How NOT to write about music – 33. Muse

Muse

God, I hate Muse.

Everything flash, shallow and opportune about music, overwrought and over-burdened with portentousness, rock music for boys who are no longer young but refuse to accept the fact performed by boys who are no longer young but still refuse to accept the fact and paraded as some form of “look how serious and earnest we are about music” when in reality Muse are flimsier, more crass and meaningless than an amalgam of shit identikit 2018 pop featuring Chainsmokers and Clean Bandit and that dick Calvin Harris. Schoolyard symbolism that wasn’t even big or clever when it was in the schoolyard. There’s no value, no frenzy, no meaning. Mock-anger paraded on the biggest stages of the land, like Green Day given a hefty dosage of prog theatrics and pop-up posturing, shit shit shit. God, I hate Muse. All the dullest bits of all the dullest parts of histrionic rock vocalising, coupled with all the dullest bits of prog and glam and cheeseboard guitar – and man there have been plenty – coupled with all the yawning chasms of imagination Pink Floyd have traded in ever since they dropped ‘songs’ from their repertoire, coupled with all the very dullest parts of retro 1980s electronica and retro 1980s rock posturing – and man there have been plenty – coupled with all the dullest parts of life. WHY IS IT THAT ALL THESE CUNTS INSIST ON SOUNDING EXACTLY LIKE EACH OTHER? The animals looked from pig to man, from man to pig, from Thom Yorke to Chris Martin to Matt Bellamy, and there is no way of telling them apart. God, I hate Muse. Where are you from ? Waitrose. Singing in a strained falsetto does not make you special or soulful it just means you sing in strained falsetto. The term space rock does not actually apply to their music: there is none of the mind-altering imaginings of Sun Ra or Alice Coltrane (who surely own the term), but a very earthbound reliance on tried tropes and even more tired production values. The Jonas Brothers of the rock world, Emerson Lake and Palmer without the musical flamboyance (and they didn’t even have any of that), an entire phalanx of shit for a generation bamboozled into thinking histrionic and flatulent means searching and imaginative instead of constipated and shit. God, I hate Muse. Dull as the bands that they so blatantly rip-off; in another age they’d have been called the Teignmouth Radiohead and reduced to a living eked out playing beered-up pubs full of lairy lads shouting “play fucking ‘Creep’ you wankers, not the pretentious shit”, indie buskers who unaccountably made it big. Musical theatre for people who have no idea how thrilling musical theatre can be. As people they seem remarkably inoffensive and well-meaning but that makes me hate them even more. As someone rightly once put it, “A band who if they weren’t famous would be assistant managers at branches of Subway in Rotherham, Wrexham and Dudley respectively”. Seven-minute guitar solos are not big. They’re not clever. They are seven-minute guitar solos. Like Dobby if he was given a rock band to play with. Bombastic, whiny, gross. God, I hate Muse. They were (sort of) OK when they were 16 because at least it was explainable then. They are not 16 now, not vaguely. They’re not Queen either. They’re not shit in the Smashing Pumpkins sense of the word but they sure as fuck ain’t Ariana. I feel so unclean.

Fun though – right? No.

This description is brilliant:

“Muse are for people whose political beliefs were formed by Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’. They’re for people who cite vaping as a sport. They’re for people who still fall out with their friends for not including them in their MySpace Top 8. They have ‘jet fuel can’t melt steel beams’ tattooed down their forearm. They wear black vests with tribal designs on them. If you were to ask Matt Bellamy who he hated most in this world it would either be George W. Bush or his Mum for grounding him after she caught him kissing a poster of Robocop.”

How NOT to write about music – 32. Big Joanie

Big-Joanie-2

I am not on one side or another here.

I hear something, I like it, I want to share it and, if I can help promote it and perhaps validate it along the way (not that these ladies need my validation, for sure) then that is a looked-for bonus. Incurious, I flick through Facebook and note that a couple of friends (ones whose taste I rate) are thinking of checking out London feminist punk band Big Joanie when they play at The Albert in Brighton in a couple of weeks time. Nice, nice, nice. Been meaning to listen to the ladies again for a while now, so I listen…

Nice nice nice.

Note, while I’m reading up on stuff, that the ladies have an album out The Quietus likes (something about reclamation of space and silence, a cursory comparison to The Breeders, stripped-back sound and a variety of apposite socio-political references). Note that, as ever, The Quietus reviewer is determined to go on for at least 300 words too long but the review does make me decide to listen to Big Joanie’s new songs.

