Writing by Neil Kulkarni

Monday, 17 June 2013

THE FUTURE CAME AND WENT. A.R. KANE. Dialogue with Rudy Tambala,

10:48 Posted by neil kulkarni , , , , , 2 comments
(on the event of the issue of "The Complete Singles" in 2012", from The Quietus)

“when I think of you, everything goes crazy”

   Libraries give you power. Step in when your teachers are too busy fiddling dixie. Some blessed loon on the staff at Cov Central library in the late 80s decided to take charge of my musical education. I’d have my mind blown by Melody Maker of a Wednesday morning, then by Saturday morning I’d be rifling the racks, in the remarkable record section that could Tardis you anywhere-anytime  in the musical universe, in a building that used to be the Locarno ballroom (as immortalised in the Specials ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’).
    This wasn’t just a curated cannon of classics; they’d have everything from the authorative to the apocryphal. ‘Hairway To Steven’, ‘Throwing Muses’, ‘Isn’t Anything’, ‘Surfer Rosa’, ‘Daydream Nation’, ‘The Young Gods’ – those records from 87/88 that seemed to unlock the world. Whoever the kindly stock-buyer was they’d also help you out when you were following trails BACK in time from those records, Nick Drake, Durutti Column, John Martyn, Kevin Ayers, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, P.I.L, King Tubby, Roxy, Eno, Bowie – everything you needed to figure out where the fuck this stuff might’ve come from, where it might go. So when I read a review of A.R.Kane’s ’88 album ‘Sixty Nine’ and started having dreams about the sound conjured up by the writers words, I knew that Cov library would, without me telling them to, GET it for me, let me hear it, and then let me hear the names AR Kane were dropping. Miles, Arthur Russell, Ornette, Pharoah , Trane. When you’re 15 and you hear this stuff your mind never recovers. And as an Asian into an avant-garde indie music made by and for an overwhelmingly white group of music makers and listeners A.R.Kane were even more important as figureheads, as proof that this shit should have no colour code. In their own way, in my memory banks they stand as mighty as Prince as not just inspirational for what they made but for who they were, a leonine isolation you could  try and get near, warm your old frozen-out bones next to.

“you just unfold it's just a tumble with a little caress”

   What I could deduce was skeletal, suggestive: AR Kane were two East Londoners called Alex Ayuli and Rudy Tambala. Alex was one of the very few black advertising copywriters in the biz. In 87, as collaborators with Colourbox on the MARRS single ‘Pump Up the Volume’ they found their strange arcs of guitar and noise being part of an international number 1 smash. Other than that all you could be sure of was that they denied having any influences beyond Miles Davis, and they made records that sounded like no-one else. Sensual, spiritual, vaporous, liquid, unearthly, subterranean. Most of their work was self-produced; some of it was recorded by Robin Guthrie, the Cocteau Twins guitarist who was obsessed with the band. The political hold was important – it was astonishing to me to hear black/Asian musicians playing this kind of music but for a long time I was happy to keep my knowledge of the band half-formed and mysterious. Luckily, A.R.Kane both seemed just as keen to not talk about their backgrounds. Half a lifetime on, their ever-new, always astonishing music is getting reissued by One Little Indian in the form of ‘The Complete Singles Collection’. This sumptuous, indulgent set collects every single AR Kane ever made & is something like heaven, a 2 hour suite of unblinking fearlessness and vision, an essential launch-pad for anyone’s understanding of some of the late 80s & early 90s’ best music. I ask Rudy Tambala, one half of the duo alongside Alex ---- something that’s never been satisfactorily answered for me – where the hell did you guys come from?
   “Alex’s folks came over from Nigeria; my dad is African too, from Malawi, my mum English.”
   Where did you grow up?
   “We grew up in Stratford, East London and were always outsiders (most kids were poor cockneys, Irish or West Indian), but we oozed African confidence and a degree of arrogance – we ruled. We met at Park Junior School at the age of 8 and were close friends for the next 20 years.”
What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
   “My mum would play a lot of Strauss, and the radio would play – I remember watching the coloured strip blowy thing in the doorway while Chris Montez crooned “The more I see you …”. When A.R.Kane formed we were no longer listening. We were hearing.”

So WHY did A.R.Kane form?
   “We were aware of the necessity of 'flaws' in music - that was one of the meanings behind the name MARRS - these flaws are discontinuities that act as tiny fissures, allowing the dim and distant, diffused gem light of pre-creation to slip thru - it is this that the music existed for - a signpost, a reminder, a note. BTW, that’s a theory. We called it 'Kaning' the music. So-called perfect music, whatever genre - aims to remove these flaws, to have a true and complete, finished thing. The flaws leave a space, where the listener can still add something of her own, where she can sit and be. A.R.Kane is one person, comprised of two people. We never had enough individual Kane to make flawed music individually; it needed two of us, working as closely as lovers, in complete trust and proximity. It is telepathy, like children’s marbles dropping from our mouths, laughing, then more marbles, and coloured sticks and rubber bands. Great creators have this within themselves, or else they find a task that creates this at the sacrifice of their sanity. We were never that daring or that great.”
   I disagree but don’t say so. Hold on, what do you mean ‘Kaning’ the music?
   “Kaning means going to the threshold of creation, of maximum potential where all things are possible yet uncreated, the realm of Lucifer and the Dark angels, the shoreline where Angels build sandcastles in defiance of the creator, and knit our world from love and light. Just kidding. Or am I? The creation is not a billion years in the past, it is always just ahead and above, it is our near future. The question is, how much of it do we block, and how much do we allow to become. This is the level of creativity we aspired to, without having a bloody clue. But this is what drove us to make music, as ill-equipped as we were.”

   Did the band have a strict line-up of you and Alex or were others involved?
   “We worked with a bunch of other musicians and producers and engineers on numerous different tracks – read the credits!”
   Oops. What kind of music would you say you were making with your’86 debut, the When You're Sad single, and how did the hook-up with OLI happen?
   “OLI came to see us rehearse, thought we were crap and put us in the studio to record. Maybe cos we were iconoclasts, black, actually quite good, and sexy.  Flawed. Our ambitions were to make flawed music and have a good laugh along the way. We had a laugh. We were, as I said, always outsiders. That’s the way it was and is.”
   Were people 'surprised' when they realised you were the creators of it? (I'm thinking here of the racial 'shock' if there was any).
    “Don’t know why they’d be surprised by our music; negroes invented rock music, dance music, and free jazz and psychedelia. At least that’s what mama says.”
  Despite the 'sweetness' melodically ofWhen You're Sad and Lolita (the 2nd EP, that came out in 1987 on 4.A.D) there's also aggression there, darkness, noise, attitude, a sense of almost hermetic distance from the mainstream. That sweet/sour, love/hate ambiguity is STILL difficult to take (e.g. Butterfly Collector) - what did you want to DO with your music in those early stages? Change the world, tell the truth, and make a million dollars?

“We were being true to our telepathic instinct and aesthetic sensibility – that is what we served. The flaw. We were not reactionary. Love never featured, except as a medium for the flaw and the fabric of the universe.”
    How did the 4.a.d hook up occur for the Lolita EP? Was Robin Guthrie someone the label suggested or someone you asked for?
   “Robin was the perfect flaw-engineer. We chose him and he chose us. There was a lot of choosing going on.  Lolita was written in a batch of seven demo songs along with When You’re sad, not after – it obviously needed a different treatment – one cannot always fuck in the same way. What chaos – it only appears like that from the wrong angle. We created flaws. Boring for you, I know – but what can I say? We worked – initially – as one individual, A.R.Kane – democracy is mediation – we did not mediate, we allowed creation in, by knowing when to get out of the way”
   Oddly, for a band who’d topped the charts, success seemed to be something AR Kane never cared about at all. They seemed to be more concerned with enacting a revenge, a terror strike against rock’s limitations, a reaffirmation of a very non-80s, more ancient and deranged love. Wondering Rudy, how instinctive was A.R.Kane and how intellectual? Lyrically the Lolita EP's deeply disturbing – is that cos you were emerging/within a deeply fucked-up relationship at the time or was that a conscious effort, to make the EP's lyrics have a narrative flow and thematic focus
   “More intuitive than instinctive, and Mr Kane is very well read, too. Lolita is not disturbing; it’s just a record of certain states and misunderstandings, and issues that occur from time to time in EVERY relationship. We used this medium to create flaws, the damaged lovers. Perfect metaphor that transcends itself, birthing another, acuter metaphor, a fugue-a-phor. But yes, and yes, pinning things down, closing fissure, the end of creation. Death. It was always there. Some people got it immediately; theme as metaphor, as carrier signal. Not a lot.”
   Before Kevin Shields even dreamt of using a breakbeat AR Kane seemed to be as informed by hip-hop and r’n’b as much as anything else that flowed into their dream-pop. They never seemed like a band who had a 'problem' with the way sampling technology and sound engineering were progressing in the 80s – they’d uniquely found a way to utilise all that kit to still preserve a rawness and spontaneity – and that's why it's so hard to find genuine descendants from their sound (only real one i can think of is Disco Inferno), only antecedents (Hendrix/Miles). Did that fearlessness come from your love of hip-hop/dub/electronic music and if so did it ever occur to 'drop' the guitars from your music altogether. You didn't, why not?
   “The influences you cite and others (Can, Tangerine Dream, The early electronics like Human League, Japan … Kate Bush, Marvin Gaye etc.) did inform our choice of tools, and we love guitar, too. Yes, capturing that mystery – the unfinished object, the flawed art. In a way, our live performances were more flawed than the recordings – once, and never again – just once … this is so final. I felt it sometimes. I saw it in the faces at the front. Religious ecstasy? No. But definitely a glimpse … gem light? I had it watching Sonic Youth and listening to Kind of Blue. It’s never the same twice. It is three times.

