1996-2021: Top 10 Favourite Albums

Twenty five years ago, I was released from prison. Yes, prison, but not the penitentiary kind. It was my boarding school. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘school’. It was a hellish nightmare of psychological and emotional torture, corporal punishment and (although not in my case, cause I was never cute and sex pest are shit scared of feral little goons) sexual abuse, but that’s a story for another day. Anyway, after the 10th board exam I was finally a free bird. This was the golden age of MTV. Within a week I witnessed ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on TV. It was a spiritual awakening, smashing of senses, colliding of worlds, molecular disintegration of body and mind. This single song became the projectile force that dislodged me from the binds of a culture that I was born into and propelled me into an orbital space of a pan-human culture. The following day I scrounged for Nirvana in the streets of Kolkata until finally some cool dude told me where to find it. I bought NEVERMIND with some saved cash (and also GN’R’s APETITE FOR DESTRUCTION, because why not?) Kurt Cobain became my personal Jesus, a monolithic presence who had never let me down during any of my crisis. Since then I soaked up the music scene like a sponge. Just for context, I listened to the godly 90’s in the 90’s (not retrospectively), hunting music and discovering buried treasures in the truly underground music scene in Kolkata and later Bangalore. There was no social media feeding in pop culture, you were all on your own, the only way to be cultured was to be self-taught (Rock Street Journal was the dope yo, only my tribe will know this mag). Thankfully, unlike most of my dying tribe, I never got stuck on a genre or a particular era. Music was a fertile field of discovery and I was a seeker (and let me not get started on those humbugs who say that music is not good these days, lol). The last twenty five years had been a wild ride of epic proportion, so much so that it is impossible to pick favourites. But a few albums have outlasted others with me. Of those elite albums I present just the top ten (it was difficult) mainly because they are flawless in their entirety in my opinion, not a single weak track in these long plays. These albums work like a coherent unit of sonic sublime, a journey, a story, a full body emersion. Of course I had to work out a few criteria in the selection, well otherwise there would be a lot more Radiohead and Nirvana and that would be boring, wouldn’t it? So the criteria were these – 1. One album per artist 2. Albums released in the last twenty five years, the only exception being NEVERMIND 3. Only studio albums (no collection, best of, anthology etc). I had to be ruthless, so many of the favourite bands missing, so many deserved albums snubbed, but that’s the whole point, to find out which ones are the dearest, which ones would win my personal bias. In the end it is just a grown man revisiting his early years (and not so early years lol) and saying ‘I love you’ to all those bands and musicians that made his life bearable, not just these ten. And to eliminate all ambiguity – this is NOT a list of my favourite albums of ALL TIMES. Maybe only the top three will land up in a list like that. This list represents albums released in the last 25 years only.

  1. OK COMPUTER – RADIOHEAD
    Released – 1997
    Genre – British Alternative Rock
    Length – 53:21

The. Greatest. Album.
Of. All. Time.
Period.

  1. NEVERMIND – NIRVANA
    Released – 1991
    Genre – Grunge Rock
    Length – 49:07

The monolithic god for an entire generation. ‘Nuff said.

  1. FILOSOFEM – BURZUM
    Released – 1996
    Genre – Norwegian Black Metal
    Length – 64:34

Meditation on alienation, violence and misanthropy. If this is hell please sing me up for it. Hail Lord Varg.

  1. BE HERE NOW – OASIS
    Released -1997
    Genre – British Alterative Rock
    Length – 71:33

Opens with the ‘scientifically proven coolest song ever’ D’YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN? That’s not a question haha, that’s the song title. Oasis was synonymous to world domination by this point. Although some may say WHAT’S THE STORY was better, I have to disagree. Song on song this one beats every other Oasis production hands down.

  1. PARACHUTES – COLDPLAY
    Released – 2000
    Genre – British Alternative Rock
    Length – 41:29

Before Coldplay was a sell out, they were good, I mean really good. Their debut album was a dreamy fog of genius, the succession of tracks play like an ambiguous space time texture, transporting the listener into a mellow light-headed bliss.

