Thursday, April 02, 2020

rips

I'm not sure I'm going to be able to keep up with the onslaught (I just had to add two more since posting this yesterday). But for now

RIP Cristina




RIP Krzysztof Penderecki





RIP Gabi Delgado




RIP Adam Schlesinger



(who in his early days played piano at our wedding reception in '92)




RIP Manu Dibango









RIP Alan Merrill 





RIP Bill Withers




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Penderecki interviewed by Andy Battaglia for Resident Advisor








Gabi Delgado and Robert Gorl of DAF interviewed by David Stubbs for The Quietus.


An interview with Cristina at Festive magazine







Manu Dibango interviewed at Qwest




Sunday, March 29, 2020

isolation mix



Moon Wiring Club with a hunkered-in-the-bunker mix that starts with bouncy electrokitsch and heads into a blend of  early UKtekno, twisty-turny Nineties IDM, and unusual breakbeat hardcore choices. Excellent selection, expertly threaded. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Here's a thing I did for Tidal on Genesis P and Throbbing Gristle's legacy a/k/a the several strands of industrial culture.

One of the groups / records in the mini-primer is Skinny Puppy / VIVIsectVI  - an album I wrote about at the time. I doubt very much whether I listened to this LP once in all the intervening years between reviewing it in 1988 and doing the Tidal piece last week. One of those albums that is food for thought, fuel for empurpled prose, but not necessarily suited for everyday listening. (Although I did listen a lot to the earlier album Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse - also the  cEvin Key side project The Tear Garden, with Edward Ka-Spel).

This doesn't particularly apply to Puppy, who at least outwardly were protesting the grim and the gruesome (on this album, animal testing) rather than reveling...  But generally, all that apocalypse culture, "bring on the Collapse" stuff seems very silly at the present moment, doesn't it?  Baudelaire and his "oasis of horror in a desert of boredom" can get stuffed.  (At the moment, we have the boredom and the horror in one dismal package).

In truth, "that kind of thing" has seemed silly for a long while. C.f. the exaltation of the virus, or the likening oneself to a cultural contagion, that you would get in certain circles - music and theory. As I have noted acidly before, I bet those folk change their tune pretty quick when their hard drive dies, or they come down with a nasty bug.


Monday, March 16, 2020

stuff to read while cooped up for the foreseeable

For starters - a piece by my son Kieran Press-Reynolds on how TikTok is changing pop and the rise of no-melody rap

A little thing I did for Tidal on David Bowie's second album Space Oddity, which they now have up there in "360 Reality Audio"

Stuff to read and stuff to listen to too - for here's a radio show / podcast about The Sex Revolts - which is about to come out in Germany for the first time - produced and hosted by Klaus Walter, featuring interviews with me and Joy Press.

Quite a family affair, this blogpost!

Outside the immediate clan, here's some things worth a peruse:

From a few weeks ago, an interesting piece by Chal Ravens about a sound that has emerged in recent years on the UK club scene based in a transnational eclecticism that coheres through its vibe (percussive, jolting, lots of flashy deejay tricks) and by its relative lack of relationship to either the sound system / hardcore  continuum lineage or to 4/4 house / techno (it'll use elements from both here and there, but the groove feel is different - drawing more on gqom, Jersey club, etc).

major points: 


"sideways not forwards" is the axis on which this music moves i.e. it doesn't have a romance of the future, it has a romance of the exotic

"It’s music to stay on top of rather than music to get lost in" (a sharp description of how the juddering beats put you on edge, you don't trance out)

But unlike it's sort-of precursor deconstructed club, it's very much banging, slamming, hedonistic, exuberant, physical


Enjoyed also Chal's swipe at "the fusty-seeming legacy of the hardcore continuum," something the      nu-generation producers in the UK are keen to leave behind 

If there's a philosophical wrinkle in the project, it's the fact that the style is dependent on the kind of regional sounds that the UK itself is not able to generate anymore - all those African or US-city based genres it draws from



