As The Muzak Killer once ranted to his hapless hipster accomplice, ‘Music is only cool when it’s old!’ It’s the same with comics about music, which is why this  review of Phonogram 2.3 is so late that the next one is even out by now.

And I’ve nothing to say about it really, as it happens, so let’s do bullet points. You know, hip young gunslingers! In with a bullet! Peow-peow!


  • Lots about at the moment discussing the death and imminent resurrection of music journalism. Except for, blah blah declining print sales (Plan-B-gone)/fracturing of music genres/bloody old internet and those silly kids, and the sad death of the most remarkable British music journalist for a generation, all this is surely precipitated by the NME’s editor leaving to edit Top Gear magazine, the sad symbolism of such a fact to be so clear and tragic as to be not worth going into. So what’s going to be going on in the world of people who write about music now?
  • (Please to note, I am not cool; I do however live in a very cool place and have plenty of cool friends, so the unworthy pleasure of knocking the local record shop phonomancers out by asking for an album they’ve never heard of is one I can still occasionally experience. “Is that Engineerz with a ‘Z’?” No it isn’t.)
  • In a recent conversation with one of my cooler friends about how her from drone-folk horrorists Pocahaunted has left to start a band called Best Coast with a likely lot connected to Not Not Fun records (read his post on it here). How did you find this out? I asked – this isn’t the kind of news you get in Top Gear magazine. Oh you know, he said, blogs, Myspace, all that. Your established printies often say that the time they have to gather sources, check facts etc., by which they mean, shill for whataever shit the major labels are plugging that week. (Lily Allen’s Mercury-nominated second album!) Meatbreak proves that the source gathering is best left to the crowds, and finds the finest soundtack to a rainy summer while he’s at it.


  • Someone somewhere said that Paul Morley’s new corner of the online Guardian was renewing music journalism for the web. It’s a nice package, a column that’s not quite in columns, hopefully best thought of as a work in progress. The first has some bad flash text, too much of the ‘inimitable’ Morley style, and an interview with Ian ‘I’ll cut yr hanz off’ Brown. He really liked Michael Jackson, apparently. Thinking about it, Bubbles probably made his last public appearances around the time the first Stone Roses album was coming out. If there’s any extra relevance in that, I’ll let you investigate for yourself.


It’s not where you’re from it’s where you’re at.

  • The only thing that really sets this first Morley section apart from a million better DIY webspots is access, to the Guardian’s platform and web designers, and to the star interviewee. Which is to say: meh. The idea that a serious music writer would waste an hour arranging and conducting an interview with one of British pop’s least eloquent hasbeens, and pretend to get excited about said old raver’s white reggae (probably) cover of Billie Jean, can only be of any conceivable use as something for people like me to take the piss out of.
  • The second Morley Observer Music thing is about Kraftwerk. Fine. We all like Kraftwerk, even though their current heavy influence is now second-time-round. The danger of classicism, of the holy canon, is a problem music journalism is not able to shake in this bold new era. At this stage Kraftwerk are no more fit a corpse for digging over than Mick-or-Keef. (Hypocrisy watch: going to see them in a couple months, should be fucking brilliant. Kraftwerk, not the Stones of course.)


  • The third though, is hard to argue with. Old school NME hack teaches himself to read and write musical notation, and even compose a symphony, so that – gasp – he can actually develop a valid vocabulary for talking about music. Well fucking hell: this kind of thing should be made compulsory, frankly. Wasn’t Andrew talking recently about the dearth of actual music-writing abilities among music writers? (linky please ?)
  • John Harris (undistinguished 90s music writer turned inexplicable Brownite shill – I mean, fuck, what kind of a cockrot do you need to be? The drummer in Blur?), in a piece germane to the nothing of the current discussion, mentions Loops, a nice new twice-yearly bit of thing giving a big, glossy, and somewhat serious outlet for the old names (Nik Kent, Simon Reynolds, Jon Savage) to drag out a few chapters cut from their latest books. A few surprising and neat touches though , the best of which is Hearken to the Witches Rune by The Wire‘s Rob Young, a mind-blowing piece of cultural archaeology, digging out the links between Gardnerian Crowleyism, the late-60s English folk revival, and retroid kiddies-TV favourite Toni Arthur. (She came to the next-town over once and signed my sister’s book. She is ace.) Point is, Music meets magic – could be some life in that idea.


