Home Again – Michael Kiwanuka: Round 110, Steve’s choice

kiwanukaIt was almost a year since we last met, although I was not present that night, back then in 2019. So much has happened recently; Nick’s son’s cancer diagnosis (see last post) and now also the threat of COVID-19. Given the timings of the meeting, mid pandemic and lockdown in the UK, we met electronically. Having grappled the tech, we agreed that a possible theme may be music that spoke of the ‘sign of the times’. I picked this album simply because one of the tracks, ‘I’m Getting Ready’, had made me cry while leaving the pharmacy on the night that Boris Johnson had announced that we were closing pubs, restaurants, and curbing a large number of freedoms that we take for granted. Not that I am advocating that we don’t adhere to these new restrictions. I was more driven to tears because  we had now reached a point in history, within my lifetime, within the early lifetime of my children, where we can’t say with certainty what is going to happen in the world. Nor can we say what the world will look like in the future, certainly not the same as it was before this crisis, and certainly never the same again. What I can say, and what I did say to one of my kids was that I’ve never had to live through anything like this before. I didn’t have to face this as a child. With all these fears, mainly for them, running round my head and revolving into a maelstrom of doubt these words came through the loudspeakers in my car:

“Oh my
I didn’t know how hard it would be
Oh my
I didn’t know how hard it would be

But if I hold on tight, is it true?
Would You take care of all that I do?

Oh Lord, I’m getting ready to believe”

At that moment, coming out of the pharmacy, getting in my car, and hearing a song of hope “Then we’ll be waving hands singing freely. Singing standing tall it’s now coming easy” juxtaposed with the lines “I didn’t know how hard it would be” just broke me. Can we really get ready now to believe? It’s the hope that kills you after all isn’t it?

Michael Kiwanuka, was born and raised in Muswell Hill in London, and is the son of Ugandan parents. He appears, on his debut (released in 2012), to have drawn in influences from the British folk scene (Nick Drake, John Martyn) as well as the often cited Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack, Marvin Gaye etc. While his most recent release – last year’s Kiwanuka – draws on themes of Pan-Africanism, there is a distinctly, almost pastoral ‘folksy’ feeling to this album. It is not lyrically sophisticated, but in these times of trouble I feel platitudes and simple sentiments have a strong role to play. Musically, combined with incredible guitar playing, this album is definitely more sophisticated than one might initially think – at least that’s what I think reviewers failed to see when this album was first released (tepid reviews to say the least). But albums can grow in stature, and become more apposite as time goes by.

The album begins with “Tell Me a Tale”. It’s all too easy to reference songs against something horrific happening in your life. I can only remember all too vividly how every song spoke to my heartache when I was going through separation and divorce nearly 20 years ago. Now, with COVID-19, everything, even this review, is referenced against the unfolding crisis. It’s hard to turn a corner and not be faced with it. Although tragedy has not yet hit my nearest and dearest I feel like I’m awaking under a sword of Damocles. Only in my dreams am I released….

“Show me some strength that I can use
Give me a sound that I won’t refuse
Tell me a story that I can read
Tell me a story that I can believe.”

Need I (or he) say more? What to believe in the present post-truth times? Has Coronavirus forced truth, or does it just expose the lies of the world we live in? I am beginning to reach my limit, physically and mentally, to the volume of information and statistics that we are being constantly bombarded with. I long for stories that take me away from all of this, for something I can truly believe in to give me strength to cope with what is happening. So, Michael sings well within my experience right now. Perhaps it is that simplicity of the lyrics that manages to form a panacea of experience around my heart. Comforting me in times of trouble.

We only played half the album, but the stand-out track is the title track “Home Again”. Here Kiwanuka is stripped back, mainly just him and a guitar. If we have to deal with the present, we have to look to the past

“So I close my eyes
Look behind
Moving on, moving on”

Coping with life is never easy, especially if you’ve had to deal with major difficulties. I never really write about my son’s autism, mainly because I find it too hard to do that. Even to talk about it is sometimes difficult, but suffice to say that it has knocked our family for six. It’s part of our lives right now, but you can’t help wanting to look behind, turn back the clock on his life – to give him a better chance. Yet my wife and I know that all we can do is affect the future in the present time by helping him deal with the world and how it presents itself to him. In other words to move on. What is so unsettling about the coronavirus is that we seem so powerless, even for those in power, to stop its spread, to prevent the suffering in the present time. Even in the moment of our lives all we can do is sit and wait for it all to unfold….