  1. THE MARSHALL MATHERS LP – EMINEM
    Released – 2000
    Genre – Hip hop
    Length – 72:04

I got my hands on this album before Eminem blew up. I saw it on the rack of a music shop and bought it on a whimsy. By this time I already had Tupac’s All Eyez On Me and Me Against The World and Snoop’s Doggystyle. But what came with Em well I wasn’t prepared hehe. So I was sharing the Bangalore apartment with a few mates and I came home with the album and balsted it as usual. And……fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck motherfucking fuck. Rest is history. Yes nobody knew Eminem, at least not in India, when I took him home. I can say that becoz my copy of Marshall Mathers LP was the first lot that hit India, the completely unedited tape where Em’s his raining filth on his mom and Stan’s killing his preggo girl in the trunk. Disturbing, iconic, poetic wizardry. Imo Eminem never reached this height. His best.

  1. NIMROD – GREEN DAY
    Released – 1997
    Genre – Punk
    Length – 49:09

Some might say Dookie was their best (which was awesome to b fair), others may call American Idiot their masterpiece (which was mediocre at best). For me, Nimrod is where they came in full force, sharp and polished but not yet a sellout. The album is vicious, ruthless, loco. Every single of those 18 tracks are hard as a bullet head, well maybe not Good Riddance, that was a mellow candy but you need a pop track to launch an album.

  1. UNTRUE – BURIAL
    Released – 2007
    Genre – UK Garage/Dubstep
    Length – 39:44

Burial’s music is almost impossible to describe in words. Its ethereal, an internal turmoil, a physical experience like rainfall on the skin. He almost singlehandedly invented a music genre. Untrue is a constant companion for me, mostly when I write. Untouchable stuff.

  1. SUBURBAN NATURE – SARAH JAFFE
    Released – 2010
    Genre – Indie Pop
    Length – 46:05

Nobody knows Sarah Jaffe. Probably that’s the charm of her music. This album is an underground masterpiece, only promoted by NPR and likes on its release. One needs to be a legit member of the urban tribe that live under the radar to discover her music. When all the glam all the superficiality all the marketing bullshit and vanity is stripped away that’s when music gets the tonal purity of Sarah Jaffe. Unbelievable lyricism and honesty, hits a perceptive audience right at the heart. Or the cerebra. Well, Sarah is still underground, making music and doing tiny concerts in NYC and living a harmonious life with her graphic artist girlfriend. What a champ.

  1. THE NEW ABNORNMAL – THE STROKES
    Released – 2020
    Genre – Post punk
    Length – 45:07

What a comeback. Easily the best rock album in the last 10 years, I would call it better than IS THIS IT. Sheer genius. On a loop since last year, humming, humming and still humming.

Of Glee And Wonder

   As children our experiences do not come burdened with informed memories or knowledge. Every new encounter, however mundane, brings in a unique sensation, and before long, the world becomes an avalanche of senses in all its ordinary details – the comfort of a smooth river-pebble, the intoxication of an orange-flavoured eraser, the covetousness of a pink bubble gum. This heightened sense of glee and wonder and awe of quotidian beauty is born out of the same innocence that makes children speak awkward truths and laugh at embarrassing moments, much to the chagrin of their parents. Sadly, as the cliché goes, all good things come to an end. In the evolutionary trade off of growing up, innocence has to make way for a cognitive awareness that buries the child in us. The slow and inevitable demise of the inner child robs us our gift to be marvelled at simple things like fireflies in a dark night, until one day even a snapshot of a black hole fifty three million light-years away becomes nothing more than an insipid digital image. The world around us remains unchanged with all its glory and wonder; it is we who become the ordinary. I think that is what Picasso meant when he said ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up.’

Featured painting: Woman With Green Hat, 1930, by Beltran Masses

A Stray Feather

If on a lazy summer morning
a sudden gush of wind brings a stray feather to your desk
would you spare a moment to think,
how beautiful life can be?
It’s easy to forget how transient we are,
dancing like tentacles of waterweeds in the green depth of time.
Tell me in this abysmal push-pull
don’t you ever get tired of being left alone?