Nice nice nice, but decide I fractionally prefer the production on the old songs more. Prefer them (a little) more when the guitar sound reminds me of The Petticoats. I do like the way the YouTube algorithms take me immediately on to Hole (first time), Solange (second time), Beyoncé (third time) and Skinny Girl Diet (fourth time) following this song.

Nice, nice nice. Resolve to go out to the Brighton show especially as they have a very interesting support act – and then note the day of the Brighton show. Monday. Damn it. The one evening I cannot make. Damn. Resolve instead that I should mention this show and this band on this blog and then wonder if I’ve done enough.

Well, have I?

10 Most Read Entries on How NOT To Write About Music

Wolf Alice 1

1. How NOT to write about music – 27. Television Personalities
I have been aware for as long as I can recall that music has provided me with a sense of belonging, a sense of community and sharing, give and take. And if that no longer exists then surely that is my fault and no more and no less than I deserve. Music scorns me like a former lover. Back when I knew Alan McGee and Dan Treacy in the early 1980s the music provided a palpable sense of belonging, clubs like (Alan’s) Living Room at the Adams Arms and (Dan and Emily’s) Room At The Top (Chalk Farm Enterprise) providing a living community of outsiders, bloaters, the braggarts and the bullies, the shy and the emotional, the Sixties obsessed guitar freaks and the psychedelic losers. Alan gave me Dan, Dan gave me Marine Girls and so much inspiration in his own personal, heart-torn songs – no separation between performance and performer, much as Dan attempted to insert some. Amazing fucking pop songs.

2. How NOT to write about music – 26. Kristin Hersh
I want to write about Kristin’s new album but the music keeps intruding, in a way music rarely – if ever – does when I am attempting to write about it. Full immersion. The way the music and guitar lollops and loops and curves, and throws off sunshine and charm (NB: stolen from press release), the way her voice sounds wise beyond understanding, the way a pink birthing ball is resting over there by the torn-out fireplace, the shallowness of my breathing, the tears splattered across my car’s windscreen… I find myself unequal to the task. She’s not.

3. WORLD EXCLUSIVE! Live review of ‘fake’ metal band THREATIN at Camden Underworld
Surely, this is of interest? We were there. “Three people show up and one of them’s a music journalist! Jammy bastard! What are the chances of that?” Quite high, actually. It’s what we do. As keen metal fans here at How NOT To Write About Music, we posted this report a couple of days ago – but no one paid attention. So here it is again: whether the band is ‘real’ or not is not of importance to us here at How NOT To Write About Music. To us, they were real when they played. What is far more important is the question: does the band rock? And trust us, like you’ve never trusted a music critic before: this band… well, read for yourselves.

4. How NOT to write about music – 25. Salad
Where are we now? This is silly-good catchy. This is Elastica good. Also, it reminds me of my long-term Worthing sweethearts La Mômo… and that makes me happy. Don’t know why the following is only a short preview, but why the fuck not. First new stuff since 1997 apparently, but … uh … not that I’d know it. So catchy I wanna go back and listen to the old shit, see if I did miss something first time round.

5. Everett True’s 10 favourite albums of all time* … and one that changed his life
This is reprinted from my Brisbane website Collapse Board, originally written for an Australian publication that never ran with the article. My original intro pretty much covers it – to this list of omissions I would now add most obviously Beyoncé (Lemonade, duh), but also St Vincent, some gospel (this, for instance), Blind Blake, Metal Box (PiL), more ska and bluebeat for sure, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and dub reggae circa late 1970s, Talking Heads, Undertones, Tunabunny, Little Mix, some female grime (this, for instance – or this), my own stuff, Miley Cyrus (seriously), The Cramps, The Saints, The Go-Betweens (but also this!), The Roches’ first two, Daniel Johnston and so forth.

6. How NOT to write about music – 6. Wolf Alice
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.

7. How NOT to write about music – 31. Mumford & Sons
Mumford & Sons is shit, Cath Kitson folk shit, Occado Levellers shit. Shout it from the tops of night buses and at office parties. Waistcoat-bothering, fake folk dinner party shit. Slumming shit. Tweed clad, Morris-dancing jizz wizard shit. Tripe shit that needs to be sellotaped to a Frisbee and thrown into a fire shit. Mumford & Sons is shit. They make Bono sound restrained. They make Billy Corgan shine with integrity, Ed Sheeran shine with an inner fire, Trump dance the media with rascal grace. They put the grey into perspective.