The last track we played on the album was “Bones”, which has all the hallmarks of a 1950s/60s black spiritual. When I first heard it conjured images of New Orleans for me. As a frequent professional visitor to the ‘Big Easy’ I am deeply saddened to hear that the very highest rates of infection are now being reported from there. That city has had its fair share of suffering. The massacre of 1866 of black republicans by white democrats, the depression, Hurricane Katrina… yet, out of all of that suffering comes great hope. If you go there you sense it, hear it in the music and the lived in faces of its residents. Funerals begin solemnly marching down the street, but end with joyful processions being led by the chorus “Oh when the Saints, go marching in”. Often from the point of most oppression, from the place of most suffering, can come the songs of greatest hope. We need spirituals, Gospels, folk, common musical languages of love and hope right now in this crisis. What doesn’t divide us joins us together in harmony. This album goes some way to do that with a simple warmth expressed in deep humanity.

Hookworms – Microshift: Round 109, Nick’s choice

First record club in ages! At my house! Had some family stuff going on. More on that later.

Trigger warning: Michael Jackson and all that entails, plus men being fucking horrible in other ways.

The recent Michael Jackson documentary was gross. When I was eight I wanted to be one of those kids that went on tour and starred in weird crappy sci-fi films with him. I taught myself to moonwalk (poorly), and “Bad” was the first 7” single I ever owned. I remember writing a story at primary school and wanting something fantabulous to occur, and the wildest thing I could think of was Michael Jackson turning up. The documentary made me feel like I was basically a talent competition away from being molested. From the first allegations in 93 I pretty much always assumed he’d been… up to no good, as it were, but I’m now thoroughly convinced that he wasn’t up to no good accidentally, because he’d had a crazy, sad, fucked-up childhood, but that actually he was a deliberate, organised, hiding-in-plain-sight paedophile, literally turning his house into an amusement park in order to attract young boys so he could rape them, and that the crazy, sad, fucked-up childhood defence is simply not enough, because there is no justification. Someone told me to look at the cover art of Dangerous again, and I did. Holy shit.

Anyway, with that documentary ringing in my ears, I invoked the theme ”What do we do with the art of monstrous men?” and pondered whether or not I could bring myself to play Off The Wall or Thriller.

I couldn’t.

So I played Microshift instead.

Let’s be clear and upfront: I am not comparing MJ to Michael Jackson here. Although those initials are unfortunate.

We love(d) Hookworms – Rob played their debut album ages ago and I think we all went out and bought it. I thought we’d played their second record at DRC too, but I can’t find a piece about it, so maybe I imagined that. When “Negative Space” first found its way onto 6music in late 2017 I was on tenterhooks for Microshift, because it seemed as if they’d gone down the exact path I would have chosen for them to go down. I was as excited for a new record release as I had been in… probably years. Genuinely. I felt like a teenage boy. I wanted to go on a pilgrimage to buy it.

I bought the record on the Friday it came out in early February 2018, the same day as Field Music’s latest album, which I also bought. Oddly enough, I am vaguely connected to both bands via social media, as many people are these days; Field Music via David Brewis on Facebook, where we talk about our kids, as they are similar ages. I think we made friends online after I wrote about them here, actually. With Hookworms it was following MJ on Instagram; he followed me back, and we occasionally conversed about stuff, as you do. He seemed like a decent guy; his heart in the right place, and constantly, vociferously fighting the good fight, especially in the wake of #metoo.

I expected to connect more with the Field Music record, as I knew it was largely about having kids, and how they both ruin(!) and enrich your life. My son was born the Monday after both records came out, so it seemed ludicrously pertinent and timely. But actually it was the Hookworms record that caught me; it may have been about dementia, mental health issues, loneliness, lost love, insecurity, and other such fun, positive stuff, but it dealt with those issues with such sensitivity and insight, and, most importantly, such rich, exploratory, exciting, detailed music, that it offered a level of escapism that I needed in those early weeks of suddenly having two kids. I listened to it pretty much obsessively; my walk to work (two days a week when not driving my daughter to nursery first) is about 45 minutes long, and Microshift fitted it perfectly. It found joy at sadness, and sadness at joy, and it made me feel wonderful to listen to it.

