on life, music etc beyond mainstream


It was great to read the recent post here on Manafonistas that referenced the inner goth in relation to Ocean Rain by Echo & The Bunnymen.

The idea of Echo & The Bunnymen being goth had never occurred to me before. I guess the French language, and French smoking influence got in the way.

I always imagined Echo & The Bunnymen lighting up Gauloises or Gitanes and digging Brel’s „La Valse à mille temps“ rather than reading Bram Stoker and sleeping in coffins. But it did kinda make sense. Look at The Royal Liver Building, its granite face. Liverpool’s most famous building – if it can be said to be representative of the city – isn’t exactly a splash of colour.

Anyway, the idea of the inner goth got me thinking about what is goth and what isn’t. And there’s no real answer to that, apart from the fact that Havergal Brian’s „Gothic Symphony“ is most definitely gothic. Inner goth though? That’s a subjective call. So here’s my Inner Goth Top Five. (Lifers, every one.)

BauhausThird Uncle (Beggars Banquet, 1982). Eno’s original is post-punk, but it was recorded and released before punk, in 1974. That is an achievement, of course – and a big one. Bauhaus are wise enough not to try and alter the style of Third Uncle too much. They just put it back out there, and remove any sunlight from the original, replacing the sunlight with moonlight.


This Mortal CoilKangaroo (4AD, 1984). Another cover, this one is a rendition of Kanga Roo by Big Star. It’s the singing style that makes this, as well as the bass and the strings. The overall effect is of moonlight turning ramparts and flagstones silver-blue under a midnight sky.


The Cassandra ComplexSecond Shot (Play It Again Sam, 1988). „All that glitters isn’t gold, but who cares, anyway? Let me bounce off your lens and into the trees.“ Goth with saxophones. A powerful and shattering listen.


The Royal Family & The Poor Art on 45 (Factory Records, 1982). „Vast emptiness, nothing holy“. This song’s words echo the writings of Belgian philosopher Raoul Vaneigem, especially the 1967 book The Revolution of Everyday Life. With style.


John Maus… And The Rain (Upset The Rhythm, 2011). „And the rain came down, down down down down down.“


This week’s Lost Classics is Seventeen Stars by The Montgolfier Brothers. And what a fucking genius record it is.

Now, I’ve no idea whether the whole Heißluftballon thing is one of its themes, but it’s kind of inescapable for my ears. It’s a work that deals with vicissitudes, with contrasts, with ups and downs. Seems to me that the instrumental tracks on this are its moments of reflection, when everything’s (literally) up in the air. The album’s instrumentals are great – like miniature Eric Serra soundtracks that swap one Grand Bleu (the sea) for another (the sky). Meanwhile, the songs with words sometimes describe moments of upwardness and hope, and sometimes the opposite: a bump of earthwardness.

Seventeen Stars arrived by chance, by way of an automated playlist. The best records always come from nowhere, with no hype or announcement. One day you’re sitting there in your kitchen thinking you’ve heard all you’re likely to hear – then, boom: another classic arrives and renews your faith in music.

Listening to Seventeen Stars is a bit like going on holiday. Not a city break to, like, Bucharest or Vienna though – an actual holiday where there is space, time and sand. Here are the opening lines of the title track:

A trip down south
On the coast of France
An hour by coach –
Takes us from Bordeaux
To the middle of in-between
Arès and Arcachon
A mass of shuttered chalets
A stone’s throw from the beach

Stick Seventeen Stars on. Up, up and away.

Artist: The Montgolfier Brothers
Release date: 4 May 1999
Label: Vespertine
Producers: gnac, Roger Quigley
Genre: The concept of genre is what it is

2018 8 Feb

Defining ambient

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How do you define ambient?

The closest I could ever get wasn’t really a definition, more a kind of description of one of its occasional attributes: that it’s not easy music to hum along to. There’s too much space in it, and the space is where the magic happens.

So, reading this ambient piece on, a piece of the jigsaw puzzle fell into place:

The composer and the listener must recognise that total control can never be realised and the identity of the music is never wholly owned, but rather it is constantly becoming. Upon each re-visitation, in a different place, at a different time, through a different playback situation, the music evolves. It lives within the complexity of these relations and is primarily about, to use Eno’s initial provocation, “to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular”.

2017 3 Dez

Ian’s 2017 top 20

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2017 top 20

  1. Kietsuzukeru Echo – Hisato Higuchi
  2. Take Me Apart – Kelela
  3. Wonderful Wonderful – The Killers
  4. Fatherland – Karl Hyde
  5. Moth – John Beltran
  6. Humanz – Gorillaz
  7. Elaktrac – Shobaleader One
  8. The Man Who Fell From Earth – Anders Parker
  9. Blade Runner 2049 – Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch
  10. More Life – Drake
  11. Live at Iklectik – Philip Jeck
  12. True Care – James Vincent McMorrow
  13. Gang Signs & Prayer – Stormzy
  14. Narkopop – GAS
  15. Process – Sampha
  16. Mark Kozelek with Ben Boye and Jim White
  17. Mellow Waves – Cornelius
  18. 13 – Indochine
  19. No Mountains in Manhattan – Wiki
  20. Fiction / Non-fiction Olivier Alary

… bubbling under:


  • As You Were – Liam Gallagher
  • Ctrl – SZA
  • Lifetime of Love – Moon Diagrams

2017 3 Nov

Vacanța de iarnă …

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… wish you were here!