   There's something just downright BIGGER about the Up Home EP in 88, on your new home, Rough Trade. W'appen to the A.R. Kane sound from 87 to 88 and were you recording 69 concurrently with it? The three EPs you released that year, together with 69 makes for one hell of a body of concentrated work.
    “Up Home was special. Something happened. I can’t explain.”
   Did you believe your own hype? The press, at least some of it, was entirely rapturous.
   “We were very lucky, we used to sit in bars, and stare wide-eyed at each other and laugh like spliff-heads, just cry with laughter for ages, saying ‘What the fuck is happening’, and we knew it was not our doing, it was just that, it was happening, and we enjoyed the trip, with no sense it had ever started or would ever end. We were in an altered state for a few years. Drug-free, I hasten to add. Well, mostly. Fame caused rifts with our friends – we ended up spending more time with creative types, musicians and the like. I never met any of our fans, except the sexy ones.”
   How isolated did you feel?
   “We were not exploring territory, as you put it. Why would we? Where we were was not a created place. Guess you could say we were creating territories? No-one else went there or knew how to or how they should want to. Even I can’t go there without being alone. It was a one- persons thing. All people are unique.”
   Were you conscious of being in some sense 'figureheads' for black & Asian musicians who wanted to slip the usual soul/funk/reggae strangleholds & stereotypes? Cos you were man, and still are!
   “Yes. A lot of people we knew that felt the constraints of normal society used A.R.Kane as a cue to break free. It was quite strange in a way, because we never did. I think that many imitated the form that they perceived, with the desire for acclaim and success. Bollocks really. But from that there is the possibility to find your own style, form. To innovate. That happened sometimes, I reckon. Catalysts remain unchanged. So we weren’t catalysts. But we never got why others didn’t get it. Until we didn’t.”

   After 69, AR Kane continued in an even poppier, slicker direction. The double-album i that emerged the following year (89) is a kaleidoscope of ideas, mostly hit, occasionally miss that sprawled over two discs and contained what sounded like a new blueprint for pop, in some ways the most simultaneously disciplined yet wayward AR Kane record yet. Is it too pat to see 88’s Love-Sick EP as the bridge that pushed you towards the shinier, in some ways more hysterical textures of i?
    “We kinda broke into the candy store and went mental with Love Sick and i– somebody should have stopped us! We had more money to buy music and we were exposed to a lot more thru recommendation and just thru hanging out in different scenes. The indie scene was new to us; I thought Indie meant from Indianapolis. Our first bass player Russell introduced us to a lot of ‘dark’ music (Swans, Buttholes, Nick Cave) and our 2nd bassist Colin introduced us to certain classical ideas and progressive, intellectual stuff.”
    Were you both already sensing that the band weren't gonna last forever with i. Hence the double-album length, the need to absolutely say everything you wanted to say musically before the inevitable drift-apart would occur?
   “We just did what we did with i. Somebody should have stopped us. No, not really. It was a trip – Geoff Travis accused us of being obsessed with the process. Still no idea what he meant. It should have been a triple album. 1,2,3. But we ran out of tape.”

   I loved all the tiny musical ideas you put in as well, the short tracks, very much reminded me at the time of the way hip-hop albums had 'skits' to hang the thing together, make it an engulfing whole you wanted to listen to front-to-back. What was keeping you together/pulling you in different directions at that point? Geography or artistic differences? Alex has spoken in the past of wanting to 'escape' the 'London scene' – were you both just finding the pressure/lifestyle too strenuous/crazy? A need to reinstall discipline in your life?
   “Telepathy is necessary to create one person from two people, to serve the making of flawed art. Our telepathy was extremely short distance. It broke over distance – geographical, temporal and emotional. When it’s gone, it’s never really gone. But the happening and the time for doing, the time-bound events, they pass on and up and over. Kane grew up. And down. We never really learned to walk on our own. The A.R Kane period was a gift, and we were carried. Maybe Kane never really grew up; maybe he’s still sitting on the rug, waiting for a hand up?

The way that i seemed to shoot all of AR Kane’s bolts in one glorious surge meant that New Clear Child, AR Kane’s last record, is a curate’s egg. You got the sense, listening, that Rudy and Alex were too apart, & consequently the recording process too bitty & piecemeal to make a coherent album.
   “New Clear Child is a mutant, more special than I realised at the time. It came close to standing, but it stumbled, and glossed the grazes. A few of the tracks are really there, but as an album it painted out some of the crucial flaws. Time creeps into the spaces and they crystallize. Everyone knew it. We knew it. Still, there are some ways through on that album, and I love them still.”
   In the time since that swan-song have you listened to A.R.Kane much? Have you heard your influence on anyone? What led towards the reissue of the singles now, nearly 20 years on?
   “I hear similar stuff, sometimes obvious, some coincidental. Don’t really care. I received a bunch of messages over the years asking for tracks so I asked OLI to make the album. Eventually they said ‘OK’, and that’s that. It seems right, feels right to release it now. Kinda like a juncture, a flawed time.
   Are you in contact with Alex? Is there any possibility or need for you to work together again?
   “I’m not hearing from Alex these days – he’s doing his thing somewhere, some music I think. I don’t know if we’ll work together again, who knows. I’m working on several songs with Alison Shaw from Cranes, we’ll be looking to find a home for the album and maybe do some live stuff. It’s really great to be working again and with such an extraordinary talent. I feel ‘lucky’, it’s a bit scary. Good scary. Slightly flawed.”
   Mostly perfect. If you missed A.R.Kane’s music first time round don’t allow such a tragedy to recur ever again. The future came and went. May it always be with us.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Finding Autotune's Pleasure Centre: A Dancehall Column 2010

March 2010 from The Quietus (original edited piece here.)

New decade. New afflictions. Porn fatigue. It sets in eventually don't it? Not just in the wrist or eyes or nethers but crucially in the head. At some point the repetition, the organisation, the availability of all that skin starts feeling like too much of a good thing – whither the chase, whither the hidden, whither love, whither yearning? How much hornier did you get when the only smut you found was discarded in park bushes, hidden in a parents secret stash, swapped in a secret playground moment, hard-earned? Just as the charmless ubiquity of all that filth makes you dream of chastity, want your virginity back, I feel the same exhausted ennui with the slaggish textures of chart music these days. If modern pop organises sound in an entirely pornographic fashion, always at pains to drag us intimately into the soft-core close-up, the lips, the fingers, the hardcore loudness & lurid 2-D flash of the club and the limo and the bedroom, is it any wonder that Autotune is the audio/visual effect of choice, the contact-point airbrush lashed into the mix swiftly before anything can threaten the panoptic perfection of all that clicked & corrected skeez? And man, I would love to still get horny over modern chart pop (and Shakira when her voice back flips, Britney’s snarl and Gaga when she allow us to hear her wonderful accent still hit it) but too often it sounds wet'n'willing to the point of affording no friction, the techniques too flappily apparent for you to even get close to anything approaching the ol' vinegar strokes. S’weird, even though it's detractors are a sorry bunch of festival fodder (Jay Z's menopausal 'DOA' included) man is it DIFFICULT finding autotune's pleasure centre, so severely do its gleaming textures corrode our bourgeois assumptions of democratised technology being good for music. We're getting such sloppy seconds cos pro-tools & cubase done turned all the innocence out of pop, the ability to be naïve, childlike rather than childish. The stink left by production’s state-of-the art right now is that of a just-cleaned club-toilet, the freshly-fragranced fakery exposing rather than disguising the shitty ideas within. Perhaps down to  pure shrunken vision of what pop can do in our celebutante/can't-singjay age, but even amongst supposed movers’n’shakers (the now-overrated Rihanna, the long-overrated Kanye) too often autotune's controls are set for the heart of the hotel pool, the video-shoot, all that audible luxury & bad taste, an orifice-cramming glut of sophisticated sheen and classee boy-band-finger-in-ear showiness. Cos that’s what Cowell wants. What the people in their podules want. I don’t buy it. I’m a person in a podule. I want no such thing.
     Don’t fkn jump on me poptimists. I have no problem with tech-abuse bullying itself to the front of the mix. When Pierre & other Chicagoans started fucking around with 303's it was go-nowhere magic, it was the reinvention and resurrection by discarded people of something discarded , something designed for rock that rock didn't need and that rock didn't have the guileless grace to abuse into new shapes, new futures. Autotune's progress into pop has suffered no such drama, no such rediscovery; it's a golden shower that has never showered gold. First the rich had it. It sounded horrible. Then the poor had it. It still sounded horrible. As a sign of the times we live in, autotune is  cocaine, guilty-secret of the rich turned cheapskate currency, as classless now as fake tan and steroid abuse but importantly, for pop's possibilities, it is a sound that's repellent, in all senses, a motif impervious to all around it.  From uberproducers' guilty secret to Cher's out'n'proud vocal surgery down through T-Pain's zero-speed belligerence to every laptop studio on the planet autotune has wheeled through its possibilities to ever-dwindling avail,  finding itself now the deodorant/slap of choice for pop before it can even dream of stepping out into the night and those bright flaw-exposing lights.

