Writing by Neil Kulkarni

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

BIG DADA RECORDS - 10th Anniversary Tribute Feature

(first printed in Plan B Magazine, 2007) 

1997 was an odd moment of stasis and surge in hip hop, a crossroads year in which much of what’s happened since was prefigured and set in motion. In the US, the encouraging growth in underground rap that brought us labels like Rawkus and Stones Throw was finding itself dead-ended and neutered by the cliquishness and elitism of the Bay Area and Nuyorican scenes. In the UK, British rap music was undergoing yet another crisis of confidence, ignored by the industry, isolated into tiny provincial pockets of resistance without a voice – stymied, silenced and dispersed, fatally burying its head in the sand. At a time when, worldwide, hip hop had assumed a significance that suffused pop culture, underground hip hop occupied a curiously curator-like position of endlessly retreating within the genre’s borders, insisting protectively on an old skool reactionary vision of rap while the mainstream was on fire, blazing ahead.
   Timbaland, Dre and Neptunes were all pushing sonic innovation to the fore by the late Nineties, but always within a strictly American, conventional context of name rappers and mostly conventional rapping. For a music that was having a worldwide impact, the monotony of Yank imperialism over the form was a drag. As a writer you realised how much was going on in the States that wasn’t getting heard, that deserved a wider audience. And in the UK you realised how a whole generation of kids into rap simply weren’t being encouraged by the industry to chase their visions – visions that occupied an entirely new space, open to music other than simply old skool hip hop, informed by the early Nineties explosion in electronica, rave, post-rock and jungle, and also the innovations of the late-Eighties to mid-Nineties cream of East Coast rap (Public Enemy, Native Tongues, Mobb Deep, Real Live, Blak Moon, Main Source, Beatnuts, etc). The only faith you could have, when the US seemed to be so on top, was that UK hip hop could quite easily just disappear off the map, get swallowed up by the scenes around it. Exhausted, beaten, you accepted this and looked for your own margin to die in. I flew my little white flag and waited.
   And then a piece of plastic came through the door and changed everything. It was a ferocious slab of deranged hip hop noise from up north called ‘Electronic Bombardment’ by a crew called New Flesh For Old, and it was my first encounter with Big Dada, a label currently celebrating its 10th year dropping similar bombs on brainpads worldwide. Much of that magnificent mentalism can be found on Well Deep: 10 Years Of Big Dada Recordings, the double-disc comp/DVD that is this autumn’s essential hip hop purchase. For label founder Will Ashon it’s that crucial moment of mindfuck that’s been the guiding impulse behind his label’s continued survival.
   “If I stopped getting moments like that I’d stop doing this,” he admits. “Hip hop, more than any other music, has done that to me so many times. You hear something and whoosh, your head just gets smashed apart; you’re left barely able to mouth the words, ‘What the FUCK was that?’ I can tell in about 10 seconds whether a demo is gonna do that. When it does, I try my hardest to release it.” 

 ". . . basically taught by anarchists, communists, Maoists. . . " - Will Ashon, head of Big Dada

Born in 1969, Ashon grew up in Leicester, attending Countesthorpe Community College.
   “Countesthorpe was attacked for taking the comprehensive ideal ‘too far’,” he says. “We were basically taught by anarchists, communists, Maoists – one of my earliest memories was a field trip we had that consisted of chasing [Conservative cabinet minister and Thatcher’s sidekick] Keith Joseph around Leicester in a minibus and rocking his car while he was still in it! Happy days. It hinted to me that a proper job wasn’t the be all and end all – when I left college I went through virtually every extra-10-quid-on-your-dole scheme they had in this effort to avoid work. It’s a shame kids don’t have that opportunity anymore." 
   It was as a teenager in the early Eighties that Ashon’s wastrel imagination was first fired by music. “The Thatcher years – pop was new and gleaming and aspirational. I gravitated towards the weirder side of jazz. I was a massive Miles Davis fan, into Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler. But I realised, watching Miles live in the mid-Eighties, that I’d missed out: that everyone I loved was either dying or dead or the living dead. The only music that held out the same possibilities as early- Seventies Miles or late Coltrane was hip hop. Public Enemy, the way they arranged sound and noise, the freedom and precision of what they did, it just blew me away. ”
   Ashon found himself writing about this love for a variety of music mags in the early- to mid- Nineties but found it curiously frustrating.
   “Well, I never thought that a writer could ‘make a difference’ to the wider hip hop scene, but it was hugely annoying to be sent amazing records, write about them, and then get letters from people saying they simply couldn’t buy the records, long stories about trips down to London to [now closed Latin and hip hop shop]
Mr Bongo and they still can’t find the 12-inch I’ve been banging on about. The seeds of starting my own label began there. I simply wanted a place where I could make sure the amazing things I was hearing could be heard by everyone. And when we started the label we were more concerned about press and promotion than other hip hop labels were."
   ”That paid off in the long run for sure, because when you start a label you only think about where the money for the next release is coming from, but we created sufficient buzz for us to start thinking about the label actually lasting longer than a year. ”
    Setting up the label with Ninja Tune’s help in 1997, among Ashon’s first releases were two from left of leftfield – the vocal abstractions of Saul Williams incredible ‘1972 Elohim’ and Mike Ladd’s brainjangling ‘Blah Blah’, US talents criminally ignored in their native land but happy to find more open minds in Blighty.
“Will and I were room-mates in college!” says Mike Ladd, and I think he’s bullshitting. “I realised from the first time I worked with him musically that Big Dada was gonna be a different kind of label. With me they have been very patient. They let me crash at their house and leave me up to my own devices completely.
   ”Will never tried to interfere on the music side: when we were doing the Infesticons and Majesticons records he had ideas but he only ventured them if I needed help. He’s confident enough to trust those artists he signs to bring him something fresh. He upped the bar in terms of what a label can do, and I think his artists have responded in kind.”
   Big Dada’s laser eye-like ability to pull the best from the US underground hasn’t let up in the past 10 years: as the only imprint to pick up epochal releases from MF Doom’s mighty King Geedorah, the brilliant and bewildering Busdriver, scene-shaker Diplo, Bay Area psych-rappers cLOUDDEAD (and more recently, being the first label smart enough to snap up Spank Rock’s livid lethal ghetto-tech aggravation).Ashon feels justly proud of Big Dada’s legacy in spotlighting US rap-talent the rest of the industry simply doesn’t know how to deal with.
   “At all times I’ve used the same criteria I did when I was a writer,” insists Ashon. “Like, this has been on my deck for a minute now – do I feel different? Is it saying something new? Is it – here’s a word that was important at school – revolutionary? All the American artists you’ve mentioned have ticked all those boxes – I’ve no interest in hip hop if it doesn’t have that questing, forward-looking spirit. I think, as listeners, as fans, it’s what we should expect.” 
   Ask Mike Ladd who his favorite Big Dada artists are, though, and the answer is clear:
   “The British ones! Juice Aleem is a genius. Roots Manuva let me sleep at his flat once and I love his records! Anything with ponies on it is good so Infinite Livez is a favourite. Ty, New Flesh – all incredible, even if I do sound like a fucking cheerleader!” he laughs.   
   Indeed, awesome though the American Big Dada releases are, it’s as a showcase for British talent that Big Dada becomes not just a cool importer of fresh tuneage, but a hugely important contributor to British cultural life for the past 10 years. Blame a guy called Rodney.