Another interesting piece is this one by Ryan Alexander Diduck (author of Mad Skills: Music and Technology in the 20th Century) in which he attempts to identify what sonically defined the 2010s.  Starting with the observation that "the sound of the decade was … processed...  The electrical signal of almost every recording...  was to some extent rendered synthetic. Pop music of the 2010s was dripping wet with all manner of effects, plug-ins, pitch correction, equalization, delay, reverb, time manipulation... " Diduck suggests that although Auto-Tune is the most well-known and ubiquitous form of this plastic-fantastication of pop, side-chain compression was "equally omnipresent," if less easily apprehended by the layperson listener.  You're hearing it constantly, but you don't necessarily know that you're hearing it.  Diduck further argues that side-chain compression constitutes not just a recording technique (squeezing "the volume of a.... specific instrument or track [let’s say, the bass guitar] to the input of another instrument or track [say, the kick drum]") but that it carries with it and imbues a techno-politics. "Technologies enact, technically, analogous cultural logics.... [they] act out our shared understandings and expectations about how things could or should be in the world." 


The argument is quite intricate, but the gist is that sidechain compression represents a kind of regulation of noise, allowing for disruption but channeling and constraining it. "Each time any sound too aggressively enters into the sonic field, other sounds drop out to absorb the potential trauma of a distorted signal."  This happens automatically. "Side-chain compression can therefore be read as a kind of sonic risk management system" - one that parallels the "algorithmic, artificially intelligent, and ideally automated functioning of global capitalism. Our system is built to absorb, redistribute and even to foresee shocks of all stripes: economic, political, social, environmental..."

Towards the end, Diduck - writing some weeks ago, before the current crisis - wonders whether there could be a "a shock that cannot be conceived, much less compressed, yet to come?" Well, events overtake: it could be that it is now upon us, a catastrophic shock to the system that can't be assimilated, absorbed, and turned to profit....  an abyss of pure loss.  

(Incidentally, Diduck starts the piece referring to my series of end-of-decade pieces on conceptronica, the resurgence of ambient and new age, and streaming in music and TV' , which he describes as "each more contentious than the last". [He missed one, though - the feature on trap and its globalisation].  Weird -  I don't feel there's anything hugely contentious about any of those pieces - I mean, they each have an argument, but they're hardly inflammatory or willfully contrarian. If people's tolerance for "opinionated" has weakened that much.... ooer missus)

Saturday, March 14, 2020

rip



And here's a thing I did for Tidal on Genesis and Throbbing Gristle's legacy a/k/a the several strands of industrial culture.

And here's a public chat with GB P-O from 2015 at the Hammer Museum

Sunday, March 08, 2020

24 Hour Theory People

And here is the third and final installment of the joint remembrance and retrospect of the 2000s blogscene, K-punk, and Mark Fisher - convened by Anwen Crawford and featuring the voices and thoughts of Carl NevilleOwen Hatherley,  Rhian E. JonesIvor Southwood and yours truly, c/o Sydney Review of Books

Sunday, March 01, 2020

writing free (oh those blogging days)

And here is the second part of the 3-part colloquy on the blogosphere of yore and its departed hubmeister k-punk - hosted by Sydney Review of Books, conversationally shepherded by Anwen Crawford and involving me, Owen HatherleyCarl NevilleRhian E. Jones, and Ivor Southwood

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Où sont les blogs d'antan?

Here's the first installment of a three-part conversation convened by Anwen Crawford and hosted by Sydney Review of Books about Mark Fisher and K-Punk and the blogging circuit of the 2000s.
It was a stimulating and fun discussion, for all the sadness of the reason we -- Owen Hatherley, Carl Neville, Rhian E. Jones, Ivor Southwood, Anwen, and myself - were gathered, remotely, to remember and reassess.

Friday, February 07, 2020

some things in Italy



I really enjoyed writing the companion essay to Sandro Moiso's vintage interview with J.G. Ballard, as reproduced in All That Mattered Was Sensation, out now on Krisis Publishing. This attractive and portably petite volume contains the text in both Italian and English.

"Prophet of the Present," the title of my essay, comes out as "Profeta del presente" in Italian - nicely preserving the alliteration.