  • …music journalism’s finest traditions of unfettered idealism, syntactical overload, and industrial strength sarcasm.‘ – Loops no1, May 2009
  • Music journalism’s finest traditions can be found via the list on the right. Right? Right.
  • Certain facts are best transmitted as fiction. The most significant piece of music writing from the last ten years is Frank Cottrell Boyce’s screenplay to 24 hour party people. It’s clear achievements are as follows: 1. Letting indie white boys know that it’s OK to dance. 2. Letting indie white boys realise it’s OK to take pills if it helps. 3. Letting iwbs know that dance music, jazz-rock and even flipping afrobeat are all fine strings to have on your axe. 4. Letting iwb realise that even Ian Curtis knew how to have a good time.


  • (Yes of course, the collapse of the superclubs in the early C21 and the need to find new Ecstasy markets, and public USian E-ndorsements from Dre, Missy et al. didn’t hurt the resurgence of dancable electronic music back into the white mainstram either.)
  • The most significant piece of music writing for the next ten years should be Phonogram (but won’t because it is just a comic and only idiots read them, and the first two times they’re so pissed they literally can’t remember what happened in them and it takes a month to come up with a review).
  • Elastica were an almost platonically-perfect pop band. In a scene famous for its narrow range of influences, they were the only group who appeared to understand what sampling was, giggling when people told them that they were ‘ripping off’ Wire, like Marley Marl had never even been born. One hit album, heroin, dissolution, on to low-key careers in California and Christianity. This classic career template, old as pop itself, has rarely been so honourably adhered to.
  • Emily Aster, the least human phonomancer yet met, is somehow the only one at all personable. Even Kohl’s a bit less of a prick these days.
  • Mind you, as a school of auto-psycho medicine, phonomancy seems to come with a hell of a lot of kickback – their tricks don’t come off that smoothly. Perhaps it’s the toxic, deliberately careless inheritance of the Battle of Burchill, but our guys get tripped up on some pretty basic rules of thaumaturgy (be polite to goddesses; your past is not a septic limb to be severed). Maybe try a method of personal catharsis that’s a bit less dangerous – extreme bloodletting, maybe.
  • Rue Brittania gets a kicking, from its own creators, at least twice in this issue. It’s not that bad, but The Singles Club is a whole new universe of good in comparison.


  • Phonogram 2.3 is the best single yet off an album that’s becoming more interesting, exciting and essential with each issue. On its current groove, track seven will be the hottest flexi-book you will hear in 2009.
  • Bring on 4 (expect the review by Christmas).

21 Responses to “Phonogram Lateogram Reviewogram”

  1. Papers Says:

    I don’t know. I tried the first couple issues and then I stopped. It wasn’t really doing anything for me, and all the bits that I liked were quite overshadowed by the stuff that didn’t feel like it was working. I generally flip through it in the store now and then put it back on the shelf.

  2. zebtron a. rama Says:

    nice bit on Elastica there.

  3. The Beast Must Die Says:

    There’s going to be a nice big interview coming up with Kieron Gillen on Mindless Ones very soon…

  4. Mr.Flunchy Says:

    Love this comic. Love it.

    Most comics I’ll read on the tube or bus on the way home, but I always save Phonogram until I’m lying on my sofa with some great music playing a cup of coffee and a fine herbal cigarette.

    I don’t tend to re-read it though, as it almost immediately is given to one of my friends to read and pass on.

  5. David Says:

    Nice bit on 24 Hour Party People there. Makes a change from the “no no no, it ruins the magical myth of joy division and makes them look all beery and bloke-ish!! oh i wish i was still a post-punker, with ballards in my hair!” responses to that film that come from the Simon Reynolds/K-Punk camp.

    I definitely think that 24hpp is much more useful than the band-in-landscape stillness of Control — sure, 24hpp is pretty geezerish, but the focus on how these big, spooky songs and situationist slogans came out of this everyday madness is great! Instant myth and all that, but without the need to build false idols. Or rather, the film tempers that need with an acknowledgement of how silly this process is.

    Phonogram is maybe more interesting than all of that, what with the focus being not on the artists but on the songs and the people who use them. I loved Rue Brittania, being close enough in age and experience to wince at all the right moments, but the range of The Singles Club seems like a better demonstration of what the comic is all about.