I was as in love with it as I have been with any new record in my adult life. I heard echoes of old favourites (Spacemen 3, New Order, krautrock), and new ones (Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith). I adored the move from guitars-upfront to electronics-upfront. I loved the sound, the layering. I loved the melodies, the structures, and the spacing. It felt like a massive step up from before, in terms of songwriting, production, and confidence. A band moving up to the next level. The reviews seemed to concur.

And then in July my baby son was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer affecting his immune system, and our family life collapsed into some kind of still-unfinished living hell. What had been a difficult first few months with two kids became something else entirely. Time for music evaporated. I watched a lot of crappy brainless action films in the evenings when I was alone, my daughter asleep upstairs and my wife and son in hospital. I listened to What’s Goin’ On once on the M5 alone on the way to the children’s hospital and cried a lot. I followed it with Bridge Over Troubled Water and “Save The Life Of My Child”. I lost touch with Microshift a little, and with a lot of things.

And then in October Hookworms suddenly announced that they had split up because MJ – singer, keyboardist, producer, leader of the band – had been accused of sexual and emotional abuse by a former girlfriend. MJ, who had constantly and repeatedly said “believe victims”. MJ, who had repeatedly hung men accused of impropriety out to dry on social media. His band dropped him like a stone within an instant of the allegations, split, and gave up their promising musical future.

The accusation came in during the worst part of our cancer fight; my son had done two rounds of chemotherapy which hadn’t had the desired affect, and we were in limbo, awaiting news as to whether he’d be allowed to try an experimental new treatment (he was, and it continues to go very well indeed). I was past the first whirlwind of the situation, where sheer momentum and having to basically single-parent my three-year-old daughter, while trying to support my wife (who was in and out of hospital constantly with our still-a-baby son) had carried me through, and I was negotiating a phased return to work. It was, it’s fair to say, about the worst time of my life, and this thing, this beautiful, expressive record, that I had found immense sanctuary in months before, and which I was looking forward to finding even more sanctuary in when I eventually had more time to pay attention to anything but basic survival, was suddenly… I don’t know. Shit upon? Sullied? Tainted? Even if only by suggestion, association, allegation. I had no time or capacity to investigate the allegations against MJ, no ability to try and form an opinion. I didn’t know whether to believe the accuser (always believe victims) or to believe MJ’s statement. Relationships are complex – after the last nine months I know that better than I ever did before, as my marriage has bent, creaked, and been misshapen under immense, indescribable pressure – and things are never simply one thing or another. But always believe victims. MJ said so himself.

So yes, Michael Jackson had an impossible, disgusting, insane childhood, and we should sympathise with him for that. Yes, he made some almost mind-bendingly astounding music that brought millions upon millions of people intense joy. But he also (allegedly) fucked little boys and ruined their lives and destroyed their families. I can hold all three of those thoughts in my head at once. I played “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” in our kitchen the day after the documentary finished and I still enjoyed it. And my kids danced to it, because it is that good that even the first time you hear it you can’t help but dance. But I don’t know whether I’ll ever deliberately put it, or anything else by Michael Jackson, on again. I thought about Roland Barthes, and the birth of the reader and the death of the author. Can the author kill the art? Can the author kill (metaphorically) the reader?

I’ve not listened to Swans in a long time. I’ve listened to The Beatles a lot lately, often with my daughter. Let’s not forget John was a wanker. I’ve listened to Bowie, who did many questionable things as a young man. No Led Zeppelin. A bit of Miles Davis. I remember a glam rock box set being released several years ago and containing no Glitter Band, which is understandable but is also rewriting history in a way that makes my head hurt, because they were undeniably important to that scene. I’ve seen people in bands behave in ways I would not behave first hand. As a young and insecure man I have behaved in ways I would not now behave. I am reasonably sure that you could find hundreds (thousands, probably) of people who have done awful things in our record collection, our book collection, our film collection. As I’m writing these final sentences I’ve put Microshift on. “I still hear you every time I’m down / in a negative space / I can’t believe it.”

To quote Claire Dederer, they are (some of them) monster geniuses, and I don’t know what to do about them.

