Ramleh – The Great Unlearning

NP30 - Ramleh - jpeg

It feels like The Great Unlearning has been coming for a while. Anthony di Franco and Gary Mundy, the two mainstays of the current incarnation(s) of Ramleh have been prolific of late, with the former releasing two striking albums as JFK in as many years (plus an excellent split with the Grey Wolves) and the latter resurrecting his Kleistwahr project to superlative effect with five albums since 2014. Hints of where Ramleh would be going with this latest release came (apart from tantalising posts on social media from the pair) in the form of 2015’s Circular Time, which saw them return to the “rock” iteration of the band, and the presence of Kleistwahr’s Music for Zeitgeist Fighters on Egyptian/French label Nashazphone, which now brings us The Great Unlearning.

Truth be told, I have often wondered at the reasons for splitting Ramleh releases between “rock” and “power electronics” versions of the band, although personnel surely plays a part as well as how the songs the duo write take shape. It’s an intriguing way to approach the ongoing evolution of noise/post-punk/industrial music, and one that draws attention to the chaotic and fragmented way those genres have developed. As elder statesmen of the craft, it feels like Mundy and di Franco are highlighting the essential confusion that seems to grip the power electronics scene, forever preventing it from coalescing into something seminal. Part of the zeitgeist even. And maybe that’s a good thing. As zeitgeist fighters, Ramleh channel the pure intensity of the music they helped shape and continue to blaze a brighter path than most, regardless of the form they use to do so.

Until we get to The Great Unlearning, that is. This is an album that shines brighter than even the majority of the band’s copious back catalogue. di Franco even told me he thinks it’s their best album and whilst I’ll need to give it a few more spins to come to that conclusion (I mean, Hole in the Heart and Valediction will take some beating) it is undoubtedly their most cohesive, even complete, simply because it takes the “rock” and “power electronics” halves of Ramleh’s personality and brings them together. Maybe this is because The Great Unlearning reunites so many stars of the extended Ramleh family: di Franco and Mundy are joined by former member Philip Best, frequent live collaborator Sarah Frölich (both of PE legends Consumer Electronics), and drummers Stuart Dennison and Martyn Watts. All have appeared with Ramleh frequently over the years, even decades, and all help shape the album along familiar lines (noise, drone, hard rock) until it coalesces into something that, while not entirely new, certainly feels pretty unique.

Anyone who has seen Consumer Electronics live -or listened to their last three albums- will know what an unsettling outfit they are and Best and Frölich here provide a lot of the mulch and noise on tracks like “Racial Violence”, “Futureworld” and “Blood Aurora”, aided and abetted by Anthony di Franco (I must remember to ask them what a virus synth is and where I can get one). By incorporating drums, alongside Mundy’s loping, circular guitar lines and di Franco’s rambunctious bass, however, what could have been straightforward noise/PE tracks take on a psychedelic life of their own, often spiralling and soaring and stretching over lengthy passages of dystopian bliss. “Futureworld” is nearly twenty minutes of seething sludge, the band’s avowed passion for Butthole Surfers on display as Gary Mundy’s open-ended guitar solos drag the band into the seventh circle of hell. The track, like the more minimalist (but no less effective) “Blood Aurora”, progresses at a leisurely pace, bringing to mind the more formless workouts by Neil Young and Crazy Horse or Les Rallizes Dénudés but with underlying throbbing gristle in the form of unhinged synth noise. “Racial Violence”, the third piece to break the ten-minute mark, is more barbaric: all squalling guitars, arhythmic percussion and mad synths.

If that all sounds a bit lengthy and intense, well, it is (and righteously so), but Ramleh can also rock out like true punks, as displayed on “The Twitch” and “No Music for these Times”. Typical of so idiosyncratic a band, these are no Sex Pistols-esque romps but rather taught, coiled blasts in the mould of a Wire or Pere Ubu, only heavier than both. “No Music for these Times” features a particularly captivating riff and a chorus that borders on catchy. On the final side of vinyl the band inches towards dark metal territory with the bluesy “Your Village has been Erased”, nod to their background in industrial music on the vicious “Procreation as an Imperialist Act” (although even here their not-so-secret love for melody becomes obvious through Gary Mundy’s shimmering guitar patterns) before closing on another heavy rock/punk rollicking in the form of “Natural Causes”. Here, the delicious subdued vocal harmonies between Mundy and di Franco evoke another of their favourite bands: early Pink Floyd and the way Gilmour and Waters’ voices also meshed so evocatively. In their reimagining of the dark psychedelia of Floyd’s era for a damaged 21st century, Ramleh carry some of the haunted grandeur of such icons.