    In excess (on the chaffest of the chaff hip-hop singles) it can make a weird kind of sense - actually preferable to its detractors' mealy-mouthed bleatings about authenticity and integrity. We should be mindful of anything that seeks to make musicians pay dues, impose a hierarchy on inclusion in pop merely down to vocal 'talent', indeed any orthodoxy that makes us forget what a confection pop is. But the recording angel surely has to sound like an angel, has to have a sense of battle with the humans within it – too often we find, listening to modern pop and r'n'b/hip-hop in particular, autotune inflexibly sitting on weedy-assed beats, shining like a fake Rolex in a suitcase, blinding the eye whist dropping a glistened turd in your ear. You can't polish it, no matter how reverse-double-bluff-with-salko be your hipster manoeuvres. Porn fatigue starting to nag, sap your energy to keep hearing. So let’s start setting some rules here: RULE 1 – rappers should stop singing. Don't sing rappers. Rappers, do not sing. The singing has to stop for those of you who are rappers. Y'know you rappers who sing? The singing rappers? Yeah, you. Sorry and all that, I know some of you have tried really hard but you can't do it.  Give it a rest. Anyone can rap (look at all the singers who think they can) but not everyone can sing. It's your chronic reliance on autotune to fill the gaps in your melodic abilities that's making much black pop feel so foil-on-the-filling nasty right now.  Harmonies, multiple voices, are pop's sweetest sound but autotune roboticizes their creation so predictably, fatally removes ALL trace of humanity - no matter how devoted you are to electronics and synthetic textures, without the sense of some moment of human volition/decision behind it pop simply doesn’t work. Spector, Meek, Derbyshire, Czukay, Macero, Quincy J, Moroder, Orridge, The Bomb Squad, Timba, Dre all knew it is an utter mistake to think there is 'nothing natural about recorded music'. Without something natural, there is no recording; there is only demonstration, a tour round the desk, a spod’s snortling glee from the depths of the manual. Technological exploration/abuse is only progressive when directed by heart or head, when it's kinda afraid but insatiably curious, when it wants revolution (e.g. scratching) or release (e.g. distortion). The only emotion you can consistently connect with autotune is smugness about the program's performance, pride in the presets.  And, crucially, when the machines are being binge-fed entirely unimaginative lazy-assed tunes to correct, it's no wonder how much hip-hop now you just can't and won't remember even if/when it's huge. The new kit, & crucially too many producers’ lack of imagination with all that doodaddery, have served to make much ‘urban’ in oh-ten an identikit chrome blob, orbited by tricksy voices solidifying nothing. And it’s not just harmful for US pop when r’n’b is in such stasis, it’s harmful to any music for whom r’n’b is an historical, ever-influential touchstone.
Stephen McGregor

Speaking of which RULE 2 – autotune should only be allowed in Jamaica.
   Because Jamaican voices right now have nothing to hide or correct - in Jamaica autotune find voices that can match, outwit, outgun it, contrast with it - voices that make the beast with two backs even as they're being compressed into the atomised spray of gamechair-pop. The pop nous in Jamaican pop's bloodstream, the ear for hooks and the vocal ability that knows 300 pre-programmed fake notes cannot compete with the RIGHT note at the right time means that, in dancehall, digi-tech finds itself beautifully harnessed, harshly treated, commandeered in pop’s name rather than putting it's size-tens all over it’s fragile neck. Listening to the biggest hits in dancehall from 2009/10 the contrast between the likes of Steven McGregor’s charged-up control of modern mixology and hip-hop's dumb demo-setting obviousness is crystal clear – dancehall's biggest names, from Kartel's Gaza coterie to BKiller's Alliance clan (and everyone operating in the no-mans land between those combatants), create singles that burn themselves to the memory's hardrive like the nastiest viruses, singles that CARE about percussion, detail, those tiny moments that can become huge without sounding like gestures or gimmickry. At no point in the best dancehall does anything sound smeared indiscriminately across the mix, everything down to the tiniest fizz or pop is there for a reason. For the weeks that they corrupt you no other sound seems as desirable but unlike hip-hop the point of contact is vital here -  out the tiny, flinty confines of your computer fuggedaboutit (& I can't go to dancehall clubs as I've been assured by those juvenile fans I know that as an old Asian man I'd get shot). At home, dancing with the kids (kids love this stuff – just be aware the lyrics might require some, ahem, explanation/euphemisation) you get dazzled. You need good headphones or big speakers to make the beats and bass work their magic, to make the voices walk tall, like they're real people lost & let loose into a different world every riddim change, a different place in regard to themselves. Everything earmarked as reasons US rap sucks right now find new life in Jamaica: autotune loses it's imperialist smarm and finds itself in the mouths of doubtful, desperate, deranged, driven-mad-by-lust propa pop singers (and if the interminable snoozeworthy disswars that plague US rap seem pointless, then at least the Gaza-Gully turf wars in Kingston pop are as absurd & action-packed and kinda like WWE as these things should be). At the moment the sound of Jamaican dancehall is the sole reason Antares Evo-Pro plant must not be located’n’liquidated – the only adequate rebuttal to the legions of luddites currently looking to eject autotune from pop's craw.  Jamaican producers, musicians and singers (who, let's face it, since the days of Steely & Clevie through Bobby Digital have been obsessively busy with digital-music for longer than anyone) have made the new kit work dammit, they've hit the balances because the humans involved USE the device, not t'other way round – there's no less control behind the desk, but there's voices grown up enough to lose control behind the mic, and lose control melodically, tunefully. Harmonies don't just intertwine in dancehall, they're too interesting to pull pat moves, rather they disperse like snipers, move like a swat team, pop off across the mix and assail unexpected peripheries. The producer is in his heaven, and all is right with the world.

TNT (ft. Timberlee)
   Likewise, when the Europeanization of US hip-hop (all those trance/house textures so bemoaned by US hip-hop purists, like Ford-workers watching Merc engines lifted into Mustangs) translates to Jamaican music the effect is ambiguous, confusing, wonderfully threatening to dancehall's stern sexual politic. Set against the none-more-macho lyrics all that none-more-gay lushness starts calling the machismo & misandry into question, starts making it sound desperate, pathological. Voices launch out but find themselves uploaded to the ether in a gurgle of chrome, defused of outward danger but launched lethally in on themselves. The same production tricks that make so much US rap sound like so much unjustified ballache&bullshitting strands the protagonists of dancehall in a soundworld in which their violence & randiness start sounding like addictions, like problems rather than unproblematic prejudices. Partly it's down to the music's refusal to simply stomp - dancehall's impetus is so often found on the soca-step, silkily on the snare rather than the kick, so all the delirious digi-detail (that flashery that r'n'b puts at the heart of it's current deterioration) flies away from the centre of the sound, flitters and flutters around the voices rather than having to change or correct them.  Partly it's down to the sheer wonder of the voices themselves: on the staggering Sumpn 4 Ya AIDONIA seems constantly breathless in anticipation,  frantic, lurid, downright spasmodic on an eternal brink to a particularly sticky end– the machoness of  the man always prone to the uncoolest moments of genuinely losing it, losing control, his verbal acrobatics always carrying the threat of falling without safety-net, returning to the gasp and the groan and those petit-mort noises the grown-ups make. Where US r’n’b is so painfully in search of the hook it always ends up bobbing in lukewarm waters clinging onto only what’s most-obvious, Aidonia naturally, fluidly, intersperses his dizzying lightspeed verbals with moments of pure grunt, squeal, shudder – and these moments become things you want to hear again and again. Further, Jamaican voices tend to not go for range, big leaps or Carey-esque oralbatics between notes.  Rather it's the frantically fast rotations around a simple melodic riff that make these tracks so demanding of your time, so bewitching, so devilish, so human. Sumpn 4 Ya is a record that spins on the edge between mind and body, and the body always breaks on through to the voice, makes it do things the words, dazzling as they are, can't let out or release. Repeated replays (for you will if you care about pop) and the key becomes clear.  'Taint the trancehall backing or jabs of palpitating synth or even that planet of bass you seem to be orbiting. All gorgeous but no-one else rode the Outbreak riddim quite like Aidonia -  when Aidonia yelps you're inside it, when Aidonia screams you shiver, when Aidonia sounds like he's into the heat of the final fuck moments the music just evaporates in the white-heat of your relationship with that voice. It's doing weirdly classic things (think Teddy P, Barry W)  – things only the rewind can reveal, things unfathomable and unfeasible – things you HAD actually been led to expect from Aidonia's other big tracks ('Rifle Me Bark', 'Thunderclap') which are just as excessive to requirements.

Aidonia & Vybz Kartel

Because no matter what’s going on behind the scenes in pop, if the right people aren’t in place, shit won’t happen right. In Jamaica, unlike nearly everywhere else on the planet, the right people are making music.