8. How NOT to write about music – 11. Tracyanne & Danny
The Tracyanne & Danny album is one of my most played this year and it has soundtracked many a solitary train journey and rushed car ride, many an empty afternoon spent wasting away in the depths of loneliness in Haywards Heath, the overwhelming emotion being one of shock. Not awe. Just shock, delayed reaction. Other people have their Ed Sheerans and Red House Painters and that is fine. Bless them. This is not what I look for in music, not when I seek solace and reassurance and some form of comfort. I am looking for voices that can transport me out of this mess, this delayed shock – pure and open and laden with understanding. Voices that understand the secret history of The Pastels. I am looking for Tracyanne & Danny. Both singers, all their songs.

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

10. How NOT to write about music – 8. The Breeders
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…

How NOT to write about music – 31. Mumford & Sons

mumford-and-sons

“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” (George Orwell, Animal Farm)

You may interpret the above quote as a commentary on the corrupting influence of power upon those who seek to exert it, but I have always viewed it as a metaphor for conformity, for the unchanging status quo, for the way that the more (music and) society changes the more (music and) society stays the same (with a hefty boot of extra nastiness thrown in for good measure). My favourite part of the quote is the three words at the start of the closing sentence (“The creatures outside…”).

I have heard songs by U2, Mumford & Sons, Kings Of Leon and Coldplay in recent days on Radio One and found myself unable to distinguish between them.*

Doubtless, if I decided to suspend my critical aesthetic for a moment and could view myself as a fan of any of these bands, then I would be able to pick up on the minutiae and tiny changes in guitar and vocal sound that separates one from another.

Not being a fan, I find myself unable to.

Doubtless, the pigs and men seated around the table quaffing and having it large on the back of the animals’ labour view themselves as individual entities, each with their own distinct idioms and quirks. Their self-illusion is irrelevant to both me and the animals however, faces pressed up close against the glass, vision clouded by smoky condensation. The four bands are impossible to tell apart – not just because of the production, music and overwrought vocals – but also due to their bombastic, narcissistic, flatulent, diarrheic sweep of emotion, their astonishing lack of empathy. Pigs and men braying together.

——————————

Mumford & Sons is shit.

Do not believe the hype. Do never believe the hype. My life over the last decade has been swamped with people spouting crap like “I don’t want to say Mumford & Sons is shit because it ain’t up to me to tell others how to live their lives”. No. I lie. Mumford & Sons are like the folk-rock equivalent of Nickelback: NOT ONE PERSON WILL STAND UP TO DEFEND THEM. Damn straight. Some shit is so shit, pallid, fake (spiffing, waddling, arrogant, talentless, entitled, cancerous) that not even the most benighted benevolent generous hapless hipster can be seen to be leaping to the rich fucktards’ defence. It’d be like speaking up for Jacob Rees-Mogg at a convention of actual people, defending fracking. Say it loud, say it clear, scream yourself hoarse so even the fuckwads controlling this nation’s media cannot misconstrue it: MUMOFRD & SSONS IS HSHIT

I can’t even fucmking type straight thery’re so fuckghubngh sghit.

They’re a beardy bland comfort zone for people with no meaning in their lives, and no expectations beyond the promise of a new M&S advert come Christmas time, a predigested retro sweep of mawkish sentimentality and cultural appropriation emotion whose primary concern is not HOPE but… nothing. Less than nothing. Shit. Less than nothing. Shit. Mumford & Sons is shit. You don’t need to be a Harvard Scholar in semantics and political rhetoric to theorise this, you do not need to be a marketed-to sheep stuck inside with your collection of Netflix downloads and Instagram selfies to say this. You don’t need to be a crow, you don’t need to be powerless. Mumford & Sons is shit. You do not need to listen to their music – in fact, DO NOT listen to their fucking music – to say this, or listen to stadium after stadium of their increasingly pitiful fans, just read the apoplectic commentary from those who think they’re Making A Statement by coming out against them, the yawning insipid praise from those whose idea of a varied and worldly musical taste means including a Bumford & Cunts song on their playlist of Coldplay, U2, Kings Of Leon and all the other pig-shit bombastic music.