              “If I get no rewind still I pay fools no mind” – Roots Manuva, Sinking Sand 

Before we get to him, though, New Flesh For Old were Big Dada’s first UK signing. For Ashon it was crucial that the UK talent he signed had none of the self-pity and in-built defeatism that had characterised UK rap for so long.
   “UK rap had been hidebound by so much scenesterism and bullshit. With New Flesh you immediately felt, these guys just don’t give a fuck. They’re making music that you can’t even place – is it dub? Dancehall? Hip hop? Techno? Noise? Who knew and who cared – it just sounded fantastic – the fact that they didn’t come from London [Toastie Taylor and Part 2 are from York; Juice Aleem, Birmingham], weren’t limited by any scene and had just developed this incredibly fresh sound by themselves was amazing.
   “I always look for a genuine personality behind the demos and tracks I hear – if I can’t hear the fact that the person making the music is a complex, creative individual then I’m not interested. Crews and posses and connections are all well and good – I’m after uniqueness. With New Flesh I could hear Sonic Youth, Aphex, Sun Ra, avant-garde art…I could hear all these things within their sound but nothing could be isolated and explained. They simply didn’t fit any kind of remit that British hip hop music had ever fallen into before. It was the same with Roots Manuva.” 
   Rodney Smith, aka Roots Manuva, first recorded for Big Dada in 1999: the label has taken him from underground acclaim to overground success and one massive monster hit (the still-earthshaking ‘Witness (One Hope)’) and it’s never even occurred to him to go anywhere else.
   “With the last albums [2005’s Awfully Deep and Alternately Deep] other labels were sniffing around, I think to try and get me to be ‘hip hop for people who don’t like hip hop’ or some such nonsense,” admits Rodney. “But there was no other label out there that had a history of taking challenging music to wider audiences, so Big Dada had to be the place. Money comes and goes, but a creative straitjacket would be soul-destroying. It would have changed the sound. Experimentation is what’s brought me to where I am now – what’s great about Big Dada is that you don’t feel limited, even by your own preconceptions about the label. I make pop music, or at least, I’m attempting to make pop music: the fact that people call it ‘weird’ and ‘arty’ doesn’t bother me, it’s my vision of pop music. And Big Dada have never tried to interfere with that. Big Dada have no interest in being the biggest or the baddest or the most extreme, they just want to be the best. They’re a music label first and a hip hop label coincidentally.”

Will Ashon has upped the bar in terms of what a label can do, and I think his artists have responded in kind’ – Mike Ladd
   And here we get to what’s crucial, the reason Big Dada have lasted so long. Listening to their back catalogue, you get a picture of a nation, an alternative portrait of what living on this ruddy raw island means. Listen to, say. New Flesh’s Understanding, Ty’s Closer, Roots’ Run Come Save Me and Infinite Livez’ Bush Meat and you get not just a run of great albums but a devastating portrait of Nineties and Noughties British life unmatched by any other label, as complex and chaotic and compelling as the personae behind the beats and rhymes, and the changing environment around them. If Big Dada were saddled to a reductionist notion of what hip hop music can be they’d simply be an occasional provider of essential 12-inches; by signing a welter of artists who you feel couldn’t exist anywhere else, they’veprovided a vital outpouring of voices (let’s not forget Part 2, Gamma and newest UK recruit Wiley) that simply wouldn’t be afforded the same space or faith elsewhere.
   “No other British label would’ve given us the time of day,” admits Para 1 of mindblowing French crew TTC. “We were so gloomy about sending anything to any label outside of France not just because of the language barrier but because our music can be so…confusing to some people. With Big Dada they got it instantly and it didn’t matter that they couldn’t understand what we were rapping about. In fact, Will told us he’d rather keep it that way!”
   “When I was reminded that it was our 10-year anniversary I was like a sulky old fucker for weeks,” grins Ashon, who now splits his time between Big Dada and his own burgeoning writing career (check the stunning Clear Water novel soon as you can). “I actually shouted at people, ‘Fuck off, I don’t wanna do anything to celebrate the fact that I’m so fucking old’. But listening back to the old stuff persuaded me it was worth celebrating. There are things that sound dated, things that sound incredibly fresh still, but I can safely say I’ve never put a record out that makes me cringe now. I’m proud of every single artist and album and single we’ve ever put out.”

New Flesh For Old 
What next for Big Dada?
   “What’s been great about things so far is that what started as a hip hop label is starting to encompass so much more. I’d like to sign a singer, put out an album of songs – we’ve never done that! I’d like to basically keep myself interested by expanding and exploding the whole notion of what Big Dada can do. There’s been plenty of times in the past decade where I’ve practically chewed my own hands off in frustration at how many records we sell compared to some of the appalling shit that seems to make it, but eventually you realise it’s the body of work that matters, that lasts and endures. I see no reason Big Dada couldn’t continue for another 10 years because there are still people who want to push boundaries with their music and Big Dada will be their natural home.”
   Crucially, this is a story that’s still going on – just ask Big Dada’s newest signing, Canadian rapper Cadence Weapon.
   “As a fan, Big Dada just seems unmatched in keeping one step ahead and discovering cutting edge music,” he affirms. “They’re a totally open-ended entity now, but I think they do approach all their projects with a deep hip hop ethic instilled: freedom, freakiness, honesty. They seem to have their ear to the ground in a way that differentiates them  from other indie labels. And just the sheer quality of what they’ve given us – I mean, those TTC and Spank Rock albums just kill me – made it a no-brainer for me as to signing or not.”
Onwards, upwards, inwards and outwards. No sign of stopping. If you haven’t explored Big Dada’s revolutionary roster yet I envy you the journey you’ll embark on. For those who’ve been listening, raise a glass to another 10 years at the top.
   “We never underestimated the audience at Big Dada,” states Ashon, “because we always assumed we were the audience. I hope we can keep it that way.”

Thursday, 19 September 2013


Angel Haze
Strike one — a dull-as-fuck backdrop, dull-as-fuck singing, dull-as-fuck rapping. Strike two — first heard on Zane Lowe's show, doubtless announced as if he was going to unleash seven-thousand shades of chemical warfare up your bumgut. Strike three — produced by Markus Dravs, the man also responsible for shaving the scab off whatever crusted creative boil oozed Coldplay and Mumford & Sons our way. For shame Angel. For shame. I knew by your boosters claims that you were 'doing something different in hip-hop' that you'd be soon knocking out crossover drek like this. You're out.