At times when I read your stories,
I go like… right, right, a-ha, absolutely!
It’s like a false sense of clarity, as if I can almost read your mind.
Makes me wonder though –
if I was to ever play a role in one of ’em stories,
would it have a different ending?
Say, as unlikely as it maybe,
if you were brave enough to hand me the keys to the darkest alleys of yourself,
would I be brave enough to step inside and look around?

Anyhoo,
the universe has no centre.
Makes it all the more easy for me to say it is you.
Every light, every darkness, every sun peaking through
every celestial cloud, every tree in every world,
every breeze and every blossom, every face and every heart,
every kiss and every longing spins around you.

I know, I know, it’s stupid.
Look I’m just saying…
OK, stop it now, I can hear you laugh, alright?
Listen, I’m just saying love is stupid, but it is also real, no?
As real as the dissonant key on your piano,
the quiet sighs of your cat and
that rogue itch that keeps you up all night long.

Honestly,
if on a cold, crusty night
you catch me rolling over the true limits of human emotion,
crossing the final frontier that no one ever will,
won’t you raise a glass for me?

A Beam Of Light

The past that I’ve been storing
In the corners of my bedroom
Have become so dense, so viscous
That it now accumulates me instead
Gathering, collecting little pieces of me in between the stacks
Neatly dated and marked with sticky notes and scribbles
That no longer make sense
And all I do is sit and mope and pick on the pieces
Try to fix them back together

When you say I am monumental, I am immense,
I brush it aside with cold humour
But a distant hope of a clean break
Seizes me with a burning desire
It’s all touch and go
For you are a coward
Swaying like a dumb festoon in your wistful winds

Why don’t you get it together and man up, man?
It takes grit to run off on bare feet, y’know?
Why don’t you tell me to believe and leap,
To burn bridges and scorch the earth,
To free my body and let it grow twigs and warts and thorns of lust?
Before you turn into a pathetic, hairless slob
Why don’t you take me on a night drive
In your beat up car with a blind headlight?
Why don’t you tell me everything’s gonna change,
That if we have each other
Even a single beam of light could lead us ahead?

Featured oil painting is by Annie Remich based on a photograph by Leo Berne.

The Peculiar Sadness Of Dead Flowers

Today
When you wake up
Grind your coffee, brew it strong
Drink a nice cuppa and consider this
There will be no earth shattering love today

Today
As you walk down the stairs with a cigarette in your hand
A spiral of towel barely clinging on your skin
Spare a thought for a moment
No Taj Mahal will be build today

Today
When you shelter yourself from mourning
The peculiar sadness of dead flowers
Picture the whole sky unfurl under your ceiling
The wings you wrote about are all too real

In the funnel of time
You are unborn, alive and dead all at once
Recurrence, recursion, repercussion
Nothing mattered, nothing will
You will be mined as fossil fuel by future beings

So today, break your precious glass slippers
Feel a flutter in your aging heart
And drift like a red balloon while you still can
In this life we are briefly beautiful
The rest is all stillness

Featured artwork: Two Italians, 1921 by PEDER MORK MONSTED

White Dawn

In the year of chinese malady
We live with one hand on the mouth
While the other chokes the throat

Some of us, death has taken young
For the rest, we get by with silence,
With ruminations, with deja vu’s

Memories so pale they seem fantastical,
Like a long march on a freezing night,
Shoulders hunched, our locked hands our only refuge

For those of us lovelorn
We tell stories of great loves,
Of legends that survived the onslaught of time

Then, at the white dawn of the new year
A bullfinch brings snow flecks on its wings
It sings of resurrection, and we sing along

On The Other Side

On the other side of the night
The lighter side
When the barn owls have gone hiding
Your name burrows in me
Digging subway tunnels of delirious melancholia
Under the skin

On the other side of the night
A yearning blurs the receding moon
It reminds me of your moans of pleasure
Like everlong aches of a derelict homestead
A warning sign of bio-hazard
A cautionary tale

On the other side of the night
Somewhere in an unfolding future
We are basking in the sun
At a roadside picnic
My fingers on your flawless neckline
Your fingers in a chocolate mousse cake

The Discomfort Of Evening: Book Review

THE DISCOMFORT OF EVENING (De Avond Is Ongemak)
by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
Translated from Dutch by Michele Hutchison
(Winner of Booker International 2020)
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 2/5
NOT RECOMMENDED AT ALL.

