ALBUM REVIEW: Craig Finn – ‘We all want the same things’


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The cover of Craig Finn’s third solo album shows the kickback from rain-soaked traffic ahead, the way ahead blurred and potentially treacherous: an overt metaphor for these times.

‘We all want the same things’ exhorts Craig Finn on his third solo outing. Today’s geo-political shenanigans, corporate chicanery and ringed-residential rapacity continually attempt to contradict this Utopian ideal, however, it’s got to start somewhere and somehow. That somewhere is here, the somehow is now.

Ex-Hold Steady head honcho Finn has always viewed everyday life through the everyman prism, from blue collar blues and white collar woes, high school overhangs to bar room hangovers, what to do when the party’s over and everyone’s gone ‘home’? Universal ups and downs that are never more prevalent than today.

Like clear reference point Bruce Springsteen these are homilies from the cradle to the grave, the downtown tales of the uptown folk (under the ever-watchful eyes of God who unsurprisingly features prominently here particularly on the sing-spoken and elegiac ‘God in Chicago’) and vice versa. You ‘know’ these people if not by name then definitely by character.

With an anthropologist’s forensic eye Minneapolitan Finn’s vignettes are imaginative reinterpretations, recreations, and extrapolations of experiences he undergone, stories and news he read, or gleaning from the experiences of others. It all amounts to a documentarian character analysis incorporating the minutiae of the daily grind, puncturing the myth-reality of the movies. So far so grim.

The truth is to the contrary beginning with the wah-wah Peter Framptonesque guitar of ‘Jester & June’, an upbeat and head-down affair of remembered memories and shared (unrealised) dreams (like a post-millennial John Cougar Mellencamp’s ‘Jack & Diane).

There’s a jaunty, wistful and autobiographical looking back in ‘Preludes’ a retrospective annotation of leaving home and venturing forth culminating in a return filled with uncertainty about your place in the world (‘they plaster my wounds and showed me a place to get sick’).

The metaphorical-legory ‘Birds trapped in the airport’ is an electro-builder augmented by Steady-partner Tad Kubler. Melancholia permeates Rescue Blues’ a choral cri de cœur from the perspective of ‘Janie’, another face in the crowd.

If you’ve previously found Finn’s lyrical sway and distinctive delivery too abrasive and earnest (I have) then this is the album to assuage your concerns on his most accessible release to date.

Literate and cerebral, this ten-track humanifesto sets out to unite and connect via collective soul-searching, deep rendering catharsis, within/without. It succeeds. Try it yourself, you are not alone.

LIVE: Moon Duo, Heaven


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London Charing Cross’s Heaven is the celestial venue for a night on the (rep)tiles, underground caverns loom beneath the arches, the catacombs exhibiting a triumvirate of spectral silhouettes on stage.

Psyche-o-geographers of the inner mind, travellers of the (experi)mental terrain, this tower of power trio delivered a (s)trident bunch of fives from new LP, Occult Architecture Vol. 1; a thumping knuckle sandwich to the façade of the low-vibrational energy vampires, the empathy-bereft submerged, the surreptitious secret hand shakers and movers, subterranean domesick crews that wreak havoc and misery from their exalted positions of twisted hierarchy. Out Demons out!

OA 1 delineates the hidden structures that exert esoteric control, the (un)seen architecture that influences mood and alters behaviour, the occult site/sights that hamper and impair our sub/unconscious selves.

The technicolour visuals feature pyramids (those top-down hierarchical control systems and bottom-up aspirational scales), obelisks and the all-seeing eye, that watching, prying, intruding orb of observation; malevolent, malicious and malignant. Beware CCTVoyeurism.

‘The Death Set’ kicks off proceedings, a Stooges-indebted fuzz-racket replete with syn-thetic sorcery that segues into the haunting electro-throbbing ‘Cold Fear’ a hypersonic tour de force in the vein of early Human League. No inter-track chit-chat is required as the clattering cacophonic ‘Creepin’ tramples in: motorik-disko par excellence.

The archive-dérive throws out the hypnoidal trance-dance of ‘I been gone’ and drone-zone glam-stomping ‘Free Action’ (off 2012’s Circles) and the narco-klepto ‘Thieves’ (from 2015’s Shadow of the Sun).

Symbology abounds in ‘Sevens’ (off forthcoming follow-up Occult.Architecture. Vol. 2) continuing the esoteric theme, the antidote to the misanthropic parasitic perverted is here. Initiate yourself.

Culminating in a rousing rendition of The Stooges ‘No Fun’ the circle is complete, the hex has been (re)cast. The fightback is on.

Evil lives: look around, dig the sound, get wise and open your eyes.