The Great Unlearning is a hefty beast, carrying on where Circular Time left off but with even more focus on the past and the present, both Ramleh’s own as a band, and underground music’s in general. In keeping with previous releases and their respective solo outputs, di Franco and Mundy’s lyrics are morose and never shy away from trauma and despair, both personal and societal. It’s one more ingredient that makes Ramleh possibly the most essential “rock” band of our times.

As an aside, I can’t recommend Nashazphone enough as a label. Over the years, they’ve released excellent albums by Sunroof!, Sam Shalabi, Skullflower, Sister Iodine, Alvarius B and EEK. I haven’t yet had the time to give it a proper shout out, but in June they released Tqaseem mqamat el haram 2016-2019 by Egyptian electronic artist 1127 and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better noise-glitch album out there.

I also must recommend all five of the aforementioned Kleistwahr albums. No other power electronics artist currently operating is able to so seamlessly blend ferocious noise with overpowering emotion. 


The happy ghosts of Corbyn St

Corbyn st.jpg

I met someone a while back, someone who made my life more fun at a time when I needed it more than ever. It didn’t work out but my memories of that time, in a remarkable flat on Corbyn Street, north London, still glisten and gleam with possibilities, joys and smiles. Those memories inspired these words.

Fun on Corbyn street

The crippled man went for a wander
A tired and despondent meander
Looking for answers to solitude
In the miasma of Grindr

A face appeared, angelic
Somehow, inexplicably, reaching out
To that sad relic
A chance encounter and a laugh in the dark

Such fun they had
Rolling around together
Much unclad
The tired ears of the angel’s
Flat mates driven mad
The gaze from above
Hilarious exhibitionism to drive back everything sad

Screeches and laughs
Lying on a fatigued mattress
No barrier from the prying eyes
But no care erected as a buttress
They shrieked through Drag Race
Sashayed away
Ready for another iteration
Of glorious play

His parents loved the young sparrow
Admiring his looks, his smile, his stories
Like most things it had to dissolve
But that fun, that laughter
Will remain forever.
Of happy experiences,
They serve as eternal reminder


His brief gift

Eyes somewhere between ebony and gold
Lips so soft my skin went to them
Like a magnet

A laugh: high and full of youthful mirth
And those gymnasts stared down
As sweat and tenderness collided
And we cackled at the madness of it all

It was Never meant to last
But he called me beautiful
I’m glad for that
So very grateful
And now I walk on still
Thanks to those eyes and lips

Words in the dark: a collection of writings

I don’t like to call what I write ‘poetry’. I’ll let others decide on that… But these words are important to me, especially at this stage of my life. I’m still learning how best to express myself, something not helped by periods of writer’s block. But I want to get better at painting pictures or capturing moments, as opposed merely to expressing emotions, which are generally dark and unhappy, retired goth that I am.

Writer's block

So here’s a short collection, generally written late at night. And probably often whilst being the worse for wear. Sorry if that shows. These are celebrations of friends, late night laments and pictures from other places. Hope they’re at least worth a read.

Down the road

At the close of the day
“May I have a pint of Asahi please?”
I asked
The music was too loud
But he heard and nodded
The golden flask was placed before me
And another day’s trying was swallowed away

Beside me the smiling woman leaned into the bearded man and laughed when he said he was from Guildford
Well you would, wouldn’t you?
They talked about Aldi and Lidl
Others milled about
Ordering more beer-filled vessels
Their conversations swallowed by Rihanna’s croon and general atmosphere

“There’s a form of solitude” I said
To the next untethered phantom
“That feels so good. Because everyone is everywhere”.
He/she laughed but didn’t reply
A companion in name alone

It was nearly 2am
On a Tuesday.
“I shouldn’t be here” I whispered to the wraith
As the happy woman described London to one of its inhabitants
Inside, an eye stretched towards
A flat I only glimpsed but had become a golem
Knowing it was close brought me back to my neighbour
And to another Asahi
Memories become heavy in this place

At 2am
Another man listened against all odds
To his own song
As Billy Idol blared down from above
The happy woman’s endless chat
Punctuated by “fucks” and “shits”
Turned more bitter

A man sat down beside me
Ordered a beer
I wanted to ask him “what’s up?”
But turned to glances instead and
He walked away
Such a hubbub, even so late
Words about football, lager, “that cunt” and more swirled around

As the clock ticked down
And I tried to forget that flat, that face
The happy woman stopped smiling
Rightfully angry but lost for words
The place started emptying
And then it’s just us few
And now that bell tolls
How long have I been here?
The shades have got bigger
And tomorrow’s still to come

last orders

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
You think you have the answers
And collapse the moment that
Reality screams upwards and bites
You on your suddenly massive arse

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
You believe your lover’s words
He says he loves you
You think “this is it, solution found”
And then no

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
The beautiful man swans through your life
Making you believe the lies you’d thought long gone
Now you’re hot, sexy, young
Oh wait, maybe not

