How NOT to write about music – 9. Amyl and the Sniffers


Wow. OK.

Clash magazine has it that Melbourne band Amyl and the Sniffers are “a bunch of deviant children enjoying illicit behaviour and the odd pineapple juice”. Beat My Bones says, “Their songs are as fast as the Ramones with the obnoxious smuttiness that the Sex Pistols had”. It is not in my nature to quote other writers when it comes to hyperbole but OK. Wow.

Watching Amyl and the Sniffers at The Windmill in Brixton yesterday evening is what I imagine it must have been like going to CBGBs in ’75. Not that there’s anything four decades old about Amyl and the Sniffers. Not even vaguely.

This clip partly captures it…

Great harmonies.

What this clip fails to do is capture the hi-octane movement of Amyl herself, shaking herself into a frenzied ball of excitement and inspiration, passed across the heads of the audience as she attempts to pull the lighting rig down from the ceiling, super-cool yet super-intimidating (precisely cos she is so super-cool), the humour, the laconic asides, the bare chests of the lads gleaming with perspiration and the righteous heritage of Coloured Balls, GOD and AC/DC, the short punchy songs about lust and shopping centres and boozing and revenge, the harsh metallic clash of second generation punk – we’re talking ’78 here – songs that are equally rooted in 1970s Aussie boogie and 1970s UK Oi!…

Old school.

The guitar dude reminds me of Fast Eddie.

What this clips fails to do is capture the infallible exhilarating sense we have (I’m speaking for others here, but surely everyone must feel this) that we are bearing witness to a Rock Star. For Amyl is without a shadow of a doubt, a fucken Rock Star.

Shameless, and direct, like all great Rock Stars should be.

“There’s no way they haven’t heard Cosmic Psychos,” the 50 per cent Australian part of me (check my passport) yells to my neighbour.

“No fucken way.”

I’d shower you with song titles and raucous commentary – ‘Cup Of Destiny’, ‘Westgate’, ‘Balaclava Lover Boogie’, ‘Stole My Push Bike’, the one where Amyl just lets rip with a long list of expletives – but I’m gasping too hard to take notes.

OK. Wow.

I can see why Amyl and the Sniffers have signed to Rough Trade, why folk in the UK are going ape-shit though in fairness tonight is pretty much exactly what my last five years of gig-going in Brisbane was like. Except the figurehead. Except Amyl. Saw plenty of cool shit but never saw anyone like Amyl the whole time  I was out there.

Truth is: Aussies know how to rock.

Truth is: Aussies do garage and punk (and mullets) better than most anyone simply cos Aussies never stopped doing garage and punk (and mullets).

OK, wow.

Great fucken music to listen to on the train.

Everyone in the Sniffers has mullets. Of course everyone has mullets. Haven’t you seen The Chats? This next clip captures another side, street talking.

It took me 20 minutes to conceptualise and write this blog entry, approximately the same length of time it took these Aussie punks to write, record and release their debut EP Giddy Up.

Some Mutts
You got a new dog do you remember me she walks around on my old leed
You got a new dog do you remember me am I just a memory
You got a new dog do you remember me she walks around on my old leed
You got a new dog do you remember me is she just as good as me
Oh. No.

‘Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled)’

Here is a video from last night, but I am not convinced this manages to capture the feeling either.

How NOT to write about music – 8. The Breeders

The Breeders All Nerve
Hunched over in my tiny own personal space on the 7.47 to Clapham Junction, eyes closed, trying to ignore the brutish commuters walking in desperate search of a seat banging into my tucked-in elbows and nearly upsetting my flask of homemade coffee, headphones wrapped tight round my head, hunched in more, trying make myself so small as to be invisible, retreating further and further inside, so wanting to create a tiny inviolate bubble, I make the decision to play the last Breeders album on my crappy iPhone (battery lasts 30 minutes max). This is a big moment for me. Back in April, a day before my birthday, I wrote a blog entry for The Friendly Critic that I later turned into a song and performed several times on stage, about how I found myself unable to listen to the new Breeders album, how listening to the new Breeders album upset me, how the very idea of being upset by listening to a Breeders album upset me, and how…