ALBUM REVIEW: Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers – Real Sharp


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NO, not THEM, those sock-cock-rock girth-mirthing Califunkers with the SAME song AGAIN and AGAIN. This superior ensemble occupied the post-hippy and pre-punk epoch and are chock full of pub-rocking beats.
Real Sharp: this two-disc anthology covers the whole breakneck rise and fall as within three years (1972 – 1975) and after over 400 gigs and three albums the group crashed and burned.

Group mainstays Martin Stone (ex 60s cultists The Action, Mighty Baby and Savoy Brown) and Phil Lithman were augmented by future Attraction Pete Thomas, (Nick Lowe also featuring on some tracks) managed by the mercurial Jake ‘Stiff’ Riviera and artwork by the legendary designer Barney Bubbles.

This is a band that signify the missing link between prog and punk/new wave taking in Americana-folk banjuelling (‘Goodbye Nashville (Hello Camden Town)), Southern American frazz-rock (the Allman Brothers-esque ‘Desert Island Woman’), fiddling Celt-blues (‘Fiddle Dee’ is akin to a mashing up of The Incredible Lindisfarne String Driven Thing Band) and motorin’ ragtime-rock (‘Friday Song’).

Two tracks (‘We get along’ and ‘Truck Driving Girl’) were recorded (in acrimonious circumstances) with Monkee Mike Nesmith.

This rewind of the mind reminds of a time when America was still ‘over there’, its place in British culture still part of the ‘fantasy realm’ of movies and music, its exoticness yet to be demystified by mass culture-overload and consumerist colonisation. A more innocent (yet no less aware) time when music and its practitioners acted as a portal to other worlds, cultures, sounds and scenes, interpreting and performing without the sense of pecuniary profit to be plundered from pilfering the past (c.f. Mumford & Sons).

This is fascinating document of an under sung group (the collection features a booklet with great recollections by bassist Paul Riley) and a hitherto underwritten period of British music. Turn to this ‘Page in history’.

INTERVIEW: Mark Elliott – ‘The Ministry of Pop’


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‘Stock, Aitken and Waterman’, the very mention sends shivers up the and down the spines of some, but, to many they represent a ‘golden age’ of pop. Epitomising a period when to think deeply about pop culture was the predominant language throughout the land at odds with today’s disposable ‘all-face no grace’ popsphere. Most importantly, humour lay at the heart of their work.

To commemorate and celebrate the trip’s output author Mark Elliott has written The Sound of a Bright Young Britain an extensive and exhaustive anatomisation of the ‘Hit Factory’, a history of pop being top, of underground sounds transported to the overground of primetime television and cultural discourse.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself, background etc?

Spent nearly 30 years working in magazines. Used to be MD of Time Out London and was publisher of Empire for a stretch. Worked on a number of magazines including ELLE, Red, The Face. Today, I publish magazines for tourists – Where, London Planner, IN London. I was originally a local newspaper and then magazine journalist and have always been a huge record collector. In the last few years, I been doing some freelance work for Record Collector, Long Live Vinyl and Universal Music.

I live in Greenwich, am married and proud dad to Battersea Dogs & Cats’ Home pug.

Why SAW? Why are they and the phenomenon worthy of such scrutiny?

Statistically, they are one of the UK’s biggest writers/producers. Their songs have lasted and their acts – Rick Astley, Kylie – continue to dominate pop music. Not everything they did was brilliant, but the same can be said for comparable outfits working at such a pace like Motown. As a young man, I loved these songs and play them to this day. It’s time to look at the bigger picture and there’s a wealth of their material that’s been overlooked. They were mavericks and experimental – that’s what makes them interesting.

SAW were unfairly maligned and are criminally likened to ‘Irritable Cowell Syndrome’s Sweatshopping Karaoke PLC’, whereas like Motown they took the sounds of the underground and clubland and took it to the masses.

The best pop subverts and repackages the underground and makes it palatable. Madonna is a good example of someone who does this brilliantly. The ability to reinvent and reinterpret is a skill. In their early years, SAW were on top of the dance scene and helped drive it.

The SAW sound veers between sounding dated and sounding contemporary; is that a sign that things haven’t really moved on in the audio-sonicverse?

I think that’s a sign of a classic song and production. People love these sounds – strong, emotive melody with a dance foundation.

Do you think the intervening years have allowed for a clearer reflection on the pop-ularity and cultural dominance/prominence of the charts, a shared cultural event every week (school)? That unifying moment has disappeared via the ubiquity of ‘now-tech and with it the loss of a pop-centre?

