Writing by Neil Kulkarni

Sunday, 14 August 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From heaven. 

Friday, 12 August 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 11 August 2016

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

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


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

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

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

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

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