I was in a state of shock. I had divorced and moved town eight weeks earlier. I did not know where I was, who I was. I had no context to listen to music within. Hearing a new Breeders album – as deft and skittish and spooky and minimal as it is, as they always are – reminded me of everything I was not. It did not offer understanding, or future directions. Nostalgia can work as a communal experience, not so much in isolation. Hearing the album amid a welter of friends claiming their love for the album served to isolate me further. I was not enjoying the performance of April 2018. I wanted to be anywhere rather than April 2018, listening to the new Breeders album. I removed it as I had removed most everything from my life (music, friends, a home, somewhere to feel comfortable) and carried on regardless. Not because I had to or wanted to, more because I have children.

So, this is a big deal for me. Huddled in my tight corner, trying to avoid the brutish elbows and shoulder bags of my fellow commuters, wanting to retreat into my own special space. Enjoying hearing the new Breeders album. Once again understanding the magic.

Around 30 minutes ago, I trawled through half-a-dozen or more reviews of All Nerve, the Breeders album. None of them mentioned what the album is about. I know what this album is about – how could I not, having my father die after a long period of dementia, having my mother unable to recognise herself, her children or anything around her in an old folks’ home in Chelmsford? How could I not?

It would have been nice to have received back-up, though.

Stopping for one second to praise Josephine’s tremulous ‘MetaGoth’ with its layers of spooked guitar, stopping for one second to wonder why I have not been able to hold on to even one friend over the past few months, stopping for a moment to relish the fact I am listening to the new Breeders album and it is not making me upset, angry or demotivated…

Stopping for a moment to glance at the notice boards outside…

Stopping for just one moment.

I have silent tears creasing my cheeks during ‘Spacewoman’ as my fellow commuters step on oblivious.

“I watch you disappear,” sings Kim. “You have no gravity. How long?”

“I wanna see you,” sings Kim. “Especially you. You don’t know how much I miss you.”

I have no one left to say this next line to me, but I am going to say it anyway.

Welcome home, Jerry. Welcome home.

How NOT to write about music – 7. Low

Low Double Negative

OK. The title of this blog is How NOT to write about music.

So, the opening paragraph of this:

These days, there is a constant and seemingly endless supply of new music at our fingertips. If you work as music journalist, you get thousands of emails a day alerting you to impending releases or sending you dozens of albums months away from entering the world. You can never sift through it all, but you explore as much as you can, figuring out where everything fits together. There are often surprises, not just in albums dropping out of the sky but in the gratification of an artist you’ve long loved and supported coming out of left field with a stunning new sound or leveling up to the next tier of success and notoriety. There is always something to react to, and in the ever-changing music landscape of today, it often feels like our job to try and make all the scattered pieces cohere into something legible.

Some questions: how does the above add to the dialogue about music? How does it pull readers into wanting to read about the music under discussion? Is it entertaining? Informative? It reads like the author’s notes to himself, dulled and disinterested by too many nights of insomnia and days of grey. Why is it the opening paragraph? Do sub-editors exist on the Internet? If so, then why aren’t they challenging the writer? If not, then why has this blog got any traction whatsoever? Do word-counts mean for nothing these days? What about the waste of the reader’s time? Reading the above is like staring at the Piracy Warning Screen on a new DVD – are Stereogum obligated by American law to include an opening paragraph of humdrum ‘observation’ in place of insight or entertainment on every new album review, lest they rile up the reader’s blood too greatly?

More questions: Also, thousands of emails?  Ever-changing? It often feels like our job to try and… how else do you view what you do? Why has this entire paragraph not been cut?

There was a simple rule, easily applied, back when I was an editor at Melody Maker where space was at a premium and words were accordingly treasured – if you can begin an article without any loss of sense or momentum or insight or whatever by cutting the first paragraph, cut the fucking first paragraph.

