Renu–They Dance in the Dark album review

Renu’s journey into the conflict between the head, the heart and the crotch. Hmmm, that’s a weird thing to say, right? Well… no it is, it’s weird–but I never let that stop me from saying whatever’s in my head.

Fierce in her beliefs and true to her art, if Renu’s released a new album it’s because she’s damn well ready to release a new album, and has planted her vision as fully as is possible.

It makes me smile to identify footprints audible in Midnight Radio that she has left throughout They Dance in the Dark. There’s much of that DNA in Queen of Heaven, and I love that–in the delay on Always You–in the spoken word. Water into Words is a good example of what I like about Renu’s style of composition, she puts as much effort into choreographing the slides from section to section as she does in the chorus.

When the EDM vibe is absent, the style is born from geo-political experimentation with a European, straight-edged bass and drum ensemble core and an arabic folk-twist with some beautiful vocals.

Always You got deserved playtime on 6 Music, and also is a proper good EDM tune. Sern Nos is what this album is about, it’s got the barebone, archetypal soul of this album. Throughout the album is a scattering of electronic phrases from the ages, vocal padding as in Chicane’s trance classic Saltwater, drums bit-squashed like IDM from the turn of the millenium in Raised Heavy with that disjointed cerebral IDM drum pattern. Even some guitar tone/effect akin to Radiohead in To the Mountain and Linkin Park in Raised Heavy.

Renu is exceptional at producing with vocal layers. She handles delicate, cracking and ‘overtonal’ sonic qualities as well as anyone I’ve heard.

When Renu gets outspoken with her production is where she seems to shine the most in the more EDM of the tracks on They Dance in the Dark. ‘Salma…’ is throbbing with modulating lead synth. She shouldn’t shy away from pushing her sonic statements right to the top of the envelope. Occasionally I find it isn’t mixed to the kind of limits like I’d want, 1984 for example. Therein lies that conflict between the head, heart and crotch

*Must stop saying crotch, it’s becoming a thing*

In contrast, Queen of Heaven is unmistakeable in its intent and comes right from the crotch, but as Santana points out, you play with your head, heart, soul, god (I think?), and your ‘kahunas’.
Queen of Heaven rings with Renu’s signature string layers which don’t sit smugly, instead they speak with a pseudo-improvisation–an organic dynamism that permeated Midnight Radio. At a point the pace is allowed to drop before all the instrumentation comes back together, as orbiting particles, never quite getting away until they unite back in the groove. I could wax lyrical for ages about Renu’s ability to be understated and therefore say so much. It’s wonderful to listen to.

Now, I really like Boys and that slightly worries me, not for the obvious pun, but because on an album that’s described with as much gender politics as this is, I sort of worry there’s a hidden musical extended-metaphor. Am I reinforcing the mysognistic imbalance? Am I being subversively objectified? Am I patriarchy’s misguided flâneur? Is this white guilt? OK, I exaggerate…
‘Boys’ is a great finisher and ups the pace right at the end, with some awesome Bernard Hermann style strings. And with that, it is almost as though we’ve journeyed from the intro EDM of Always You on into Renu’s head and on into her heart and now we’re coming out from a deep dive, back to the dance floor where we’ll eventually be asked to kindly leave, with some disco synth and 4/4 kick.

Good fucking shit.

Renu’s They Dance in the Dark:

‘Her screwball expression’: Philip K. Dick describes female beauty in The Man in the High Castle; male writers unintentional misogyny in describing love interests; and K. Dick’s influence on me

Philip K. Dick is one of the biggest names in science fiction: fact. His is a well-greased engine, skirting–as all the greatest writers do– all manner of intellectual disciplines as well as the well-trod line between genius and madness.
Of his writing style, his brevity is perhaps one of his biggest strengths: he has a style that is shotgun in its delivery yet dove-like in its poetry.
And just so, a particular paragraph:

But above and beyond everything else, he had originally been drawn by her screwball expression; for no reason, Juliana greeted strangers with a portentous, nudnik, Mona Lisa smile that hung them up between responses, whether to say hello or not. And she was so attractive that more often than not they did say hello, whereupon Juliana glided by.

Like a pinch of gunpowder in a hungover breakfast fry up: brilliant. A wonderful way of describing the often-occuring effect of woman upon man (other variations are available). Read the book to see how that paragraph ends, just as telling as the initial effect where the aforementioned sexualised social interaction is concerned.

At which point a diversion into one of the most frustrating things about male authors: descriptions of female love interests. Unveiled misogyny, or a fair and honest focus on the want of the crotch? I literally closed ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ when I was fifteen/sixteen and lost interest in Milan Kundera based on this male-centred approach to describing the phenomenon that is best explained as ‘woman makes man think of sex’ and is therefore incapable of any accurate empathy, something this reddit thread explores by questioning his relevance in the current age. And as much as I wish I wasn’t writing this, Haruki Murakami is awful for it, though his ‘sad lonely man’ trope does lend itself to such narration, this thread suggests I’m not alone in this and if you read it through you’ll find some interesting theories as to why. It is just so painful to find your heroes are human, that for all their conduction of ethereal abstracts into addictive writing they come out with some dog shit about how some female character is ‘pretty but in a plain sort of way’. It’s difficult to not betray myself here but I read this description of the collision of the human condition and the biological imperative  as ‘yeh I guess I’d probably do her’.