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
When all you want is to not spend
Another night alone
Music is a great companion
But doesn’t deign draw breath
So as lovely as it is
The mattress remains cold on the other side

It’s hard being an industrial-scale twat
But what else can you do?
Your loves won’t take pity
And nor should you want them to
How about owning being that twat?
And then see how you go

Listening to Bernstein in Greece (for Jimmy)

Aeolus sighs a gentle caress
From Delos this way bound
It’s so late but this taverna
Perched over the water
Needs to last forever

Channel your anger
Sweet, kind, fragile nymph
And for every doubt please remember
You are loved

As the translucent azure
Winks traces of our species’ defiance
A lost American woman
Serenades us at the last
Cast off your doubts and fears
For they have no power over you here


Listening to Billy (for my beloved AA)

It’s ridiculous
Just a loop
Potentially ad infinitum
And yet so perfect
It’s our not-song

A moment frozen in time
You and me, talking so long
Yet never saying “I love you” enough

Then we’d go to sleep
Wrapped around each other
In our own little parcel of London
A haven I wish I’d recognised

Now you have someone better
But you can’t see your own reflection
Not as I do
So I reiterate that stupendous loop
Wishing time would go back
That room, those gorgeous loops
Are our jewellery forever
Please hold on to them and him
Because I still want to celebrate

On an island

“How are you liking Mykonos?”
The friendly man asked
Of course, I said I liked it
And I did
Such a beautiful sea, pearlescent water lapping at the feet
Of albino towers and those windmills
The food – succulently unhealthy gyros, too little tzatziki and so much fish.
Ever that orb screaming its healthiness down at me
And I’m forced to admit – I’m glad.
I avoid the pool, but not the other liquids
So many names I can’t remember as the haze takes hold
Oh now I’m enjoying Mykonos!
And so many men, in shorts, tank-tops and designer t-shirts
Hunger drips from lascivious lips
Eyes roam each stretch of land
Potentials open like lilies blooming
I hope I’m brave to turn away
But maybe foolish
The end in sight I look for a reminder
Rembetika maybe, or a bottle of overpriced Ouzo
Or a photo, on this crap phone
That captures a fragmented cloud
A tired-eyed glimpse
I think he would have liked it here
How he loved to swim
And that’s mostly what’s all to do
At least before the drinks and men turn your brain to mush
I recommend you come here, raven
With whomever’s next
Say hi to Kostas, Kathy and Christina
Maybe some of the other guys will be back
Like every year
Either way – enjoy
Because I liked Mykonos
The beers by the piano under the windmills
The terrace laced with sass and Aperol Spritz
That food again
That luscious sea I avoided with admiration
That catwalk of strange folks parading against my cynicism
The cats, the gypsum, the cobbles, always the sun
Even though my inner words
Carried your name with me like a wretched mnemonic
I found smiles inside and laughter without
“How are you liking Mykonos?” the man -could have been a waiter, a passerby or a regular queen of the island- asked. Another man, maybe.
“Very much” I said, and it was so true
But how nice it would be with my raven’s feathers in my arms
That I couldn’t say
So I didn’t
I ate gyros, drank beer and watched the blue, blue sea instead


A night walk in Crouch End

Heads bowed, illuminated by miniature windows
A view into a world so wide, so irresistible that
The immediate path is rendered
Insignificant and unworthy
Two souls close enough to touch, passing a whisker from each other and me
A whisker from love, or friendship?
Those precious metals we so poorly mine? Or maybe from indifference and boredom,
eternal resources to plunder.

Overhead red lights scream unrelenting progress
The night pierced by emerging ziggurats and the wings of travels ending
Down this quiet hill my path keeps winding
Sliding past my bowed companions
More lights and tender destructive amber
Clamour for me

And I can’t sleep without them
Later, wrapped in dry cotton
Away from all brightness
I fly back to those two potentials
Feeling them multiply like rice on a chessboard
Climbing up and up as the night shivers with unheard voices
Stories that never unfolded tantalise my senses
They so dulled by another evening’s excesses
And remind me to prepare anew for more snatched meetings
That will never coalesce into something to hold on to

I’ve also reworked an older piece

On a village green (Dedicated to Sheila and Esther)

It’s spring
The balmy weather always threatens rain but
When the sun pierces it illuminates everything
No cricket here
Not here, Major, with your myth of England
Wrapped in colonial, aristocratic entitlement
But the grass grows green
And I think of how this warm and contradictory public house
Is open to us all, from my inevitable privilege
To those less fortunate from anywhere they’re found
This green is ours
We bask in the dwindling sunlight
In an oft-divided country, we defy and
bring the all together
Beyond our differences
A barn owl swoops over the Green
A reminder of what went before
Young Tegan and I relish its languid flight
And picture a future for this village green
That doesn’t depend on the myth of England