    Issue #3 was brilliant, but #4 was even better. Probably because it was the both the most boxed in and the most social issue yet, which seems all the more perverse due to the importance of the Silent Girl in this set-up…

    But I’m talking pish now so I’ll shut up.

    Can’t wait for that Gillen interview!

  6. David Says:

    Also: the fact that this post both tips its hat to Swells and makes the case for music writers being put through a basic musical education makes my head swim.

  7. bobsy Says:

    That’s an enormously good point. I think the rejoinder I’d be teasing from my fundament if put upon the spot is that Mr. Wells filled the gaps in his vocabulary where words like ‘arpeggio’ or whatever should go with expletives, which is a perfect if not superior substitute. Mr. Morley (heretofore at least) fills those gaps with-out-and out waffle, which saps his prose of life and disguises his often excellent insights like a thin muslin blanket draped over a blonde child.

    My nasty side is really growing to the idea that people should be banned from writing about music until they’ve an MA in musicology and conducted an orchestra in the Albert Hall, with severe physical retribution for breaking this law. It would be good if only to drive them underground, give the profession (or hobby) the genuine rebel edge they like to pretend it has.

  8. Zom Says:

    I know I’m busy getting my PHD in Sequential Fiction!

  9. bobsy Says:

    I know all the right terms for writing critically, technically and academically about comics:


  10. David Says:


    I’ve just noticed a typo in my last comment. It should’ve read:

    Music lessons for journos? Fuck the fuck off!!

    What those shrivel-cocked, haircut-addled, turd-faced fools really need is to be taken away to a dank tent somewhere out in the Scottish highlands and subjected to a 24/7 piss party held by a gang of sinister Morrisey and Los Campesinos! look-alikes.

    After 3 days of being covered in the horrible, sexless wee of those stinking indie fucksters – DO YOU SEE?!! – the journos will find themselves coming over all tingly and rhapsodic when I arrive (dressed as Swells dressed as Kimberly Girls Aloud, of course!) and lead them to the rainy, piss-free V for Vendetta promised land rooftop where Kieron Gillen and Bobsy dress up as Joe Strummer and Sleater-Kinney and party all night long.”

    Which would’ve been a perfect example of why attempting to ape Swells’ style from some half-remembered, decade-old reviews will make you look stupid and creepy. There’s an art to critical swearing, just as there’s an art to bringing actual musical knowledge into the picture.

    My only problem with this idea that all music critics should be musically educated is that, well, that’s not always what excites me about music writing. Swells’ sweary pseudo-socialist screeds, the contextual fireworks Douglas Wolk’s book on James Brown, the reactive poetry of Phonogram, Said the Gramophone, 20jfg et al – some of these are written by people with a grounding in the music, others aren’t, but they all convey the impact of the actual fucking listening experience.

    Which, of course, you don’t need me to tell you, since this review manages to perfectly capture the excitement of Phonogram while only slightly scratching against its sequential workings.

    And of course, there are several music writers who could do with a bit more musical knowledge, myself included (and if you think my web writings are bad, you should see the horrible scratchings that’ve actually been published!). Plus your suggested legal changes could be a laugh: I’m imagining a sort of Journos of Future Past story in which a battered gang of NME hacks try to publish their half-hearted witterings while being pursued by giant hunter-stomper robots. Maybe it’d make them try harder, but probably not!

  11. David Says:

    Oops! My formatting went all fucky there. Guess I’ve went too many rounds with the hunter-stomper robots!

  12. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Paul Morley’s ‘Words and Music’ is a third of a Very Bloody Good book wrapped up ina a huge amount of nebulous verbosity, which ultimately had the effect of sapping the joy out of either form. Shame really, because Morley can be excellent. He wrote a wonderful piece on the musical landscape of Manchester which was shorn of his usual bollockry. Rather like the tomb-like simplicity and clarity of his longterm muses(s) Joy Division.

    I think Simon Reynolds is actually pretty spot on. ‘Rip It Up’ had the exact effect on me that it should have done: It made me seek out lots of very good records by lots of very good bands.

  13. David Says:

    Yeah, Simon Reynolds is pretty damned good at what he does. For all that I like to take the piss, his writing usually has just the right mix of musical theory and cultural theory, which is a hard balance to pull off.

