Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 - Reinvention and Stagnation

It’s two years since a slew of already radical artists produced some of their career best work in 2011. Those albums reflected the reality of austerity, its effects on billions of people, and the beginnings of fightback. Since then, the global resistance has grown only slowly, and even slower in the European and American countries where the vast majority of those musicians I’ve been exposed to live. While a significant numbers did make some successful attempts at reinvention, in politics as in music, we are still waiting for the great leap forward.

1    Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)
Highlights: Drive Home, The Pin Drop, The Raven That Refused To Sing

“Just because I'm weak/You can steal my dreams/You can reach inside my head/And you can put your song there instead”

Steven Wilson does what he does best musically - weaving many ideas together into a logically consistent overall piece. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the staggeringly melancholic (nearly) title track, which is hands down my song of the year. Stories of individual suffering, raised to a level of collective grandeur. Wilson’s finest hour.

2    Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away
Highlights: Jubilee Street, Higgs Boson Blues, Push The Sky Away

“Can't remember anything at all/Flame trees line the streets/Can't remember anything at all”

With Grinderman out of the way, Nick Cave really is old enough to know better, and old enough to make an album about feeling old. Not so much raging against the dying of the light as actively embracing it, and making life seem all the sweeter for its fleeting brightness in the immense pitch black.

3    Alice In Chains - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here
Highlights: The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, Low Ceiling, Hung On A Hook

“Ghost town strip of misery/I ain't feeling no better/Roadkill heart inside of me/Follow it to the letter”

This is their second album with William DuVall and the band continues to grow, despite all the years and the deaths of two previous members. Jerry Cantrell is securing himself a place amongst the all time greats of rock musicianship.

4    Wisdom of Crowds - Wisdom of Crowds
Highlights: Pleasure, Stacked Naked, Centre Of Gravity

“Look at our ways, look at how we suffer"

A collaboration between Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse and some guy I’ve never heard of but who is obviously great, it showcases Renkse’s exceptionally emotive vocal talent, shining all the brighter in this stripped-down, crisp and innovative new setting. Hoping for more from these two before too long.

5    Tomahawk - Oddfellows
Highlights: White Hats/Black Hats, “I Can Almost See Them”, South Paw

“They call us oddfellows/We're dancing on the gallows”

Finally Tomahawk seem to have perfected the formula they’ve been working on since Patton and Denison started swapping tapes at the turn of the millennium. The creepiness of Patton’s croon has finally fused with the fucked up ness of Denison’s guitar. The result is a glorious monster.

6    Suede - Bloodsports
Highlights: Barriers, It Starts and Ends With You, Faultlines

“Aniseed kisses and lipstick traces/Lemonade sipped in Belgian rooms/Couldn't replace the graceful notions/That clung to me when I clung to you”

Of course, without Bernard Butler, ‘Suede’ is little more than a brand name for ‘more epic Brett Anderson solo album’. Yet it is extremely epic, and well worthy of that brand. An ecstatic celebration of the dramatic in love lives, it could do with a pinch of the social criticism which was once mixed in with that.

7     Mark Lanegan - Imitations
Highlights: Pretty Colors, I’m Not The Loving Kind, Autumn Leaves

Feels a bit cheeky sticking a covers album here, but these imitations are far from pale, and Lanegan’s world-weary croon is a perfect fit for these heartbreaking torch songs. Real spine-tingling stuff.

8    Bosnian Rainbows - Bosnian Rainbows
Highlights: Worthless, Turtle Neck, Mother, Father, Set Us Free

“The world is worthless. But I... I will live... live on!”

The new project of The Mars Volta’s Omar Rodríguez-López, he combines with Teri Gender Bender to produce something fresh, scary and beautiful. The Mars Volta’s revitalised skittishness is combined with Gender Bender’s versatile vocals that sounds like a million different influences, mixed in a unique way.

9     Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals - Walk Through Exits Only
Highlights: Battalion of Zero, Betrayed, Irrelevant Walls and Computer Screens

“The remarks will imply, “This not music!”/ But the rebuttal is truth: regurgitation is boring!/ Emulation is death! Agitated, anthemic, discordant, chorals, take over begins now.”

