Sixty for 60: 26. Wet Leg

The more refined among you may remember I started this series back in April, with the very noble intention of creating a birthday present for myself – 60 musical recommendations from online friends to mark the fact I had just turned 60 years of age. It come as no surprise to me that I find myself unable to stick to the brief – me, who used to turn around four album reviews in an hour for Melody Maker, and who once ran a series called “the one-minute review” on my Brisbane-based website Collapse Board, asking “Why spend longer writing than someone will spend reading your words?” Why indeed? (That series lost me at least one good friend. She objected to my dismissive language.)

So now we are several months on and not even halfway through. My 16-year-old son Isaac has a pro Spotify subscription; through it, he listens to the music of his choice (strange dark East European gothwave that to folk my age sounds uncannily like suburban UK music from the early 80s, and a smattering of Riot Grrrl) and music that is recommended to him by the algorithms. This is not weird to him; indeed, it is part of what he pays (or rather, I pay) his subscription for – recommendations. This was a function previously filled by music critics, of course – but when the gates are automated, there is no need for gatekeepers. When I was younger, a sure fire way to make me dislike a song was to recommend it with the following words, “I think you’ll really like this…” so heaven forbid I should go with those fucking algorithms but the past is a foreign country (as LP Hartley once wrote), they do things differently there.

Heaven forbid.

So this morning, trying to force myself to engage with the outside world and not just listen to a solid day of me singing at the piano (which is my standard musical fare), I finally succumbed. Every time I switch to YouTube to research another potential cover version or discover what Neil Kulkarni has been listening to, the video for Wet Leg’s ‘Chaise Lounge’ shows up at the top of my feed. I know nothing, NOTHING about Wet Leg except that the same fucking video keeps showing up in my repetitive Facebook feed… you know the one, the one where, no matter how many times you refresh the screen, the same impassioned diatribe from David Stubbs about some right-wing journalist you’ve never heard of shows up at the top of your feed. Yep, ‘Chaise Lounge’.

Not interested. Fuck off, corporate slave-bots.

Fuck off.

But I succumbed. I thought I’d give it a 10-second listen. Bugger it. Fuck it all to hell. I’ve played it three times already before breakfast, and want to discover more. No (he says, wrestling fiercely with his own sense of self-worth) I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR MORE. Bugger it all to hell. This is great. Deadpan and repetitive and obscure and smart and ticks all the boxes I love to have ticked in music: it builds and fades, it makes a big deal out of insignificant details, it reminds me of late 70s Ze Records, it has poise and fuck-you grace… goddamn it all.

Heaven forbid I should fall for this.

*Oh wait. I just did some 10-second research and have discovered that far from being some corporate-funded suck-ass rick kid duo from the Midwest of America, Wet Leg are from the Isle of Wight and are signed to Domino and this is their first and only video so far. Ah…. well, fucking cool! Great. I love the Isle of Wight – want to go there this summer with my kids again, see our great friend Bianca Kiddo Wheeler; and I have a real soft spot for Domino Recordings because of past shared history. They, the good guys.

Stella? Stella who?

Sixty for 60: 11. Azita

To celebrate my 60th birthday, I asked my social media friends to nominate a favourite song from 2021 – 60 to commemorate the fact I am 60.

Today, it’s the turn of the peerless Neil Kulkarni (Dave Callahan’s description of when he met me in the 1980s always comes to mind when I think of Neil, “he treats music like a bruised lover”). Neil did not recommend this song specifically to me, but I care not a snap for that. I am simply shocked that I was not aware of this artist before now. (Disclaimer: I may have been, but forgot.) The song under consideration is ‘If U Die’ by Azita. Neil shared this on Facebook three scant hours ago with the words, “Love the album this is from and love this video”. So I watched it still half-asleep, through eyelids heavy with the debris of smoke from the bonfire on the allotment the night before, and was totally taken in by the video. “Who is that dude with the greasy long hair and beard, like a 70s acid causality or bit-part member of Foo Fighters?” I thought to myself drowsily. “Man, that female guitarist rocks.”

Damn, I can be slow.

Pause.

Perhaps it was the context or the connection but… wait. Isn’t this precisely the sort of music I used to hate, too-clever math rock mixed in with improv jazz and weird time signatures and a stop-start thrown in right at the heart of the clamour just so we appreciate how “on it” the band are? Like I say, I was drowsy – but Neil sez and so I let the music play out, becoming more and more captured by its off-peak melody, its malodorous sway. Second play in, I found myself resenting the fact I have deliberately removed myself from most every press agent’s mailing list ever just cos I dislike clutter, cos I want to find out more more more about this intoxicating off-kilter sound, hear more more more of this intoxicating off-beam sound.