2017 2 Nov

My 2017 Top 20

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… to follow


On a rainy Thursday afternoon two days ago I purchased these three cassette tapes from the miraculous VoxBox Music shop. 50p each. Listening to them involved hunting down my Sony CFD-S22L „CD-RADIO-CASSETTE-CORDER“ [sic] – which had been in its analogue vortex since the 1900s.

IBTABA – I have Michael Engelbrecht to thank for my new-found love of Wire. He sent me copies of 154 and Chairs Missing a while back. My response was probably a bit rude, along the lines of „yes, these LPs are OK“. But genius plastic is never a first impressions type deal. I went back to these records again and again. IBTABA is from decade after these, a decade that is now three decades ago. On cassette! Zeitreise stylee.

The White Room – not listened to this one yet.

ZOOROPA – magnetic tape didn’t suit IBTABA. It sounded squashed, wowed and fluttered. Oddly trebly. The quality of the music and the humour won out though. ZOOROPA was different magnetic deal. It sounded fantastic. It sounded – on tape – like a spin painting, throwing colours of realisation over everything. Which, I guess, just goes to show that music isn’t about one format fits all.

2017 2 Sep

Revisiting Wandermüde

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„All stories are love stories“

Robert McLiam Wilson (from the novel Eureka Street)


„All Stories Are True“

John Edgar Wideman (From the story collection All stories are true)



The cover art for Wandermüde shows the gloves from a space suit placed on a mantelpiece, each palm facing decorative wallpaper. If there is a story here, it’s one that your mind instantly tells you, when your eyes see the juxtaposition and try to make sense of it. Or maybe you just get questions, like „are these gloves antiques placed there for fun in a bohemian living room from the past/future?“, or „are these gloves the gloves of someone who returned from space?“ or „are these gloves the gloves of someone about to go to space tomorrow“. Space. You’re already in space. Space is within you and without you. The gloves and the mantelpiece will soon be dust.

The first and most important thing to say about Wandermüde is that it is a work of great beauty. It may not be the most accessible of records – there are sustained notes, Ligeti-stylee ghostisms, corridor vibes, and in places a sense of epiphany and strangeness not seen outside of the closing scenes of Tarkovsky’s film Stalker or Russell Hoban’s novel Fremder. (I sent my copy of Fremder to Hoban’s publisher with a request for him to sign it. They said „sure“. Nothing came back. I emailed to ask what had happened. They replied that my hero was unwell. Nothing came back. My copy of Fremder is lost in space. My hero lives on.)

No point getting into the musicology of Wandermüde. Have a read at this Guardian article on accelerationism, (it’s a read alright!), take a breath, then listen to Deceleration. Or think of Florian Fricke and Popol Vuh and then check out Dark Pastoral. Wandermüde, like Fricke’s work, isn’t confined to some genre idea of prog or rock or drone/ambient. It moves in all directions.

2017 18 Aug

Your eyes in the rain

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2017 6 Aug

The Man Who Fell From Earth

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I’ve followed Anders Parker’s career since The Sunday Times reviewed Varnaline’s Man of Sin a long time ago. It was the cover art that drew me in, as much as the review. 17 or so albums later and Anders Parker’s music continues to develop, unfold and inspire. The Man Who Fell From Earth is (if you ask me, which of course, you don’t) the artist’s best work since 2009’s epic Skyscraper/Crow double CD set.

Parker wrote the songs that comprise The Man Who Fell From Earth during the winter of 2016 in the mountains of Upstate New York, then recorded the songs in those same mountains. The album is Parker singing and playing acoustic guitar accompanied by a string trio and a pedal steel. One of the record’s themes is interstellar transmutation. You can sense an element of elevation here. It’s folk music, Jim, but not as we know it. And it may be my album of 2017. And if it isn’t, it’ll still be in the top 3 of the year’s releases for me.

„Yeah, I went to where you were
Gravity it held on tight
Standing up against the stairs
All of you looked so right
All of you looked so right
No regrets, no turning round, no looking back
It’s who you are, it’s who I am, it’s who we were, it’s who we are“

„Found you on the sand dunes, found you in the streets“

The record’s title is an obvious nod to Nicolas Roeg, but for me the Earth/space interplay here is more reminiscent of the opening sequences of Tarkovski’s „Solyaris“. Tarkovski really lays the visual language on thick, in a good way: the wooden cabin whose window looks out upon towering forests and the nowhere, endless blue above, the caged bird, the grounded spaceman, all that jazz.


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