Aside from the opening line, the second paragraph could easily have been cut as well.

Another rule: do not include sentences that do not entertain or add to the general dialogue around music.

INVIOLATE RULE forgotten by a generation of music critics: If you’re going to do hyperbole – and that is all this Stereogum review is, simple hyperbole – then at least be entertaining. The review is interminable. It is also counterproductive: why would you listen to music that inspires such dullard journalism?


How NOT to write about music – 6. Wolf Alice

Wolf Alice 1

Thank god organisations like the Hyundai Mercury Prize committee exist. (Now, why would you think I am being sarcastic?)

Without them, I may have never heard this wonderful slice of dimly-lit backstreet romance.

And that’s it. A tip of the ET fedora to the Hyundai judges for bringing this to my attention.

Also, I would far rather impassioned indie rockers winning a meaningless industry accolade than the retro-classicism of Nadine Shah any day.

Wolf Alice remind me of two favourites from the early 2000s – Meanwhile, Back In Communist Russia and Life Without Buildings. With some Northern Gothic leanings and bog-standard indie guitars thrown in, obv.

On the other hand Nadine Shah’s band play bad, deliberately. Now, I’m not the sort to be put off by conventional notions of ‘bad’ – you can trust me on this. But a band playing deliberately bad, with all the attendant assumptions they are making by doing so? That annoys me, almost more than the fact her music has clearly been designed by consensus. What do indie bands do these days, sit down with their producer and show them their pantheon of a dozen post-punk albums from 1978 and 1979 and say “that’s precisely how we want our new record to sound?” Now, why the FUCK would they do that?

While I am here, why is the “consensus” among my critical peers that Nadine Shah should have won. Yes, we know critics (and Hyundai judges) love PJ Harvey but they don’t need to vote for her every year, especially if she hasn’t released an album. Should have, because this is the music they are familiar with and feel comfortable around? Nah.There is no should have to it. Thank you, Chris.

wolf alice

I do however feel that Simon may have a point as well. Always be suspicious of any band that opens for Foo Fighters.

Plus ça change.

Note to aspiring blog writers: do not criticise. Never criticise.

Link: an interesting insider account on the Mercury Prize 2018 from former judge and new BIMM London Music Journalism tutor Elisa Bray.

How NOT to write about music – 5. Eminem

Eminem Kamikaze

I heard this on Radio One driving home from an Open Evening in Brighton last night. It followed a segment that was mostly comprised of unfunny dick jokes and patronising patois. The night was cold, dark, intimidating in the way early autumn evenings can be when you’re mainlining on insomnia and hunger, driving down desolate Sussex country lanes too fast. The music being played was passing me by: there was a cool Nadia Rose track (love some of that Nadia Rose), but mostly I wasn’t taking it in. Too concerned with getting home before my eyelids closed entirely.

Shortly as I was coming up the final approach to Haywards Heath, a new track started up. Didn’t pay too much attention, then I started getting into the nasty-ass lyrics and obstructionist worldview, the steady flow of invective, the aggressive double-speed rap and… damn, I was just loving the flow. I sat there in the car outside my house, engine running, lights on, neighbours beginning to peer out their windows, while the track built inexorably to its cussed climax. I wanted to know who it was (although it was clearly Eminem). I wanted to know what it was. The volume kept building. The invective kept flowing. Damn, it shook my late Thursday evening up.

Here is the link to the album.

Note to aspiring blog writers: DO NOT write about music like this. You will fail your assignment. You will not be published.

“I wanna punch the world in the fucking face right now”

How NOT to write about music – 4. Jimmy and the worn out shoes

Jimmy and the worn out shoes

I love Jimmy and the worn out shoes.