This is a fucking colossal mess. It’s also some of the most vital music I’ve heard this year. Lyrical and musical ideas collide with brutality, and tunes are left in the rubble. But who cares? He’s fucking trying. And people need to, because the old ways can’t reflect the new reality.

10    Ministry - From Beer To Eternity
Highlights: PermaWar, The Horror, Change of Luck

“Here’s my prediction of what is to come/The perfect storm is coming, there’s nowhere to run”

Just when I was beginning to dread the tedium of yet another ‘last ever’ album from Ministry, Al seems to have rediscovered his focus. And significantly, he criticises Obama’s America as an deepening of the crisis presided over by his favourite nemeses, the Bushes.

Seidr - Ginnungagap
Mind-expanding stuff from Panopticon’s A. Lunn.
White Lies - Big TV
Another excellent release from this lot, who retain the ability to produce musical and lyrical landscapes bringing fleeting moments of time to vivid and dramatic life.
Filter - The Sun Comes Out Tonight
Yet another consistently excellent release from an extremely underappreciated band.
Dropkick Murphys - Signed and Sealed in Blood
Another predictable but brilliant burst of ‘Irish’ rebel songs. Feel the energy of this lot like a knife.
Mick Harvey - Four (Acts Of Love)
Very nice, sparse bittersweetness about life’s ups and downs. The kind of music that subtly makes everyone’s life seem like the great drama it is.
Mike Patton - The Place Beyond The Pines
Half of this soundtrack is very obviously made to be background music to the film, and then the second...well worth a place on any album made this year.
Carcass - Surgical Steel
Pretty good comeback album. Good enough not just to be a cynical cash-in. There’s the bite of the earlier records here, plus the musicality of Swansong.
Ulver - Messe I.X-VI.X
More endless experimentation from these always enjoyable veterans.
Trouble - The Distortion Field
The sheer impact of Eric Wagner’s vocals have not been replaced, but the first half of this is still mighty fine doom.
Jesu - Every Day I Get Closer To The Light From Which I Came
You know what you’re getting from Justin Broadrick with his Jesu head on. But wait a moment, is that...hope?
Spiritual Beggars - Earth Blues
Somewhere between Thin Lizzy and Arch Enemy, these new millenium spins on classic rock often soar with their rebellious spirit.
Queens Of The Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
Not exactly breaking new ground, but this is a solid release on the ballady side of the QOTSA ouevre.
Katatonia - Dethroned and Uncrowned
These minimalist reworkings bring the best out of last year’s disappointing Dead End Kings, and there are some truly sublime moments.
Blackfield - Blackfield IV
Nice effort. Just enough of Aviv Geffen’s vulnerable sweetness, combined with just enough of Steven Wilson’s musicality so that it doesn’t overwhelm.
Rob Zombie - Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor
Rob gets his mojo back and puts out some ridiculous heavy rock like we know he can.
Suicidal Tendencies - 13
The suicyco army party like it’s 1983! So contrived, but fun.
Grails - Black Tar Prophecies Vol’s 4, 5 & 6
Grails are new to me, but this is some seriously atmospheric dark instrumental shit.
Black Sabbath - 13
I hate it when bands sound like obvious Black Sabbath rip offs, but I think in this case we might make an exception. Not too great overall, but final track ‘Dear Father’ makes a fitting ending (?) to their career.
Serj Tankian - Jazz-iz Christ
Really not one for jazz in most circumstances, but Serj is such a brilliant composer that he could probably make any style of music compelling.
Cult Of Luna - Vertikal
Apparently Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was a major inspiration for this. Can’t see it myself, but this is a solid enough product anyway.
Serj Tankian - Orca
Really not one for classical in most circumstances, but Serj is such a brilliant composer that he could probably make any style of music compelling.
Placebo - Loud Like Love
Nothing spectacular, but this is definitely a grower, and they’re not dead and buried yet.
Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks
A largely tiresome comeback. A copy of a copy of a.
Depeche Mode - Delta Machine
Not a critique of the SWP, and it would have been a lot better if it was.
Sodom - Epitome of Torture
Not a terrible example of your typical variation on the Sodom format.
Korn - The Paradigm Shift
Ambitious title for an unambitious project. Head is back, but that just makes it seem like sub-par old Korn.
Rotting Christ - Kata ton Daimona Eatou
Curiously uninteresting, even though I can tell they’re trying really hard to be interesting.
Satyricon - Satyricon
A very conscious attempt to un-sell out.
Atoms For Peace - Amok
A pretty but generally unaffecting release from this supergroup. All the talent is there, but there’s little inspiration.
Palms - Palms
Opener ‘Future Warrior’ is an absolute stormer, but the rest is much of a muchness. This Chino Moreno side project doesn’t promise much.
Stone Sour - House of Gold and Bones - Part 2
Occasionally passable, nothing more.
Mazzy Star - Seasons of Your Day
The cult early-mid nineties shoegazers return with a record that sounds like it took seventeen hours, not seventeen years. And not in a raw way. In a stale way.
Eels - Wonderful, Glorious
Mark Everett retreats from the experimentation of later years into familiar acoustic chord patterns and ‘life is shit’/’I’m strong enough to make it’ bluster.
Meat Puppets - Rat Farm
Mostly pointless.
Soulfly - Savages
Max more or less plods his way through another fucking album, and the ‘extremity’ is dull beyond belief. Some other guy’s screaming on here in a much more interesting way occasionally.
Sepultura - The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart
Extremely forgettable follow-up to Kairos, which had showcased a revived urgency. Only the devastatingly amazing and un-Sepultura-like Grief makes any impression.
Skinny Puppy - Weapon
Sorry, did an album just play?