I think it would be hard for a production brand to dominate popular culture like this again. People are able to filter far easier now than they were in the 1980s. While DJ brands like Calvin Harris, Guetta etc are, for example, everywhere with a signature sound, no one has that sort of overwhelming exposure to single musical channels any longer.

The Guardian termed them “Schlock, Aimless and Waterdown” yet arguably would now herald its cultural relevance and all round ‘poptimism’. Do you think there’s a case of ‘yesterday’s dross is today’s kitschy cool’ to repackage and re-sell’?

I don’t particularly like reappraisal. The stuff I liked at 10, 13 and 20 is largely the stuff I like now. I enjoyed The Smiths, but less than I liked Sinitta, so I would champion both to the same degree today as I did in heated debates at my student union in 1987. I think the idea that you like something with hindsight suggests you probably weren’t being honest about it at the time. That’s true of individuals and the wider media.

Were you a fan at the time or do you now see them as worthy of higher appraisal?

No I loved them. I would buy everything they did whether I had heard it or not. The production credit on the record sleeve was good enough for me. I loved the early Divine and Hazell Dean releases without having any particular awareness of the producers but, by 1985 and Dead Or Alive, I was starting to make the connection.

How involved were SAW in the book?

I decided to work mainly with Mike Stock – the book is about their work and he was the songwriter. He was generous with his time, wrote the foreword and helped me check some of the detail.
Phil Harding and Ian Curnow the ‘Spector of the 80s’?

They had a pivotal role in the way many of the tracks sounded and have produced some excellent, although highly technical, testimonies of that time, but Mike created the recipes. It’s a shame there is still so much bad feeling between them all, but I understand why.

Artists like Divine and Dead or Alive were exuberant and extravagant transgressive artistes given teatime airtime.

Absolutely. It was a highly colourful and creative time – much more interesting than the acts in our charts today. It’s considered a golden age of pop music for a reason.

The roster included Kylie, Jason, Donna Summer, but also the ‘World’s First Rodent Superstar’ Roland Rat’s Living Legend?

Kylie has an amazing pop voice and has matured over the years into an enduring artist. I feel I grew up with her – my first visits to gay clubs at the dawn of the 1990s coincided with her getting more experimental too. She and Jason are about my age so Jason was someone I tried to physically emulate. I enjoyed Rick’s music a lot, but have always preferred female vocalists. Roland Rat had an odd relationship with SAW (read the book!) and, in truth, I didn’t much care for it, although as Pete told me, you can hear early Mel & Kim in some of this.

The importance of the music press, seemed to be a symbiotic relationship between SAW and Smash Hits, seeing the joie de vivre and superficiality in pop and also the ability mock it.

Barry McIlheney, who edited Smash Hits during some of SAW’s years of dominance, is a friend and a former boss of mine. He was able to share some useful insight and, absolutely, the tone that Smash Hits had in that time blended perfectly with the SAW acts. The way the magazine wrote about The Reynolds Girls, for example, builds brilliantly on their public profile.

Have you heard the Judas Priest SAW songs?

Only the clips online. Pete tells me they are lost from his archive. We’ll see …

(Sigue Sigue) Sputnik Aitken and Waterman, post-modern provocateurs meets the prevailing populists. A match made in heaven?

A great idea but, as Mike says in the book, creating a song with a band with a peverse perspective on what constitutes a melody probably wasn’t a match made in heaven.

Why do you think the magic ran out? Natural lifespan of phenomena?

I think the pace of work was too great and the business structure around the core SAW team started to get in the way. Both Mike and Pete managed to create new, highly successful projects after the split.

The artist Scott King has argued ‘I still think that pop music is potentially the highest form of art, even though – or perhaps because – most of it is utter rubbish’. What’s your take?

I’m fascinated by the blend of pop music that makes you feel something and the way it impacts on wider public awareness and culture. Getting that mix right is rare and usually doesn’t last for long. I don’t have time for anyone that rubbishes anything. Your reaction to something is always going to differ to someone else’s.

Why do you think most of the songs have endured?

Strong melodies.

Definitive SAW song? Act?

Donna Summer – ‘This Time I Know It’s For Real’
Probably Kylie, but I love the Wow-era Bananarama for their spirit, styling and fabulous songs

Would you agree that a SAW makes you nostalgic for simpler times or is that simply wistful thinking?

For me, personally, I was a young man and that naturally induces a sense of nostalgia. Glance back fondly, but make sure you’re as interested in what comes next. I think the era was actually a blend of terror and hardship alongside experimentation and positive energy. Again, that’s what makes it interesting in part.

Top 10 SAW tunes?