These are voices under stress, under pressure, squeezing out their trigger-happy testaments before the sky falls or hell opens below or the front-door gets kicked down. The best  voices in dancehall right now, ERUP, MAVADO, AIDONIA, BUSY SIGNAL, STACIOUS (No Freak and Head), TIMBERLEE (check the ace 'Fashionista'), CE'CILE, the outrageous LISA HYPE (go back and listen to Face Facts & The Truth), NATALIE STORM (go back even further and hear Look Pon Me and Dip & Fall) sound like they’re singing to survive, punching against music and fx that bounces their threat back on themselves, the sounds heavy, lush and lethal enough to push the extreme extraversion of the singers  inward to the curious helium-bubble of the production even as the beats rampage on, the doom and dread and apocalyptic gunplay/purpsmoking/sexuality only ever damaging to the frantic, frightened personas behind the voices, never to the listener. Best riddims I heard this Winter were the stompin' Gunshow (Aidonia's uproarious We Run Uptown, Mavado's stunning 'Everything Inna Hole',  Elephant Man's slightly-knackered Boy Dead), the robo-soca of  10 Long 10 Strong (Bugle's eloquent Unlimited, Kartel's Imagination-style undulation-fest Seductive , Leftside's way-freakier Magnum & 2 By 4), the livid ‘lectro of Style & Swagga (Assassins Wanna Be Ballaz , RDX's startling 'Deliver Mi'), Death Row's mournful glide up the long road through the cemetery gates (Movado's 'Sing Song', Stein's Bad Mad Straight) & Thunderball’s spy-movie stealth (Aidonia's 'Thunderous Clap', Stein's military-industrial 'Slow Motion'). In contrast to the drek hip-hop/r’n’b tried to warm us with the past few months, these tracks are hotter than the sun put in the microwave for ten minutes too long. Go go go seek and mind your minds. Stuff can burn your synapses.

BUT, new decade, lowered expectations. Amidst all this future-fuckery the return of Steely & Clevie's nutzoid Steel Frog riddim esp. with Capleton's 'Lip Lip Lip' is some retro I can live with, even if it casts a baleful, withering light on dancehall’s current progress.  Tbh I simply wouldn't bother chasing riddims anymore. Keep on top of the shit bubbling on Youtube or even better (esp. if you’re an old tech-unfriendly fucka like me) stick to mixtapes, for we're not in a golden age and we are lazy. We're in an age where despite r'n'b's current paucity of newness, dancehall is still managing to take on and twist American styles into interesting new shapes: but the deeper disease, the lack of imagination in mainstream US r'n'b/rap is fatal for much dancehall as well – the return of Steel Frog posits an intriguing thought that mebbe it's time for Jamaica to turn away from US influence a little, seek out their own unique lineage and slant a bit more often. The response of Jamaican voices to US decay is just strong enough, just inventive enough right now to still find ways of being fascinating to anyone in earshot. And if Tighten Up was the bargain-pack tropical-transmission of choice in the 70s then now you have no excuse not to be checking out the Dutchman DJ Triple Exe's 'Pure Winery' series 4-6 (ace wee dubbed-out segues and technoid rerubs included), 2010 mixes from DJ I Kandi and DJ Waxfiend, DJ Greedy's 'Famine 4', DJ Aliaz ‘Reggaefest 2010’, DJ Polombo's 'Bells Of War', Mischief Sound Crew's 'Fever 2K10' mix, Chinese Assassin DJ's 'Prepared For War 3' or DJ MBA's 'Outbreak 2' mixes this month. Let them do the hard work, pack together the hits, lash lightning strikes to your dome/home (and it’s particularly intriguing hearing how US & European DJs inf[l]ect dancehall with their own techno-traditions). Crucially even at our distance from dancehall's daily motors & moodswings, keeping up with riddims & the frenzy of the version-flood isn’t entirely necessary. So let those obsessives like Triple Exe & Waxfiend filter this shit for you, but fer chrissakes don’t ever cock an ear AWAY from Jamaica, cos you’ll probably be missing some of the most vital, invigorating pop music being made on the planet right now. Just like you did last year with British hip-hop. Details anon. Re: dancehall I declare Autotune reprieved. Just. Next month all this will be irrelevant. And that’ll be the next turn in the story. Be there.

Thursday, 13 June 2013


[Editors note - June 2013 
A warning - this, to my eyes now, is bad writing. At times terrible writing. Not just the obvious fact that too many sentences start with the word 'And'. The thrust of it, the lack of tightness, the voice, the rambling, the nastiness, the repetition, the self-pity. It's all pretty horrible I think, or at least emerges from a not-very-nice person. I probably wasn't a very nice person when I wrote it, certainly wasn't happy. The supposed 'metal' columns I did for CTCL (which rapidly just became longwinded belly-aching on my part) were from a time when I was just getting used to how I'd never make a living out of this malarkey, and consequently I used them to write in a way I never had before, no wordcount, dim awareness of deadline, entirely freewheeling. In a big way I was 'practicing' the kind of writing that in a more substantive manner took over when writing 'Eastern Spring' so it all had a reason but mygod this is painful now. Man, I hated the noughties.] 

June 2002

I don’t know if you could call this writing or expectorating. I’m going to try and explain an extra crawl in my skin that seems to be tightening as time goes by. I’m sure most of you aren’t teenagers. So I’m sure most of you know that you never lose being a teenager. It comes back. It circles round, lets you get comfortable then comes crashing back through the door at the precise moment when you think you’ve got things sorted.
  Fate conspires to reintroduce those red mists, that absolute conviction, that two-tone vision and dangerous intolerance that always seems to fill the void when the house of cards comes down, when shit luck pulls the rug from under your grown up ass.
   It’s funny what you think about on stage, in-between songs. All the above occurs in about a millisecond of confusion as I push my glasses up my nose with a mic. It’s a degree of that red mist that I want to share with you, though. I’ve got to get things off my mind. Don’t know if this qualifies as a column, or an exorcism, or an arse-wipe. Whichever, I’m putting you through it because you’re the only ones who let me talk this way. Very little to do with metal I might as well warn you. Could patronisingly put in a quote from a metal band to legitimise my suppurating keyboard but all they’ve every told me is, “It’s the music that matters”. And that’s precisely the lie I need to skewer and barbecue and feed to my pigs.
   We all know that music is a lie you’re asked to believe in, and that great music sells you the lie of transparent (i.e colourless) communication best of all. I suck on the lie’s dry bones this month when I’m in the pissing rain outside a pub, singing and playing guitar, my band behind me and a table full of townies laughing at me while I tell my truth. Laughing. Not like you’d laugh at an equal. The way you’d laugh at a medical curiosity, a pile up, a pool of sick that suddenly decided it was Mario Lanza, the way you’d laugh in school assembley when they announced that some sixth-form butane freak had topped himself over the weeked. That kind of laughter you can’t stop cos it’s your only response to horror, repulsion and fear. It’s the laughter that’s followed me all my life.
   Yeah, boofuckin’ hoo. As the gorgeous Cov rain starts burning more apertures in my clothes and seeping through the already burned out soap-bar bomb-holes I recall that paranoia was and is a lifestyle choice you have to be committed to. You’ve got to be in it from the off and believe in no other worldview until you die. Even falling in love shouldn’t shake your conviction that everyone hates you. Not an active dislike, just a general lukewarm revulsion for your foul carcass. Compliments are the slime left by social slugs intent on eventually sucking you under. Don’t take them. Spit salt on their backs when they’re not looking. Tonight, I’m being glad handed by smirking skinheads in the audience and I can’t figure out if they want to fuck or kill me. And paranoi says that, when in doubt, retreat behind your own borders, go back to what you know, the totems that earmark your islation. And that’s when you realise how effectively estranged you’ve become from the gawd-bless-‘em human race because YOUR race will always matter to you. Your race will always matter in every relationship you’ll ever have, will always give people either a taste for being seen to help the underdog OR a handy extra weapon against you. Any ‘pride’ I might feel in who I am is effectively neutered by just how damn useful it is to both me and others in the games we play. White friends. What can you do with them? How will you ever know them? And when you realise that even white people can’t figure out their friends you realise just how fucked you are.
   But it’s been my life for so long, this inward cramp. I don’t know what comfort feels like, suspect I never felt it since I sat in my school library (my home away from home) on the last day of school and closed my eyes and opened them again with a vision of the whole school in flames and a raging stiffy in my pants only to be cold-showered with the dick-shrinking reality of life going on without me, people getting their friends to write on their shirts and me going home unblemished and SURE. It’s the discomfort of being out’n’about and finger-buffeted by the mass ego that I associate with sociability, it’s the terror of being on a stage that I associate with being heard, the mild dislike that accompanies you in your closed-in walk turning in major hatred whenever you open up. Forever caught in that moment when you’re so shocked at people taking the piss out of you that you can’t come up with a snappy response, you just bite your lip and wait for the earth to swallow you whole.
   I never wanted to be a lead singer. Our singer did a runner cos of alcoholism and impending marriage and I was crowbarred in. Said yes before I thought about it. And now, I’m trying to be a frontman with the physical grace of a Weeble, the look of livestock (my girlfriend thinks I look ‘docile’ on stage) and the tits of your granddad. And sin that don’t sit right with people, that makes people suspect my motives. S’tricky. Especially when you start thinking about how you must look. Like an interloper, or one of those pakis only into indie music so they can shag indie kids.
   It’s been a problem for me since the off. I was the only Asian person in 30 floors of magazine house. You get a dual complex. You think you’re selling out your people (and ethnic group you quickly realise are a just as riven with race-hate as every other) by working for such a transparently unthreatening monolith of mainstream opinion (and every time you took the piss you’d get death threats in the postbag). And you wonder why you’re there. I liked thinking of myself as a token. It was a comfortable place to be. Being on stage is more like being a target for the hilarity of others simply because people STILL aren’t used to a paki with a guitar. Simply put, I don’t belong up here, the front row is laughing at me and I want to go home. I want to FIND home.
   It goes further. As I start chopping the set list down in-between verses to just  GET THIS TRAGEDY OVER WITH I recall that the obits for Nina last month showed nothing’s changed. Black musicians are still talked about in terms of “reality, “soul”, “honesty”, “spirituality”. All great things to bring to music but things that critics can handily STOP talking about, can just leave hanging in the air waiting for our nods of imagined empathy. The backhanded compliment of saying that Simone’s talent was “natural” is another way of saying that black musicians simply don’t (have to) THINK about their music as much as those furrow-browed honkie motherfuckers.
   And even though in Billie Holliday, Curtis, Hathaway, Coleman, Simone, Prince, Timba you actually find the most driven day’n’night pop theorists, the most obsessive musical intellects engaged quite properly in the never-ending OVERTHINK about music that characterises all true soulful performers, it’d still seem that we haven’t progressed from from Mod’s mythic cornball view of black pop. That it’s simply magic that happens when the oppressed pick up instruments. And is not just as tortuous an intellectual/existential riddle as it is when someone from art-school gives it a go. And if that sort of #### goes down on black people (who most people like and fair few think are “cool”) what the hell can an Asian (the laughing stock of the Western World and whipping boy of all races) expect?
   When that sort of hypocrisy, that denial of complexity and therefore HUMANITY, still infects so much thought about pop you start wondering about how you’re gonna get on with a wider world EVEN MORE intolerant than pop is about difference, outsiders, anyone sure enough to suggest that white aint might or right.
Such a hateful nation. Such a terrified continent. The acceptability of racism hasn’t been so total in my lifetime. Every newsstand makes you feel like a happy German in the mid-Thirties; buying your fags from the Co-Op with a bag of bent coppers, the sheer hatred in your peripherals, the pamphlets of spite lined up with Win-A-Millino neatly mast-headed over today’s bulletin of bigotry: you try and ignore it, like well meaning pre-WW2 German liberals must’ve ignored the hook-nosed caricatures and cartoons while flicking through to the sports section.
    Growing up, you’ve realised that everyone is culpable: blacks hate pakis even more than whites hate pakis even more than pakis hate blacks even more than everyone hates asylum seekers and you realise that these crass generalisations are your own little bit of the prejudiced bloodstream, the way that you’ve been whispered to all your life by friends, family, received opinion and your own nasty little suspicious urges. And they all race through your head now you’ve decided to stick your head above the parapet and be visible. And people are laughing at you even faster and harder than your mind can come up with reasons why. And they’re like the kids who spit at you from passing bikes and call you paki bas6tard, and you quietly die behind your “seen it all before” smile. And maybe I should just think spit back, hit hard, be good, deny them the window of opportunity before they start throwing bricks through it. So this I do. Because my band rules. And on stage I can be god. But I’m holding off the inevitable.
   This country is turning nastier than ever. It’s so damn scared of people, so damn scared of change, so damn venomous about protecting itself against the world. The Great British Public are intent on turning my every stroll into a walk of shame, just as every adjustment to their fixed notions is an “assault on our values” and everybody who dares to understand one person at a time is do-gooder. Call it paranoia. It’s a way of life. I want to hear what the Iraqis and Afghanis who’re coming to Coventry have to say. I want them to form bands. My city I’ve loved all my life wants to kick them out. And my conclusion is the last thought I have because nothing emerges from it, it is the lights going out and the switch being lost. SOMETIMES SUICIDES SOUND LIKE THE ONLY SUCCESS STORIES WE HAVE. Alone in a room. Or on a double-decker in Tel Aviv. Those are the options my race gives me.
   We’ve finished the last song. Applause, vague embarrassment. Thanks for listening. Good night.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013