Robert Wyatt – Nothing Can Stop Us: Round 108 – Steve’s Choice

My choice this week is in a compilation album. Whether that break the rules of Record Club or not I don’t know. Rules are not something that Mr Wyatt would pay much attention to. I see Robert as as the alternative to the alternative, having no frame of reference nor yardstick against which he can be measured. From his very first solo outing ‘ The End of An Ear’ he has sought to define his own train of thought. Even here, as he interprets a range of different covers of well-known artists, he does it in a way that is uncharacteristic even of himself, and yet with deference to the originals.

Until recently I only owned two Wyatt albums – ‘Ruth is Stranger Than Richard’ and ‘Rock Bottom’ – both of which I love dearly. I also have a connection to the artist (standing joke in DRC) in that I’m a good friend and former work colleague of his nephew. Recently his nephew posted some pictures of a family wedding on social media, and sure enough there was a picture of Uncle Robert. He had a flowing white beard, looking wizard-like with eyes glowing bright as one with far too much creativity and light to be human. Statuesque. Still. It is perhaps this stillness and unique style that has, down the years, made Robert Wyatt stand out as a lighthouse of British talent. Home grown eclecticism at its best. At least that’s how I see it. Other’s in our group may beg to differ.

‘Nothing Can Stop Us’ compiles covers and reworkings of recordings made (B-sides and others) from the 1970s and early 80s. The only original and new recording is the first track ‘Born Again Cretin’ which, with it’s characteristic Wyatt vocal warbles and baby-like ‘goo-goo’ sounds announces he’s back after almost a 10 year hiatus (released in 1982 this was the first recording since 1975) into a new world. Punk has almost dispatched itself. Disco done and Wyatt is here to sing to the world at a time when the UK was once again sadly aiming to recreate its imperialist past. This album spawned the single ‘Shipbuilding’, an anti-Falklands war song, lamenting the decline of the shipbuilding industry and the boys instead fighting an unjust war. This song does not feature on the album, but another Ivor Cutler number ‘Grass’ (originally ‘Go Sit Upon the Grass’ and recorded in 1975). It’s a slightly disturbing song, and Wyatt manages to capture the sublime violence beautifully

“Go and sit upon the grass
And I shall come and sit beside you
Go and sit upon the grass
And I shall come and sit beside you

And do not mind if I thump you when I’m talking to you
Do not mind if I thump you when I’m talking to you
I’ve something important to say

Other more mainstream covers are well-executed. Chic’s ‘At Last I am Free’ reveals the pathos of Nile Rogers’ original, giving it an almost reinvigorated political edge. The line “I can hardly see in front of me” evokes blinding tears of joy. Maybe because this track follows ‘Born Again Cretin’, which echoes the heartless views of apartheid South Africa, and the Thatcherite UK government’s stance on Mandela

“So let Mandela rot in prison
Someone should tell him how lucky he is

that we may even imagine the leader himself being released from chains, blinking through his tears into the light? In 1982 this was a bold and brave album indeed. On ‘Strange Fruit’ his tender vocal and gentle piano pay homage to the Billie Holliday original, but in a way that still capture the haunting images of black people hanging in the summer trees. Unnerving and yet altogether a reminder of terrible times and continued racial prejudice.

Other fights for freedom are raised to the podium. ‘Caimanera/Guantanamera’ is a Cuban song of independence – with Caimanera’s proximity to Guantanamo Bay we can all sing along to this one. My kids do! ‘Stalin wasn’t Stallin’ is a great Horrible Histories-esque folk compaction of 20th Century conflict

“Stalin wasn’t stallin’
When he told the beast of Berlin
That they’d never rest contented
Till they had driven him from the land
So he called the Yanks and English
And proceeded to extinguish
The Führer and its vermin
This is how it all began

Wyatt, so generous that he is, even allows the use of his vinyl space to give a song over to another other artists, without his contribution. At the end of the album we are treated to a rendition of ‘Trade Union’ originally penned by Abdus Salique, and sung here in traditional Bangladeshi style. The song is a call to arms for Bangladeshi workers who were suffering appalling treatment in East London factories in the late 1970s. Wyatt is not averse to the causes of his day, and his rendition of ‘ Red Flag’ is not, as some have assumed, an allegiance to the Labour Party, but true to the original a socialist call for unity that has been sung by Irish workers, South African miners and oppressed radical working classes since the 19th century.

So, in these febrile times, when the ruling classes seek to divide and conquer, raise your first, stand firm and still. This album is a true iron fist in a velvet glove, true in its word today as it was then. Aye comrade.