If you are wondering about the "James Ballard" bit - it seems that J.G.'s books were published under that name in Italy, or even as James G. Ballard. When I saw that, I thought I'd possibly stumbled upon a national quirk of Italian publishing - an aversion to the old-school Anglo-American style of impersonal initials in literary nomenclature, as in E.M. Forster or G.K. Chesterton. But as far as I can tell, D.H. Lawrence is D.H. Lawrence in Italy, not David Herbert Lawrence or Dave Lawrence.

                                                     

Something else in Italy -  out in May, on Minimum Fax, a collection of my electronic music writings:



"Sogni Elettronici," in case you were wondering, means "Electronic Dreams"

German and Japanese editions - slightly different contents - due 2021.

Anglosphere versions - probably not. I have other plans for some of the material. But who knows...


Now I think about it, there's a third thing in Italy happening on the books front. Minimum Fax are publishing the massive Mark FisheK-Punk anthology in translation. Because texts typically get longer in Italian, they are breaking up the colossus into two volumes. The first installmentIl nostro desiderio è senza nome - which translates as Our Desire is Nameless - has just come out.  This first chunk of the collection also contains my prefazione from the Repeater edition - and this foreword is shortly to be extracted in the newspaper Il Tascabile.



How cool - and circular - that the subtitle of Il Nostro Desiderio is Scritti Polittici.

"Something in Italy" indeed...  in this case it's helping keep Mark's ideas alive






                                      

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Look Back in Clangor - the Jagged Genius of Andy Gill

Here's my Pitchfork tribute to Andy Gill
Below are some Gang of Four related graphics (the greatness of which I didn't have space to go into in the eulogy) interspersed with off-cuts from the piece + sundry informational nuggets. 



[pic by Christopher Tomond]


Gill's stage persona - always stern and unsmiling - in his later years started to resemble Alan Rickmansworth armed with a Stratocaster. 

                            



Gang of Four rearranged the structural grammar of rock as music while  reinventing the way that lyrics could process and probe political reality.  

“There’s almost nothing in Gang of Four that relates to anything a purist would describe as ‘punk’. Most punk rock was slightly faster and slightly worse-played heavy metal. Whereas Gang of Four is stripped down, it’s funky, there’s no power-chords.There’s very little about it that’s punky”  - Andy Gill, 2001.


                             


Several years before G04, while still at Sevenoaks School, the teenage Andy Gill and Jon King had dabbled with being a band. They called themselves the Bourgeois Brothers! 



                              
Waiting for the Great Leap Forward... 

Although it's taken from the ruling cabal in Mao's China - and would later be applied to the leadership of the SDP – the name "Gang of Four" is like a demystified version of "the band". It takes the piss out of the adolescent romanticism and male-bonding camaraderie of rock 'n' roll - the idea of the group heading out on an adventure together - while hinting that those very energies could be channeled for higher purposes, a true mission-quest. 



      


The Wilko influence: Johnson didn't exactly "slap" the strings, he sort of cuffed them - flicked at them with the tops of his fingernails (as opposed to picking with his fingertips) while muting the strings with his other hand, to get that choppy percussive sound.  Gill himself used a plectrum, I believe, but built from Wilko's jagged rhythm style. 

 

      

The emergence of the Leeds Sound. With Gang of Four, it’s angular and spartan; with Delta 5, it’s loping and bouncy; with The Mekons, it’s loose and blurting... but there are similar riff-structures and approaches to the guitar as a primarily rhythmic instrument; there are textural affinities in terms of scrawny abrasiveness; vocally there’s a shared deployment of catchy but unmelodic chants, a gruff flatness of address, and a general departure from rock’n’roll norms of singing and emoting.


     
Gill’s first great guitarist crush had been Jimi Hendrix. On the day of his death in September 1970, the teenage Gill wore a black armband to school. But in Gang of Four, the volcanically cascading solos of Hendrix and other guitar-heroes of the pre-punk era were strictly forbidden.



 “Andrew was… I was about to say he was a ‘master baiter’! But he would bait you” - Hugo Burnham


                             



The title track of their 1978 debut EP, Damaged Goods, used the language of commerce to present a startlingly unsentimental anatomy of desire and frustration.