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Violent Attacks Highlight Need For MORE Student/Worker Solidarity

Police violently handling a ULU protester last night
The ferocious treatment police meted out to non-violent occupiers at the University of London last night demonstrated one thing above all others - the ruling class are scared of students and workers finding common cause and struggling together. Though students across the country are facing severe repression during the current wave of protest, the most speedy and brutal state response has been reserved for those standing in solidarity with rank and file workers in the IWGB's 3 Cosas campaign. This raises the memory of the "total policing" attack on students marching with the Sparks movement of electricians in 2011.

The assaults on democratic rights at Sussex (where students have been suspended for their protest), and Sheffield (where the uni are reportedly seeking a second injunction on campus protests) must also be condemned. Solidarity actions must be organised. But the events at ULU in particular mark a new stage in the UK's descent into totalitarian rule.

Without a court injunction or even so much as a warning, and after only a few hours of occupation, the police broke in to the Senate House building, and set about punching, pushing and arresting students. As the University of London Union statement describes:
"This evening, the University of London colluded once again with police to evict occupiers, in a violent attempt to harass and silence dissent on campus. Their actions are a disgrace, and show their disregard for both the welfare of their students and their own university community.

"Hundreds of police descended on the occupation at around 8.30pm and broke into the occupation. We are still investigating what happened inside, but initial reports indicate that protesters were assaulted by both police and security: thrown to the ground, kicked and punched, and dragged to the ground by their hair. When supporters gathered outside to show support for the occupation, they were beaten back and assaulted. A number of arrests were made, and protesters are demonstrating tonight outside Holborn police station."
It is likely that the occupation's solidarity with the successful and inspiring 3 Cosas campaign was a leading factor. The despised Coalition government has every reason to fear the good example of collaboration between workers and students, particularly workers who are organising themselves non-hierarchically, and are forcing employers onto the back foot.

At exactly the point in space and time when students in struggle physically linked up with electricians in struggle two years ago, police unleashed another brutal onslaught, using what had been trailed in the corporate media as "total policing" methods. Amidst the state violence, students and electricians were arrested for carrying tools of their trades - pens and screwdrivers respectively.