Pause.

Nobly, I have resisted the temptation to discover more. Research? Why bother when you can revel in the mystery, the imagination? To these ears, it recalls some fine 1981-vintage excursions into jazz, improv and post-prog that was taking place at London Musicians Collective. Ido not have the slightest idea who this artist (“band”) is, and am revelling in it. A perfect moment, alone.

How NOT to write about music – 150. Hayley Williams

hayley-williams-makeup

Apropos of nothing, I came across this great review of an old Paramore single by Neil Kulkarni:

Ugh, yak, do you know what’s fucking up rock music in a big big way at the moment? Drummers. Terrible drummers. Drummers that can do impressive, can do the macho thing, can LOOK like they’re rocking out, let their hair fly, throw their arms into all the right ‘classic rock’ shapes, but have not an ounce of feel or humanity to anything they do. It’s not even about replicating machines being the problem, it’s that drummers seem to exist in a bubble, happy with the patina of ‘rock’ they visibly and audibly throw out around themselves and their kit, seemingly unaware or uncaring about whether they’re in any way helping out the band they’re in or the song they’re singing. ‘Daydreaming’ is not a terrible song (think Eve’s Plum b-side) but you can almost picture the cock behind the kit being so proud of his tumbles and rolls it damn near makes you sick, and derails any sense of flow or groove the song could’ve had. As bold and powerful and freespirited and rocking as a Primark AC/DC t-shirt. I totally blame Dave Grohl for this bullshit.

Well, she’s shed the drummer…

I first heard this last week on the home of all great new music, the Radio One Breakfast Show with Greg James, and absolutely hated it. Heard it a few times. Softened through partial osmosis. Unexposed to the challenge of challenging new music, stung into appreciation by its points of difference with Calvin Harris (say) and Lewis ‘grey’ Capaldi, secretly enjoying its grace and persistence. Over-performed, but that’s what she does, isn’t it? Heard it again. Thrilled by casual recognition and the long spaces between the silences. Cheered by the way that each time you think it might have ended.

It

hasn’t.

Simmering satisfyingly like a good brew of generic Sainsbury’s tea matched to a £3 box of Maltesers. Obvious but in a non-obvious way. Playful and a little dark.

Yesterday while I was listening to a guest lecturer talk about Gorillaz’s third album, and IammiwhoamI, I discovered this:

Last week, Twitter exploded with screenshots comparing Williams’ videos with those of Jonna Lee. People began to accuse Williams and her team of blatant plagiarism and artistic theft. The visuals are very similar, from the cocoon theme to the white morph suits. Many believe that Lee was subtweeting Williams and calling attention to the issue in the tweet below.

Capture

Seems somewhat tenuous. Not least because it seems to be Williams’ change of pace seems to be partly inspired by the continued rise of Billie Eilish. (“Give in” = “duh”. Loud/soft, up close breathing. No shouts. No calls. Easy slippage through beats and percussion, slight raise of tempo, slight release – dark, foreshadowed.)

Google asks, “Does Billie Eilish like Nirvana?”

As someone else argued:

Capture1

Love all this though. Saves me from having to describe the music.

It

hasn’t.

How NOT to write about music – 124. Flowdan

FLOWDAN

Neil Kulkarni: Not that I can pay you but I’d love you to write about this before the year is out.

Me: Something I keep noticing about grime is that although the genre is still being treated as a New Thing by sections of the mainstream, many of the protagonists have been around for 10, 15 years now – so far back, we were writing about them in Plan B Magazine, giving them cover stories even. Case in point: Flowdan  This grime MC/producer was part of the righteous Roll Deep collective from 2005, has collaborated with The Bug, Wiley and Lethal Bizzle, and released his first solo album in 2009. I mean, whatever. Just an observation, but we sure as fuck weren’t calling it grime back then.

Imaginary Neil Kulkarni: (yawns)

Me: `————————————————–`

I mean, not sure why folk want me to write shit after all this time. Mostly, I have little or nothing to add to the conversation (surreal; I did not type the above line) and I sometimes suspect darker motives behind such requests – showing me up for the unmediated insecure driveling fraud that I am. Impostor Syndrome. When I am thrown outside my comfort zone I usually only make asinine comparisons or resort to pro music journo speak (i.e. reiterating and rewriting points noted by others) in an effort to mask the process. This video, for example. There is a point in it where I am indelibly reminded of Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (cut to a hotel room in Seattle where Jason Statham keeps repeating the phrase “they can’t do that, that’s bang out of order!” to me over and over, to which I can only wearily reply, “It’s already happened, mate”).