It wasn’t just the controlled paroxysm of Gill’s playing on songs like “Natural’s Not In It” that was so bracingly abrasive. It was the sound too. Clipped and clean, it came from using transistor amps rather than the valve amps that most guitarists then and now prize for their “warmth” and “fat” richness of tone. “It’s more brittle,” Gill said of his beloved transistorized  sound. “And it's not warm – Gang of Four were against warmth.” 



“The production has got to bring out the material incidents in a perfectly sober and matter-of-fact way. Nowadays the play’s meaning is usually blurred by the fact that the actor plays to the audience’s hearts…. They ought to be presented quite coldly… objectively. For they are not a matter for empathy; they are there to be understood.” - Bertolt Brecht, 1926, prophesying "Love Like Anthrax" 


The scouring power of dour. 



“People value themselves in terms of their labour yet leisure time brings an uncomfortable void” was how the group paraphrased the topic in a brief statement on the B-side label of “At Home He's A Tourist”. The flipside itself “It’s Her Factory” was straightforward feminist critique of housewives’ and home-makers’ unpaid labour, inspired by an newspaper article about housewives as ‘the Unsung Heroines of Britain’.


                           



“Generally there is felt to be a very sharp distinction between learning and amusing oneself…. So we have to defend [radical theatre] against the suspicion that is it a highly disagreeable, humourless, indeed strenuous affair” ---Bertolt Brecht, from “Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre For Instruction?”


Entertainment! was the party soundtrack  in Athens, Georgia for a season or two, influencing art-school bands from that town from Pylon to Method Actors to R.E.M. B-52s's first two albums were essentially Entertainment! if it's lyrical content and stage presentation was had been derived from mass entertainment - in this case post-WW2 American B-movies, TV, mainstream fads, etc - and emotionally based around amused fascination rather than disdain and distaste.  No, really - look beneath the camp chassis of Fred + Kate + Cindy's lyrics, voices, and clothes, you'll find an undercarriage of sinewy dance-rock rhythm, as spare and pared as the spray paint job was garish. 

The verse in "I Found That Essence Rare" about the girl dressed in a bikini not knowing the name comes from the Pacific Ocean nuclear test site Bikini Atoll is the exact point where the Go4 and the B's meet. 


“No escape from society” - a Gramscian aside in a song ("Natural's Not In It") that otherwise offers a fractured-vision panorama of a consumerist paradise, a “heaven” that “gives me migraine”, as King’s protagonist sings it. 

Key line: “coercion of the senses”, referring to the bullying bombardment of libidinally-charged imagery from media and advertising -  what Marcuse called “repressive desublimation” i.e. sex and desire put in service of capital.



The problem of leisure
What to do for pleasure
Ideal of a new purchase
A market of the senses
Dream of the perfect life
Economic circumstances
The body is good business
Sell out, maintain the interest

This heaven gives me migraine

The problem of leisure
What to do for pleasure
Coercion of the senses
We are not so gullible
Our great expectations
A future for the good
Fornication makes you happy
No escape from society
Natural is not in it
Your relations are of power
We all have good intentions
But all with strings attached

Repackaged sex keeps your interest


Like the earlier Damaged Goods EP tune “Armalite Rifle”, “Ether” addressed the troubles in Northern Ireland, its lyrical tail-sting hinting that the British authorities's interest in keeping a foothold in Ulster might be economic as much as geo-strategic: "there may be oil / under Rockall" - i.e. the granite islet and surrounding sea 263 miles northwest of Ireland.


                                


“Guns Before Butter” took its inspiration from John Heartfield’s 1934 anti-fascist photomontage “Hurrah, The Butter Is All Gone” – a riposte to Nazi leader Hermann Goering’s remark that “iron always make a country strong, butter and lard only make people fat.”  





For 1981’s Solid Gold, the group recruited Jimmy Douglass, a sound engineer who'd worked for funk band Slave and for AC/DC among others and would later be Timbaland right-hand man, in order to help them achieve a “live” sound with more bass bottom. The resulting sound on Solid Gold contrasted markedly with the compellingly arid and anti-naturalistic (no room ambience, no reverb) production style of Entertainment! 






Gill supplied the most striking sounding and emotionally compelling tune on the album in the desolate faltering funk of “Paralysed”, which he wrote and recited: seemingly the blues of a victim of the mass unemployment induced by Thatcher-Reagan, the character knows “history’s the reason / I’m washed up” but can’t help feel humiliatingly shamed by his own fate.