I love near everything about them*, the way Jimmy dances, the way Jimmy’s moustache hangs there droopy and gentle, the soft shoe shuffle, the unassuming but so smart lyrics and deadpan way round a harmony, the presence of other musicians, the lack of presence of other musicians, the chugging rhythms and self-deprecating putdowns, the idea he communicates simply by being there that we should not give up however stupid and unfriendly the odds against us are, the slender soft shoe shuffle, his height, the laconic melodies, the box drums and skiffle beat, the fact he shoves dodgy recordings of songs about Viv Albertine out on YouTube and you can’t understand a single word even though you know that if you could understand even a single word your life would be enriched in so many different small ways, the way he’s from Brighton but a Brighton you were always attracted to not a Brighton you wish you could turn your back upon, the way he used to be in a band that released possibly the greatest Christmas single ever, the empty beer glass, the way half his songs could be doubling for Clive Pig or O-Levels B-sides from 1985 or 1981 perhaps, the stupid soft shoes shuffle, his fondness for chips, the way he understands nostalgia should mean more than marketing, the whistling, the wrong shoes the wrong shoes the wrong shoes the wrong shoes…

I love Jimmy and the worn out shoes.

Note for aspiring blog writers: the clue is in the title. Break through the nettles.

Note for aspiring blog writers: you should NOT write about music this way because there is no socio-political context, no background, no information, no easy comparison points (only obscure ones), no reference to genre, no potted history, no band member names (or indeed mention of band members beyond the omnipotent ‘Jimmy’ who might well be a construct or idealised vision). I do not make even a gesture towards the idea of some form of universal ‘truth’, I do not attempt to rationalise my subjective taste or universalise a particular perspective. I do not look for broader significance or wider resonance. I am not in the business of pattern-spotting.  I am not claiming this is the ‘future’, whatever emphasis you want to place on that term…

I fucking abdicate.

You should try the BandCamp too, but only if you want to.

It’s not entirely a coincidence I am playing a show with Jimmy and the worn out shoes, and the tumultuous dark suburban pop band Suburban Death Twitch, next week in Brighton.

Come down. Do the soft shoe shuffle.

*This is not true. First time I saw ’em I did not enjoy them. There. I said it. Just for balance, and everything. Mainly.

“I remember money
Wrapped in dishonesty”

How NOT to write about music – 3. Marianne Faithfull


OK. So what would you like to read in a blog entry about the new Marianne Faithfull single and album?

The press release has it that “Negative Capability is Marianne Faithfull’s 21st album and the most emotionally powerful of her 54-year recording career”; a grandiose claim that rather oddly has the effect of dismissing the rest of the singer’s rather daunting catalogue as being emotionally second-rate. The new single, featuring Warren Ellis on violin and Nick Cave on backing vocals, is fine – but on a cursory listen does not sound any more (or any less) emotionally powerful than her wonderful and fatalistic 17th album, 2005’s Before The Poison, for example. She has collaborated with other musicians for years  – and the descriptions being thrown her way for decades, “poetic and unnerving”, “honey-over-gravel voice” or “dark and desolate” – could equally as well apply here.

Faithfull is similar to Cave inasmuch as she never quite lets you forget she is a performer. This new single is reminiscent of Cave’s own ‘Helpless’.

OK. So what would you like to read in a blog entry about the new Marianne Faithfull single and album?

Information, supposition, procrastination.

Faithfull is a highly respected and established artist: so how does her new material match up to her past material? It matches up just fine. Uh, nothing matches ‘Broken English’. Nothing. And that sure had no tasteful arrangements. Incidentally, I love the way the version I’ve linked to on YouTube keeps skipping at the start.

What are her lyrical concerns? What is her current life status? Who are her current collaborators? From the press release again: “Facing down arthritis and bolstered by collaborators including Warren Ellis, Nick Cave, Rob Ellis, Ed Harcourt and Mark Lanegan, Negative Capability is charged with brutal honesty and autobiographical reflection as she addresses losing old friends, her loneliness living in her adopted city of Paris, and love.” You need more than this? Insight, validation of your own taste, passion? Truth to tell the song sounds a little too polished – the starkness of her performed reality feels like it needs less orchestration than Ellis’ lush weeping, the sombre piano.