There is another bit that makes me think of Gravediggaz (cue interview):

“We grew up in hell,” Prince Rakeem says, “inside a big brick building with chambers in it. People on top of you, people on the side of you, people on bottom of you, there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide from all these surroundings. There’s no food inside your house, no A/C — it’s hot, it’s summer time — no money, welfare is the only source of income.

“We just saying, ‘Yo! We came out through the ovens of hell!'” the rapper explains. “We don’t worship Satan. We got wicked ideas, we got good ideas, mere’s a positive and negative side to everyone. That’s why we say, ‘Positive education/Activates constant elevation’. You take each letter from that, and you get PEACE. That’s what we’re about.”
Gravediggaz: Dead Dead Good (Everett True, Melody Maker, 17 September 1994)

But why keep reliving the past?

Imaginary Neil Kulkarni: forget it.

Me: I am only looking for points of commonality. Welcome to London. That’s how we function. Nobody don’t trust nobody round here. My world disintegrates into nothing, with a sudden sharp random BLAM – a cold burst – and continues, the violence mainly inside my head only manifesting itself in brief uncontrolled bursts that never become physical. Yet.

Life is cold. Life is chilling, children’s voices off and calling down a street you can never find, footsteps receding into the distance but one of these days you know they’re going to stop right outside your house. Sharp, like that glass slicing through your thumb. Resonant, like a disgusting meme. Cool, but cynical.

I.N.K.: --------------------------------------------------

Neil Kulkarni: Jerry Thackray my only point of disagreement here is the notion this is outside yr comfort zone. You’ve been writing about this kind of music for decades. Plus anyone struggling in modern England has a right to this record and a say cos it’s one of the few things this year to nail things so sharply x

How NOT to write about music – 60. Dave

Dave - Black

Apologies. This should have gone up a few weeks ago. My only excuse is that I was too gobsmacked at hearing this played on the… pause for emphasis… Radio One Breakfast Show. What can I say? Just listen to the man.

This is as great as The Last Poets. Serious. Can’t believe it has attracted criticism.

Right now, in the wake of the horrible news from Christchurch, it seems more relevant than ever.

As Neil Kulkarni puts it:

The horrible news from NZ almost makes me think there must be some kind of mainstream narrative going on about silent majority ‘native’ populations rising up and ‘taking back control’, coupled with a similarly omnipresent narrative about hostility to ‘outsiders’ and Muslims in general perpetuated by the media and stars like Trump, Farage and Robinson – the kind of incessant dehumanising hostility to ‘auslanders’ that might be seen as the perfect breeding-fodder for bedroom-borne warriors and deluded murderous fascists.

But then I remember, reassuringly , how often I’ve been told, mainly by lapsed lefties about how ‘Islamaphobia’ doesn’t actually exist. Silly me.

Look, black ain’t just a single fuckin’ colour, man there’s shades to it
Her hair’s straight and thick but mine’s got waves in it
Black is not divisive, they been lyin’ and I hate the shit
Black has never been a competition, we don’t make this shit
Black is deadly
Black is when you’re freezin’ in your home and you can’t get sleep but never feelin’ empty
‘Cause you got 20 cousins in your country living stress-free
Walkin’ for their water, daughter wrapped inside a bed sheet

This next track is so chilling, especially if you know a little of its context:

I’m sorry. I have no more words. Not today. There is a really good piece on the Dave album over here, if you want to discover more.

My heart so goes out to the Muslim community and their families and their friends, and to Christchurch, and New Zealand. And I’m filled with nothing but hatred and disgust for the right-wing extremists at platforms such as The Sun and The Daily Mail masquerading as ‘the mainstream’, radicalising an entire generation of pathetic cowards, and the money-hungry scum who help enable them, wielding almost unimaginable influence and power at social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter without a single moral or scruple between them. Donald Trump has been cited as a direct inspiration by the turd who carried out these latest murders. If that is the case then surely, surely Hate Speech should be a crime across the world, applicable to both the powerful and powerless.

Neil again:

There’s no putting the white-supremacist genie back in the bottle y’know. It’s further out than perhaps it’s ever been in our lifetimes, it’s enabled both passively & actively, and it’s only going to grow.

radicalise

And what makes me saddest right now is that not one person who reads this post will have changed their mind for doing so.