Students who want to reach out to workers in struggle need to be aware that there is a possibility of heavy retaliation from a rattled ruling class. But my time at the occupation of Liverpool University's Irish Studies building yesterday convinced me there's a growing awareness that precisely such collaborations are essential for the development of each other's struggles. The uni workers facing attacks on pay and conditions were extremely grateful for the solidarity shown by students, bringing huge donations of food, drink and blankets. Students occupiers also grasp that if there is to be a fight for the defence of not for profit campus life, they will need to have the workers - academic and non-academic - on board too. Whatever happens in
the rest of this week, the past few days need to be a beginning, not an end, to this new solidarity.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

University of Liverpool Occupation - Statement

The following is a statement from the occupiers of the University of Liverpool Irish Studies department:

Students and staff from the University of Liverpool are now ocupying the Irish Studies Department in support of today’s staff strike action and as a peaceful protest against fees and the privatisation of higher education. This is part of a wave of unified direct action and is in line with recent occupations at various universities across the country, including at the University of Birmingham, Goldsmiths University, University of Sheffield, SOAS, Edinburgh University, University of Exeter, University of Sussex, University of Warwick and University of Ulster.

The current dispute between the three major unions and the university administration is part of a wider attack on the provision of free education which has included the introduction of tuition fees, the privatisation and outsourcing of university staff via illegitimate contractual changes (e.g. zero hour contracts) and the ongoing reduction of staff pay and working conditions (a relative 13% average pay cut since 2008). The casualisation of the university workforce can only have detrimental effects on the quality of educational provision and employment conditions of support staff. These attacks come from a management whose pay is astronomical with Vice Chancellor of UoL, Howard Newby, receiving a salary of more than £300k per year along with another 37 managers receiving no less than £140k per year, ranking the University of Liverpool 17th in the country for unfair pay.

Simultaneously millions of young people are being stripped of their access to higher education. The abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, a threefold rise in tuition fees, replacement of bursaries with fee waivers and the recent privatisation of some student loans are just four factors contributing to the widespread commodification of the education system. The intended result is to alienate students from their education to the point of transforming it from a universal right to a consumer product, thus a sub-prime investment in “human capital”. We reject such a transformation and consider this occupation an important reassertion of solidarity between students and staff who believe in a free, equal and accessible education system.

We support the aims of the strikers to close the entire university while strike action is taking place.

Demands

The university recently sent out an email demonising workers for taking strike action, and accusing the unions of lying without giving any evidence. We demand that the university retract this statement, and send out a new email clarifying the situation rather than providing incorrect and deliberately inflammatory information to students. We wish the email would include the input of the occupiers.

We call on university management to agree to no reprimands for UCU workers and students refusing to cross Unison/Unite picket lines tomorrow out of respect for the democratic rights of workers acting in solidarity with their colleagues.

We demand that the university management does not victimise or penalise any student or member of staff for participating in the occupation or for any other peaceful anti-cuts activism.

This occupation will continue until our demands are met. We would like to stress that this is a peaceful non-violent action with the intention of sending a message to the university administration. It is not our intention to disrupt the educational process, but to reform it.

Education is a right, not a privilege.

Student Occupation at University of Liverpool

Since a quarter to one, around fifteen students and their supporters have been occupying a lecture theatre in the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool. The occupation - which is taking place in solidarity with university workers' strike action against pay cuts and privatisation - has prevented one scab lecture from happening in its normal location.

The occupation's Twitter account is here, and Facebook here.

Tuesday
14:50 Police and security are outside, but a member of staff was able to make a food donation fiollowing a whipround of strikers from all striking unions.
15:00 Occupiers begin work on a statement.
16:00 Statement released. See here.
16:05 Occupiers have been told uni want them out by half past five.
16:20 Occupiers discuss safer space policy.
18:00 Happy campers post an optimistic article.
22:30 Final article of the day posted.

Wednesday
9:00 Safer spaces policy published.
9:45 Educational/discussion/entertainment plan for the day posted.
12:00 Educational discussions begin.
16:00 The occupiers post an update on an interaction with uni management.
17:00 Guild of Students President Sam Butler posts an update supporting the occupiers' right to protest, and then briefly talks to occupiers through an open window.

Thursday
9:00 Despite the Guild intervening to rearrange lectures scheduled for the Irish Studies building, uni management start using security to try and block occupier access to kitchen and toilets.
17:00 Occupation ends as construction crew starts erecting a fence around building!

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