How NOT to write about music – 52. Dori Freeman

Dori Freeman

“One day she went away and didn’t come back. She died or vanished somewhere, in one of the Labour Camps. A nameless number on a list that was afterwards mislaid.” (Yevgraf Zhivago, Dr Zhivago)

Nice of you to drop by. Makes me think you care somehow. Thank goodness that all life comes to an end, right? Means that, sooner rather than later, our hopes and dreams and loves and heartaches and addictions and tears and children will come to nothing – nameless numbers on lists that afterwards are mislaid and then forgotten until the very concept of writing numbers on lists is bereft of meaning, whether it’s in our children’s lifetime or a thousand years later, doesn’t matter. There is nothing to look forward to, just the Void.

It’s lonely this evening, isn’t it? Children are at their grandparents instead of their regular weekly stopover, the house is chilly and drafty, no sound of laughter or fighting or TV blaring.

The second half of Dr Zhivago has just finished playing in the old man’s TV.

Man, that’s some cheery movie.

Here. Have some sweet melancholy to tide you over. Beautiful voice, beautiful arrangements. There is something a touch of Elvis Costello’s (slightly misguided) country album Almost Blue about this, but we do not hold this against Ms Freeman. Indeed we appreciate Ms Freeman all the more for it. Nostalgia, tinted with regret, tinted with warm melancholy, tinted with an appreciation for a job well done. Not too shabby. Slightly nasal. In a good way. She feels like she’d be someone it would be nice to share a few minutes with, have a few laughs with, move on after and catch a train back to Nowhere. The void. When the song finishes, there is a palpable feeling of loss.

Does not solve the problem of the cold or the heartbreak or isolation, but what does?


How NOT to write about music – 51. Ryan Adams

ryan adams

Some of us have always hated Ryan Adams. The following is reprinted from Music That I Like, 2017 


Father John Misty vs Ryan Adams: Who Is The Biggest Asshole?

Here is the ‘news’ story. 

And here… fuck it. Who the fuck cares? Both are weak, fifth-rate, belligerent boring narcissists with little taste in music and even less taste in hair.

On the one hand, Ryan Adams has never written poetry like this:

Father John Misty
You seem quite shifty
Humorous in a non-humorous way

Father John Misty
The critics love to discuss you
They want to know the ‘real’ you

All art is a performance
But not all art is boring
or dull or serious or like late 70s Elton John without any tunes

You have a beard
And no back story
Just another hipster glowing
In the light of another

Father John Misty
You have been compared to various art-
ists like Fleet Foxes, Jackson Browne and
others I have never heard

Father John Misty
I have not heard your new album either
This does not bother

I have a feeling that
You and I could never be
friends or enemies or even one-night lovers as we have absolutely nothing in common beyond a distrust of
razor wit

Father John Misty
Critics like to use your real name

All art is a performance
Some duller than others
Some so dull that it should not be listened to at all

Father John Misty
Like an Agatha Christie
Without any myst’ry

Father John Misty
Pitchfork inform me that you have one of the “7 Albums Out Today You Should Listen to Now”
So demanding
And with the bar set so low

On the other hand, neither has Father John Misty.

On the one hand, one is a boring middle-class white male rock tosser. On the other, one is Ryan Adams.

On one side is a man who has plenty to say, but fuck me is it dull and tedious. And on the other, one is Father John Misty.

One is bloated, corpulent, unfunny. So is the other.

Related posts:
Father John Misty vs Ed Sheeran. Who is the more shit?

You still want to know what the songs sound like? They sound exactly how you would imagine them to sound. The title track is a ragged folk-waltz, ‘Kindness’ is a lush testament to the healing power of love, ‘Save Me’ is an intimate country-rock lament … look I can’t play this game anymore. This album is awful. It is beyond awful. It is a waste of your time. Trust me; you can do much better than this. You deserve better. I am truly sorry if you think the things Ryan Adams describes on Ashes & Fire are real emotions. They are not. They are the words of a person whose imagination is comatose; it is the poetry of the mundane. We are all in the gutter, but that does not mean we have to drink from it. Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire (PAX-AM/Capitol)

You can still buy the book Ed Sheeran Is Shit. Paypal £13 (UK) / £16 (EU) / £20 (ROTW) to Be warned though, there are only about 10 copies left