Arcade Fire 
Another mistaking of metronomy for feel, vagueness for profundity. Somewhere in this flabby seven minutes of pffft there's a shitty 2 minute song waiting to break out. I'm not being picky. I'm just having standards i.e demanding that a pop song gives me pleasure, doesn't bore me, doesn't coast, doesn't come across as entirely unjustifiably pleased with itself. 'Reflektor' has not one moment of pleasure or wonder in it, only the smug constant insistence that hey wow, we're cool cos we're a rock band but we're trying to play disco. (That boom-tish alternated hi-hat rumble every fucker has down pat when they wanna get 'dancey', another rhythm section that thinks it's Frantz/Weymouth that hasn't listened to enough Dunbar/Shakespear to even come close). Broken down to it's constituent elements everything that should work is in place on 'Reflektor' (even that 'k'), James Murphy pushing all the right buttons to try and heat things up, eventually failing to stop it flailing because what's being played is so bereft of heart and purpose, the changes so signposted and monotonously run through you're simply witness to them going round them over and over again without any real sense of movement or import. Simply not good enough when the frontman and band are clearly such tedious & arrogant individuals they have to hide their non-personas behind 'zany' masks (and what a fucking tired trick that has become for a whole generation of indie meh-merchants) in the Cjorbin-annointed video. If you're going to make music like this you need words interesting enough, a personality big enough or voice intriguing enough (Bowie, Grace, Donna) to imbue all that rotational repetition with a sense of dramatic art and change. 'Reflektor' contains none of that, just sits wobbling like a wodge of flavourless jelly slopped on a bassbin, Bowie's fleeting appearance offering merely an aggravatingly tantalising glimpse of what might've been if a human being rather than a pack of 'tastemakers' had had a go at this 'song'. Pass.

Avril Lavigne 
Rock N Roll 
Rubbish song, covering too many melodic angles in the verse that are way too similar to things she's given us before and permanently despoiled by the dim awareness that maybe these cack lyrics are actually about her & that Kroeger fella. The notion of the pair of them "flipping middle fingers to the world" whilst listening to the demos of this is revolting enough, the stadium-rock sheen Max Martin has given it never really rises above it's Roxette-lite presets, and the fact the video desperately crowbars in tons of failed comedy and a lezza kiss with the girl out of 'The Wonder Years' should inform you of the desperation levels being mined here. As someone who has Avril's autograph (for my daughter, swear down) I just hope that 'Rock N Roll' keeps the wolves from the door & the baboon-placenta injections coming thick, fast & regularly. Avril will be 30 next year. Pretty soon she's gonna start looking ridiculous.

Azealia Banks 
Crocko'shit - and a useful juncture to introduce a brief, entirely racist note about rap music in 2013. Please don't listen to white folk with busy bylines and no friends outside of PR when they tell you what's hot to death. Cunts really haven't got a fucking clue. I mean, I haven't got a fucking clue either but everyone who reads me is well aware of that. You wouldn't trust a rock journalist who is gonna spend the whole year talking about nothing but Arctic Monkeys & QOTSA so why do folk trust music journalists who portray a hip-hop world that's just about Jay & Kanye and nothing else in 2013? Even worse, people so far into their inverse snobbery that in their universe whiteboy geeky hip-hop must always be ignored? Bollocks to that, whiteboy geeky hip-hop can be fucking ace. Unlike this crocko'shit. Crocko'shit. And speaking of whiteboy, geeky hip-hop . . .

2 Mex
2Mex & Maiselph 
All About Life 
Grimm Image/Flown/Urtopia 
Oh my fucking godfathers Exile KILLING the beat here — a truly unique Norman-Collier-style cut-out cut-up of a tiny wee warped weft of '60s psyche chorale that gets splattered and splayed across the simple undertow to genuinely psychedelic effect, a highlight from 2 Mex's 'Like Farther . . . Like Sun' set on Bandcamp. Missing Edan? Don't! This is just as unsettlingly addictive and textually gorgeous as anything that little sporadic shortarse ever gave us so you KNOW how damn essential this is! Large mojitos and chocolate pizzas for all involved please.

Black Thought 
Thought Process 
OOF the mighty Beatnuts' Psycho Les on the mix. BLAAAA the Roots mighty Black Thought on the mic. BOOM part of Tony Touch's mighty 'Piece Maker Vol.3' which has a cast list that will genuinely have you drooling like Wile E Coyote. Superb.

Bruno Mars 
Universal Motown
I love this little fella. Gave us the single of 2012 no doubt ('Locked Out Of Heaven') and 'Unorthodox Jukebox' was a mostly corking soundtrack to last summer. 'Moonshine' manages to do that whole mournful power-disco ballad thang that Arcade Fire are aiming for so SO much better, mainly cos Mars has a gorgeous plangent voice and cos he really does pay attention to texture and tactility, the synth lines and harmonies here from a beautiful place where Fleetwood Mac meets 80s Earth Wind & Fire and where Haim watch from the wings, realising they've just been totally invalidated. Ambiguities, tightropes tween sadness and desire that other songwriters & producers simply aren't touching these days this side of Justin Timberlake. Plus it's all over sooner than you want it to be, a trick so many people forget to do it's a joy to see it so effectively exploited here. You want more, you rewind, you hunt for another station that's playing it, eventually you have to have it. That's the way pop works. A great single. 

Constant Deviants 
California (Jewelia Pt.2) 
Six2Six Records 
Perhaps one of the most underrated crews of the '90s were New Kingdom and they're blissfully recalled here by CD (M.I & DJ Cutt) with this beautiful slab of B'more-borne brilliance. Heavy assed beats, loops that seemingly had to be slowed down to a quicksand-stuck crawl to fit, astonishing whorls of harmonica and sheer noise sweeping across the mix, the words as stream-of-conscious ecstatically horrified as Killah Priest in his prime. Without a doubt the wooziest most fantastic hip-hop 12 of the month. Go get.

Disclosure ft. London Grammar 
Help Me Lose My Mind 
Island Records
There's a moment where the pristine stops being interestingly immobile, starts sounding static and dull. There is one good thing about 'Help Me Lose My Mind' and it's the basic bedrock of it, the low synth sweep that rolls and ebbs underneath the stop-start beats. There is one horrible horrible thing about 'Help Me Lose My Mind' and it's London Grammar's Hannah Reid's none-more-Julia-Fordham vocal. No matter what delicious manipulations it undergoes (and some of the b-vox are peachy)  it remains a cold unloveable joyless thing that reveals Disclosure as no less, no more than a Beloved for 2013. Do you really NEED that in your life? I envy your storage space and your ability to prioritise this tedium into your daily commute and I can only dream of a day when I can share in the benificient plenitude of your, and Disclosure & London Grammar's pretty-much unimpeachable taste and lack of vulgarity. Just don't come running to me when they tell you they've seen the light, give you a small brown leather book, insisting that they were right. I'll be in the basement listening to Motorhead and will not be disturbed with such tomtwattery.

DJ Spinna & Shabaam Sahdeeq 
Motion Picture 
Correct Technique Records 
Love the sense straight away that here be people who want to tell you a story. Remember? A story. Not sell you something, or themselves, or product place. They want to take you on a journey, a ride musically that's sumptuous, compelling, triumphant, a ride lyrically that's vivid, tactile, complex. Not been convinced by Spinna before but this entirely pulls me into its multiverse and encourages repeated exploration. Tap it, unwrap it.