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And how sadly weird / weirdly sad that Andy Gill's namesake - the other postpunk-associated Andy Gill - should have died less than a year ago. 


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Me on Gang of Four's 2005 reformation for the classics-rerecorded project Return The Gift

Here's me and Jon King talking about Gill + the Gang on Life Elsewhere Music, a radio show hosted by Norman B

Postpunk scholar David Wilkinson's Tribune tribute

Jim Dooley, who wrote a whole book on Gang of Four for Repeater, chips in at the Repeater blog. 


The Leeds / Athens connection









Friday, January 31, 2020

Return of Blogs

New blog of note #1 - The Priapean Logs. Started by Dissensus contributor Sadmanbarty, a young fellow with a bulging sackload of ideas about 21st Century music.  (And earlier music too - a drummer by trade, he knows the nuts-and-bolts intricacies of rhythm). Check out these posts on the Haze as an analogue-era production aesthetic now replaced by something sharper and frostier, and on Wu Tang Clan's Forever.

New(-ish) blog of note #2 - Aloysius. Started by Dissensus contributor Mvuent, from Minneapolis. Check out this post on "reaching the far lands as an aesthetic goal" for experimental music. Never having played Minecraft and only glimpsed it from a distance, the concept of "the far lands" goes over my head. But my son - who practically lived inside the game for a few years in his mid-teens - says it's spot on.



Wednesday, January 29, 2020

dream a garden

I had a lot of fun with the researching- which among other things involved spending time in three different LA gardens - and writing of this survey-of-the-2010s feature on Ambient and New Age for Resident Advisor. It's part of a swathe of looking-back-at-the-past-decade coverage they're doing this week.

Big up to the interviewees: Spencer Doran (Visible Cloaks / Kankyō Ongaku), India Jordan (New Atlantis), Matthewdavid (Leaving Records), William Thomas (Sounds of the Dawn), and Droid (No Place Like Drone / Dissensus).



One thing I didn't get to explore is the ambient quality of certain genres that on the face of it would seem to be about as politically and philosophically distant from ambient / new age values as imaginable. Such as  trap. Lyrically it's all triumphalism and machismo - the opposite of ego-melting surrender and androgny. But the production drapes glistening wooze over the hard beats-and-bass. Wistful melody-riffs loop endlessly in a way that recalls the more idyllic kinds of Nineties IDM. 



In many ways, trap is one of the last bastions of minimalism on the radio. Achieving its effects through accumulative sameness, trap - like UK drill - is designed for immersive and inattentive listening: it’s purpose-built to slip back into being background music, the soundtrack to driving or chilling. 




You could call it Ambien Music, after the sedative-hypnotic prescription drug, given the way that trap MCs so frequently reference pain-killing, anxiety-deadening drugs like Percocet and Xanax.  The result is the characteristic affect of this music: glazed, numb, insulated, oddly passive.  Auto-Tune etherializes rappers like Quavo, Rich the Kid, Playboi Carti (with his famous “baby” voice) and Young Thug to the point where they sometimes seem barely-there - angelic boy-men whose vocal texture contradicts the overt meaning of the text.  



So pretty, so hypnotic, so chill - the chiming glistening glide of the backing track to "Motorsport" sounds like nothing so much as systems-music. Except that it rolls out at a  calm steady pace, almost screwed tempo, rather than the typically highly-strung, frantic, fidgety feel of a Michael Nyman or Philip Glass movie score.  


Sunday, January 26, 2020

Youtube clips I played at the Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture, and the ones I didn't get to play as time got tight. Plus some images.



                                                    

























                                         























































(Full lecture text to appear here shortly)

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

tune for Terry



spam-free rmx

another Neil bites the dust



a Rand-y sod maybe, but Peart's lyrics for "Spirit of Radio" make for one of the greatest music-about-music songs ever

Here's another and all


Wot a drummer (and drum kit!!)






Friday, January 10, 2020

Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture - Friday 17th January - Goldsmiths, London



Next Friday I will be in London to deliver the third annual Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture at Goldsmiths.