How NOT to write about music – 50. Marshmello ft. Bastille

Marshmello ft. Bastille

Last week, a bog-standard EDM DJ played a concert to an estimated audience of 10 million people, and I bet you didn’t even know…

The first ever live virtual concert inside Fortnite with millions of people in attendance; and for those watching, this was An Event to match all those Oasis Maine Road and Superbowl halftime shows and U2 stadium tours. Apparently. I don’t mean for the ‘apparently’ to sound cynical, just acknowledging my own lack of insider knowledge. Certainly my 13-year-old son (let’s call him Isaac, as that’s his name) loved it, was very excited. Yet I cannot connect to this on near any level: the music and the event feels alien to me, clinical and clumsy, disconnected and woefully amateurish, so basic. Lack of commonality.

Maybe it’s my two-dollar headphones (no bass). Maybe it’s my unfamiliarity.

The event feels strangely empty. (Ten million people? Really? “They’re all on separate servers, dad,” Isaac patiently explained.) At big shows (or after-show parties) (or weddings) I really notice if the audience is lacking or if there is not much atmosphere. (That moment the lights get turned on at 2am after a bangin’ disco to reveal the beer spills and patches of nothing and ordinary, sad would-be all-night hedonists.) This is a generational thing, right? Watching virtual reality I am very aware of the reality I exist within. The music is tinny, squeaky-clean. There is too much separation between the sounds, between the stage and the dancers, between the dancer themselves. It’s so damn empty. I do not want to comment on the music – except to note that shorn of the physicality of actual reality, the smells and off-mic sounds, the sights and breeze across my face – I find myself floundering to establish commonality (something at the heart of near all criticism, too often taken for granted).

Then there is this. I don’t understand. I really don’t. How is this, on any level, good? Six million views, 360K likes.

I am betraying my own lack of engagement, my own lack of common ground. Isaac loves this stuff; my criteria for whether something can be judged ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are outmoded and meaningless when it comes to discussions like this. Yet music criticism is not musicological analysis, it has never been even primarily concerned with  the notion of a universal good or bad, with the notes and tone and composition by themselves. So does this make Rolling Stone‘s critique of Marshmello’s 2018 album Joytime II as “monotonous… every song sounds like it has already been pre-leased for use by energy-drink companies or extreme-sports squads” valueless? Only inasmuch as music criticism has always been valueless.

Pitchfork‘s comment that “Artists trafficking in EDM have typically been averse to the album format, but Marshmello’s two Joytime releases aren’t exactly albums. Think of them more as collections of DJ tools — packages of cuts tailor-made for set-lists and remix fodder alike” feels more relevant. Doesn’t tell you anything about the music though.

Or does it?

Music criticism focuses on the audience, and on the performer. As the old line has it about John Coltrane and the Cheeky Girls – can we not all agree the merit and worth in one over the other. No, I do not believe we can. Preference is down to context and fashion, not some mythic intrinsic ‘value’.

Could I also draw your attention to this:

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That is some heavy-duty marketing, right there.

How NOT to write about music – 49. The Specials

The Specials

I was dubious. I cannot deny it. It’s not like The Specials haven’t reformed every year since whenever it was they first “split” (’81? ’84? ’93? ’96? ’98? ’00? ’07? ’09? ’12? ’16?). What should make this latest reformation any more – or less – special than all the previous reformations?

I cannot answer that. Maybe no one can. It feels appropriate, that The Specials should reform once more in 2019 – but frankly, you could have said that about any other year they reformed. Sure, you can point to individual band members’ participation and all that. I don’t recall any of them releasing anything particularly stunning in the interim though. Sure, I enjoyed their live outings with Amy Winehouse and – yes, it’s impossible to decide which of their first two albums is the greater (it’s the first, of course! no, the second! no, the first… and so forth) but…

It’s not like I’m complaining. Even if, as some have argued, this latest incarnation is not actually The Specials at all. Listen to the music and judge for yourself. That’s all you need to do. Listen to the music. This first single is… well, it’s miraculous ain’t it? A shameless reworking of the sound of ‘Ghost Town’? Yeah, ‘course. But a minor miracle too. I’m sure the new (Number One!) album is as patchy as shit but… well. Whatever. Time to drag out the old Tricky anecdote again.