Look at the way they look. Not so much rock stars as an exercise in self-containment (how many times can you look at a picture of those smug Tory cunts, before you go punch a wall?). Mumford & Sons is shit. How many times do I need to say this before you start listening? Hey, why not start listening? Just cos you’ve only heard a handful of songs in your life does not mean that no alternatives exist. Mumford & Sons is shit. Do not be scared of the crowd. The crowd is wrong, often. Mumford & Sons is shit. The idea of listening to their music drives me to extremes of… jesus. Whatever. Mumford & Sons is shit, Cath Kitson folk shit, Occado Levellers shit. Shout it from the tops of night buses and at office parties. Waistcoat-bothering, fake folk dinner party shit. Slumming shit. Tweed clad, Morris-dancing jizz wizard shit. Tripe shit that needs to be sellotaped to a Frisbee and thrown into a fire shit. Mumford & Sons is shit. They make Bono sound restrained. They make Billy Corgan shine with integrity, Ed Sheeran shine with an inner fire, Trump dance the media with rascal grace. They put the grey into perspective.

Mumford & Sons is shit. Bullshit. They are the shit in the middle of the bullshit. Their emotion is not theirs. It’s empty, big washes of guitar-driven bombastic shit. Mumford & Sons is shit. The smuggest toddlers in a romper room crammed full of vacuous Tory bastards and the entitled rich. Useless shit that pervades the world with the smell of uncritical acceptance. Smiley shit. Bouncy shit. Bearded shit. Mumford & Sons is shit. They are one more commodity, just one more commodity. Shit. Less than nothing. Shit. Lifestyle choice for the folk who think life has no need of choice. Shit. An approximation of music that does not bother to capture the spark that makes music so magical, so special. An approximation of an approximation. The boys from the rich town up on the hill three counties over with a bottomless trust fund and an entire trailer van full of mummy’s silver spoons.

… of an approximation.

I eat at home. My nights are filled with anger and (occasionally) children. Mumford & Sons is shit. And that shit is everywhere.

———————————-

Don’t click on the video. You will not like it. It will not enhance your life. The song is a meaningless mishmash of flimflam and mawkish emotion, with all the obvious dynamics in all the obvious places. Click on the link beneath the video instead.

LINK: Neil Kulkarni on Mumford & Sons

*Entirely true.

How NOT to write about music – 30. Harry Styles

Harry Styles

The way I discover music has changed, radically.

This in turn reflects upon the music I choose to listen to. My children insist on listening to Radio One on the way to and from Brighton, and in between school runs, and I in turn enjoy listening with my children as they interact occasionally with the DJs (Greg James and Nick Grimshaw, for the most part – I still have no idea what either looks like) and sometimes pass judgment on the tunes. In this context, when a song stands out – Nadia Rose, Jorja Smith, The 1975, Isaac Gracie, George Ezra, Ariana Grande, Eminem – it feels amplified, like it’s cutting through a great swathe of wheat and flimflam. Likewise, teaching students: I prefer (for many reasons) to discover their tastes in class (rather than rely on mine as many teachers do) and – universally, it seems – their tastes are both more mainstream and ‘heritage’ (retro) than mine most commonly have been. I say “than mine”, but the process of enjoying and appreciating music is indelibly linked with social and cultural circumstance – and so, my musical listening habits have changed. As to my ‘taste’, well…

I had a 20-minute conversation with one of my co-workers yesterday about my passion for Ariana Grande, followed by a day of discovery (particularly enjoying her take on Christina on this). Ariana is wonderful, and I suspect that whatever my current social circumstance I would have come around to her – if only for her reactions on a performance like this – her beguiling mix of fragility, sexuality and expression. My point is this: by favouring pop music I am not attempting to reclaim a youth I never experienced or to be a stereotypical heteronormative middle-aged man lusting after the forbidden. My taste reflects my surroundings.

Hence, exhibit A today – Harry Styles. I was way unimpressed when some of my Solent students tried to convince me of his value as a solo performer following the break-up of One Direction: Coldplay has never struck me as a band worth emulating and that big ‘serious’ song of his was yet another obvious rip of The Hollies or Korgis or whatever the fuck it was. I can’t be bothered to go back and look. (It was the latter.)

The below attempt to ingratiate himself in with the rock fraternity and ‘serious’ popular music commentators (fuck them) mostly works however, despite being too reverential. (In other words: I LIKE IT!) The reason it works though is interesting. Nothing to do with Styles (or very little). Everything to do with the vocal and instrumental contributions of his keyboard-player Clare Ushima, and in particular drummer Sarah Jones.

Check Sarah Jones out. Why does it not surprise me that she has her own way cool musical projects?

 

How NOT to write about music – 29. Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande

You’re not going to like me liking this.