Now this is hard. Today, I’d say in no particular order:

Donna Summer _ ‘This Time I Know It’s For Real’
Kylie – ‘Better The Devil You Know’
Bananarama – ‘I Heard A Rumour’
Cliff Richard – ‘I Just Don’t Have The Heart’
Laura Branigan – ‘Shattered Glass’
Dead Or Alive – ‘Brand New Lover’
Mel & Kim – ‘That’s The Way It Is’
Rick Astley – ‘It Would Take A Strong Strong Man’
Hazell Dean – ‘Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go)’
Brother Beyond – ‘The Harder I Try’

ALBUM REVIEW: Moon Duo – Occult Architecture Vol.1


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Do you look when you see? What do you ‘see’?

Moon Duo, the Portland twosome (Wooden Shjips émigré Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada) consistently examine the Manichean, the Yin and Yang, staring down the two-faced Janus, seeking the good vs bad, observing black vs white; these binary dualities shaded in with colour and light that ease the passage from dusk into night and the seasonal gradations. On fourth long-player Occult Architecture Vol. 1 we are taken on another voyage on the Sea of Tran-quality.

Where pyramids and obelisks are overt (blatant) structures built on specific energy points (the better to siphon nature’s power and subvert), occult symbolic structures as hidden spectacle (latent) hijack our psychic space as a controlling, corralling, herding entity that sinisterly influences behaviour, mood and actions.

However, esoteric education reveals the hidden patterns, the sub-texts that enable the dismantling of pre-existing and non-questionable structural systems, providing clarity of the atavistic absorption of these invisible frameworks that shepherd humankind, allowing psychic freedom from the fugue of dystopiates that numb the questing mind. Once the shackles are loose, you will never ‘unsee’.

Lucifer, Moloch and their satanic disciples all get a kicking throughout starting with ‘The Death Set’. In the crosshairs are the war-mongers, the corrupt, the abrupt, the low vibrational architects of misery, the attendees of the clandestine committees, the scripted, the conscripted, the rehearsed, the perversed, the harbingers of gloom pocketing profits of doom, the obscene unseen whose own strings are pulled by malevolent, desolate ones, the carpetbaggers and market blaggers.

‘Cold Fear’s haunting hum entrances and hypnotises, a seductive delve into an alt-realm of chilly atomisation and separatism. An unvarnished synth-phony par excellence.

The motorik-rock of ‘Creepin’ is the sound of the fright-night demons that linger throughout the day-daze.

Ol’ Moloch’s popular this year (‘Cult of Moloch’ and also San-Fran-band The Molochs), the cabal of the death set worship at the altar of this child sacrificial deity, this song in the key of sacrifice with tribal beating and bible bleating. ‘Cross Town Fade’ is superlative orienteering of the mindscape.

The spooktacularly eerie and wailing ‘Will of the Devil’ could soundtrack Halloween XII: Carrie knows what The Exorcist did on Friday the 13th’s Chainsaw massacre; where evil lurks, Satan works. The closing ‘White Rose’ proffers hope through purity and spirituality, flower power virtues delivered in a blitzkrieg bouquet.

Reaction equals creation and in times of cosmic crisis and spiritual strife, supersonic avatars are needed to facilitate between the Gods and the mortals, these esoteric lunar-tics look like us, but, they don’t sound like us. They sound like THIS.

This profound sound shows a darker side of the Moon (Duo), a celestial escort through the time-space songtinuum. Activate your trip-chords to these rhymes of the seasons: open your ears, your mind will follow. Set your controls for the art of the sunset.

These lightbringers return later this year with Volume 2.

Raising Martha




This six-handed farcical Middle England ‘romp-com’ by David Spicer centres round the disinterred and disassembled skeleton of Martha ‘Mother’ Duffy. Her exhumation by animal rights (psycho)activists and comical bone dispersal leads to a series of (un)orchestrated calamitous events with territorial greed, weed and ultimately chicken feed in the mix. Hereditary, animal (‘the third emancipation: ‘slaves, women, frogs’) and human rights are all dissected in a familiar tale of familial feuding and fowl play.

Martha’s remains are dug up, reburied, then re-dug up by dogs; the bones are the clues, the trail followed by clownish Inspector Clout, a verbally dextrous Herculean Pierrot desperate for that big case who delivers the best lines: ‘civil liberties? We gave them up to protect them’ to bemoaning the state of ‘sandwiches today? Avocado, grape and rocket are just words between bread’ a dig at faddish vegetarianism, arguably how the meat industry wants it to be perceived.

Laird of this Toad Hall is Gerry, whose frog farming for vivisectionists acts as a smokescreen for his potent hybrid of cane toad gland-spittle marijuana which upon ingestion sees him receive numerous visitations from six-foot amphibians’ intent on cutting him open, repaying the barbarism.