Eliza Doolittle 
Let It Rain 
Whaddayado when all the kook runs out? When your target demographic becomes bored of you a little? Y'can't do another 'Big When I Was Little' - that was shameless, a craven pile-up of retro-references as desperately flailing as Alan Partridge suddenly shouting 'TISWAS' then mumbling '. . . . errm . . . sweets they don't make anymore . . . '. It always seemed one step away from simply lurching into being the cover of the 'Fresh Prince' theme perhaps most guaranteed to mop up all that whined-for pocket-money. Of course you could always call it a day, become a model or a runner or an actress or simply ask daddy or mummy for a job somewhere quieter in the biz, somewhere a little less visible. [They won't mind taking a hit remember, and it might be the only way now that fame has become a purely hereditary issue]. Or of course, you could give 'your music' another go with one more album, toss in another collab with Paloma Faith, or the XX, someone who'll get you back in the Live Lounge with Jo Whiley's pisshole eyes squinting their love your way.
   Of course, it'd help, when you were creating your new album, the second record where you can't just be a ditzy purveyor of pastiche, if you actually had a soul, rather than just loving people whom you imagine had a soul a long long time ago. Something to sing about would also help, something beyond the endless cycle and circle of massive privelige and easy access and quirky dilletantism that's been your birthright so far. But you haven't got such a vintage thing as a soul as you imagine, and the right equipment and clothes won't make it grow anytime soon. Best bet is - as a tester, toss out some half-arsed 'soul music' that makes Emile Sande sound like Betty Davis, replete with vague lyrics about being a bit sad sometimes and being in love sometimes that you ripped off a thing you saw on imgur/r/motivational last night, and a hook that a small dull child would find melodically unimaginative. Small dull child Fearne Cotton, your mate, will love it, Rob Da Bank, another mate, will love the shitty obvious remix, mummy and daddy will support you in everything you do and when it tanks in the upper reaches of the top 30 your PR will be round to tell you to tell everyone they've lined up (mainly broadsheets, a few Redtops and Saturday entertainment supplements just in case) about how this album is 'more personal and more grown up' than anything you've done before. You'll appear on Later With Jools Holland and bask in the approval your slick big-band backing will get from the assorted sycophants and liggers who have, and will, always surround you. In discussion with your PR and label you'll decide to forego being grilled by Grimshaw in the morning (who wants to get sucked into that ongoing haemorrage)  and instead embark on the second stage of your musical career with Radio 2 firmly in your sights as an eventual playlist home, the ongoing Nike endorsement hopefully backed up by a healthy portfolio of Sainsbury's & Boots No.7 ad-soundtracking, eyes on those disposable-income ABCs, the  CDEs picked up on the way merely an unfortunate less-lucrative side-effect of aspiration and blanket-marketing. It's a plan that I hope comes off for Eliza, and 'Let It Rain' is a great, hugely forgettable and sophorriifically dull start to that campaign.
Five out of ten, perhaps it's an 'album track'?

Ed O.G. 
The Great Divide (Remix) 
Blunted Astronaut Records
Have no idea who the man behind the decks here (Bodzier) is, but hats off fella for creating a rerub so damn delicious you wanna bite, slurp, snaffle it til the juice runs down your chin. Is it the pizzicato strings, the hauntological flute, the refracted Rhodes & harp that seals this to your heart so damn adhesively? Perhaps a combination of all of the above, plus typically commanding rhymes from Ed O.G. So damn fine I don't even want to hear the original. Grown up brilliance. 'Hip-hop is alive/hip-hop never died'. You're absolutely goddamned right. Livin' proof.

The Old Villagers
Mos Deep Recordings 
Aroy Dee's Mos Deep offshoot is shaping up as an intriguing imprint and the title track on this new 12 is techno as you want techno to be - thick, oppresive, squelchy, hopeful, unforgiving, hypnotic, dreamy, disturbing. Do check out 'Little Green Munchkin Man' as well, totally old-skool jack-yr-body analogue house with grainy drums and detuned riffs that leave you feeling so wobbly you'll consider installing handles on your walls and casters on your feet and sliding round like you're the missing link tween us and our half-Segway half-human descendents. Clams on the half shell and roller skates.

I'll Be Your Dog/Everyday Apocalypse 
Blunted Astronaut Records 
Getting really intrigued this month by Blunted Astronaut, and this natty double-header ups the curiosity, 'Dog' being a sublime slice of '60s pop (produced by The Process) given fresh life by G & Muneshine's filthy-nasty rhymes. On the flip 'Everyday Apocalypse' will get less radio play but is even more brainjanglingly great, sudden stabs of a dying piano, bristling jazzy beats, great 'Lyrics of Fury' cut-ups, utterly minimal yet maximally devastating. Watch EVERYONE involved here, they're seriously on some brand new shit.

Ghostface Killah 
The Sure Shot Parts 1&3 (Remix) 
Soul Temple Entertainment 
Blasting by trailing lush flute and squelchy wah-wah, peeling away from traffic and gunning the engine, toe to the floor, congos and sudden string stabs straight from Curtis Mayfield at his most propulsively divine. 'The Brown Album' this comes from is supastoopidly essential, but the way this gives way mid-way to some deeply plangent mournful Isaac Hayes' soul whilst Ghost's rhymes actually get more hysterical on the slowed pace is just incredible and lifts this a cut above. Push yourselves winter-wards with this wonder.

Hus Kingpin (aka Hus of Tha Connection) feat. Roc Marciano 
Boss Material 
From 'The Cognac Tape', rich with Moroder texture, heavy with dancehall-bass, thunking with funk, laced-up and lurid as a particularly choice Italian horror-porn soundtrack. Me like.

Higher Than The Sun 
As the brilliant originality and promise of its title suggests, 'Higher Than The Sun' truly comes from people for whom music is important, means something crucial, justifies life, people who have had to strive to get where they are in the dazzling firmament of British pop. It must've been tough for Tim Rice-Oxley and Tom Chaplin early on, especially for Chaplin whose family only had their paltry earnings from OWNING the £6-grand-a-term Vinehall Boarding School to support poor Tom's fledgling musical interest. Later,  in the mean corridors and dusty cum-smelling dorms of Tonbridge Boarding (at £32-grand-a-year pricier than Eton or Harrow) it must have been an even greater struggle for Tom, Tim and the Dominic they'd found hiding under their desks to explore their growing musical vision at all, beset as they must've been from all sides by distractions like their ever-growing Forex portfolios, lobster-thermidore for tuck AGAIN, and of course gangs of roaming pederasts in mortar-boards 'keane' (hehheh) to investigate their puckered downy young bumholes. And yes, ok,  Tonbridge was investigated for price-fixing but it was of course a cartel-ism merely in the self-same spirit of enterprise that made Britain great, an institution dedicated to turning out those captains of industry to carry empire worldwide, that spirit of freedom and greed that had seen the school through five-hundred years of good stead. It's testament to that spirit that they can also count Keane among their alumni, in their own busy 'creative' way similarly carrying commerce from the heart of the cricket-pitches and masonic lodges of the home counties all the way across the planet. We can all consider ourselves lucky that these plucky underdogs politely turned down the King of High Finanace Chris Martin's entreaties for Tim to join the truly magnificently profitable Coldplay in 1997 and struck out on their own, cos a life without Keane's pulsating posho passion-pop and bombastic bourgeouise balladry frankly wouldn't be a life worth living. The video trailer for this single (a new track from a soon-come LONG-awaited best of) sees Keane travelling the world, enduring the living hell of the best hotels, waiting areas and boutique studios money can buy. It's clearly tough (and occassionally the band have to use medium-grade Egyptian cotton towels to dry themselves, so 'crazy' does the action get!) but thanks for going through the fire Keane. We appreciate every still & sparkling moment.