It's at 6 pm at the Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre - and it's free, open to the public, with no booking required.

If you can't make it down, there's a livestream https://www.gold.ac.uk/live-stream/

Here's a foretaste:

Bridging the Chasm: the Promise of Music

In this third annual Mark Fisher memorial lecture, Simon Reynolds looks at the centrality of music – specifically popular music - in the K-punk vision. Talking about the formative postpunk era that lastingly shaped his outlook and his expectations for pop, Fisher once declared: “Music wasn’t only about music.” Through the prism of Fisher’s thinking as it evolved over two decades, Reynolds explores changing ideas about the relationship between pop and politics: the power that music has held out for successive generations, and the challenge of activating music’s promise in the world beyond.


Later that night there is a post-lecture party at Goldsmiths Student Union, with bands and DJs - including Mark Leckey playing some tunes. Full line-up and event info at Xenogothic.

                                    






Wednesday, January 08, 2020

the aural trawl recalled

Last year's aural trawl produced a meagre haul of bliss, but here, by popular request, are my faves of 2019 (+ one non-fave )

snacks

Billie Eilish,  “Bad Guy”
Billie Eilish, “Bury A Friend”
Dababy, “Suge (Yea Yea)”
Saweetie, "My Type"
Burna Boy feat. Future, "Show & Tell"
Holly Herndon, "Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt"
Thaiboy Digital feat. Ecco2K, "Baby"
Tame Impala, "It Might Be Time"
Offset, "Tats On My Face"
Selena Gomez, "Lose You To Love Me"
Lana Del Rey, "Doin' Time"
Doja Cat, "Juicy"


meals 

Baron Mordant, Mark of the Mould
Vanishing Twin, The Age of Immunology
The Caretaker, Everywhere At The End of Time
Moon Wiring Club, Cavity Slabs
Ana Roxanne,  ~~~
Solange, When I Get Home
Meitei, Komachi
Oneohtrix Point Never, Uncut Gems OST


frozen dinners

Various, Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990
Ernest Hood,  Neighborhoods
Various, All the Young Droogs: 60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks, Rock’N’Glam (And a Flavour of Bubblegum)
Insides, Euphoria
Moon Wiring Club, Somewhere A Fox Is Getting Married (Vulpine Remix)
Gong, Love From the Planet Gong: The Virgin Years 1973-75
Various, Strain, Crack & Break: Music From The Nurse With Wound List Volume One


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If frozen dinners and fresh-made meals were lumped together, Kankyō Ongaku and Neighborhoods would be equal-place  #1.

The miserly number of meals is no surprise really, as the lack of appetite on my part in recent years for Masterpieces this year verged nearer and nearer outright aversion - and Masterpieces seem to be preponderantly what's on the menu these days.

What is surprising and disheartening is the paucity of bite-size bliss. The radio has been my friend all decade but the things that brought delight in recent years - trap / AutoTune rap'n'B / mumble, mainly - seemed to run dry in 2019. Or perhaps I just overdosed on that sound.

Apart from Billie, hardly anything on Top 40 jumped out at me (Billie jumped out by not jumping out, as I noted here).

Some of the tracks above are like dwindling pleasure-dribbles eked out from a sound-paradigm that's run its course...  or a tendency reaching a kind of baroque finale (e.g. the ultra-precious vowel-broke braided-breath style of singing, with "Lose You To Love Me").

Talking of the Zone of Fruitless Intensification

Nearly forgot - the Unfave!

Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride

After several attempts that only got a little way in before I had to bail, finally, during a long journey, I made another kind of lengthy arduous trek: listening to the entirety of the fourth Vampire album. Eucch - everything that was enjoyably precious and dainty in the first two albums has now definitively become prissy and over-ornamented. What is the sound Koenig & kru are aiming for here - Lindsey Buckingham '80s solo album meets Dave Matthews Band with a bit of Wilco thrown in? And did I mention that it's long? The debut (which still sounds so fleet and fresh) clocked in at under 35 minutes, a canny return to the manageable proportions of the classic LP; Contra was similarly short n' sweet and left you wanting more.  But FotB, in its middle-aged spread, leaves you wanting less. Or in my case, wanting none.