You’re not going to like me liking this, seriously liking this like I think it’s one of my favourite two or three songs of 2018 easy, its grace and pace and sense of occasion, its yonic-centric video and smoothly provocative (yet not so) imagery, the way it seizes the moment – this moment – so beautifully, Ariana’s voice & its trills & tricks & joy of expression pushing at boundaries, her glam boots, the heteronormative yet oddly transgressive representation contained within her lyricism and visual imagery, the sweet R&B looping & stops & starts, the whoa-whoa-ah, the use of dynamics, her public image, her private image, the way she has toppled her fellow pop icons so gracefully yet so completely since the horror of the Manchester attack and the coming together of #onelove, the whoa-who-ah, the fact I can believe in her as a celebrity/religious figure because she is so believable and seemingly harmless (heteronormative, remember?) but simultaneously not so, the way she speaks up for female solidarity, the actual title of this song & its laughter at stereotypical patriarchy & yet it’s only a fucking pop song (right?), the whoa-whoa-ah, the pacing, her vulnerability, the way she plays to her fragility and turns it into a strength, her strength, the slow build, the carnal rampant sexuality, her boots, the way she is defining an entire generation, I have no idea whether for good or not, the way she laughs in the middle of this, my song of 2017 (that alone makes this performance special, near-transcendent), the way she stumbles and laughs at herself in the middle of this (that alone makes this performance special, near-transcendent), the whoa-whoa-ah, the way she’s so operating at the top of her game right now (as evidenced by her two recent singles), so in control and radiant.

I come at pop not from a teenage girl perspective (that would be absurd) or even a middle-aged white dude perspective (although undeniably this must influence me). In 2018, Ariana is first and foremost a diva, and one that has been greatly affected by tragedy and heartache. (Think Judy Garland, for the archetype.) I come at her music from a gay perspective.  I wrote an article for The Stranger about this once – I can’t find the original, but I reference it here.

I told you. You’re not going to like me, liking this.

But I believe in her.

Everett True’s Top 10 songs of 2018*

donaldtrump

Here is the trick. Lose your preconceptions.

Not so easy. All I ask for is for you to listen to this, past its pasty production and state-of-the-art beats and mirror-shaking chorus. Appreciate its obviousness and lack of clarity. The performance, the keenness and fake carnality of performance, the fact it aspires to be something greater than the sum of its parts, the fact it attempts to put across a message that isn’t the usual aspiration of Keeping Up With The… or cool millennial (actually, this is very cool millennial) or happy bouncy or bleak unremitting, but attempts to tackle the contradiction at the heart of so many lives (not just teenagers, although especially teenagers, I guess, not that I’ve asked).

Polite (despite the language) but not complicit. Refuses to be rolled over. Stands up. Gets counted. Speaks out. Inspires. In this, ‘We Are Fucked’ by Noah Cyrus and MØ is as punk as they come. I already wrote about this.

I teach music journalism, currently – I emphasise the importance of not padding out commentary and including words that add nothing to the dialogue, the layers of understanding and discovery.

See what I did there? Sometimes, bulk is what is required: it makes your reader feel like more has been achieved through their minimal engagement with your craft. (Rule number whatever: NEVER slag off your audience and mean it, just ask Lily Allen.)

‘We Are Fucked’ pauses when it should, it hesitates, becomes fiery and a little preachy. The more I listen to it the more I realise it ain’t all that… at least it shouldn’t be, but within the context of the anodyne and Brexit, of Trump and the treatment of child refugees, of endless streams of tanned celebs promising us the lie (truth) that controlled hedonism will make our lives, if not better, then bearable, it is. It is all that. It has a dig at Starbucks. It points the finger at its own audience but then at the last second relents and gives its audience a way out, a way to feel better about their own dismal lack of motivation.

“We’ve got hearts in the right places … Maybe it’s ‘cause we are young.”

Yeah, right. Hearts in the right places. Yeah, right.

Note for aspiring cultural complacency critics: this is not my top 10 songs of 2018 obviously.

For one, creating this blog post is by way of proving a point, and an obvious one at that. Your web traffic is dependent upon your signposting and ability to gently troll your potential reader. It is not possible for your potential reader to lose their preconceptions through a single line so you need to choose your words with care and softly lead them on. Ultimately, what are you looking to accomplish when you write about music? Me, I just want more people to dance down the front of shows. If something rocks, it rocks, and it feels like a shame to let tribal instinct, cynicism, natural distrust to get in the way of lovin’ the rock. Of course, it is also fun to let the above get in the way. I am still trying to figure out a way to write about two of my other favourite songs of the year – this one here, and that one there – that more than a few dozen people will read. No, not write about. Link to.

For two, 2018 isn’t over yet.

For three, it’s not my favourite song of 2018.

For four, music is not a competition. Of course it is. Of course it fucking is!