Maisha– There is a Place: Round 107 – Steve’s Choice

It’s a hard task to choose an album of the year when, if like me, you tend to associate certain albums with different seasons. Playing something that reminds me of zipping along country lanes in the long hot summer we had (such as Rolling Blackouts, Snail Mail…) hardly seems congruous with a damp cold foggy night in the weeks running up to Christmas. So, I chose some jazz. But not any old jazz. This is the debut outing by Maisha, a six piece jazz collective helped initially by the very influential organisation Tomorrow’s Warrior’s and their founders Janine Irons and Gary Crosby. Now only a few weeks before I came to DRC on that cold foggy night I was with both these good people at the 70th Anniversary of the formation of the University of the West Indies in London. Talking to them I learned about their incredible influence on an emerging new jazz scene from London, including other new talents that have blossomed this year, such as Ezra Collective (I will bring their new LP along soon).

It’s hard to write a review of a jazz record without sounding pretentious or inviting sneers of derision aimed at comparing you to the character in the Fast Show (‘nice’). I’ve liked jazz most of my adult life, but it’s always been more attuned to the traditional sounds of Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Just recently I ventured out to more experimental lands via The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s ‘Les Stances a Sophie’ and some of Robert Wyatt’s more eclectic recordings (such as his debut solo ‘End of an Ear’). After Maisha I’ll not look back, or more probably I will, to seek out its roots and influences. For theirs is a tradition of its own, but splitting into many roads and narrow lanes of various genres.

The album itself is beautiful. As the cover photo suggests a paradise, so the music journeys into a rich orchestral landscape (see I can do pretentious….). The incredible depth of sound that emanates from just six players is astonishing, drawing in hip-hop, afrobeat and funk. Members of the DRC, with more musical knowledge than I, found it hard to place in time. The frenetic lead single ‘Osiris’ opens the album. More symphonic saxophony of ‘Eaglehurst/The Place’ and ethereal piano-musings of closer ‘There Is A Place’ suggest a more contemplative mood. Overall the album has a richness of jazz folk (those of you who know Stewart Lee well can snigger now). Reworked jazz standards played with a distinctively urban and current sound. See it is possible to combine the two, and Maisha pay homage to their roots, but not too much deference to overshadow their craft.

Rob lent me Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey in Satchidananda’ as a consequence of my choice for the night. Her album combined jazz with her interest in Hinduism – she became a disciple of the guru Satchidananda Saraswati. This intersection was apposite since my other track for the night was Poly Styrene’s ‘Code Pink Dub’ from her final album Generation Indigo – she became a Hare Krishna devotee for much of her later adult life. In a time when the idea of cultural appropriation is questioned we do well to remember that with respect (and respect is critical) this is how new forms of music develop. Styrene moved to dub reggae roots on her album, but on her earlier solo album she incorporated folk influences. Maisha continue this approach, drawing in influences that surely reflect the multiculturalism of London. So a jazz-folk genre is born.

Tomorrow’s Warrior’s vision is

We believe in a world where opportunities for participation, ownership and leadership in music and the arts are available to all.

Now, who could argue with that as a positive call for respectful appropriation and mixing of styles. Long may they be supported in this venture.

Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog: Round 107 – Tom’s Choice

Given that we haven’t met for almost a year (and it’s early December), this felt like a ‘best of 2018’ evening in all but name. Out of the half dozen or so records I have purchased from this year (a ridiculously small sample size admittedly), I have had to concede to myself that Hop Along’s Bark Your Head Off Dog is my favourite.

I will admit that ‘have had to concede’ is a funny way of putting it but it’s how I felt as I went through the process of selection and found this coming out on top. Whilst I could have taken Low’s radical sounding Double Negative or Rolling Blackout’s motorik janglefest Hope Downs, or Georgia Anne Muldrow’s eclectic and soulful Overload, in the end the indiest choice won out and, as such, it felt almost like a guilty pleasure, the musical landscapes traversed on Bark Your Head Off, Dog being familiar territory for anyone who would have been taking their bowl haircut and misshapen jumper to the indie disco in the early to mid 90s (as I regularly did). In the end though this album was undeniable, the strength of the songwriting, the conviction of the performances and originality of the lyrics placing it, in my mind, in with a shout for the ‘best of the decade’ accolade that we will no doubt be wrestling with in 12 months time.

