Thursday, 11 February 2016


This week, the Guardian featured an article entitled 'What's the point of music?', in which Alain de Botton discussed the purpose of organised sound with Peter Gabriel. Not to suggest that the Guardian are totally ripping me off again or anything, but this is a question I habitually ask musicians that I interview. However, the answers rarely make it to the printed page. Below are a selection of responses, ranging from the profound to the bewildered.  

The Cosmic Dead
James T Mckay: Masturbation.
Julian Dicken: Pure unadulterated fun.

Omar Aborida: It’s freedom to create without settling for the lines that you have in other media. In art you have a finished painting. But with music it’s an open-ended thing, you can take it where you want. That’s what drew me to music in the first place.

JTM: It feels like you’re tapping into a seamless continuum too. Like there’s this great big wave, like one of those cosmic snakes out of Sliders or Bill & Ted, when they’re time travelling. Feels like they’re travelling through everything, and when you really get into a jam, it feels like you’re riding through one of them.

Lewis Cook: It’s easy to identify music as just like a social function in some ways, and I think it is to a large extent. But there’s also that transcendental aspect, which The Cosmic Dead really aims towards. It’s less a social function about what’s cool and what’s not. It’s more primal than that. It’s banging a drum, something that’s always been done. Animals do things like that as well. I don’t think the Cosmic Dead is an intellectual endeavour.

JTM: It’s that wee Neolithic man kicking about and realising that if he eats off oysters he’ll go on a funny little trip before shitting himself. That’s what the Cosmic Dead is. It’s a fun, often pretty deep little trip before we shit ourselves. And the shitting ourselves does happen. The way I think of it sometimes, if you imagine a cavemen looking up into the stars for the first time on some lonely, barren night, his wife’s at some other guy’s cave, and he looks up at the stars and he just sees that one little shooting star, and for the first time he relaises that it’s not just a picture that’s above him. There’s a whole fucking depth to what’s out there. Creating that experience and capturing that sense of wonder is a large part of it. Infinite death and infinite life through music. 

Mats Gustafsson
Again, using Derek [Bailey]’s words: ‘Music is like living, but better.’ I hope Derek would forgive me for using his line so many times.

Free Nelson Mandoomjazz

Colin Stewart: I just love music so it seems like an obvious extension of that to play it. The opportunity to do something totally different like this band is very inspiring and satisfying from a creative point of view. I’m always looking for new music that pushes the boundaries of what I’ve already heard and to be able to do that and perform with such talented people is a real privilege. I can’t imagine ever being at a point in my life where I don’t want to make music any more.

Rebecca Sneddon: Because my saxophone is like an extra limb. Except that it looks better than the other ones. 'What is music for...?' Does it matter? It's for me.


Stuart Braithwaite: I dunno. Just… fun. It’s fun to make music. It feels like a privilege. Especially to be able to do it and make a living from it, it’s amazing. But even just to get to do it and have anyone give a shit about it, it’s brilliant!

Richard Youngs
On a very functional level in my life, I have a 3-and-a-half-year-old son and for the first couple of years of his life he was a terrible sleeper. We found that one of the few ways to calm him down was to play him Gregorian chant. Very functional use of Gregorian chant. On the other hand, is something you dance to functional, or is it pure pleasure?

The Fierce and the Dead

Kevin Feazey: For me it's about shared experience. The band, the audience, the listener. It may not be an identical experience but if we can get people to move and be moved in whatever way works for them then that will rebound to me and the back and forth begins. Music is a pretty perfect blend of spirituality and hard science, something that we can all plug in to and actually does something real to us. When i'm standing in front of an audience my ego shrinks, as I have become part of a bigger machine that links all the band members and the audience together. And I like loud noises.

Matt Stevens: For the rush of it all coming together, that moment when it becomes bigger than any one individual. Mirror neurons working overtime, that link you get with people you have been playing with for years.

Sloth Hammer

Paul Priest: I am immersed in music and sound. I have been since I was about 5 years old. I'm 35 now and I've made my own music since I was about 12 and played gigs since I was 16. I just have to do it. Even when I'm not playing live, I'll still need to expel the sounds from within otherwise I will go utterly insane, and not the good kind.