I am not trying to be negative here, just realistic. I love Marianne’s voice and music. I like this new single. But realism is the last thing anyone wants from critics, correct?

OK. Here’s a fast pop quiz for anyone interested. Keep a track of the news stories and first reviews running around ‘The Gypsy Faerie Queen’ and Negative Capability – see how many quote word-for-word from the press release in the paragraph above. That is not music criticism or evaluation. That is simple laziness, plagiarism. Yet this is what gets called music criticism the world over.

Note to blog writers: Pause for an hour. Go for a coffee, a meeting, a sleep, a sexual encounter. Do not press ‘publish’ until you have given yourself some space for private mediation, a chance to expand upon your own brief.

“I only listen to her sing
And I never hear her talking”

How NOT to write about music – 2. Mango


I have never hidden the fact I do not bother to listen to music that hasn’t been personally recommended to me. (No unsolicited demos.) In my time I have been a high visibility music critic, with any number of friends and contacts and enemies familiar with the sort of music I like and the sort of music I might like. Simultaneous with this, I have at regular intervals received over 100 new albums and tracks and singles a day.

I can not afford to waste time on shit that hasn’t been filtered already.

Afford is not the right word. It is too time-consuming to do otherwise.

If I ever do find myself listening to not-recommended music I am able to tell within the opening 10 seconds whether I will like the song or not. Nothing to do with packaging. Three seconds, not 10.

I have a kick-ass reputation for championing new music precisely because I behave this way.

If Gerard Cosloy (Matador) reckons I might want to interview Pavement before I’ve even heard Pavement, if Gold Mountain Management’s John Silva knows that I dislike Pearl Jam before I’ve even reported back to anyone about Pearl Jam, if Mac from Superchunk talks me into buying 75 US independent singles from one San Francisco record store in one go then… well, fuck. I am going to take notice of them. This does not mean they dictated my taste or my taste is anything other than my own. Just that I pay attention to the emphasis.

Also, it is never one individual recommending me music, but an accumulation of voices.

It works both ways. The number of bands who got A&R interest, who signed record deals, who entered bidding wars because Everett True and a handful of other individuals reckoned there must be something to them… well, it has to number in the single digits, at least. I suspect this was happening even when I was living in Brisbane in the mid 10s, writing for Collapse Board and latterly The Guardian. Not sure it still happens, though. Music criticism needs a certain amount of consistency and frequency to gain traction.

So. 2018. I find myself at a slight impasses. You cannot fake enthusiasm. Neither it is a good idea to…. Wait.

Yes, of course you can fake enthusiasm. I prefer not to, however.

By any interpretation you choose to take, Mango rock. It ain’t the kind of rock I sometimes throw your way, no denying – no heavy kick-ass metallic chundering guitars or chundering kick-ass heavy drums or that shit: but the words are enunciated and stretched out at volume with a velocity and fierceness that offsets the jazz-tinged funk with a pleasing counter. (See the way there I smartly separated the two genres?) I don’t really understand the quiet bits but I never really understand the quiet bits, although I do like the way they sound tentative, nervous, concerned they may be out of order. It’s very muso and trained but fuck it. It’s taken me over 40 years to admit this ain’t necessarily a bad thing.

The voice is The Voice and that is enough

So, wait. You may be wondering what the connection is. Straightforward enough. I mentioned on Facebook the other week that shortly I was to start a new job at BIMM London and – bam! Someone recommends Mango from BIMM London.

That’s it. Recommend away.


How NOT to write about music – 1. Goat Girl

Goat Girl

Roughly, the story goes like this.

If you cannot write, if you have no inspiration, if the day is cold and bleak outside and promises only further greyness, steal. Steal from the TV, steal from your friends, steal from music, steal from Jim Jarmusch. Steal directly from other critics if you must. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. (As someone else once said.) All great art builds on what went before, but so does all mediocre art – and mediocre criticism, when it comes to that. Ultimately, it does not matter if the people you are stealing from have any authority or zing or knowledge, or if the music or coffee has any bite or solace

My point being that: get words down on paper,  keep the grey at bay.