The story goes that, right at the height of Tricky’s first flush of fame, the notoriously moody trip-hop pioneer was flown first-class to Seattle to DJ. He showed up with a copy of the Specials’ first album under his arm, nothing else. “Er, that’s lovely Tricky,” stuttered the nervous club owner, “but where’s the rest of your records?”

“This is it,” came the reply. “It’s all you need.”

How NOT to write about music – 48. Billie Eilish


Some shit is just so good, it transcends.

I have this on constant repeat and it races round my head on a loop of delight and discovery. It is playful, it teases but it is also maudlin and it depresses. It is conflicted, confused. I love conflicted, confused. That is my main jam in life. Feeling conflicted. Such a natural pace and rhythm and timing. The way it stops and then jolts awake. The way it jolts awake and then screams silently and then stops and then runs away and then loops around once more. The way it falls asleep. The Way It Keeps You In The Dark. We all fall asleep. We all feel excited and depressed and maudlin and charged simultaneously. We all like to be playful with our darkest spirits. We all crush. We all crash. We call crush.

If I could I would put this review on an endless timeless loop so it keeps disappearing and reappearing every five minutes. And…


Should I pad this out? Careful.



How NOT to write about music – 47. Anna St. Louis

Anna St Louis

So. Anna St. Louis. I like this song. I like this performance. I do not know if she is one of my people but these days such a description is so limiting I do not worry about it. She has been compared to Kevin Morby, who sounds like a dreary Leonard Cohen to me. Anna St. Louis does not sound dreary to me. She’s been compared to Dori Freeman, who is way WAY better. (So good in fact that now I cannot stop listening to her.) The comparison seems odd, though. The two ladies do not have so much in common, beyond their genre, I mean gender, and the fact they both play music.

But that’s just me. Not you.

My journey is increasingly leading me towards the mainstream.

I have no objection, I like the feeling of being buffeted and bounced around by forces over which I have no control. I relinquished control a long time back, somewhere around the point my personal life disintegrated, and have no desire to grasp it back any time soon. Or maybe I have? Maybe the winds and tides will shortly buffet me back into a position where I can once more contribute to, and help shape, the dialogue. Right now, though I am a consumer and little more, making the odd piece of tangential commentary and pretending it has value. It’s all good. it’s all good. I am part of the adult world now, no room for the outsider. I suffer from retrophobia which is partly why my focus is so much on the pop charts these days – if I write about something new or novel to others, there is a suspicion it is not new or novel to me. Ariana Grande, though. She is both new and novel to me.

I was the first person in the UK to interview Mazzy Star, you know (and I interviewed them three times in one year) (and they were not good interviews, my fault mainly) (and there is no point to this observation).

How NOT to write about music – 46. Grimes


You know how rare it is they play death metal on the Radio One breakfast show? How can this NOT be my jam? Submit. Submit. You have any idea of the shit I have to wade through just to get to one good slalom? My only regret about my job at BIMM London is that I don’t get to wear latex bodysuits 24-7. That, and the tiredness. Have you any idea how rare it is that shit as heavy as this – no, not Catfish and the fucking Bottlemen, not fucking Vaccines with their vacuous pouts and vacuous lyrics on constant alert for the next cover of Vice – get played in my car? Submit. Submit. Submit. If you all weren’t so caught up on gender you’d be hailing this as the new Nine Inch Nails* or Throbbing Gristle, the back-straightening dystopian future response to our collective amoral dystopian present where folk like us (we like us) wrestle back three seconds of control and writhe. Your problem right now is failing to understand tyranny in all its varied and hetero normative forms, in believing that there is a dialogue taking place between YOU and THEM. You know how rare it is I bother to wade through the shit? I’d wade through the shit any number of times you want babe, just for one more listen. If anything about this screams fake or inauthentic to you then I humbly – no, fuck humbly – suggest to you that you’re listening in all the wrong places. Anyone else hear this as a natural continuation of the line started by ABBA and Babymetal and – oh fuck it, I don’t know – Sepultura years ago? Me neither. Catchier than a whole library-full of.

It’s retro-futurist rock opera for the scorned generation.

It never stops.

*Skinny Puppy, not NiN.