My first listen to BYHO,D was an underwhelming experience, as is so often the case when I first hear a future favourite; hooks being buried so deep within the writhing twists and turns of each of the song’s amazingly complex structures that on first listen they almost passed me by completely. However, I had already checked out Not Abel before buying the record and the fact that initially this sounded like the best of the bunch was perhaps an indicator of what was to come.

Sure enough, over the course of many listens over the balmy summer months of 2018, gradually each of the nine cuts on the album began to fall into place, so that eventually even the funereal How You Got Your Limp and its B-side sister, the ridiculously all over the place The Look Of Love (most definitely NOT an ABC cover) made sense, to such an extent that it was impossible to recall what was causing the problem in the first place.

And, strangely, once I had reached that point of understanding, Bark Your Head Off, Dog did the opposite of what so often happens and kept returning to my turntable. Why? Well, I don’t really know as I am always confused about how I choose the music I play but I imagine it’s a combination of the nostalgic qualities of the sound of the record, the multifarious qualities to Francis Quinlan’s voice (sometimes shrill, often sweet, occasionally raspy), the incredible drum and guitar work…and those lyrics, which are some of the most intriguing words put to song I have heard in a long, long while. Try these from Not Abel for starters:

The whole town lined up outside the tent
What those kids thought they saw
Do you really want to remember this?
Today, think of all the alien shots in the dark
That at one time, all at once, coexisted
I mean aside from all the burning
Hurry by the shanties beside the road
Sunset on a cart
Pulled home by a white horse
Conscience of the husband was righteous and coarse
There must be a limit
If we only circle around
There’s no hurry in reaching it
No idea what’s she’s going on about with these lyrics but, crucially, I want to work them out; for me, there is a sense of a greater meaning here, but I will need to sit down with the lyric sheet and have a really good think before I stand much of a chance deciphering the code! For a record to provoke such an investment of effort from me has to be pretty special and, despite not really breaking any new ground, Bark Your Head Off, Dog does everything so well that, as far as I am concerned, there was only ever really one choice for my AOTY.

Danny Brown – ‘Atrocity Exhibition’: Round 102 – Rob’s choice

WRP276LP_1024x1024I don’t follow hip-hop closely. In fact, so intermittent is our relationship that I’m pausing now to check whether I’m sure hip-hop is still the preferred tag. I love it, but we just don’t see each other very often. (Come to think of it, I don’t follow any music closely, do I?).

One of the plus points of this infrequent contact arrangement is that when we do see each other, maybe once or twice a year, the music has almost always changed, mutated and spun off in some unpredictable direction. Add to this that when you’re dipping in, then you tend to go first for the most acclaimed artists and records, hopefully a short-cut to the cream of the crop, and it all adds up to me having my socks blown off most times I actually sit down with hip-hop albums.

This, and a fulsome appreciation, grown steadily over the 30 years since I first heard ‘Rebel Without A Pause’, for hip-hop’s sense of sonic adventure, the detail, the ambition and the sheer amount of work and that goes into producing a record as dense and packed as most of these albums puts almost all other musicians to shame.

In 2015, having been wowed by both ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ and Vince Staples’ exceptional ‘Summertime ’06’ I considered making 2016 a hip-hop only year. I didn’t last too long but in the midst of exposure to Future and Young Thug, the glorious return of A Tribe Called Quest and a joyful mixtape from Chance The Rapper, the record that stood out, that pounced from the pack and got its steel hooks into me, was Danny Brown’s thrilling, disorienting ‘Atrocity Exhibition’.

From the opening ‘Downward Spiral’ this is a different proposition from any album you’ve heard before. A warping guitar chord is crudely overridden by Brown’s unhinged Wile E Coyote psycho-babble. “I’m sweating like I’m in a rave/ Been in this room for three days/ Think I’m hearing voices/ Paranoid and think I’m seeing ghost-es/ Oh shit”. The guitars bend and bow around him, the voice grating like an ice cold fever. The tone is set for a descent down one man’s personal brain drain.

The second track, ”Tell Me What I Don’t Know’ is more straightforward but no less stretching, the verite tale of kids dropping out of school to sell drugs, and the death and destruction that follow. This counterpoint to the opener, and the space that opens up between them, offers a potent expression of the function of contemporary hip hop. Here is an artist seeing a nightmarish real world as a trap from which the only viable escape is into psychedelic hyper-reality, via drugs and sex and into an imagination rotten with wormholes.

