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Steph Kretowicz with Ben Babbitt and felicita – I Hate it Here (Curl Recordings\AQNB)

The first time I became aware of Steph Kretowicz was with her book ‘Somewhere I’ve Never Been’ and the resulting audiobook. Most audiobooks feature the author, or an actor, reading the book whilst trying to emphasise the emotionality of it. ‘Somewhere I’ve Never Been’ was different. It was spread over seven parts and ended with excerpts from the book launch’s party. Each part was filled with music, which were field recordings the time. It felt more like an album, or a piece of sound art than an audiobook. The next time I came across Kretowicz was on ‘BSAD (Buy Shit and Die)’ with Ben Babbitt on Curl Recordings ‘Curl Compilation 2’. It was the standout moment on an album of standout moments. As with ‘Somewhere I’ve Never Been’ it was filled with the remorse of going back to a place and seeing it changing but the relief of not having had to live through it. Now Kretowicz has returned with ‘I Hate it Here.’ It sees Kretowicz working with Babbitt again and also felicita.

I Hate it Here’ feels like a more concise version of ‘Somewhere I’ve Never Been,’ but it is filled with everything that made those recordings exiting and personal. Unlike ‘Somewhere I’ve Never Been’, ‘I Hate it Here’ jumps about in time. It opens with a botched tattoo, chronic back pain, a journey from London to Poland in a minivan, then moving to LA. All this is interspersed with memories of Kretowicz’s grandma who is dying. At times it feels like having a conversation with someone you haven’t seen for a while. As you are talking, the story becomes disjointed as they remember something that gives what they are telling you more meaning. An example of this is during the section about the journey from London to Poland; Kretowicz mentions the white cliffs of Dover, which reminds Kretowicz about the time he got front row tickets to see PJ Harvey with an ex while living in Australia, but due to how the Channel Tunnel works, Kretowicz missed seeing the actual white cliffs. At first, details like this feel superfluous. “What’s this got to do with anything?” you might be thinking, but it taps into the main themes of the piece and how we all have a PJ Harvey story. Once when I was 10, I went on a family holiday to France travelling for Dover. At school, my teacher had told me how far out at sea you could see the white cliffs from. It was all I was thinking about on the drive to Calais. Once we got out of the harbour, we realised we were in for a stormy crossing. The captain said no one was allowed out on deck during the crossing. I spent the final third of the journey either with my head in a seabag or keeping my eyes closed so I wasn’t sick. I missed the cliffs until they were on top of us and by that point I didn’t care and just wanted to go home.

Ultimately the message of ‘I Hate it Here’, and that crossing, was, things don’t pan out as you expect, and that existence is suffering.

Before I carry on, I would like to say that despite its title ‘I Hate it Here’ isn’t all doom and gloom. Its incredibly uplifting and, at times, hilarious. In a deadpan way. There is a scene when people are standing around Kretowicz’s grandma’s coffin discussing whether the flowers are real. The exchange ends with the line “And this is how it is.” There is nothing funny about the scene, or the dialogue, but it really made me laugh. The album is full of these moments. Another is when a psychic catches Kretowicz taking a picture of her shop in LA and forces her inside for a reading. Near the end Kretowicz has a conversation with her grandma about who her favourite grandchild is, and her grandma says it’s Kretowicz, to which the response is something like “You can’t say that?” “What did you say?YOU CAN’T SAY THAT!” “I did…”.

The music that back Kretowicz’s stories is ethereal and understated. It is the ideal backdrop for Kretowicz’s stories of love, loss, redemption, and death. Babbitt’s score is reminiscent to his score for the film ‘Paris Window.’ Understated melodies, and synth, slowly churn away under the surface, but it’s felicita’s glitchy motifs that really hammer home how this is travelogue through time. If this wasn’t enough, Babbitt and felicita are joined by Connie Jehu, Mica Levi, Tirzah Mastin and Coby Sey. Each one of those guests has enough vision, and clout, to have delivered an incendiary score and got the project green lit on their own. But here they are just helping their mate out and along for the ride.

What ‘I Hate it Here’ cements are Kretowicz’s ability to not only tell a great story – she does –  but to make it interesting in a way that the majority of podcasts don’t. Kretowicz is engaging through her use of matter-of-fact delivery, hilarious deadpan punchlines and, most importantly, coming across as a normal person. In a lot of stories like this the author is either trying to be too likable or too much like a heel wrestler. Pantomime villaining it up for jokes. Throughout Kretowicz comes across relatable and her actions are believable. Let’s hope that there is another project like this in the works as she has a unique voice and her life experiences translate well to this kind of medium, but if this is all we get then we can’t complain. Don’t let the title put you off, there is plenty to love here.

 

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.