Luke Iley: Life without music would be pretty fucking dull. Every culture on the planet makes it. It's as unifying as it is subjective. If I didn't make some sort of music I'd probably have to resort to trepanning and self-flagellation.

Harvey Milk
Creston Speirs: Good question. Fuck if I know 

Wednesday, 23 December 2015


As mentioned in yesterday's post, this year's album ranking is based on the three-point numerical system of the constructed language Toki Pona. Part #1 set out the mute or many, but now we turn to those in second place (the tu) and my unequivocal favourite album of the year (the wan).




A band that has been around 36 years has no business sounding this furious. While Killing Joke’s basic song template has arguably changed little from their early days, they have undergone a gradual metamorphosis, becoming heavier and harder as the years go by – especially since 2003’s eponymous album. Pylon continues this trend of intensification, with some tracks arguably their most punishing yet. All of KJ’s trademarks are here – post-punk-meets-metal-meets-industrial rhythms, Geordie’s vicious, heavy but curiously elegant riffs, Jaz singing like a pile of burning tyres about conspiracies, geopolitical horrors, psychological warfare and the apocalypse – but just a little further, a little faster, a little more febrile than the last time. Yet for all that KJ excel at snarling vitriol and justifiable paranoia, they are at heart an accomplished, if idiosyncratic and aggressive pop band – most explicitly, on tracks like ‘Big Buzz’ and ‘Euphoria’. Fierce, timely and appropriate, Pylon is the perfect soundtrack to our age. And that should worry us all.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine)


Reviewed on The List:


Despite all the metalhead praise heaped upon them, I’ve never really connected with much-acclaimed Italian riff-lords Ufomammut. Yet for some reason Ecate really got its hooks deep into me. There’s just something so primordial and monumental about their riffs here, almost as if they’re tapping into the pure, unfiltered, Platonic form of the riff itself. It’s massive, powerful, feral and yet, for all its bluster and violence, curiously Zen.


While collaborations with the likes of Asva, Wolves in the Throne Room and Sunn o))) have associated her with the heaviest of guitar bands, Jessika Kenney’s solo work and collaborations with Eyvind Kang are much less visceral, but no less weighty. A devoted student of Indonesian and Persian music, Kenney is also blessed with one of the most pure, expressive and unashamedly beautiful voices on the planet. Atria is essentially minimalist gamelan – still, spare, breeze-through-reeds slow and spellbinding, driven by meticulous, chiming percussion. While strongly melodic, its primary appeal is textural, lying in the sumptuous, sustained resonances of struck metal, the honeyed tones of Kenney’s poised, elegant vocals, and the mesmerising way in which the two interact – at times, so fluid as to be almost indistinguishable from one another.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine)


Loosely translated from the Spanish, this record is titled ‘Cut Everything’. It neatly sums up the content – angry, violent, lashing out at an increasingly ridiculous world. Their previous album, 2009’s Carboniferous, saw Zu take their spidery, complex, polyrhythmic bass/sax/drums prog and turbo-boost the bludgeon, producing something stunningly heavy but also inviting, even infectiously danceable. By contrast, Cortar Todo and last year’s Goodnight Civilisation EP take the sheer force and momentum of Carboniferous and turn it into a weapon.

Lead track ‘The Unseen War’ comes stomping in, all blunt trauma and sudden flurries of body blows. The wild, tumultuous ‘Rudra Dances Over Burning Rome’ evokes the firestorm of its title in (new to Zu, ex of The Locust) drummer Gabe Serbian’s whirlwind of debris and the charred howls of Luca Mai’s baritone sax. The title track itself gets locked into an extraordinary bit of micro-focused repetition, all tapped hi-hats and palm-muted chug, punctuated by malicious stabs, Massimo Pupillo’s bass rattling teeth as well as guts through judicious use of a sadistic, piercing octave pedal. Only ‘Serpens Cauda’ and the closing ‘Pantokrator’, twin slithers of immersive beatless dread akin to Zu’s recent work with Eugene Robinson, offer any respite from the pummel.

Zu’s music is still wildly inventive and damnably clever, but – unbelievably – this is its heaviest, most punishing manifestation yet. If it continues accumulating mass at this rate it’ll be a neutron star by 2030.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine)




While the prospect of a new album, 18 years after the last, was absurdly exciting, even the most optimistic of Faith No More devotees must have approached it with a certain amount of anxiety. Reunion albums don’t exactly have an illustrious history. What if they’d lost it? What if they could no longer recreate that elusive magic?

