Category Archives: Essays

Great Underappreciated Songbook

In the autumn I saw Parquet Courts in concert. The adulation they received from their young fans got me thinking about underappreciated American rock bands. Allow me to elucidate—with reference to the works of The Walkmen, Dirty Projectors and more. Continue reading Great Underappreciated Songbook

Beats, rhymes, and the radical centre

The recent debate between David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors and Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes, on the state of indie rock, brought to the public’s eye an issue I’ve been grappling with for a little while. In an age of such discontent, even a radical moderate such as myself can find some solace in the sometimes-disproportionate anger of politically-conscious hip hop. Continue reading Beats, rhymes, and the radical centre

Kraftwerk’s crystal balls

The seminal German outfit had arguably been following their own advice for much of their career: “I programme my home computer, Beam myself into the future”. On two rather prescient albums, they considered what effect technology and innovation would have on society, with conclusions that are relevant today.

Continue reading Kraftwerk’s crystal balls

Emergency!

Tuning into Beats 1 one Sunday, a little early for a rerun of a Time Crisis episode (thanks for the memories, Ezra), I caught the frontman of Panic At The Disco on “Gratitude”, closing out the show with Weezer’s one undisputed—if atypical—masterpiece, “Only In Dreams”. I listen to very little music resembling Weezer’s œuvre. But that song always gets me, with its hellhole-outsider perspective on modern romance. Continue reading Emergency!

Tuff nuts

Popular culture is overwhelmed with humourless, oversaturated electronic music that sounds like sucking a lemon, or perhaps eating bitter gourd. Extreme darkness can be combined with surprising good humour—a little like the tone in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children Of Men—and ugliness doesn’t have to sound sloppy. Continue reading Tuff nuts

The Jazz phase

Don’t ask questions, but I’m having a jazz moment.

As has been discussed elsewhere, I have a proclivity towards getting emotional when watching films on planes. Perhaps it’s the difference in air-pressure, or the single-serving capsular nature of flying. Some years ago, on a flight out of Dubai, the triple-whammy of The Wrestler, Changeling, and Gran Torino left me overwhelmed, hollowed-out, a remnant of a shell of a human being. Continue reading The Jazz phase

Slow down, dilettante

“You’re like a party, I heard through the wall.” — St. Vincent, 2011.

There is a fraying thread that separates true assimilation of an alien culture and mere appropriation of it.

Is tourism, or even tourism of the mind, a suitable fertiliser for the act of cross-breeding with forms of art outside one’s direct experience?

What, subconsciously, got me thinking about this was Fatima Al-Qadiri’s 2014 album Asiatisch, on which she uses her mind’s eye’s vision of China, coupled with the sensory overload actual images of the country have provided, to unwittingly alight upon the sound of sinogrime. But a deeper exploration of her unsettling art will have to wait for another day. Instead, I turn to three British releases of varying vintage. Continue reading Slow down, dilettante

The cruel wisdom of Steve Albini

The premise of Gorillaz, André 3000 and James Murphy’s 2012 collaboration, “DoYaThing“, was based on a thirty-second encounter Damon Albarn had with Brian Eno. Somehow, this is stretched to fill a thirteen-minute wig-out in which André 3000 repeatedly yells, “I’m the shit!” in tones alternating between satisfaction, hyperactivity, frustration, and incredulity. The encounter in question (Albarn asked Eno, “How’s it going Brian?”; the professorial Eno replied, “Everything I’m working on is coming out great,” with a surprising amount of hubris and breeziness) is a stand-in for the wider social trends of self-publicising, self-aggrandising, and under-thinking. Continue reading The cruel wisdom of Steve Albini

Living with Black Orpheus

Arcade Fire didn’t really used to sound like any other band. But 2010’s The Suburbs set them off on a journey of mainstreaming which Reflektor, their fourth album, refashions into a sprawling quest to pay homage to their influences whilst hinting at bigger truths. Like The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin before it, Reflektor is a concept-album about not having a concept. Continue reading Living with Black Orpheus