My point being that: for gosh sake, tidy up your words afterwards.

The NME has it about Goat Girl that, “The four piece’s debut album is a grubby, clattering thing that takes its lead from 1980s LA punk trailblazers like X and The Gun Club” [delete rest of sentence for a) not being entertaining and b) not adding anything to the dialogue around the music that cannot be summed up in the one word ‘scrappy’ even though that one word is misleading]. I do not mean to devalue my colleague’s writing by spiking the sentence even though I wanna throw in the screamer “she drawls like Courtney Love when Courtney stops pretending to be Stevie Nicks for one moment”, cos mostly what she has to say is relevant. I do however want to bang the heads of the rest of my colleagues together for spouting cliché after cliché about “girl gangs” and “Brixton” and for overlooking the Courtney Barnett influence on ‘Country Sleaze’. Thing is though, by bringing in the NME quote, as staple as it is (not an insult: you need staples in your music reviewing, otherwise how can you music review?), you have a sense of where the music of Goat Girl is coming from, even a little cultural and attitudinal context – context that would be greatly increased if a) I could be bothered to put links in to their forebears and b) you could be bothered to click on them but a) I can’t and b) I know you won’t, so we will leave it there for a moment, shall we?

* Uh, you do need to be aware that X and The Gun Club were not punk in the way most people understand the word.

My point here is: can’t write? Steal. Everyone does.

My point being that: NME has done their job.

My point here is: if you cannot write, write anyway. Choose to make it about the music, if you can – but if you are turned off by comparison points (and why wouldn’t you be?) and if you are not turned on by talking about the way the audience and the band move (and why would you be?) then you can fill empty space by talking about how you do not like to do either. Mention the weather and work environment. Mention your bike ride to Haywards Heath station this morning and then try and figure out if you can justify the mention. (No.) If you can’t, don’t worry. Delete it later.

NOTE TO SELF: delete this bit.

The idea being: that you start to write anyway.

Use a description. Put an adjective before it. Never mind that interpretation is in the eye of the beholder, do it anyway. Doomy experimentalism. Fiery instrumentation. Bucolic country. (I am stealing, still.) Deft, light of touch. Spitting on the ashes of 50 years of male rock hegemony. Fucking with the minds of all those who would fuck with theirs. Mention the songs, the lyrical content. Public transport perverts. Alienation (you can use that one even if you’ve never heard the band – everyone has alienation, unless you’re Mumford & Fucking Sons. And even Mumford Fuckers & Sons pretend they do.)

My point here is: I’m still filling space.

Try the word exhilarating.

The Guardian sub-editors have that These fearless London post-punkers rage against modern Britain, from public transport to mental health, on their self-assured debut. You should never pay attention to sub-headings designed to pull more readers in and even less should you pay attention to blog entries paying attention to sub-headings designed to pull more readers in just to make half a point. Please don’t get angry at that meaningless sobriquet “post-punkers” (Goat Girl are not) or the use of the word ‘fearless’ in conjunction with a form of creative expression that has little or nothing to do with normative concepts of bravery.

The article itself (far better!) begins with the sentences,

“I’m disgusting, I’m a shame to this so-called human race,” sings Clottie Cream on Country Sleaze, one half of the 2016 double A-side debut single by Goat Girl. The flipside, Scum, pondered: “How can an entire nation be so fucking thick?”

This does more than anything else to pull me in and start listening. At least it would have done except I’d already started to listen and was magnetised, sucker-punched, mesmerised by the stately roll of drums and cool drool vocals, the clutter of strings.

My point being: we’re all fucked anyway. But you gotta try.

But did that Guardian journalist really write “Expect to hear Goat Girl trip-trapping over your bridge very soon”? Whoa.