(original review from The Quietus, April 23rd, 2010)

1.  I’ve put our uniforms in the wash. We’ve got a few hours to get ready. Aww love. I hope you get banished from pop soon. You're in a bad way. Fatally estranged from your soulmate Death, starved of the real Romance that negotiates that crucial relationship, that way you cheat each other, the way you each make us forget about the other one. ‘This Ain't A Love Song’? Too fucking right. You cunts couldn't write a love song. It's too serious for you.

2. Love, Jesus, look at you, you're starving, you're not looking good. Wasting away. Every song is about you. Bieber to Derulo, Perry to Cole to Allen. All this exposure with no-one actually asking how you are. Have you seen Romance recently? What an idiot. Such slush in your name, so at odds with the way our lovers make  us feel.  Anyone who had a heart doesn't watch new movies. Skinny kids getting sappy on each other. We watch only studio system b&ws, only movies in which grown-ups, who have suffered, find love and lose their minds. People who know about permanence and transience. People who know how love burns what flimsy handles you had on yourself,  who have grown up to find out how love bereaves you. How you wave g'bye to your freedom, send your sanity trundling down the be-curtained conveyor-belt to the flames, tip the ashes of your control on the grave of your ability to think straight. You grow up you find out how love addicts you, inhabits you, makes you wait on it because you need it, makes you hang out a window for hours staring at a corner waiting for a face, a cab, a sign. You find how, when the clock ticks beyond a promise, time stretches infinitely into your guts. You taste  the sweet searing martyrdom of a bit lip, the  quinine-hit of poison on an unleashed tongue. . Love makes all it's clichés true and bigger than life. ‘My Life Would Suck Without You’ will never become a cliché. It's too untrue.

3. But that kind of love, real love like



wouldn't fly anymore. Love lyrics have switched angles from the frenzied p.o.v of the problem-page correspondent to the endlessly prescriptive, dully didactic cheese shot out by the agony aunt/uncle. Where once pop poets were able to sum up young crush and old need , now gaucheness and wisdom have been voted out by the cynicism and smugness of middle-aged songwriters & mentors putting their relationship-advice diagnoses into the mouths of middle-aged teenagers. A massive overabundance of 'wit' masking an actual fear of language until everyone speaks & sings in the same dull poesy & shrunken verbals of those advice columns, those cover-mounted confessions. Lyrics that read like status updates.Have you heard that Kate Nash single? “Everybody thinks that girl’s so fine/Everybody’s like I’ll make her mine. Everyone thinks she’s a bit of alright/But I think that she’s not so nice”. Jesus am I the only one who just felt it get fucking   stupider in here?

4. So, no new clichés for a while now. Plenty of topicality, linguistic gimmickry, sharpness, fashion. No style, no real talk, no timelessness. Lies, generalities and gossip about love and no truth about love. Too much judgement and smart-arsedness, as if love isn't way too complicated to merely write through, think through, sing yourself better with. Like bereavement it will put potholes in the pavement for your dumbass facade & reason to tumble down. But most pop about love is now about preparation, redemption, making sure you come out on top, paid, self-pity intact, moving on.  Makeover music, self-help music, in pop 2010 there's plenty of knowledge of how emotion looks and can be described, and a total lack of any emotion.

5. And it's killing it. Real unreal love and real unreal romance are forced into hiding under the floorboards, in wallspaces, appalled at what's being committed in their names within these rooms and soundstages and vocal booths. In an era in which ostensibly the details and derailments of modern love have never been more piled high by more saps with nothing else to sing about, why are we getting so much assurance that things work out, that time will tell & pay all debts, when in actual fact love, like bereavement,  NEVER leaves, never gets evened out or dealt with. In the charts,  no matter how infantile the lungs knocking it out it's always from the charmless viewpoint of someone who knows better now, someone who can diagnose and prescribe the emotional turmoil they were in and get healed. Nothing about modern pop lingers, makes you think, stops clocks. It rinses and leaves.

6. Sure this is a two-way relationship. Pop music effects the way we conduct our relationships. The deeper problem mebbe that mebbe the full-to-busting emptiness of modern lovesong perfectly reflects our new glass identities, our dizzy disappearance into the virtual life. I say stay away Love, stay between the walls, I know you're sick of being toyed with by the merely horny, sick of being mistaken for a daily fact, bought out by Miramax, pimped by Sony, turned out by MTV, lost to the truly beautiful & derelicted by youth. They use you to avoid talking about anything else, to avoid alienating anyone. I suspect an age in which all that's written is love songs is an age where people & the biz they work for are trying to shut out the scary shit, minimise risk. But love can be some scary shit. Never in songs these days.

7. Hugely condescending when you think about the talk you hear round the shops, down the park, on the street, at the bus-stop, in the pub, in the club, at the cab rank, over the garden-fence, through the walls via a glass, wherever lovers can hide or hide their mad connection with each other. The way people actually talk is still occasionally unique and often revelatory, but they are talked about by pop in ways that always stink of daytime-telly psychology and rom-com over-wordiness, lyrics that attempt observation but only see the average, push what the piecharts are saying plays well with the most suckers. Everyone says what they want/mean, everything resolves, enacting the same self-important Western fictions yr Kyles and Povitches and Loose Women rely upon (that pop-psyche can solve the insoluble, that somehow making a relationship work is about 'growing up', being a 'strong' man/woman, that horrific notion of 'compatibility') It's exhortative, preachy, pushy, whiney – it wears it's immoderate nature on it's sleeve, never reveals it by accident in-between the lines. Eavesdrop on 'normal' folk anywhere and you realise - though the tedious txt-spk twaddle of modern love songs matches the tedium of modern love as portrayed back to us,  ALL of it fails to match the way love is, and continues to be, and endures.

