How NOT to write about music – 67. The Membranes


This feels important.

No reason, but this feels important. Doubtless my 23-year-old self would disagree with me – he always was a cantankerous bastard – but I feel that out of seemingly nowhere The Membranes have made the greatest album of their career. (Let’s not call it a career, eh?) Of their lives. I would go over the recent review I wrote about it for Classic Rock, and dwell on each and every word, but. Do not take my word for it. This is high praise, from me, from my former self certainly. I had a couple of main noise bands in the 1980s – UT, The Birthday Party, Membranes, Sonic Youth – and one of them has returned after a near three-decade gap and made the greatest album of their lives. (It’s their second in recent years, and the other was almost equally as fine.) Playing out of their skins. Literally. So good, all I can do is gape at the hollowness inside my hollow inside and wonder why some of my friends are so great at growing old while others (well, me) are so crap. Pain, humiliation, death – this is all that life promises me as I edge closer towards 60. Not for John Robb and his merry bunch of swaggering, dissolute reprobates though.

What nature gives… nature takes away.

They embrace the mantra and do not swerve from it, but face up to it and create thundering beauty out of the Void, seething wonderment out of chaotic despair. There is kindness here at the heart of the violence and mesmerising noise, a beauty that only the human voice can provide (the 20-piece BIMM Manchester Choir provides texture and an iridescent counterpart to Robb’s thundering bass). The Membranes should have been massive in the 1980s, with their bone-rattling teeth-shaking finger-breaking excursions to the other side: aligned with My Bloody Valentine and Big Black, and rightly so. (In truth, they were always the greatest on stage.) It would be irony heaped upon irony now if they achieved that deserved success now, the Last Survivors Standing.


What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away is a brooding Gothic masterpiece – and yes it’s dark disco, death and romantic, apocalyptic (but not in a fucking superhero way), discordant, sweeping and epic and brimming over with feedback and emotion and turbulence, melancholia and wonder. The sheer volume of noise threatens to destroy melody but never does. The sheer magnificence of the BIMM Choir threatens to destroy rock but instead amplifies it, charges it.

In places, overcome with emotion.

Shut it down. Shut it down. Please, shut it down.

You can order a copy now from Cherry Red, but hell. Don’t take my word for it. What the fuck do I know?

As I wrote four years ago:

You see, some of us still remember the secret history of the 1980s.

Not me. Most of it is blinding white light followed by blinding white light followed explosions of noise followed by the sound of puke splattering onto the pavement from the side of a taxi followed by useless imagination followed by a stage door left open followed by the sound of a big heavy metal typewriter hitting rows of LP albums followed by neon lights glinting miserably in the rain followed by a minute of detail followed by the sound of heads hitting cold Aberdeen floors followed by crazy… nothing. I have no memory.


How NOT to write about music – 66. SOPHIE


OMG (etc_). How did this pass me by (etc_)? Big SHOUT OUT to Cindy Stern on FB (etc_). Shades of TG, BK, CXCX, BE and CV (etc). OMG (etc_). Epilepsy-inducing (etc_), not always. Wonderful, near always (etc_). PC Music (etc_). Innovative, inventive, solipsistic, lipstick, terrifying, blunt, fluid, challenging (etc_). None of the above (etc_).

The next one is shorter if you don’t have (etc_).

Yeah, and (etc_). Wait, and there’s (etc_), like you didn’t know already. Some kind of sex  (etc_). This is the, wait which word do the letters f-u spell out for (etc_). F-U-C-K, wrong (etc_), no you have it wrong. F-U future (etc_).

An un-update (etc_), like I don’t obsess already (etc_). Like the Ramones sang, I don’t wanna grow (etc_). Not Ramones, Waits, but you know what I (etc_).

This is one hell of a (etc_).

How NOT to write about music – 65. The Vanilla Milkshakes

punching cows

We all need some punk rock in our lives.

Denver band The Vanilla Milkshakes ask “why do you even want me as a friend” and quite frankly that is a ridiculous question because they are simply the greatest punk rock band in this world this side of Amyl and the Sniffers (Australia) and Sugar & Tiger (France) and a handful of others whose names I really cannot be bothered to try and remember. Blam! I play their new 11-song 34-minute album Punching Cows once, and it makes me so happy, grabbing at the stars. Nasally. I play their new album twice and blam! I am left smiling all over my face.

Five reference points

  • Jack Endino recording Bleach (Kurt’s old amp was used for the entirety of Punching Cows; as was Jack himself)
  • Ramones’ first three albums channeling the Ronettes and Beach Boys
  • Sesame Street
  • The K tattoo on Kurt Cobain’s arm
  • One of those killer gay ramalama punk bands from the early 2000s

And…! Blam. Still wreathed in smiles. Still happy. Still thinking that maybe the world is a decent and fun place after all. Still up for it. “It’s OK to exclude me,” they sing. “All I’ll do is complain.” You’d be foolish to, however. The Vanilla Milkshakes grasp everything that makes (male) punk rock so invigorating – a little naivety here, a little amateurism there, some infectious energy right over there – and, blam! Still smiling, still happy.


“We just said suck it and went to Seattle and emptied our savings into making this all happen. Also, if you can find the cookie crumb trail, you too can get Jack Endino to mix or master your work. He’s cheaper than you’d think. :-)”

Damn, this is fun. ‘Green And Sober’ is my favourite, all those smart interlinking harmonies and chugging guitars. I’d sing it for you but why bother with that when you could hear the guys themselves sing it? Go check the Bandcamp and buy the record.