Nice lyric (genuinely anti-materialistic, a little bit of venom to the emptiness of its fantasy, a real sense of longing alongside the laceration), a voice that can be clean and pure and grainy, an arrangement that's subtle and insiduous and gets under your skin a bit (especially the sudden moments of stacked-up though obvious harmonies). I just hope to god that the amount of shit Lorde might be forced to do after this becomes the monster worldwide hit it's already been in the States will be spaced out, sparse and maintain the mystery she's still got intact. I don't trust her record company to manage that. I hope she's strong enough to. On this evidence she may well be but if I accidentally stumble across a video of her doing this live with only solo acoustic guitar accompaniment I can't be held accountable for the sudden volte-face in my affections.

Nina Nesbitt 
Don't Stop
There's a line you can draw see, a line that's got us down this far. Lily Allen started it, that chattiness masquerading as 'wit', knowing that if in any way a lyric can mention trivia, the small things, the unfunny 'random' detail,  it will instantly garner itself the billion OMG SO TRUE likes of a whole generation. Ed Sheeran picked up that bolus and fashioned it with his hateful wish-he-got-done-for-shoplifting-in-Saudi pasty freckly hands into the dungball of pity and poesy that Nina Nesbitt's recently crawled out from with her own brand of ballache, that hate-worthy 'Go Out' single from a few months ago with the punchably breathy voice replete with gag-reflex quiver, arm-marks from the permanently toted acoustic, the rhythm section left as a neat'n'tidy (yet charmingly 'ramshackle') twang-n-rattle (like Fairground Attraction without the . . . . no, sorry, EXACTLY like fkn Fairground Attraction really), the lyrics, like Sheeran's, a revoltingly smug peering down on wannabes and 'fake gangsters', as keenly 'observational' and 'gentle' as the comedy of Michael McIntyre & Russell Howard that fans of this kind of dizzy dogshit are so fond of. The new single, doubtless set to be a bigger hit, is a cover of Fleetwood Mac that you've probably heard on some fucking advert for some shitehawks or other and as a McVeigh song was utterly loathsome to start with before this fkn horribly perky re-rendering. This kind of music needs dum-dum blunderbussing right in the florals. Please Stop, ruining our tomorrows.

Rah Digga 
Rah Digga 
New Hoes 
FUCKIN' TESTIFY RAH! Way way better (because it has a point and a purpose and a snarl in its craw that will not be silenced) than Angel Haze's attempt at Kanye's 'New Slaves' track, Dirty Harriet rips forth on Miley and all other tweenage twerkers with a fury that burns brighter than a billion suns. Save it for the next kiddies' birthday party you have to DJ and watch the kids go absolutely NUTS. Nice to have you back maam.

I'm (un)paid to generalise but in general it's the low-end that has to grab me first, that I first fall in love with. The treble, the detail, the pretty stuff I eventually notice, yeah it all can deepen that love but unless the bass and drums get me right off, I'm not interested. If I can draw a crass analogy I'm a bum and legs man: it's nice if a song has a nice face/chest/tits but if it's got a flat non-existent arse I'm never really gonna take a fancy. Inevitable I'd be phwoaaring at this but I have altogether stranger, as yet uncategorisable (and potentially illegal) desires for it, so deformedly great is the surplus of bass & hugeness of beat, it's like an arse the size of a house. Attack of the 50ft arse. Fantastic stuff from Randomer from one of 2013's great labels.

Robin Thicke 
Give It To U 
Star Trak
My god, can you imagine how tiny Robin Thicke's dick is? Judging by his over-compensation it must be Clarkson small, Gervais small, with a couple of tiny balls looking like Murun Buchstansanger.  I mean, if you feel the need in a video to surround yourselves with pre-pubescent fantasies of 'girls' all of whom have bodies like little boys, then actually have your name with 'has a big dick' spelled out in balloons after it, whilst the editor remains under brutally strict instructions to cut out all those moments where your little trouser-maggot spooged its thimble-load and you looked prone & vulnerable rather than just repellently arrogant, you've got to have some serious issues possibly not adequately addressed by the innumerable air-pump and L'arginine-tablet offers you've been so hoodwinked by in the past. Seriously Mr. Thicke, go see a counsellor, speak to someone about it cos these shitty derivative singles about how your massive member is going to fuck everyone in the world simply aren't working and your schtick as a kind of rude Michael Buble will run out of steam soon. Counselling will help. Yes it might require remembering those embarassing moments in the changing rooms where your classmates roared with laughter at your miniscule bait'n'tackle, yes it might mean reliving those horrible tweezer-poised moments of spunk-drenched self-loathing all over again and yeah you look even uglier when you cry but it's time to face up to the fact that God blessed you with an atrophied acorn in the cock department and move on. Once those lies that have sustained you (like size not mattering) have been stripped away, and those hometruths driven home (You can't make butter with a toothpick) if counselling  means eventually coming to terms with your lifetime of enforced celibacy it'll be worth it, and save you lots of potentially dangerous quack-treatment and uncomfortable implants down the line. Jude Law, Mick Jagger and Enrique Inglesias have all taken that first step. I hope you can too shrimpy.

Program Music 
Ram's subsid Program have never been less than ace so far and no-change here with this fierce twist of taut tension from Stealth. All about how that bass reaches down and pulls at yr guts but also how the growing sense of menace and dread is accentuated by passages of genuinely atonal shrike and fizzing noise, almost sounding like a malfunction, an accident that occured somewhere in transit but adding to the unfolding drama wonderfully. Play so loud when it's over all you can hear is a high-pitched note that won't leave.

Nancy's Pantry 
Heavy as fuck cos it knows when to disappear. The big holes of silence in amidst the rupturing slabs of hard n heavy breakbeats make for a wonderfully unsettling sense of non-danceability to this monster, the tempo kept up but seemingly draining of power as each explosion happens, old-skool breaks held up like bottles to the light, shot through with strobes, frozen in the neon. And when the roll starts and doesn't stop it ploughs like a juggernaut through your central reservations. Superb.

Mt. Everest 
Soul Temple Entertainment 
Inspektah Deck & Elzhi also featured, so you can imagine how corking this is — great production from Blastah Beats as dark and downered as some prime PF Cuttin' wrecknology, and U.God pulls out some of the finest rhymes from his much slept-on 'Keynote Speaker' set. The kind of track you couldn't hum back to anyone but that gets under your skin precisely because of its unplaceable variety. Wu still delivering.