Anyway, back to Philip K. Dick: I came to his writing relatively early in my reading life, probably thanks to the shop Fopp, but being a hesitant reader in my teens it was the films based on his books that had me assimilating his ideas as a permanent canal in my tastes. I’d watched and re-watched Total Recall and Screamers many times on home-recorded VHS. I’d seen Imposter and would soon see Minority Report and I had no idea that they were based on his books. I’d also paid for at least two of the seven different edit-releases of Blade Runner: of which around the time I was sixteen my favourite was the noir, Harrison Ford voice-over release.
In 2006, when A Scanner Darkly came out starring Keano Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr and Winona Ryder I started reading Ubik because it was cool at nineteen-ish to think I was somehow ‘above’ this fairly hyped, gimmicky cartoon of a film and so the gradual tide of his writing washed over me. Thank god!

Male eating disorders (a brief point of view)

Binge eating, emotional eating, eating disorders. I’m sure we’re all expectant that women suffer from this more than men. But the world is changing. The shape of man is not necessarily man-shaped. The look of man is not necessarily man-shaped. Man/male/guy/heterosexual/lad/gay. What’s biological? What’s socially constructed? Is there a crisis of masculinity? Edward Norton and Brad Pitt’s David Fincher directed Chuck Palahniuk story Fight Club was zeitgeist defining: what does it mean to be a man. “Is that what a man looks like?” Questions the only-when-standing-next-to-Brad-Pitt ordinary looking Edward Norton, next to one of the most beautiful men who ever lived.

Walk through any two streets in any average British city and you’ll get any number of different reactions. I’ve been started on for trying to help people. I’ve been looked at as a thug when mistakenly ‘toughening’ myself up whilst feeling threatened. I’ve been shoulder barged, glared at and insulted in the past: when I was slim; when I had long hair; when I was wearing a piece of clothing that made me stand out. The truth is that now, with a XL chest or with my grade 1 shaved head I had no real problems, people didn’t try and mess with me.

It’s tough being a woman, especially a hot one. “If she didn’t want attention she shouldn’t have dressed like that”. But it’s also really tough being a man. Modern life is structured to benefit those who are sociopathic enough to care only about themselves. It’s simply too tiring for troubled people. It’s totally natural that mental health trouble would flourish. It’s totally natural that in the days of Dwayne Johnson taking what “man shaped” is to absurdity (he wasn’t exactly small when he was The Rock) that the “Bane” body is perceived as a genuine target. And when a man comes out as suffering with this, what happens? Well, in the case of Mail columnist Richard “stupid cunt” Littlejohn responding to John Prescott’s expression of his eating disorder, you publish your ridicule of the guy to over a million people. But for the gender of the species who are expected to be strong and in control a collapse of self-esteem does crazy things.

The Rock, difference in size over the years

The Rock/ Dwayne Johnson, difference in size

Tom Hardy as Bane

Tom Hardy as Bane

But for a lot of men, emotional eating and self-loathing are a lifelong struggle. I know, I’m one of them.

Read more: Binge Eating Among Men Steps Out of the Shadows

The Staves at The Junction, Cambridge: February 17th 2015

The Staves played the last show of their pre-album launch tour to a warm and well attended J1/ The Junction, Cambridge. The Staves have been around a while now but have only more recently reached my radar. They did this through their 2014 Blood I Bled EP – cue the first subversion of the night: a joke about The Staves merchandise including tampons for the tour.

I am helpless in front of tangential stimulation and the three Staveley-Taylors were full of inspiration in that regard. From a passing comment about pre-ordering being ‘the way’ that one has to buy albums these days I detected a slash of label politics in the background. Add to that the assumption of them being of typical folk persuasion their relevance in a fickle world of music, sub cultures, ‘coolness’ and identity and I would imagine you would have label executives grimacing with potential pounds trickling from their grasp. They’re not exactly unattractive women – put it that way. Thankfully though they aren’t often compared to The Corrs. Ever ‘meta’, they alluded to the idiocy of all such discourse – if you can call it that – including a “fuck Bush!” as well as a gently sardonic promise to be playing not only new (unreleased) material that we’ve clearly not heard before but also their “greatest hits”.

Their forever-place in my heart was set.

The music, including identifiable perfect triple harmonising was polished, practised and brilliant. The rockier newer material had a serious groove, the gentle intimate acoustic songs where the other two gathered around Camilla’s mic ebbed and flowed into the audience. Their appearance could easily be described as demure (though thankfully they are happy to usurp that label) and ethereal yet more than that their performance imparted a true authenticity, beautiful music that spoke from a modern woman’s soul.

It was a great gig. Full of well refined sass, familial unison and a melting of sweetness with banter to produce one of the best sets for not only music, but talking; conversation and discussion between themselves and with the crowd. It was wonderful and a real breath of fresh air after having watched a few shows in recent years where there is no effort whatsoever to engage the crowd. I watched Band of Skulls a few years ago and between every song they allowed for a huge tuning break where they did not talk to the audience at all. It totally killed the vibe. Far from that, The Staves increased the wonder of the event by really, truly, engaging with the audience. Well into the set, Emily introduced the backing band, and Camilla, and somewhere along the line they moved on before she introduced Jessica (the rockier looking one of the three whom I noted in the crowd had attained the label, from a group of men, of the “fittest”) who kindly exclaimed “Oh I have to introduce myself then?” Later Emily turned to the other two and genuinely thanked them for a wonderful tour – to which the others seemed genuinely touched, but in an understated, taken-for-granted sisterly way. It was beautiful to see not just their utmost professionalism with their musicianship, but also their relationship play out before us: Jessica with the electric guitar, Emily with the keyboard setup as the eldest, and Camilla (Milly) the youngest, with an understated beauty, long luscious hair and faintly awkward smile.

They were very, truly absorbing and performed a brilliant set of exceptionally good music.