The opening moments of Sol Invictus might therefore appear slightly anticlimactic. Rather than announcing their return with a bold statement of intent, the title track slinks and saunters in, all widescreen shimmer, intimate crooning and spare piano. It’s second track ‘Superhero’ that brings the metallic fire and spittle-flecked bluster you may have expected. Yet this disarming opening gambit sets the overall tone. While some tracks are as punishing and caustic as any FNM fan would wish, Sol Invictus is also characterised by a more restrained, cinematic character, which conveys greater emotional depth than the band’s younger, more cynical selves would ever have been able to muster. A spare, foreboding atmosphere, dotted through with acoustic guitars and pianos, gives the album an air of seasoned elegance – which only makes the furious bits more intense by comparison. The plentiful peaks are as good as anything they’ve ever done: the relentless, claustrophobic ‘Separation Anxiety’, driven by a vicious, instant-classic Gould bassline; ‘Cone of Shame’s transition from ominous swamp-blues to feral noise rock; ‘Rise of the Fall’s infectious patchwork genre-mash; sweet, sepia-toned closer ‘From the Dead’. Best of all is ‘Matador’, the massive climax, which is jaw-dropping in its scale and impact – ‘Just a Man’s scope and choral ascension meets ‘King for a Day’s multi-part structure and ‘Pristina’s emotional bruises, with several new twists along the way.

Stripped down to a focused, concise ten tracks, Sol Invictus makes for a beautifully balanced, varied and consistently impressive collection that far exceeds expectations. It’s a record made by a band not softened by time, but honed by experience. What it’s not is typical Faith No More – which, of course, makes it typically Faith No More.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine; also reviewed on The List:

Tuesday, 22 December 2015


I recently became aware of the minimalist constructed language Toki Pona, which consists of just 120 words. Now, while this is perhaps inadequate for the purposes of the self-consciously verbose – indeed, positively sesquipedalian – music writer, it does present an elegant solution for how to approach the tedious business of ranking one's obligatory end-of-year list. Y'see, Toki Pona's numbering system comprises just three terms: wan (one), tu (two) and mute (many).  

This almost perfectly reflects my own in-head ranking system. There's usually one clear winner, several second-tier favourites, and a whole bunch of things that were also brilliant but cannot be arranged into any kind of order.

Here are the many, the mute. All fantastic records. In no particular order. Tomorrow, the wan & tu



Bleak and full of despair, Will Haven’s latest adds a haunted, sorrowful air to their relentless bludgeon. The riffs here are absolutely monstrous, but weirdly ill-defined, fuzzy around the edges, like cirrus clouds made of cast iron.


Utterly dazzling Assyrian/Armenian death metal, bringing together Mesoptomian melodic influences and razorwire riffs. It’s a perfect synthesis, without a hint of gimmickry. Astoundingly adept, savage and innovative. One of the best metal albums of the year.


One-man DIY doom/black metal project, rendered utterly nauseating by the use of microtonal scales. Sounds like a recording of several bands slowly sinking into a swamp, being played back on a broken turntable. Uniquely horrible, in a brilliant sort of way.


One of the more indefinable and unsettling releases of the year – haunted location recordings, woozy beats, layers of fuzz and grime, alien skronk, clattering improv, folky riffs and caustic guitar noise. It’s like a radio half-immersed in honey in an Egyptian cafe, picking up two stations at once. I’ve no idea who these people are or what they’re trying to achieve, but I like it. A lot.