White Collar Boy

SUUU (Frank B Remix) Bodytonic Music 
New label from Dublin, new music from two-piece 'electronic garage group' called White Collar Boy and though the original is a little too clean for my tastes this Frank B Remix is perfectly weighted between ecstasy and confusion, the last few minutes of end-of-night powder'n'pilled madness before unconsciousness thwacks it's blissful blackness into your head. The true romantic resonance of sought-for-and-found oblivion. Get yourself untogether to this and for god sake don't get ready to go out listening to this, no-one wants to hit the town looking like Charlie Caroli. See you next month pop-pickers. Get the heating on.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Hating Kelis, Loving Envy, Pop in 2010

10:15 Posted by neil kulkarni , , No comments

Summer 2010. Why aren't you happy? We're being catered for.

Taste of headache.

We're being catered for.

Aluminium mouth-rape.

We're being catered for.

Nausea, dry heaving. We're being catered for.

I don't go looking for problems. They find me. In this numb age music must electrify every synapse, fill the space in my atoms with fire. A tight alternative to the sloppy seconds every other less-potentially-abstract/suggestive artform is offering. But all I'm getting is a migraine of mehness, a gobfull of slurry, grossed out, gagging on the hangover before it hits, the endlessly rotating self-pity of modern pop. For the first time since 85/86 I can wholly equate 'chart' music with 'shit' music.


I'm waiting for the chorus.

But all I'm getting is verses, bridges, build and no release state-of-the-art demo-settings and all that fucking whining whining whining.

We must be in the club.

We're always in the club these days.

We're club-friendly.

Y'know the place. Where the skinny people writhe. Where everyone aims to look like they're in an advert. Where the good-looking find each other: aka Hell on earth. The place where pop is now locked because to step out of the club is to lose the safehold, the sure purposelessness, the backdrop of insubstantiality that makes all this lack-of-substance seem right/apposite/enough. Because like love as subject, the club as locus shuts out the world, shuts down those dangerous parts of our day'n'nite that threaten to not get with the programme, join the step, the hotbeat-soundtracked on-the-spot march forward, the excess consumption, the forgetting, the proud self-love and inevitable self-pity and endless self-advertisement.
   We're being catered for because for a decade we told the industry that we only want what it gives us i.e. more of this brain-dead fuckery, we tell them that we're incapable of imagination, thoughts dependent on a thumbs-up/peer-approval to exist, capable of only that tweaked delirium-on-ourselves, incapable of language beyond 2am wittering, drunk lols & posturing, musically and lyrically lashed to the triptych tethers of dancefloor and bar & the homes where we wallow, the rooms where we get ready for the endless party that calls us outside. We're in the club, and we can never leave, and though there's stairs to cry on and 50p pints to binge on and bouncers to argue with and toilets to take dirty photos in and cubicles to get those eyes widened we are always leaving but never making it out. All we do is drink, drug, give, give, splay, lose everything, snarfle scraps starting scraps, leaving behind an imprint of nothing.
   This is where pop puts us now if we're single, if we can't mewl about him, or her - in the club where the music, no matter how thin, can marshal movement, make you forget your stasis, blank-out your slow depletion into time. Handy of course that your typical club-friendly backing track doesn't impose the need to find a hook on the singer/writers: Madonna's 'Ray Of Light' has a hell of a lot to answer for in bequeathing us a whole gen of pop writers who think vaguely 60s-style barbershop raga vocals around a technoid-thump will suffice, will in fact equal some sort of trippy 'exploration' of the self. Personally, were I a girl looking to be spoken for by the eternally-strobelit flash of modern girl-pop, I'd be scowling on the balcony, mentally flamethrowing you fucks, ducking out, hiding under the hill. But I'm too old for clubs, look like a narc, or simply an ageing pervert. And girl-pop itself, infuriatingly makes me feel like lecturing it, teach it something unmannered, get that strap back on its shoulder, learn it hard that its mistaking 'attitude' for style and assemblage for creativity. If I had a fanny I'd feel unspoken for. As unspoken for as I feel being a man.
   Look at what pop's women are wearing. Even in Gaga's orbit of influence, it's so fucking dull out there. It's as if Girl pop looks at 30s Vogue, 70s Cosmo, 80s Face/ID, looks at the dress-up-games the high-street makes easy & search-free, throws shit on and waits for those old spirits to reinhabit the body beneath and the mind behind such carelessness. Ain't gonna happen. Those old moments of beauty, those looks so steely, timed and timeless were animated and arranged by folk who worshipped new gods, the camera and the motorcar and the mirrorball and the MDMA and that spirit cannot be conjured off-the-peg, cribbed from an idiot's guide or splattered on with a sequin gun.
   Frankly, all o'y'all folk below 30 aren't real clubbers. You can't take your medicine or your ale, you're lightweights & lemmings too scared to be alone in the crowd. Soundwise you're all too lamprey-like in your fixation on suckling from the industry, too dependent on the narcoticizing discharge you sup from its diseased perma-botoxed teats. Loneliness, joy and solidarity are what nightclubs are all about. Girl-pop right now, locked in the club, always in the club, club-friendly, can only be about loving it, losing your phone mebbe and dignity always but never ever your 'crazy', 'mixed-up' self. Life becoming a brochure, an advert, music becoming similarly deodorised, tooled for the brand it's promoting, the celeb PR strategy it's merely an adjunct to. For all the chatbout boys wanting to touch your junk, the inferences of wildness, club-friendly pop emerges as really only about belonging to the binge-drink hoipoloi, to safely derailing yourself in the knowledge that someone or some song will pick up your pieces and make them whole, take you home to the suburbs, tuck you up, hold your hair whilst you chunder, join you for coffee in the morning like the millions of consumers like you.
   I hear no shattered women on the radio right now, no one swallowing men like air or devouring worlds or commanding the cosmos or even telling the truth. Only empty-headed little girls skweeming and squeaking about what rockstars they are. Well we get the pop we deserve, the pop Fearne Cotton likes, but even if I were white skinny and pretty I'd feel lagged behind, let down, and I'd be wondering why the fuck these drippy bitches like Flo & Ke$h think they deserve to be famous. Good taste? Where's the fucking bravery? Where's girls like I know, rather than the girls & guys I'd cross streets, change clubs, emigrate, to avoid. If pop is a club right now, I find myself walking past all the tables packed full of braying twats and simpering saps and desperate to recognise a friendly face, a real face, smart people who are a laugh, rather than all these desperately needy, charmless loudmouth ignoramuses and fucking students. Why would I be up in this club? It fucking sucks. The charts right now, and the 'club-friendly' pisspile that increasingly constitutes it, prove that half-knowledge is more annoying than dumbness, especially when it appeals to the proudly quarter-witted and smugly ill-informed experts known as the great brutish public. You are welcome to each other.