    Still, while Reynolds’ enthusiasm and sense of purpose are hard to resist, I sometimes feel like he gets a little over-excited about the idea of new, authentic music scenes. It’s like watching Seaguy sploshing around underwater – it’s exciting, but you know that he’s going to stir up some cranky old robotic wasps in a few minutes.

    I [heart] Paul Morley pretty fucking hard, but then I’m a big fan of rambling pretentiousness in all its forms. Still not sure what to make of Words and Music though – I read it last month, and it’s either a masterful combination of form and subject or a lot of nothing covering up a little bit of something. Or neither. Or both.

    Sean Witzke’s a meg-fan of that book, if I recall correctly. Warren Ellis too, if his Do Anything column is anything to go by.

    What do people think of that column, by the way? I’d just finished W&M before I read the first one, and so the obviousness of Ellis’ 2nd hand conceit seemed grating – but it’s starting to look like there might be a plan behind its ever-expanding meta-blather.

    I’ll probably hate it again in a week or two, but so it goes.

    Missing from this comment: a subtle argument connecting Morley and Reynolds with Phonogram via Joy Division. Which is a shame, because this argument would’ve proved that I am 100% right about everything, always.

  14. Botswana Beast Says:

    Paul Morley called ‘Liquid Swords’ “g-funk” and he is on the outs forever, so far as I’m Concerned, therefore, the penis.

  15. Botswana Beast Says:

    A question I ought perhaps to ask myself first, but – are you ever going to write anything for the internet again, ever, David?

    I miss you, child *doodoodoododeedledu*, etc. [Wedren/Mirwais vsn, no questions]

  16. Botswana Beast Says:

    I like Ellis commentario – sometimes, I wish he was only that, a studious scenester, observing from the sidelines.

  17. Botswana Beast Says:

    I’m quite drunk.

  18. David Says:


    I sometimes feel that way about Ellis too, but then he goes and writes something very stupid on his website, or releases a new issue of Fell or Nextwave or whatever and I find myself confuzzled all over again.

    Morley called Liquid Swords “g-funk”? That’s pretty much penis talk, yes.

    (Aww shit, now I want to start writing in the voice of Death’s Head/Gordon Ramsey hybrid Chef’s Head! It’s best that I don’t, yes? Because Chef’s Head knows that man is the pie that bakes and eats itself.)

    Anyway, that’s one of the slight probs with Morley, isn’t it? He wants to come off like a hyperlinked mess of avant-garde ideas and pop knowledge, but sometimes he says something weirdly stupid and off and wrong and you just find yourself thinking “what?”

    Still, love the man, penis talk and all.

    Speaking of penis talk: I will write for the internet again, thanks. The question is, do I travel further up my own ass and accept my fate as a living Charlie Kaufman caricature or do I try something different? I feel a little bit like my blog was no rock’n'roll fun towards the end there, and that it was only going to get worse. Time for a change?

    And yeah, you should write more Mindless posts Duncan – the blogosphere (do we still say blogosphere or is that too 2003?) needs you!

    Also: Phonogram is good, yes?

  19. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Iz good, yes. It certainly is one of the few comics engaged in an actual complex, sexual relationship with music. I can forgive it’s flaws because I simply think it is a very unusual comic, one with a distinct voice and personality that I admire.

  20. David Says:

    There’s been some interesting discussion of teh Phoneygram over in the Factual Opinion’s comments.

    Lots of chat about the kill-worthiness of Phonogram’s cast over there, which is amusing. Somehow this comic seems to bring out the cruel side of the comics blogging world — if it isn’t creating the context in which brutal anti-hack laws can be imagined, it’s generating Punisher wet dreams.

    Which, hey, I’m not criticising — I came up with the Morrissey piss party for pretty much no reason, so I’m as guilty as anyone. More so, probably.

    Maybe this is a side-effect of the book’s aforementioned “distinct voice and personality”? I admire it too, but it is very loud and self-consciously attention grabbing, which might explain why it sparks an equally in-yr-face response. Maybe?

    Still, like I said in Factual Land, I like it, and it seems like Gillen/McKelvie are stepping it up almost constantly.

  21. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Did bobsy get his groove back? The final Phonogram Says:

    [...] entities like Form and Content, we will therefore be going with the randomish bulletpoints format again, fire up a few bad jokes, misapplied anecdotes, predictable gimmicks, attic junk, and creepy [...]

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