Bringing together Kavus Torabi’s ambitious prog ensemble’s two previous EPs (Dear Lord, No Deal and Clairvoyant Fortnight) and adding one new, drifting, nigh-ambient track, Home of the Newly Departed is likely to be familiar to existing fans. However, it does brazenly illustrate that, far from being stop-gap throwaways, this band’s EPs have been among their strongest work. At least four of these seven tracks – the urgent and ebullient ‘Pilot Her’, the good-natured rolling groove and fractured climax of ‘In a Foreign Way’, the Magma-esque stomp of ‘Prime of Our Decline’ and the thoroughly unhinged 14-minute modular monstrosity ‘HMS Washout’ – would surely dominate any semi-respectable Knifeworld top five.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine)


Designed to be played simultaneously with 2013’s Far West, though I have never done so and it sounds great as a standalone entity. Entrancing sounds that take John Carpenter’s synth aesthetic, marry it to Maryanne Amacher’s head music and bounce sounds around your skull, or build beautiful drones packed with drama and romantic yearning. Another left turn from this inventive, ever-evolving and curiously emotional band, sadly and incongruously saddled with one of the worst, most crass and stupid names in the history of music.



Full disclosure: Jason is a friend and occasional collaborator, but that doesn’t mean I felt duty-bound to laud his latest album. On the contrary, Home World is undeniably appealing – a delightful collection of low-tech DIY electronica and virtuosic live percussion that’s just brimming with charm, verve and originality. Look out for a remix album in 2016.


After losing interest in LB after Hypermagic Mountain, Fantasy Empire picked me up by the scruff and dumped me back in front of Brian Gibson’s monstrous amp stack, soaking up the octave-jumping abuse. Nothing particularly new from camp Bolt, but it’s always a colossal pleasure to hear them at full force.


Probably one of my favourite Glasgow bands at the moment, another project from the ever-prolific Hamish Black. This is the band’s second album, recorded live in a day. Lean and nasty, it’s a short blast of really inventive, punishing and immediate noise rock/hardcore, with a constantly surprising rhythmic and melodic sensibility that will leg you up and steal your shoes.


The mad scientist of industrial doom, Tristan Shone has a unique approach to his craft – building an array of scratch-built noise-making machines in what one can only assume is a subterranean workshop filled with robotic bats. At its heart, Melk en Honing (with harrowing artwork from Black Sun’s Russell MacEwan) is a heavy, grimy work of cybernetic aggression, starkly impressive on its own bleak terms. But what makes Author & Punisher special is something that occasionally pushes through the mechanical filth like a weed through concrete – an unexpectedly lavish and poignant melodic sensibility: ‘Shame’ coats a bludgeoning trudge with incongruous beauty and layered harmonies, ‘Future Man’s yearning lines soar desperately over a tar-pit trawl, and ‘Void, Null, Alive’ climaxes in a surprisingly elegant choral mantra.  

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine)


Two sides of long-form ritualistic, psychedelic trance/doom/drone from Finland. Low, slow, heavy, sensual and unashamedly portentuous, this ebbs and flows between looming ambience and planet-crushing riffs with deceptive ease.


Originally reviewed on The List:


Astonishingly, Guapo have now been at this heavy prog thing for 20 years. They’ve mutated considerably in that time, shedding people, gaining others, evolving from a two-piece to the current quartet – and they’ve also been pretty consistently brilliant. Like their 2004 opus Five Suns, Obscure Knowledge is a single, album-length composition divided into movements. However, curiously, the three tracks’ running times and overall structure almost exactly mirror their last album, History of the Visitation. Whether this signifies coincidence or deeper conceptual significance is moot, as the resultant album grooves, thunders, confounds and mesmerises in all the right ways. Driven inexorably onwards by James Sedwards’ serrated basslines and the deft, subtle drumming of Dave Smith, it gallops magnificently from big-riff bombast through cosmic mind-drift and lithe, nigh-funky strut to a climactic wall of noise-rock.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine)


A third outing from this Italian bass-and-drums duo. While 2013’s Opera was an impressively complex and thoroughly pulverising experience, as dense and heavy as it was disorienting, Motomonotono offers some measure of refinement. It’s still ridiculously energetic and powerful, but the emphasis has shifted slightly from bludgeoning, sculpted chaos to precision and repetition, with the pair locking into agile, trance-like offbeat rhythms. Luca Cavina’s bass has a more spidery, multi-layered tone this time around, with chorus and synth effects broadening his formerly brutish palette. Allied with drummer Paolo Mongardi’s lethal pinpoint polyrhythms, the results are remarkable and instantly appealing – complex but flowing, hypnotic, full of groove. Fans of Ruins and Zu will lap this up like thirsty dogs in a paddling pool.

(originally published in Rock-a-Rolla magazine)


Originally reviewed on The List: