarication so long as it shores up our opinions. We are torn apart, perhaps fatally. We are deaf as a post, perhaps terminally. Britain see thyself.