This is Kelis' most 'European', club-friendly album and it's been infected by the same mediocrity that's currently making most of that club-friendly pop feel like it's on a checkout-conveyor to hell. The look, as ever, is crucial - the outfits on Flesh Tone's sleeve fit Kelis' mix of the middling and modish perfectly. Half-decent, mainly bad, what happens when you let a model dress herself. Front cover – as ever with K great face. Po(i)sed, looking beyond your shoulder, righteous combo of Dietrich ice & Crawford heat. Fab over-cooked headdress, the rest a Primark mess of mis-match and over complication where a block of black'd be better. Within, a 'Diamond Dogs' half-hound half-popstar pastiche seemingly conceived and created without any connection to the songs/words, a filigree fancy without the suggestiveness required, a fake-jewel chainmail disco dress you know will get way too heavy come midnight coupled with a daffy looking head of tin bling. Again, always, good face. Back cover – a brilliantly understated feathered two-tone bird-death atop the dome, some embarrassingly awful flesh-beneath viscera-tattoos & gore-paint, partly bringing out neck-tendons and the heart beneath the breast, helpfully framed & pushed by K herself and some careful under wiring. I focus on the looks because Kelis has never given me any reason to focus on anything else, watching 'the event' that you could see this album as 'follow-up promo' for i.e. the 'Acapella' video, you're again waiting for that chorus that never comes, bored by those verses that never fly, never move the heart. Never move the heart.
   My heart's not built like modern hearts see. Modern hearts move because of any idea that happens. Idea = they're trying = default praise earned. Enough to try, pitch up, audition and who cares there's no real magic, just the simulacra of daring. In the 'Acapella' video you're watching the dullest, most borrowed 'reimagining' of Kelis' identity imaginable. Because the sound is neither hers nor interesting enough to bully her out of things, and the looks are all thieved. Between the feathers and paint the eyes are dead, deadened, don't need to burn or bewitch, simply stare and be available and simply be. Po-faced tedium. We're being catered for.
   The album's failure doesn't matter a jot of course, Kelis' career has been about big singles. Singles that are not classic, singles that are fundamentally novelty records. 'Milkshake' & 'Caught Out There' & 'Trick Me' were songs that stuck for a summer, that would be actually tiresome to hear now, and each serve as reminders that the albums they came from, Kaleidoscope & Tasty were over-rated by mighty whitey, unloved in the memory, and only sporadically salvaged from mediocrity by the right collaborators bullying their personas/production to the fore (Neptunes/Andre3000).
   All Kelis has proven, time and time again, is that she has nothing to say, a middling voice to say it in, but she's sufficiently imaginative in her self-portrayal to hoodwink folk into thinking she's somehow some innovative 'spin' on the dead-end of modern r'n'b. On Flesh Tone her collaborators are David Guetta, the Benassi cousins, and a few other Mondrian Sky-Bar-friendly DJs and the hoax is over. For all her insistence that this album is about the birth of her son, becoming a mother etc what this album actually is is the sound of Kelis finding nothing to strike but borrowed poses, nothing to say but that she's here, nothing to sing bar her own strangulation/obliteration in the mix. A merciful 37 minutes long, mainly segues, and what a grisly, opportune yet unengaging mix it is – 'Intro's slo-mo Moroderlite backdrop coming on like a particularly weak Eurovision entry, '22nd Century's appalling zeitgeist-flailing vagueness masquerading as profundity (arserot like “religion, science-fiction, technology/There's no difference from you and me” couched in a nasty leathered hetero-house-interior).
   Two tracks in and you can sense just how carefully pitched Kelis' 'dance' direction is – just pissweak enough to get the requisite kudos from numbnuts daft enough to see this desperate bid for quasi-anonymity as some kind of 'bold' deflection of identity, the subsumation of Kelis' essentially thin and empty musical persona in other peoples' off-cuts/semi-bangers. Club-friendly. We're being catered for. It'll probly work for her but don't let anyone con you this is bravery or ballsiness, this is nine cameos on mediocre chart-dance tracks turned into an album, given credence by sleevenotes that bleat about having “love and life in mind”, about it all “coming from my gut, not just in an annoying warm & fuzzy way, but in a triumphant women rock way”. Grammatical shoddiness aside those notes start reading like exploitative bullshit the further into Flesh Tone you prod, the fuck-awful '4th Of July' one of those songs about sons (like Clapton's suicide-cash in 'Tears In Heaven') that gives the child no identity beyond how it can repair/redeem the singer, the parent, the celeb for whom the child is a valuable marketing tool. Kelis seems less genuinely moved by the blood, sweat'n'tears of having a kid than she seems chuffed she's finally got something to write about, finally an 'identity' where previously lived nothing but attitude & accoutrement – she's wrong, she's still bereft of the essential identity a true artist needs to grab & fixate you, only now her emptiness has that extra grisly level of sanctimony that parenthood (or, seeing as she's a celeb, nanny-hiring-hood) gives the rich. The music that backs this stuff (incl. the barely b-side-worthy nowtness of 'Home' and the sub-Madonna/Orbit fishpaste of 'Acapella') is the kind of techno you imagine the boys from Justice thinking was great, the kind of mid-European Ibiza-friendly tedium that you really shouldn't have time for in your life. Listening, finger hovering on your speakers off-switch, to the boooooooring 'Scream' (lyrics that are pure 10-your-old emo) and nauseating 'Emancipation' (lyrics that are pure 40 year old hippy) you wonder quite why anyone would need their dance music so woefully polite as this, sentiments as cloyingly daffy as this.
   (Because if you want good club music you could/should be liznin to Soul Of Man's Breaking In The House vol.2, Meat Katie Live from the Opel vol.8., Mantelo's Matadero Mix 2010, Peepshow Ownerz Spring Joke mix, Ado's Wax On podcast, Opulent Temple's Deep Underground Gough Street sessions, Reid Speed's Inside The Ride mix, Disturbed Beats 14, ID's This Is Breaks mix, Vandals' The Street Is Watching mix, Resistance Lowdown & Dirty mix 2010, L Vis & Bok Bok, Robosonic's Berlin Kreuzberg Insitut mix 2010, Grand Hotel 30min Promo mix, Inquisitive's OMGITM 2010 set, Rossco's Jakked On Smakk & Crakk mix , LHF's Pipedown mixes, all findable w'a quick search on beatport, soundcloud, noiseporn, techfunk-manifesto or links contained therein and nary a Guetto touch, ethnodelic vocal or bad lyric between em)
   I couldn't imagine a reason beyond laziness to let Flesh Tone's major-label US-idea-of-Eurodance deodorise your space, bland-out your day. In summary and feeling summery - Flesh Tone is perfick for the racks in Asda, great for the same dumb girls who dig Florence and the new shit retooled Kelly Rowland, great for people who know fuck all about music but think they know it all. You could do so much better for yourself, but if you've got tenners to spare on your next trip out go on ahead and squander them on Flesh Tone's half-hour of dullness. Final word to my 11 your old, trying to concentrate on her sewing while I'm playing this. 'Just turn it OFF dad. She's pointless'.