IMG_0898(c) Joe Burnett, 2018

Mad is the word

And so it feels like madness
A wretched grasp at forever-ness
But mad is the word

Mad is the word
That calls on all of us
To sing about the real love
And turn it into grief

Mad is the word
It dashes through the cortex
Preventing sleep
Or making it too deep

A heavy presence
At the edge of perception
Omnipresent but avoiding detection
Mad is the word

A dozen voices clamouring
Crying for attention
You can drown them in liquid
Or fire shit up into your brain
Drench it in gold and silver
Waiting for something to deliver
You from evil
Mad is the word

It knocks on your window
Vomiting memories of him or her
Or them or you
It shrieks through the night
A paralysing leichenschrei
Calling for you eternal
Mad is the word

Mad is the word
Incomprehensible to some
They question you about it
But never hold it down
You fight it alone
And try not to drown
Not for you, not anymore
For them and for the worth
Of those screamed memories
Mad is the word


My love

My love

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love

That what was lost transcended mortal form
A concept to hold on to
A reality remade in any image
But how I was wrong
He was perfect. So perfect.
But not you.
Not you.

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love

But love’s phantom isn’t ephemeral
It’s locked in your person
So beautiful
I yearn not for love
But YOUR love
Eternal companionship in the form of your graceless arms
My sullen raven
My dissatisfied dove

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love

It’s not a concept
It’s a human
One I reach for with every failed attempt
Every failed simile is a reminder of
Your lasting embrace
Now just a memory of what never was

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love

I would hold my arm out
To call back my perfectly imperfect raven
A glove to alight upon
A room to share as one
But it’s all gone
I would have built you a palace
In our own space
Are these still, after the years, false dreams?
If so, I’ll plough on, even if the love dwindles to ash

As the song goes, Bye bye love
Bye bye sweet caress
Bye bye happiness
Hello loneliness
Bye bye my love goodbye

I thought I could fight
To rekindle the light
My love1378455_10151769976598074_334348132_n

On a village green


On a village green

It’s spring
The balmy weather always threatens rain but
When the sun pierces it illuminates everything

No cricket here
Screw you, Major, with your myth of England
Wrapped in colonial, aristocratic entitlement

But the grass grows green
And I think of how this warm and contradictory public house
Is open to us all, from my inevitable privilege
To the council estate dwellers up the hill
This green is ours

We bask in the dwindling sunlight
In Brexit country, we defy and
bring the all together
Beyond our differences

A barn owl swoops over the Green
A reminder of what went before
Young Tegan and I relish its languid flight
And picture a future for this village green
That doesn’t depend on the myth of England

I was dissatisfied before dial-up – a love memory

Just a poem written to expunge the shadows of loss. It didn’t really work, but it feels worth it to give this website a bit of a relaunch. It’s overwrought, which reflects the website as a whole, and betrays my love for Arthur Rimbaud and Hart Crane.

A joy merely caressed is a joy nonetheless.

What if the price of joy is the bleached bones of regret and distress?

Has it been worth us paying it, you and I?

An extended oneiric moment heralding a gilded future, clearly now faded.

I poured my hope and ambition into the mould of one man’s outline, holding it close even as he himself faded

How cruel was I, determined to keep our keg dry in the presence of the flame we both once fanned.

In the cloistered halls the cruel armies pulled close, whispering and plotting, their eyes alive, knowing the red rose is nothing but a deep shade of grey waiting to bloom.

So I recede into those petals’ embrace, for the die is cast

The path of heaven has ever branched and we must lie in the cold meadows by the side of our different roads, you and I.

Regret is birthed, a protrusion given the full force of our lies and errors.

Like that black dog it will pad beside me until I care no more, its hungry eyes never satiated, always ready. Until it strikes I hand you the keys of our decisions, bid “adieu” and stroke your hair from afar.

A smile so gorgeous, a laugh so infectious (my jokes, your laugh, the ultimate bliss), arms to keep me safe and those aching words “I love you”: these are the embers I sweep into my arms, regardless of the burns.

My throat now fills with amber, my eyes with jade. The songs of farewell echo from the voices of those who came before, telling you -telling me- to make it easy on yourself, and I join in the chorus.

No spite or unkindness.

No recrimination or despair. Hope hangs lost in the spiderweb of what is and once was. The strand may reveal itself yet again. Who knows?

I dwell in the apartment of what was, surrounded by the fields of what might have been, an ecstatic smile transmitted via my lobes from 2012; in 2017 now become a wry, shattered grin.

Potential only dreamt might still have flowered.

And the jewels from 2012, 13, 14, 15, 16 still shine, though their lustre has dimmed.

A joy merely caressed is a joy nonetheless.