In opposition with Gerry is financially strapped brother Roger, who eyes the prize/price of land so a psychological battle of wits ensues between them uncovering a mutual antipathy towards their exhumed Mother and revealing admissions of culpability.

At the heart of the grave-robbing is scheming Caro, granddaughter of Martha and the brains behind the plot to seize the land for a chicken farm, playing the bumbling ‘activists’ Jago (a.k.a. the less-radical sounding ‘Graham’) and Mark like a fiddle. This is expertly summarised when Roger threatens to boil the frogs, a metaphor for how often realisation comes too late (‘at boiling point’); oblivious to the obvious.

The cartoonish climax sees one character with all their eggs in one basket, the coup now a coop, all chickens coming home to roost, new income now poultry not paltry.

This is a sharp satire on meat abstention, recreational drug use and extremism, especially how the term is knowingly deployed as articulated by Clout: ‘when protest turns into terrorism it becomes police budgetary policy’; it’s how you frame the blame.

Mark Fisher



Reading (and only being able to endorse) all the obituaries, tributes and memories of Mark Fisher got me thinking about my own relationship with his ideas, prophecies, notions, arguments, all at once random and linked, disparate and dissonant, pointing out connectivity where ties seemed absurd, nothing was beyond critical dissembling/reassembling and destruction/reconstruction.

Scratch the surface then keep digging, nothing is ever as it seems, nothing is impenetrable, depth exists in anything and everything, make it what you want it to be. Who’s to say otherwise?

Like many others I discovered his K-Punk blog via Simon Reynolds’s Blissblog ( another important avenue for me for abstract thinking and a profound desire to constantly dig and probe) and always found it (in no particular order):

challenging, confronting, opaque, oblique, dense, enlightening, informative, provocative, educational, inspiring, conspiring, connected, disconnected, amusing, emotional, prescient, foreboding, interesting, arresting. And more.

As David Stubbs says

‘Mark’s own music journalism, which ventured further into the depths of theory and perception than I could ever hope to reach. I can’t be the only fellow writer who emerged from his essays feeling educated and energised but also like a bit of a banal lunk by comparison.’

For me reading Mark’s work most of the time left me feeling dazed and confused, in a state of shock that took ages to abide and even longer for his musings to be processed (if ever at all), but thinking about it deeply the past week I have concluded that it isn’t about understanding and being able to recite or repeat or regurgitate it is more that the actual digesting and absorption alters me on levels I never knew existed and in ways I will never fathom, feel it don’t fight it, always for the positive.

It is this positivity (in spite of his own struggles and the overall ‘state of things’) I will miss from his writing.

‘You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone’ seems apt.





How (do you think you) would you react, respond, replay, remember, re-enact and recover following the aftermath of a terrorist attack?

Stuart Slade’s incisive, immersive, intimate and intelligent play charts the lives of six victims affected in myriad ways (there are physical, emotional, psychological scars) following the shooting down of flight BU21. The event changes, shapes and alters their fate with the past and present colliding: circumstance, happenstance and chance all lead to entwined, conjoined lives that create a hitherto unheralded future.

Derived from the testimonies of real statements the play filters these via monologues to dialogue: the survivors’ support group network providing the thread and platform for the neuroses, patterns of behaviour, habits, idiosyncrasies, prejudices, motives and tellingly the li(v)es lived and conducted that come to the fore revealing more than they knew about themselves.

Memories are confronted, challenged, (mis)remembered and in one case fabricated: an accidental ‘hero’ whose desire to help snowballs into a world of fantasy and exploitation.

Masks and façades adopted eventually crumble and slip, some characters confront their existence and change and progress whilst others lapse back into narcissistic and mendacious behaviour. For some redemption awaits, for others (once a banker always a …) life repeats itself, business as usual. The six actors inhabit and exhibit these (universal) characters and their wrangled foibles with all their being, you ‘feel’ their grief and share their pain and dilemmas.

This is a forensic examination of the human condition provoking age old notions of identity, nationhood and belonging and how fear and paranoia can be manipulated.

Crucially it also addresses the pernicious role of the media and authorities who hijack, co-opt and corrupt testimonies for their nefarious means to effect further control of perception (mis)management (e.g brown face and backpack= terrorist = divide and conquer = job done) and to justify increased surveillance and illegal invasions.

My only (minor) gripes would be the reductive nature of the ‘xenophobic Northerner in an England shirt’ and that terrorism is far from a modern occurrence.

Postscript: Is the shot-down Flight BU21 an allegory for ‘Be you to one’ another, that despite/in spite of what(ever) happens, ‘be’ this?