Such gushing fandom doesn’t usually work, incidentally – it usually takes you to a grey OK wanna-love-this-but-don’t place you’d rather not visit. For some reason, and I sure as fuck don’t know why, it totally works with Punching Cows.

Jack Endino is amazing! It’s coming out digitally April 1st! It’s gonna get lots of press too.
We all played on super expensive equipment too! (One guitar was $3,000 and the other was $80).
I recorded all the guitars on the amp Kurt Used on Bleach and most of Incesticide!!! AND with Calvin Johnson’s distortion pedal! 😃
We hope you like it.

I got home. I was tired, grumpy, just wanted to sleep. I played The Vanilla Milkshakes’ album instead. It made me very happy. Thank you.

10 Least Read Entries on How NOT To Write About Music (April 2019)


1 (-) How NOT to write about music – 47. Anna St. Louis
So. Anna St. Louis. I like this song. I like this performance. I do not know if she is one of my people but these days such a description is so limiting I do not worry about it. She has been compared to Kevin Morby, who sounds like a dreary Leonard Cohen to me. Anna St. Louis does not sound dreary to me.

2 (-) How NOT to write about music – 61. Peaness
Cherry-sweet, razor-sharp melodies. Nothing complicated, nothing fancy just cherry-sweet, razor-sharp melodies. A lineage that certainly takes in Buzzcocks, Pastels, all those wonderful female Seattle groups turn of the new millennia and wonderful female Continental groups some time in the late 1970s, occasionally showing off their chops when the melodies surge but never showy, just cherry-sweet, razor-sharp melodies.

3 (-) How NOT to write about music – 64. Mary Poppins Returns
I saw Mary Poppins Returns on Sunday 16th December, 10am for 11am, with my three children at a premiere in Leicester Square. I am able to look that date up. It was the morning after my mother died, and I didn’t tell the children till afterwards when we were just about to enter The Mall right by the ICA. It seems an odd place to tell them, but then what is a good place to tell someone? Isaac had been explaining (rightly) how mawkish he found one scene where the children explain loss to their dad, and I needed to tell him then. Mary Poppins Returns is not the best film to see when you’ve recently suffered a loss. A theme of bereavement and departure runs right through it.

4 (-) How NOT to write about music – 52. Dori Freeman
Here. Have some sweet melancholy to tide you over. Beautiful voice, beautiful arrangements. There is something a touch of Elvis Costello’s (slightly misguided) country album Almost Blue about this, but we do not hold this against Ms Freeman. Indeed we appreciate Ms Freeman all the more for it. Nostalgia, tinted with regret, tinted with warm melancholy, tinted with an appreciation for a job well done. Not too shabby. Slightly nasal. In a good way. She feels like she’d be someone it would be nice to share a few minutes with, have a few laughs with, move on after and catch a train back to Nowhere. The void. When the song finishes, there is a palpable feeling of loss.

5 (-) How NOT to write about music – 45. Noname
This makes me feel special, like Mr Rogers.

This makes me overcome my retrophobia for a few sweet minutes and makes me think that perhaps growing up wasn’t so bad, even with all the bullies and bigots crowding in.

This makes me think that perhaps I have always undervalued both jazz and funk exponents and that really there is nothing wrong with intricately layered sweetness.

6 (2) How NOT to write about music – 22. (reprinted from 2015)
I wanted to give something back. So I started writing about music, trying to convert everyone to my cause. Even early on – especially early on – I knew that was a futile quest, but that made it all the more fun. If I didn’t think I could change the world through my writing I wouldn’t be doing it, even now. Especially now. I want to communicate the emotion, the rampant emotions that lead me to dance. I want to make everyone else dance. I barely go out to concerts these days – perhaps one every couple of months – but that’s still the case. I still want to make everyone dance. I still want to change the world. These years, I’m whistling in a wind tunnel, pissing in the billowing ocean.

7 (1) How NOT to write about music – 2. Mango
By any interpretation you choose to take, Mango rock. It ain’t the kind of rock I sometimes throw your way, no denying – no heavy kick-ass metallic chundering guitars or chundering kick-ass heavy drums or that shit: but the words are enunciated and stretched out at volume with a velocity and fierceness that offsets the jazz-tinged funk with a pleasing counter. (See the way there I smartly separated the two genres?) I don’t really understand the quiet bits but I never really understand the quiet bits, although I do like the way they sound tentative, nervous, concerned they may be out of order.

8 (3) How NOT to write about music – 21: Robyn
Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn.

9 (-) How NOT to write about music – 41. The B-52s
This is so what I want to hear now. Music that bounces and prances. Music that struts and sidesteps and makes weird bird noises every few seconds. Music that’s funky and music that’s chunky. Music that does not make you feel like a flunky. You can taste the sweat, feel the pressure on your feet. You move cos you got to move. Ecstatically, clumsily, wonderfully alert and on edge. Nerves jangling, but at ease. Music that yowls, prowls and sideways scowls. Music with brass, music with class, music that knocks you straight on your ass. Infectious beats, strange rhythmical haircuts.

10 (-) How NOT to write about music – 50. Marshmello ft. Bastille
Then there is this. I don’t understand. I really don’t. How is this, on any level, good? Six million views, 360K likes.