…discomfort is good. In discomfort we are real.


The literary community generally crowns the infamous title of the most disgusting piece of prose to Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Guts’. I read Guts. Its puke-inducing horrendous. Well, Guts is Disney’s Scrooge McDuck to this monster I am reviewing now. I mean it.

First thing first. Rijneveld identifies as a non-binary individual and uses the pronoun as ‘they’. Alright. I generally abide by that. Here I wont. I am not going to play along with a person’s social demand who herself do not think twice to violate the most basic social norm: child sexual abuse. So, lets call a spade a spade. Rijneveld is woman I am going to refer her as what she is.

Now. This book is masterfully written. Its highly intelligent in its craft. One would rightly call this book an extended poetry or use the new term ‘prosetry’. The imagery is vivid and alive. I do not think I have ever read anything which portray it’s world in such minute details. It must be acknowledged that Rijneveld is a poet of the highest order. I am in awe of her literary prowess. Unfortunately as a reader that is my only reward.

This is a relatively short book with a 52,000 word count. And it didn’t take me long to finish. But within the three days that I read it, I felt abandoning it several times. Rijneveld’s language brought me back everytime.

The book is narrated by a 10 year girl from a rural farming family who lost her elder brother in the first chapter (this is not a spoiler as it is in the blurb). The family starts to slowly break down from this point. The problem is that a 10 year old girl cannot have such a complex, mature voice like the narrator, and this mismatch creates a strange distance of implausibility that is never fully mitigated. The tone is claustrophobic but beautiful, but soon self-harm and morbidity start to surface.

And from then onward it only goes darker and darker till it turns into underage pornography and scat fetish. It is disgusting to the point that I felt ashamed to even read this, and I had to skip a few pages. At one point during my read, I happen to look at the mirror and realized that there was a permanent grimace pasted on my face. It seems every taboo that there is Rijneveld went out to break it to prove a point. Sex involving children is written in such graphic detail that one starts to question Rijneveld’s intent.

The cruelty towards animals, the violence, the child abuse, incest, pedophiliac tendencies, morbid suicidal fantasy, disgusting body fluids, excrement, urine, snot and the act of eating it… if this novel was written by a man, what the left liberal world refer as ‘cis male’ the author would be brandished forever as the sickest scatophiliac, child pornographer and burned at stake by media and social media. If there was any context or philosophy behind all this, anything that could support this deviant writing I would understand. But there is none, it is pointless and gratuitous.

It’s such a shame then that Rijneveld, because of her biological gender and her gender identity is being lauded as a genius. I have to say this award is nothing but a political gimmick to show oh how liberal and progressive the Booker committee really are. I wish I could congratulate Rjneveld for being the youngest winner, but it just feels wrong to do so.

Could this story be effectively told without its nefarious perversion? Yes. Most definitely. In a much better way. But then it wouldn’t win the Booker. What a shame.

Two stars aggregated from: five stars for language and imagery and negative three stars for all the crap (those who read it will get the pun, but don’t, just don’t).

[The author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is in the picture below and the cover of her book on top.]

Pareidolia

He counts the days since he last saw you
And he tells himself
Someday he will walk you all the way home
In his attic he keeps a little glass jar
Where he collects all the butterflies he felt for you
So you can someday set them free
Often in darkness when he sits all alone
He sees you like a pareidolia staring at him
It creeps him out just as it would creep you
Once in a while he peels himself off like a pomegranate
To see what is wrong inside of him
Most days he blames you for his sorrows
Other days you are honey waffle cream
On the day half way through the month of August
He sends you weird poetry to remind himself
That you and him were born on the same day
As if it really means something
He counts the days for a future tryst with you
And this is how he keeps you alive

Featured Artwork: PAREIDOLIA by Analisa Aza

The Temple by Rabindranath Tagore

‘There is no god in your temple’ said the monk.