8. The true intractability of you and your lover, the way you finish each other, the way your despair and joy are intimately linked with that lost freedom you want for yourself but loathe in him/her, the way that lovers grind against each other in every way, shooting sparks, wearing each other down up to a point where you will never ever ever get over them for as long as you live – these are complex tectonic processes that don't feel like they take place in heart, head or even groin.  Some other place, some elemental mix of every other emotion fused not in a single part of the body but that thrums on a deeper subcutaneous level, bacterial-like, a network of spores, an illness of sorts. Love should come with a warning, should require a license. So many modern love songs muzzle it's growl, hide it's howl, cure its palsy - cheap chat-up lines, new-man confessionals, and no real sweet talk. I'm a little bit lost without you. I'm a bloody big mess inside. Fuck off then you blubbering cunt. Michael MacIntyre, Ricky Gervais. Front and centre for the guillotine. You're both partly responsible.

9. Of course real romance, real love & life is never gonna be touched on when all must be spray-on, skin-deep: lyrically, modern love-songs are a post-modern grab-bag of buzzwordy bitesize bollocks in a zesty ranch dressing, sub-sexting neediness/nastiness that isn't equipped and doesn't have the attention span to deal with love's depths, is too busy in the giggling glee of matchmaking/voyeurism to notice the cold fires, the seething furies, the frenzies, too busy whining to really address the doom and desperation and depth of love's import in an age of dwindling dreams. The songs of love of the past ten years haven't been up to the job, will never become their own clichés but only rejig already dried-out ones, a pastiche-move often mirrored in the music's restorationist bent towards the 60s or 50s. Songs that have been written for the simpering saps on the match-dot-com ads but not the lovers on the street and on the roof and in the rooms tearing chunks out of each other, arming themselves against the rot within and without, scared of death, reaching out for the immortality of joy and completion and her arm or his shoulders. And there's not enough good singers to sing what good songs there are. Big problems for pop, if it wants to speak to people who are good at fucking as opposed to good at wanking, if it wants to win love back and stop getting told what to do by everyone else.

10.Erykah Badu is not a teenager, names her album after the Egyptian hieroglyph for 'eternal life', sees it as the other side of the more avowedly socio-political firestorms of New Amerykah Pt 1: 4th World War, has just had a kid with Jay Electronica, and is a little too good for the kids, just like all the best kids and grown-ups these days.

11. Which is not to say that New Amerykah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh isn't laden with hooks, isn't sweet as it is sour, sumptuous as it is seething. It's just that for such an enjoyable record, Ankh needs your time to fully work on you. Badu gives you a total picture of herself in & out of love and it grows, it builds, it edges it's way sideways into your consciousness and then pulls on you like those once-a-decade opium binges you can't give up on. Rare grooves indeed.

12. Don't allow your natural suspicion/doubt of those who venerate Badu deny you the wonder of her works: just cos way too many backpackin'critics get gusset-froth from Badu & her loosely-affiliated Soulquarian posse, hold them up as some kind of venerable old-skool antidote to the treacheries of their mainstream contemporaries, doesn't mean that you have to dig them for the same weaselly reasons. Listening to Ankh, Badu's 'marginalisation' from the US rap mainstream (although 359,000 sales for 4th World War is still a margin a lot of people would love to reside in) seems less important than her steady estrangement from the rest of US music full-stop. Badu’s albums since 97 /have gone triple platinum, double platinum, platinum & gold in that order – she and you shouldn’t give a fuck about that thinning out of her appeal because it’s meant increased concentration, increased oddity, increased determination. The generosity and lack of fear of her music (this album is freewheeling, contains fuck-ups other artists would kill for and is still perfect) makes it current and ancient, performance and role and persona fused in Badu so she falls into an elder lineage by dint of dreaming herself there, being that good, not by just saying so or sounding how you might 'expect'. Those crits usually get the names wrong. They say Donny Hath & Roberta & Stevie & Aretha & Lady Day. I say Earth, Wind And Fire.  And Joni, and Steely Dan because what's bracing about Badu is her full-tilt addiction to melody, restraint and jazzed-out possibility for pop songwriting. I play this end to end with 'Hissing Of Summer Lawns' and 'That's The Way Of The World' and it balances, like a 12” on your little finger. 

13. Crucially she's made a record here that doesn't use love or romance to shore up or reassure or push an ego, rather it's the giddy rush of love-talk, could be from him could be from her, the sudden defiances, the doomed declarations of independence that get swirled in. No accident that it's Badu's voice rather than the band that get fkd around with in the mix. Sonically this is less trippy but more hypnotic than it’s prequel – the accent on live instrumentation makes the grooves warmer & sweetens Badu's voice, and the voice, way more than the band is prone to all kinds of chaos and chiaroscuro, doubling, tripling, swinging out to the margins and looping elliptically back to the centre of your headspace, riding into phase sunsets. By infinitely disappearing into their own traces and trails her multiple voices can be everyone at once and this wonderful smudginess/sharpness of identity makes Ankh a record that gratifyingly refuses to make Badu likeable, a winner, a caricature. Rather than use love as  mere subject matter Badu has set out to make a record lovers can use, the unrequited can trip out on, we can all feel warming us like the sun. It feels wonderfully endless. Badu is smart enough not to try and have the final word – like the grooves and the lethal lyrical lines the album flows back on itself, concepts link back and forth, arguments get reignited.  Like a real relationship this record can both create bliss and throw punches, is compassionate enough to be as real and unreal as love can be. We've all been there  and this record takes you back to those other dimensions of reality we call going steady, where all is too much or not enough, where madness becomes a way of life.

14. And what magic happens inside this sound– this is the lushest evocation of 70s soul I've heard in a while. The lambent gorgeousness of the grooves really is up there with EWF & Sly (and Robbie too) – and will find you in dancing mood, or holdin yr headphones tight on, nodding out those kinks in yr neck and shoulders. The way ’20 Ft. Tall’ nearly floats off into space, Badu’s voice holding on to the ground by it’s fingernails (“what did I do to make you fall so far from me?/Selective memory”) , everything else lifting off. The blissful Roots-style pop of ‘Window Seat’ (?uestlove on the drums) that barely masks it’s themes of escape and inescapability (“I don’t wanna time-travel no mo/ I wanna be here”). ‘Agitation’ is an astonishing minute-and-a-half that could be straight from Countdown To Ecstasy. ‘Turn Me Away (Get MuNNY)’ is the first absolute bomb – a gorgeous semi-locked groove that pipes summer into your cells, lyrics pitched somewhere between avarice and ardour, someone who feels themselves turning into a robot even as their inner workings go haywire. Fantastic things within the band’s reach, rhythm section keeping things simple yet stunning, Badu freed not for vocal acrobatics but to enjoy herself, get into some reggae falsettos, hit the off-beats and sevenths (“this love is chemical/electric particle/down to the minimal/tickle tickle ego stroke/I’ll be your robot girl”)

15. This record is like your first alcohol of the day, on a sunny hungover morning. Clears the head, lets you see the blue sky after the storms & wreckage of the previous night. After a while you start needing it every morning. Right now I head straight for ‘Gone Baby Don’t Be Long’ because the beats and bass and loops are a heavenly moebius you don’t wanna ever fall out of, and it catches the schizophrenic poses and passions of letting your lover out the door better than anything else here. ‘Umm-Hmm’ is good enough to sit next to late 70s Diana or Rose Royce,  Dilla’s sci-fi drone-funk on ‘Love’ gets peppered by all kinds of extraneous wibble & wow, Badu coming on like Sly Stone. ‘Fall In Love (Your Funeral)’ is the only prep for romance you need: “You better go back the way you came/ wrong way/ if you stay/ prepare to have yo shit rearranged/ some slow sangin and flower bringing/ if my burglar alarm starts ringing”, the narcotic, heavy assed rhodes-thunk chassis plunging into your brain, breaking yr bones. Closer ‘Out My Mind, Just In Time’ chops and screws its way through ten minutes that go from neurosis to psychosis, from the blues to avant-hip-hop to slo-mo psyche-funk, never letting go of you as you get engulfed in darkness and revelation. Startling, startling shit. I think this is the best album Badu’s ever made.

16. Chuck D, as usual, was absolutely goddamned right when he spat “Your general subject 'love' is minimal, it's sex for profit”. Think of what's happened in the world in the past ten years and pop's cowardly retreat into 'you-and-me', into the 'personal' (bland chat in the main),seems almost deliberate and desperate. Nothing to say about anything important, or visionary, or real so let's blandly chat about ‘us’ and hope some of it is just wry-smile-inducing enough to play well with Evans and Moyles. War, terror, collapse nahh that’s gloomy news– let’s get the blinkers on, let's shut out the outside world and watch Hollyoaks and take notes for the next single. Of course that numbness and avoidance is common to us all (they call it facebook) but if we're gonna have lovesongs, let them be as hazy and real and unresolved as these, let them leave us none the wiser but palpably touched. Let them be sung by people who can write other types of songs too perhaps? Just a thought for all those guys wearing straw hats stood by rivers playing acoustic guitars having their adverts voice-overed by Jo Whiley. (Don't worry the Tories will be in soon. David Cameron likes you all. You've given him no reason not to.)

17. Keep it like a secret Love. Let's stay out here on the frontline and watch the apocalypse unfold with remotes in our hand. Let's hide out a while and let the dust settle and get ready for war.

