Any Major Dudes will tell you: Steely Dan panel in Manchester, 11.11.17

Steely Dudes

To celebrate RBP’s brand-new anthology Major Dudes: A Steely Dan Companion, I shall on Saturday 11th November be discoursing with fellow Dan fanatics John Ingham (who reviewed Katy Lied for Sounds) and Daryl Easlea (who revisited Aja for the BBC) about the wit, wisdom and sheer musical brilliance of Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker. It’s at 2.15 pm at Manchester’s Louder Than Words festival, and you can book tickets here

Grizzly Bear at Kingston College, 1.10.17


On a damp Sunday night, in the unlovely London satellite town that is Kingston-upon-Thames – and for a paltry £12, moreover – I got to see the greatest American rock group of the last ten years play for a whole glorious hour. It reminded me why one cares about “rock” at all. Sometimes I think I no longer do.

Grizzly Bear – launched 15 years ago on a wave of bands with similarly bestial monikers – are an unFab-looking Foursome who’ve made some of the best records ever to come out of the U.S. They could be a random quartet of white Brooklyn hipsters, skirting middle age, politely wry and super-smart; you wouldn’t, looking at them, expect the astonishing music that pours so passionately out of their speakers on the small stage of Kingston College’s Arnold Cottesloe Theatre. (A big thank-you to local Banquet Records for bringing them here.)

Their songs, like their sonics, their textures, their voices, aren’t like much else I’ve ever heard in “rock” (though I’ll concede there are fleeting echoes of America, Jonny Greenwood, Jim O’Rourke, Doves, Surf’s Up and Big Star Third in there). They blaze with not just beauty but delicious intricacy, overlapping splashes of melody, archness but sweetness, emotion that’s never cheap or crass.

It’s true the Bear’s peak moment may be behind them. Commercially they may not top ‘Two Weeks’ or have Mr. and Mrs. Shawn Carter come see their show. Yet Painted Ruins, the latest album by Ed Droste, Daniel Rossen, Chris Taylor and Christopher Bear, is no less lovely or transporting than 2009’s Veckatimest or 2012’s Shields, and the songs from it performed tonight are, without exception, sublime. The same intimate intelligence, and the same sense of wonder, inform the gorgeous ‘Mourning Sound’ and ‘Three Rings’ as inhabit Shields‘ ‘Sleeping Ute’ and Veckatimest‘s ‘While You Wait for the Others’ (both also aired tonight).

The contrasting but equally tender singing of Droste and Rossen is wonderfully underpinned by Rossen’s treated guitars; by the subtlest keyboard padding (much of it supplied by part-time Bear Aaron Arntz); by Taylor’s craggy Rickenbacker bass; and by the emphatic Christopher Bear tom-tom patterns that suggest immersion in the sonic scaping of the late Martin Hannett (no rote rock timekeeping here).

Unlike far too many rock shows these days, Grizzly Bear’s sixty Kingston minutes are accorded a respectful, almost awestruck silence during their songs: I heard no attention-deficit chatter whatever, rather a surrender to the waves of sound, the loose bliss of the playing, the spacey reverbed textures, the almost jazzish unfurling of the melodies. This is a kind of angelic post-post-rock, fey but frenzied when it needs to be (e.g. the squalling freakout that brings ‘Yet Again’ to its climax).

With seven minutes to go, the Bear do the only decent thing and finish with Shields‘ epic, slowly exploding finale ‘Sun Is In Your Eyes’, an ecstatic song of soaring hope that has us all rapt. There are bigger Bear shows coming up: make sure you see at least one of them.

A poem and some pix from Ithaca



No one knows I’m here, or cares especially,

and if I close my eyes I hear

the distant things Odysseus would have known

if he indeed existed in this place.


The chittering birds,

the muted bonging of the bells

on necks of goats,

like finger-chimes of monks in monasteries.


I smell the wafted perfumes he’d have breathed:

the mix of earth and herbs and warmed-through stone,

the pines and cypresses in this ravine

so high the clouds are stealing softly past.


A giant bowl of human silence,

fecund stadium indifferent to me,

except the cats that track my every move,

their hungry eyes on high alert.


One might just say the silence deafens

when compared to planes that track the Thames

on their descent over my London roof,

assaulting me in morning meditation every working day.


I climb and cannot quite believe

there are no yells or honks

or whoosh of traffic on the bridge,

but just the softest wind.


The bells now nearer through the pines,

the sounds of life on earth for one who watches,

listens, still as he can be,

expecting nothing more.


Exogi, September 2017

Tales of addiction: Never Enough in the TLS


My addiction memoir gets a very nice review in the new TLS as part of an omnibus roundup of various books on the theme.

Eric J. Iannelli describes Never Enough as “erudite and ruminative” and writes:

“In ‘My Chemical Romance’, the first of two sections, the music critic and journalist, now approaching sixty, looks back on himself in his late teens and sees in the discontented peripheral figure who is unable to blunt the fervency of his emotions ‘an addict waiting to happen’. At twenty, he shoots up for the first time, immediately discovering a ‘one-size-fits-all remedy for the core angst of sentient being’. ‘I can see my crippling self-doubt’, he writes of the instant when the drug hits his brain, ‘but – most precious of all gifts – I can no longer feel it.’

“This mirrors the epiphanic moment experienced by many addicts, the first magical encounter with a substance that allows us to inhabit ourselves fully and elude that pervasive sense of soul-deep discomfort, to feel genuinely at home among humanity and yet uniquely separate from it, impervious to its malice and somehow more attuned to its beauty. Thus begins, as the title Never Enough suggests, the inter­minable quest to re-experience that moment in perpetuity.

“For Hoskyns, this quest lasted three increasingly desperate years, until he grew sufficiently exhausted by its futility. He has spent the nearly three decades since in recovery attempting to anchor ‘the poor little tentacles of self’ – a phrase he borrows from Edith Wharton for his memoir’s second, more philosophical and introspective section – to firmer stuff. He draws considerably on other writers and thinkers as he contemplates how self and ego function in the addict, teasing out universalities that once in a while tread too close to oversimplification. By and large, however, his writing is worth savouring for his descriptions of the multifaceted nature of addiction, the paradox of sobriety that makes surrender a form of victory, and the role of our zeitgeist in stoking the flames of dis­enchantment, self-seeking, alienation, impatience and invidious distinction that drugs are, however fleetingly, able to dampen. ‘There’s such a desperate hunger to be somebody and mean something’ in this age of social media and unbridled narcissism, writes Hoskyns; ‘the entire machine of global capitalism . . . has become addictive and compulsive’.

“Though relatively slender in terms of page count, Never Enough is substantial and satisfying…