As if the paranoia, dislocation, drained cold possibilities aren’t explicit enough, then Brown also begins to makes good on the album title by drawing out clinical descriptions of debauchery that would have JG Ballard nodding in admiration whilst referencing Joy Division, who had their own ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ in more than one place. “This is the way N****, step inside” he snaps and shoves on ‘Golddust’, whilst ‘Rolling Stone’ rocks and shivers to a bassline that could have been lifted straight from a Martin Hannett production.

The soundscapes elsewhere are just as stunned and stunning, from the contrapuntal hammering of ‘Pneumonia’ to the pounding of ‘Aint It Funny’, hitting you like stepping through a street door into a club, and immediately realising you’ve made a big mistake.

The album, although not long, is way too dense and detailed to take in on one pass. It’s smothering, stunning, dislocating and intoxicating in all the right ways, and takes you to places that you are unlikely to have been before.

Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda – ‘World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda’: Round 106 – Rob’s choice

download (2)The album of the 2018 in our house, in that it is the record we’ve played the most, by some considerable distance, and, by dint of this, it’s been a subtle soundtrack to our year.

I’m not sure what prompted me to check out the reviews for the album when it was released in May. The cover art helps – it’s gorgeous, bursting with colour and with Coltrane Turiyasangitananda beaming at its centre. I also heard NPR’s interview with Ravi Coltrane (https://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/2017/05/15/527975501/all-songs-1-alice-coltranes-astonishing-ecstatic-music), which was so warm and engaging, and which included a performance of ‘Triloka’, a duet between his mother Alice, and the bassist Charlie Haden. It caught me at just the right moment and I found it extraordinary. I can still remember where I was when I heard it, and if loading bags of bricks into the back of a van is not the perfect context for a revelation about ecstatic religious music, then I don’t know what is.

Spotify did the rest, and the record just never left us once we’d let it in to our lives. It became the music we played to help children get to sleep, to fill the background while we ate dinner, and to act as the soundtrack to almost anything we needed to get done. Eventually I bought the vinyl to recognise the impact that the music has had on our family, and to throw something back to Luaka Bop and the people who managed to bring this collection together.

Having said all that, I realise now that I come to write about it, that I have absorbed a few half-heard details, but essentially I know nothing about it.

The story as I have chosen to remember it is that Alice Coltrane became the leader of an ashram at some point in the 1980s and, as one might expect, found herself at various moments surrounded by worshippers with more musical tendencies than the average congregation. In my version of events, these serendipitous jazz super bands got up to perform music as part of the daily rituals, and these joyful jams were recorded, started to circulate on cassette amongst Coltrane aficionados  and 30 years later finally got an official release.

The record comes with copious liner notes including, I kid you not, the equivalent of the Ashram’s parish magazine. I haven’t read any of them. I’m curious about the origins of the music, honestly I am. I just haven’t got to the stage of wanting to dig yet. After 8 months. Thinking about it, as I do now for almost the first time, perhaps the music has a now-ness to it that deters me from wanting to break through the surface. Perhaps in keeping with its religious inspirations it encourages a meditative experience, listening in the moment, not allowing oneself to become distracted by narratives and viewpoints.,

[Now, give me a second… wikipedia is calling…]

Actually, no, still can’t be bothered. I’ll just listen to the record instead. There I’ll find what I imagine to be space age trance jazz interpretations of sacred music, swimming with massed chants, handclaps, swirling 90s synths, twinkling harp and countless other intoxicating, mesmerising sounds I’m unable to decode. Woven through much I’ll also hear the album’s major revelation: Coltrane sings,in a strong, warm voice, confident, powerful and assured. When she does, it lifts an intriguing and captivating record into a beautiful and moving one. Meditative, boundless music, worth retreating for.

Tom listened: Good to have you back Rob. Your moratorium on writing had been for far too long!

Well, what an awesome record this is. Nothing like I would have expected (prior to this meeting knowing only that Alice had been the wife of John I thought it would be, at the very least, awkward, if not downright challenging), this record with the ridiculously convoluted title was, in fact, accessible, enveloping and immersive; sounding great from the off, the tracks, though long, never outstaying their welcome. To sum up then, a wonderful surprise and one of the reasons DRC is such a great thing to do (after the curry and the Exeter Uni based chat that is!).