18. We'll listen to 'Return Of The Ankh' whilst you build the bombs. And I'll get that washing out the dryer.

19. Then we'll get dressed, pose for a few last pictures and hit the streets.

20. We have a world to win.  A world lost to the din of delusions, the racket of ‘reality’, the dumb need for happy endings, the sanctimony of self. A world that doesn’t deserve us. Soon they will all know. Soon there will be silence. With ‘Return Of The Ankh’, Love, you’re on the way back.

Thursday, 6 June 2013



Oh man, there's a sound threaded through this that's just EVIL. It's like something from a Japanese 
horror movie, this low-down croak that slows to the point where you can hear every single popped kernel of it, like the kind of weird-assed noises you find yourself making late at night to spook the bejesus out of yourself when you've been left alone with the medicine cabinet. It ripples and reemerges and pulls you under like Jenny Greenteeth throughout this monster from Mefjus on the ever-dependable Virus Recordings and when it starts getting ping-ponged back'n'forth across the mix it turns 'Mythos' into just about the most damn addictive d'n'b track you've heard since Break's 'Love So True' & Calyx & Teebee's 'We Fall Away' back in 2012. Essential. 

Atoms For Peace 
Before Your Very Eyes
Why are Atoms For Peace releasing a single? Thom Yorke hates pop music like he hates modern standards of hygiene. He's the enemy of pop music. He's all about good music, proper music, proper music played by proper people on proper instruments of a proper intellect that doesn't lower itself to having such vulgar things as 'hooks' or trying to be 'likeable' and so this dislikable splat of coffee-table-ready coffee-coloured shit proves. Perhaps the most punchably dislikeable cunt involved in music this side of the Gallagher bros or Bono, Thom and his fellow wankonauts here explore a  Fela-ish groove with none of the warmth or fire or reason to be, Eno-production with none of the stealth or purpose and always always always that smeared false-modest sanctimonious croon so convinced of it's own depth it feels no need to bother creating a melody that isn't transient, instantly forgettable, comes phutting out with one leg cocked and a smirk on its face and a frown on its brow. Gosh how very very very fucking clever 'Before Your Very Eyes' is, how hard it tries to make a sound you can't deny but how completely it reveals itself to be  utterly antithetical to everything you should hold dear politically, culturally, and emotionally about music. The sound of rich people trying to expiate their guilt, pomposity that negates communication, that hates the listener, a bottomless topless unfathomable pomposity that makes the soul turgid from exposure to it.  Fucking hippy cunts fuck off and die.

Avril Lavigne 
Here's To Never Growing Up 
Speaking of the piss-stinking rat-faced piss-faced rat-stinking one Avril's finest memory of her youth here is "Singing Radiohead at the top of our lungs" - well that's your fucking card marked innit Mrs Kroeger. This contains possibly the worse lyrics of the year - yet another brain-buggeringly repetetive post-Perry/Ke$ha thqueam-till-I'm-thick bleat that the height of rock'n'roll transgressiveness is 'dancing on a bar', yet another attempt at infantilism from someone old, the endless perpetuation of the fear of ageing so ingrained now in popsong that every artist either has to be young, or sad about being old and no-one can simply SING ABOUT SOMETHING OTHER THAN SELF-PITY/AGGRANDIZEMENT. Hateful in every single way musically but beyond that, sung and delivered with a thoroughly unpalatable sense of priveliged selfishness that only a Radiohead fan could enjoy. You are welcome.

Alicia Keys 
New Day 
Fully skill verse, 3-quarter triffic beats,  half-ace bridge, shit chorus. Problem being the usual appeal to the 'party people'.Pop remains convinced that the party people KNOW. Pop always wants to know where they're at. Pop always sends things out for the party people. I wonder if pop has ever MET the party people? I have, and they're badly-dressed desperate wankers to a man. Fuck the party people. Next artist to give a shout out to the 'motherfuckers chundering in the bogs', or proudly state that 'this one's going out to the toilet attendant', or even give mad props to 'the angry bastards spitting at the dancefloor' gets me intrigued and signed up for their newsletter and that's a promise.

Frank Turner 
The Way I Tend To Be 
Why do singer-songwriters think they can write a song on an acoustic guitar and then just add other instruments and that'll count as 'a record'? Unless you're making 'Astral Weeks' and you've got folk who played with Charles Mingus showing up it aint gonna work you turnip-breathed twats.

The Last Skeptik 
Be There 
(BBE Records) 
One of the most skin-puckeringly gorgeous tracks from Skeptik's superb 'Thanks For Trying' set, up there with Telemachus' utterly stunning 'In the Evening' as one of 2013's real highlights. The loops here are sweet, the flute a thing of real beauty, but it's the rock-solid beat that gets you addicted, has you swimming back for more like a grinning shark sniffing blood. UK hip-hop production on a roll right now and here be evidence writ large. Oh btw - hip-hop fans who like coming here to tell me my hip-hop choices are hilariously bad please do fuck off back to your Lil' B mixtapes you fucking clowns I really could not give two fucks what you cretins think about rap music.

Mark Owen 
I remember when I really fancied Mark Owen, always the prettiest Take Thatter. Then he turned up at a nightclub I DJ'd in and I realised that he was well under 3 feet tall and seemed to be shrinking as the night progressed. Then, though still pretty, he started bringing out shitty solo records under some serious delusions of talent that have tested my horn for him to the max. This typically tedious single, which manages to make a video in which he's dressed as a spaceman and is walking around Berlin somehow be the most boring thing you've seen from ANY of TT in recent years (including Robbie "Failed Redcoat" Williams) confirms that I was quite right to edge him out of the wank-bank in preference for more up to date fantasy figures like Arturo De Cordova, Oliver Tobias and Ben 10. Always nice to know you were right to move on -still get the screaming thigh-sweats for Christian Ingebrigtsen from A1 though. Who doesn't? 

Tegan & Sara 
I Was A Fool 
(Warner Bros.)

Hey Haim, listen up, if you're gonna use those kind of 70s/80s textures THIS is how you do it. Firstly you write a good song, not just a series of clever coherent structures without any emotional movement or linkage. Secondly you don't over-egg the mix- the gorgeous lambent sweep and thump of 'I Was A Fool' is weighted & pitched just right, never exhausts you, never sounds like showing off or a journey round the correctness of their kit, always seems in service of the song and the heads & hearts behind it, leaves enough space amidst the pristineness for human beings to be able to emerge (and I just love the slightly delay-laden piano,  it gets me right in the ribs). Thirdly, you actually have something to say, something lacerating & true to say about love  rather than just the rotation of numb cliches and dead metaphors. I love Tegan & Sara and see no reason why they shouldn't be the giant pop stars they've always deserved to be. I hope this song takes them there.

Laura Palmer 
BasTARDS more like. (ArfArf! This is why they still pay me the big bucks) "This is your heart/Can you feel it?/Can you feel it?/Pumps through your veins/Can you feel it?/Can you feel it?". Fatal and exasperating error here lyrically. Your heart doesn't pump through your veins. It pumps blood through your veins, but if your heart is actually pumping through your veins in small capillary-wide chunks you got severe, potentially life-threatening problems son.
   Hey, I understand a little lassitude in medical accuracy is permissable in pop songs esp. seeing as most pop songs, if they mention the heart, have it doing something it shouldn't be doing or afflicted with deformities that would render urgent medical attention a real priority beyond the singing of a song ("Groove Is In The Heart", "Thunder In My Heart","Heart Of Glass") but c'mon Bastille, I'd been led to believe you were a literate smart pop band. If my heart was pumping through my veins what exactly would be doing the pumping thickos? The fact I've spent the last 3 minutes pondering this when I should've been actually listening to this anthemic boobery is neither here nor there. I cannot abide imprecision and we shouldn't tolerate it anymore, time's too short and life's too long.

Can't Believe it's Him 
(Fat Beats) 

Real resurrection of the Wu under recent solo outings (especially the Ghostface/Younge album), but don't overlook this simmering little corker as well, great rhymes and lush jazzed-out menace perfectly realised.

Union J 
Carry You
Awww. How sweet. I think Union J have tried to pitch this as a 'hold on'-type anthem, y'know, the kind of 'times are tough and you feel like giving up but I'll be there baby to help you' (fuck me! that just came out of me! Sending it to Biffy Clyro with a pre-invoice for a squillion quid now!) identikit song EVERYONE IN THE FUCKING WORLD seems to be singing right now. The popularity of this 'helping hand' motif is down to no-one actually being willing/able to say what's wrong in any deep or meaningful or crazily meaningless sense (politically/sexually/socially/culturally) let alone proffer solutions beyond a pally 'don't worry mate' vagueness but 'Carry You', by dint of UJ's shit haircuts and general Beds/Berks excess-of-gorm manage to turn the universal into something that sounds entirely local and specific. By the sounds of it, their girlfriend/boyfriend (don't forget Jaymi came out as gay last November and according to Wiki " instantly became a role model for young adults struggling with their own sexuality") isn't going through anything like a genuine life crisis. They've just had a few too many WKDs by the swings up the park and have fallen unconscious in a pool of their own vomit. At such an admittedly vital moment in any young person's life-curve be assured that the Union-J boys are there for you: "When the vision you have gets blurry you don't have to worry I'll be your eyes it's the least I can do/We'll take each step together till you come back to centre/The demons are screaming so loud in your head, you're tired, you're broken, you're cut and you're bruised but nothing's too heavy, just hold on, I'll carry you." Dead sweet. Anyone would be glad for such thoughtful nice young boys to be looking out for their kids, although the addition of the couplet 'I'll hold your hair whilst you stick two fingers down your throat' would have really sealed them into the affections of all parents of teenage girls. Such a shame that - their fireman's-lift skills and shitty parping castrato nonsense notwithstanding - they're pretty much fucked for at least the next 5 years cos they're not One Direction. It's a shitty business.