   Which does beg the question – what real female figureheads are there for girls to idolise, aspire to, learn from in music right now? In a pop world in which female 'presence' is in glut/spreadthin, it's startling how little of femme-import is being given, how so many of the supposed 'divas' in modern pop have nowt to offer young minds bar money-hunger, man-dependence and just-dumped aggravation. Leaf through Mizz, watch Flaunt for an hour, make the colossal strategic error of listening to the charts, and you'll see girls talk about themselves, sure, but always ONLY in relation to their relationships, only in relation to how near/far they are from love, only in relation to how much they can lose/claw back of themselves in the permanent night-out that is pop's sole focus and context in 2010. Crucially, whilst you'll see lots of girls, you won't hear a single word that dares to antagonise you, that really addresses how scarily fast and furious with innovative invective girls can be. Obvious why girls are so ill-served at the moment, why none of pop's chat and cattiness (exceptions: Gaga, Britney & Beyonce on their good days; Shakira – all of whom crucially don't try and talk to/for their young fans, just luxuriate in their own supra-identities) actually matches up to the way girls talk/live/think - somewhere along the line middle-aged fanboys started whispering to pop that if it wants to cut deep it must only thieve from the past the fanboys curate, that it can't do politics, that being a poetess is less important than simply being a witty conduit for the babble of what's contemporary, a simpering squeaker of lad-mag-friendly spunkiness. “I really like your beard.” Jesus. They're being catered for.
   In this world where real girls turn to pop only to find themselves unmirrored, absent, Envy's Set Your Self On Fire (Stopstart) isn't just the greatest British teenage debut since Disco Inferno's 'DI Go Pop', it's a rare righteous document, a necessary UK counterblast to the Americanisation of emotion & speech, my debut-album of the year so far by several country miles. Kicking off with the title track you find a microcosm of the whole: a spontaneous human combustion insisted upon by young Nicola Varley of Manchester, an insistence that an immolation in your/her own labyrinth of language is the only redemption available, matched perfectly by Medasyn's spaced-out dub-grime beats & synth drama (a feat he manages throughout). 'Nadine' follows, a rescue-bid for a friend lost to a dickhead man, the emotion taut and torsioned by a heartbreaking melody, the words never less than totally believable, totally real, totally compelling – it's a trick Varley's smart enough to pull whenever the subject matter threatens to get traditional, 'On The Horizon' exists in a stunning space for a song about relationships, love, environment, sky, sun, intimacy and the infinite woven together in one devastating poetic moment.
   The brilliant lyricism throughout Set Yourself On Fire is something lazy crits would tend to say is beyond Varley's years – how defeatist, how condescending, how utterly stereotypical and plain wrong in the face of Envy's huge huge command and control and alchemy with English, her fearless explorations of its limits and launchpads. 'Normal' is Envy's admission of how language has bent her out of shape with the world, ranges her against the state of things by dint of a mind that works too fast, a tongue too twisted to talk just common sense, & the single 'Tongue Twista' that first hipped some of us to Varley's young genius still blows your mind as wide as when you first heard it. There's a track here that eclipses it though, 'Sometimes I Think Deep' is a stunning rush of words that flashes with searing insight, lines that dazzle yet almost derail Varley's voice in a heartfelt tremble of self-revelation that damn well skewers your heart. Through the chucklesome 'Chips In My Dip' & 'Friday Night' what you're hearing is all of those Ke$has & Cilmis & Allens plain OBLITERATED musically, lyrically, stylishly.

THIS is the pop our daughters deserve, not just feisty but furious, not just witty but mind-blowing, not just realistic or dreamy but real and fantastical. The pop we done got lags laboriously behind Envy, lags behind how far we've come, how far we can go. Damn straight you should be angry about that, about how true Brit genius is getting marginalised by corporations unwilling to let us speak to ourselves and each other, corporations anxious to confine British pop music to that which can most successfully ape US models, confine British identity down to the same narrow class-base everyone chased in the election. Where Flesh Tone drowns female presence under old men's music, Set Yourself On Fire liberates a hidden voice and lets it speak, and if you ever listened to Slits, Raincoats, Huggy Bear, Lioness why the fuck ain't you listening to Envy's astonishing role-call statement of femme-intent 'Get Your Game Face On'? Blast it loud, tuck it under your arm and get out there evangelising – this is new necessary music saying new necessary things, Varley's concepts and flows finding perfect heavily suggestive backdrops in Medasyn's dark, dubbed-out, head-wreckage. Like I say, album of the year thus far, 60 minutes from here and now that will blast you to everywhere.
   Because we have to come down to our own moment of national realisation here: yes, Britain's got “talent”. Oozing out the streets, up from the underground, roaring out the corners and places and spaces where seemingly no-one is looking, the forgotten avenues where poets stride in seven-league boots with a confidence and focus unmatched by the cowardice and vagueness of those who should be dragging these supernovae through to us, to the stardom they deserve. Like seeks like, so inevitable that the giggling Jocastas and Jeremy's currently keen to write about pop, ( & also keen/able to work for the beast that is the schmindustry) are pointing us in the direction of bands, artists, bad backpacking rappers and britschool alumni from their same narrow middle class-base. As it has been for too long now, the WRONG people runnin' things from A&R to PR to the cheerleaders hired to 'write' about them - hence the WRONG people shoved our way as if we're meant to be satisfied/entertained. We're being catered for? As fucking if. It's what's most mad upsetting – Varley should be a star, should be bigger than God, should be stalked by paps and bothered by the 3am Girls, should be given the solid basis to develop what might be a long fascinating career from. But she says a little too much, a little too deeply, a little too quick, looks not right (and therefore entirely right). Varley herself hints at the struggle and depression her fearless self-exploration has earned her in 'Fire's darker passages (the scabrous 'Cocktails At Selfridges' and dread-filled 'Think Deep Pt.II').
   I pray that in this sewn-up biz of women purely fulfilling laddish fantasy & girly-stereotypes Varley can battle through, because our real girls, our daughters, our young people deserve better than what they're being given, deserve better than what this shitty blokeish industry thinks about women and the music they should make. And beyond gender, we should also be wondering why the mealy-mouthed semi-profundity of middle class indie-rock and club-friendly pop is getting our airwaves and telly-time and double-spreads when the voices from the estates, the voices from off the beaten and down the wrong streets is getting forced out into the edges (as they are politically as well).
   We've got the govt, the newspapers, the media we're told we deserve and for now there's fuck all we can do about it bar load the shitapult and keep an eye on their movements. But we deserve the music that none of those fucking chuckleheads even know exist. It's time for class, as a battleground, as a concept rather than a cheap joke, to re-enter pop as some kind of line in the sand, some kind of position of resistance – beyond that the realisation that for too long the press & industry have been sewn up by a bunch of posh boys and slightly-less-posh wannabe-lads. These motherfuckers cannot be allowed to let British pop rot on the vine, to let it fester into the insignificance of only appealing to that bunch of utter wankers known as music fans. All of us need to investigate those less-than-official channels, those non-sanctioned spaces of rapture where word & sound are really getting forged into new infinities.