It irked the king, ‘No God!
O monk, have you forsaken faith?
Lo and behold the golden idol
Shining on the bejewelled shrine –
You call that empty?’
‘Not empty, it is full of royal arrogance’, monk smiled,
‘You have placed yourself in the temple, O king,
Not the God of this world’.

The king frowned in rage,
‘Two million gold coins I spent
To raise this impeccable towering temple
Dedicated it to God with pious chantings
And you say this is no abode of God?’

Monk spoke with serene calm,
‘In the year of disaster
When billions of hungry, homeless citizens
Came to your door with tears,
With weeping prayers in the forests, caves, streets,
Under the trees of ancient temple ruins, in vain;
That year you built this golden temple
With two million gold coins in the name of God.
That day God said – ‘My home is a timeless abode.
It shines bright in an everlasting glow,
The foundations of my home are
Truth, peace, kindness, and love.
And you, a cruel, worthless miser
Who cannot even shelter his own homeless people
You dare to build a home for Me?’
God left your temple that instant
With the poor homeless on the streets, under the trees.
Your temple is nothing, O king,
But an empty bubble of gold and arrogance
Like the vanishing foams in the middle of an endless sea.’

(selected portion)
Translated in English by Renny Ray. The original Bengali poem is posted below.

দীন দান
রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর

“সে মন্দিরে দেব নাই’ কহে সাধু।

রাজা কহে রোষে,
“দেব নাই! হে সন্ন্যাসী, নাস্তিকের মতো কথা কহ।
রত্নসিংহাসন-‘পরে দীপিতেছে রতনবিগ্রহ–
শূন্য তাহা?’
“শূন্য নয়, রাজদম্ভে পূর্ণ’ সাধু কহে,
“আপনায় স্থাপিয়াছ, জগতের দেবতারে নহে।’

ভ্রূ কুঞ্চিয়া কহে রাজা, “বিংশ লক্ষ স্বর্ণমুদ্রা দিয়া
রচিয়াছি অনিন্দিত যে মন্দির অম্বর ভেদিয়া,
পূজামন্ত্রে নিবেদিয়া দেবতারে করিয়াছি দান,
তুমি কহ সে মন্দিরে দেবতার নাহি কোনো স্থান!’

শান্ত মুখে কহে সাধু, “যে বৎসর বহ্নিদাহে দীন
বিংশতি সহস্র প্রজা গৃহহীন অন্নবস্ত্রহীন
দাঁড়াইল দ্বারে তব, কেঁদে গেল ব্যর্থ প্রার্থনায়
অরণ্যে, গুহার গর্ভে, পথপ্রান্তে তরুর ছায়ায়,
অশ্বত্থবিদীর্ণ জীর্ণ মন্দিরপ্রাঙ্গণে, সে বৎসর
বিংশ লক্ষ মুদ্রা দিয়া রচি তব স্বর্ণদীপ্ত ঘর
দেবতারে সমর্পিলে। সে দিন কহিলা ভগবান-
“আমার অনাদি ঘরে অগণ্য আলোক দীপ্যমান
অনন্তনীলিমা-মাঝে; মোর ঘরে ভিত্তি চিরন্তন
সত্য, শান্তি, দয়া, প্রেম। দীনশক্তি যে ক্ষুদ্র কৃপণ
নাহি পারে গৃহ দিতে গৃহহীন নিজ প্রজাগণে
সে আমারে গৃহ করে দান!’ চলি গেলা সেই ক্ষণে
পথপ্রান্তে তরুতলে দীন-সাথে দীনের আশ্রয়।
অগাধ সমুদ্র-মাঝে স্ফীত ফেন যথা শূন্যময়
তেমনি পরম শূন্য তোমার মন্দির বিশ্বতলে,
স্বর্ণ আর দর্পের বুদ্বুদ্!’

It’s a dark irony that many Indians who swear by Rabindranath Tagore are also the bigots he condemned. We are the greatest nation of the ‘literate uneducated’ who value faith more than human lives. This prophetic poem points out the ugly politics of religion that is devastating Indian democracy.