Czardi Gras (It's Raw Again)
(Brick Fly/Casual Creative) 

Featuring Action Bronson on a particularly ace verse - not as good as the album version, but still unmissable and some of the juiciest, grainiest sampladelia in years.

Two Door Cinema Club 
What a horrible horrible sound, such four-square lumpen 'danceyness', such gag-worthily correct textures but there comes a point where you have to admit that some music just isn't for you, was never for you, never had your demographic on the drawing board. 'Handshake' isn't made for human beings. It's made for silhouettes against a beach-sun, spinning, dancing, holding slimline devices. It's made for lightly-bearded men and floral-dressed women holding on to each other against a backdrop of lit-up skyscrapers (preferably Japanese - the skyscrapers that is), all holding slimline devices. It's for the geographically estranged young couple, separated by their lucrative and exciting jobs in the creative sector but united by technology's abilities to allow them to share instagrams of their meals across continents and add it all to their eco-fashion blogs, all holding slimline devices. It's for the rock audience listening to rock music at the rock show, bouncing as one, glowsticks and ipads held aloft, everyone looking clean and fresh and on-brand, everyone having an unforgettable time, everyone gaining maximum leverage value, everyone holding slimline devices. It's for small photogenic kids to be doing something outdoorsy and memorable with their comfortably well-off parents, on holiday but with an ever-present connectivity, all holding slimline devices. It's for the ITV or Sky TV trailer for their new seasons of drama, moments of tears and sadness and emotional content-provision, every single moment retrievable so long as you're holding slimline devices. It's for the daytime DJ, punching the playlist-B bed and proudly intoning the title with heavy pregnant pauses between each word, sending it out to the world, listeners and players all holding slimline devices. All holding slimline devices. All holding slimline. All holding. All.

Bring Me The Horizon 
Go To Hell For Heaven's Sake 
"Upon its release, the album Sempiternal was met with critical acclaim. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream music critics, the album received an average score of 81, based on 11 reviews, which indicates "universal acclaim". So anything I say about this tremendously shouty, dissapointingly polite shower of well-appointed utterly forgettable shite is kinda surplus to requirements but a little bit of advice: if you run into a BMTH fan, make sure you point out to them  how much they sound like Linkin Park. They'll LOVE you for it. (Well, no, they'll actually go into a colossal sulk and then start threatening you with death but THAT'S WHAT THEY LIVE FOR). If that doesn't work just say "Man, you should grow up and listen to some Thrice". Guaranteed maxi-strop effective at either Blue Banana Coventry or any Scream pub anywhere - bless 'em. Mediocre in the extreme but you'd still rather your kids were into this than the fucking Mumfords.

Melanin 9 feat Triple Darkness 
Heartless Island 

One hell of a preview of (one hell of an album) the new M9 monster 'Magna Carta'. Jehst produces, so you know what kind of compelling montage you're in for, jarring-but-hypnotic horns riding a neck-snapping hard beat, the kind of bubbling synths that have you flashbacking to Saxon Sound and bass so narcotic you'll be nodding out at the wheel, but as ever with M9, it's the rhymes you keep returning to here, a simply stunningly spat slew of sense, and prophetic/poetic rage you just can't shake. Exploring the limits and pushing out beyond them with bravery and purpose. Essential.

Bon Jovi 
What About Now
Remember how bands like the Stone Roses & Primal Scream always used to go on about Curtis Mayfield or Can when talking about how there'd 'always been a dance element to our music'. Lying motherfuckers! Clear to anyone with ears that the biggest influence on both of them was Bon Jovi's 'Keep The Faith' and it's prescient ability to match a shittily lumpen 'funk' groove to the usual hairy-chested alpha-twat poolhall bollocks they've been peddling for the best part of 3 decades now. 'What About Now' sadly sees the Jovi stop being leaders of the pack and simply following a nastily contemporary amalgam of Biffy Clyro-style dunce-chords and Killers-style ugly wordiness. Let's hope they return to the cutting edge that ensured they were perhaps the biggest single influence on bands as big and important as Oasis, Green Day and Kings Of Leon. Oh of course none of those snobby cowardly motherfuckers would admit it but just listen to them - they've all got a big bit of Jovi in their souls. Never forget it.

Depeche Mode 
Soothe My Soul

Your voice suits your face doesn't it? S'why it's impossible to love The Enemy. S'why I've never got along with Depeche Mode. It's Gahan. It's his diddy Jeremy Kyle-like seriousness, no matter how much self-deprecation he might indulge in now. Oh, I'm sure he's a charming & thoroughly decent fellow. But I hate his singing, hate that grain of heartfeltness in it, its rockschool professionalism and lack of personality, hate the eternally wracked tedious lines between junkiedom, religion and romance Depeche always push our way. 'Soothe My Soul' aims for the all-conquering wonder of Rachel Stevens' 'Some Girls' but only reaches the non-conquering middlingness of a Nitzer Ebb b-side. I always remember the last scene of '101' when they're all sat backstage ponying up the dough. They don't need this and nor do we.

Everything Everything 
Don't Try 
Hey, I'm not on a mission to hate all new indie music y'know. I'm a hungry boy.  If they give me something to get my teeth into I'll lap at the flesh, I'll drink that juice, I'll grab myself a gutfull for mine is never a principled stand, purely a hedonist one. EE totally win me over here (have to admit it's just their name that rubbed me up the wrong way) cos of the sheer joyful nuttiness of the groove (like something off Suburban Base circa 91)  and the brilliantly thought-out arrangement. Love the almost-oppressive synths in the bridge and the way the voices positively skitter across the mix, little bitable chunks of close-harmonies popping off in the peripheries - and the ending is just ace, a hung growingly-engulfing tsunami of voice and electricity that blows you away. Gosh, it's nice to feel part of white music again.

Homeboy Sandman 
Dag Philly Too 
(Stones Throw) 
Roll down them windows, pump up the volume, tap your arm on your driver-side door. Yes, I know it's pissing it down and you're getting your arm wet, but play this loud enough and it might just MAKE summer happen. C'mon people, collective action!

Bruno Mars 
Love me a little bit of this little man - 'Unorthodox Jukebox' isn't as good as the first album but it's still got some corkers on it and 'Treasure' is one of them - as with 'Locked Out Of Heaven' it's the feel and texture that's paramount here, the sense here that it's touched with the hand of Nile Rogers, a little bit of Foster Sylvers on the vocal, some ace 80s synth squiggles and robo-soul harmonies. He's so much better when he's just aiming at fun and not doing soppy break-up songs. A whole album of 'Treasure'/'Heaven' style poptasms next time please Mr. Mars and don't spare the pompadours.

Ulterior Motive & Judda 
(Subtitles Music)

Norralot to it but what little there is terrorises the dome something darklike - a bass so thick and wrapped up with itself it struggles to emerge from the depths of its own dank, every snare hit reverbed until the aftershocks start becoming their own labyrinthine chamber of death, the bass-hits and snare-snaps eventually indistinguishable from each other, everything dubbed to the infinite. Christ knows what this sounds like on a lungfull. Calyx & Teebee turn up on the flip with an even trippier rerub. Limited to 300 Vinyl only and possibly thee underground d'n'b track of the summer.

Martha Knuckles 
Give Me Room 
Martha Knuckles are Dillon and the utterly fantastic Boog Brown, and this is a slice of frabjous wonder cooked up by producer Anthony Accurate that really allows them both to show what subtly devastating poets they are on the mic. Dillon's compelling in his own right, but Boog is just one of the greatest voices in hip-hop right now and makes everything she lands on an instantaneous classic. Go to the website (marthaknuckles.com) to get the 7" or EP, and hold tight for an album. Sooner the better.

Tons Of Utterly Shit Wank Bands & Artists ft. Other Shit Wank Artists   
Timewasting Songs That Are Fucking Rubbish 
(Pretty Much Every Major Label In Existence And Some Indie Labels That Should Be Fucking Ashamed Of Themselves) 
Sorry, time was getting on so thought it'd be better to save a few hours and simply say that Peace - Lovesick/Kelly Clarkson - People Like Us/Lumineers - Stubborn Love/The Wanted - Walk Like Rihanna/Biffy Clyro – Opposite/Tom Odell - Another Love/ London Grammar – Wasting My Young Years/Bullet For My Valentine – P.O.W./ Britney Spears - Ooh La La/ Tunng - The Village/ Wiley ft. Angel & Tinchy Stryder – Lights On/Bo Bruce – Alive/Don Broco – Hold On/Ed Drewett – Undefeated/ Editors – A Ton Of Love - you all need sealing in airtight vats of your own ordure for crimes against the desire to carry on living you hyperacusis/melophobia-causing motherfuckers. Hey, that was labour-saving. Next month I might do 90 percent of this column simply by referring to the Bristol Stool Index. Have a nice June folks, I'm knocking off early.