Friday, June 28, 2024

Neil Kulkarni - Insides - Soft Bonds (The Wire, 2021)


Soft Bonds

(Further Distraction)

The Wire (February, 2021)

by Neil Kulkarni


It’s like these angels have never been away. Like the return of friends.

It’s been 20 years since Insides -based around the duo Kirsty Yates and Julian Tardo - released their intuitive, intriguing, enrapturing music. This dew-fresh new record has been assembled over the past eight years from ideas they’ve been haunted by and it will haunt you once you hear it, with past connections lost, with futures derelicted. It’s utterly, transfixingly, fearlessly beautiful. It’s not just consolation, though it is that too. It’s inspirational. Insides have found a way to stay beautiful, to remain, to keep going: and it’s the seeming simultaneous heaviness AND deftness of their music, the existential tightrope it walks between being self-evidently ravishing & resistant to being transitory but also entirely un-egotistical or pushy - that waste of beauty into the void that’s so galvanising, so impressive.

God it’s so good to have them back.

‘It Was Like This Once It Will Be Like This Again’ offers immediate reassurance and delight - Kirsty’s voice and vocals are still direct, in your ear, ambiguously always between declaration and disappearance, Julian’s guitar is still a pellucid skin-puckering contact high.

Were Soft Bonds merely more-songs-like-’Euphoria’ it wouldn’t be quite as wondrous as it unfolds to be - ‘Ghost Music’ shows a new darkness and space, a pulsing minimalist dubstep-without-the-dankness over which Yates’ vocals strafe with strength and oomph but no strain or sweat. Her Grace Jones deadpan-ness on the astonishing ‘Misericord’ (‘You should know to keep your doors and windows closed BY NOW’) pull the tiny crepuscular elements around her into the slipstream of her will.

As ever, lyrically, Insides can be so tender, so touching, and yet so hard-boiled, so grown-up too. A lot of  Soft Bonds is a celebration of the tiny connections that bind us even as the world attempts to drive us apart and it's this stripping away of illusions, coupled with a sure knowledge of the RIGHT illusions needed to survive that makes tracks like the sublime Talk Talk-esque wonder of ‘Subordinate’ and ‘The Softest Bond Resists Resistance’ so uniquely and deliciously consoling and confrontational.

I love the way also that as the album enters its final reel it actually gets more gaseous, more musically diffuse and unplaceably sparse (heavy hints of Annette Peacock and Arthur Russell throughout this record) even as Yates’ lines get more concrete, harder, tougher to face but even more relishably real - the closer ‘Undressing’ sees us in for surgery, dimly apprehending the final black door. Without looking back,  Kirsty rushes into the end through a growing buzzing tunnel of light conjured around her. You’ll want to join her, join them, join these spirits of light. Soft Bonds is nothing short of heroic.


Welcome back angels.



And from a few years earlier,  as part of his 'A New Nineties' series for The Quietus, here's "My Needles Are Breaking" - Neil rhapsodizing over Insides / Euphoria + interviewing Kirsty Yates and Julian Tardo.



Me (+ the missus) rhapsodizing over Insides (+ Earwig)

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