How NOT to write about music – 114. Poppy Jean Crawford

Poppy Jean Crawford

One site has it:

Poppy Jean Crawford sings out amid a heavy two beat drum, hypnotic bass and a wall of distorted guitar on this unrelenting angst strewn powerhouse. Her angelic voice is a pure light shining in the gloom denying the darkness that surrounds. As the drums and guitars build in menace throughout it only renders Poppy’s voice that more tender and touching.

Tempestuous, brooding and rousing in equal amounts ‘Same Old Tricks’ is a powerful slice of deliciously dark Americana.

Yes, yes, but is it any good?

Another site has it:

The daughter of a filmmaker mother and artist father, Crawford schooled herself in L.A.’s DIY scene, hanging out at places such as the Smell and taking an interest in writing music. “Soon enough,” she says, “I dropped out of school. I thought, fuck it, I know what I’m supposed to do.”

Yes yes, but is it any good?

Fuck yeah. The deepening insistent pounding bass refrain, the near-ethereal (there’s a word that should be banned from every music critic’s lexicon) vocals, almost not-there, the juxtaposition between quiet and LOUD, quiet and LOUD, the way it lingers maliciously, the underlying (small ‘g’) gothicness of it all, the fact I don’t know who the fuck the artist is and probably never will, the way it reminds me of my twin heartthrobs Cranes and Scout Niblett (interesting midpoint!), the whole tempestuous mystery… this could be Everett-True-by-numbers.

This reads like an insult. It is not an insult. It is not an insult by any stretch of the imagination. The sound quality on the Soundcloud artist page is far superior, incidentally.

Recommended by a friend on Twitter and much appreciated. I LOVE a good rec’.

YOU WANT TO know how I feel when I listen to Espero, the new three-track EP from Portsmouth’s Cranes, right? You want to know whether it evokes images of abused childhoods, fetal murmurs, voodoo nursery rhymes, claustrophobia, the horror from Eraserhead, disembodied structures, obsession, right? You want to know how this music affects me. Okay, I’ll tell you.

The new Cranes single makes me feel distinctly, devoutly, uneasy. The first track, ‘I Hope’, is the sound of devastation, pain, isolation; a child inarticulately screaming as it faces a nameless, faceless horror in the closet, the attic, face downwards in the frowning pool. The second track, ‘E. G. Shining’, reminds of that section in E. Nesbitt’s The Story of the Amulet, where the word of power is spoken and the air grows dank and oppressive, the hubbub of Victorian London streets outside fades to a mere trickle, and the charm begins to grow and grow until it fills the whole room. And on the other side… my God, you don’t want to know what’s on the other side. And the third track ‘Cha Cha Escueta’, makes me feel exotic, ecstatic. Cranes put me in touch with emotions that aren’t there.
Cranes: Indecent Obsessions – Melody Maker, 10 November 1990


How NOT to write about music – 113. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds


Around 23.05, I started crying.

I can’t even imagine. I don’t even want to imagine…

How much should a man be defined by events that happen in his life outside of his control? This is not the question, surely. The question is: how much is a man defined by his response to the events that happen in his life outside of his control? It is near impossible to judge people when everything goes well: what matters is the response when everything does not go well.

I write as someone who sometimes likes to pretend he has little to no memory of what transpired before – it’s not pretense, not usually – but also as someone who increasingly finds his life trajectory as a series of fits and bursts, the disc stuck and skipping at certain unavoidable points, defined by what happened to me outside of my control (mostly). If I have a problem with the ghost of my former self it is this: he had such casual brilliant brutal disregard for others and others’ feelings – not that I want to make him out to be callous or indifferent, just that his lack of perspective, lack of responsibility, served him so well. Jealousy. All my life I attempted to make others jealous and now I have come full circle, jealous of my former self: so successful that I find it near impossible to move on, however I try.

Maybe I don’t want to try. Maybe I want to linger, explain, learn.

Some basic information for you: commonly held to be an artistic high point in a career (arguably) full of artistic high points, this is the album many expected Skeleton Tree to be and gives the lie to the perception that the male voice weakens with age. It raises issues of performance vs non-performance, it raises goosebumps *not a word to be used lightly*, it makes the listener question right from the off precisely what they are listening out for, why they are listening, what they are listening to. (Amy Winehouse was an incredible singer and performer: so why do most people only talk about anything but?)

There are no “rock” songs, if rock is what you’re after. (I have no idea why rock would be what you’re after, but that is another conversation for another time.) The lyrics are direct, if you choose to interpret them that way. The music is what is (lazily) referred to as “atmospheric” – sombre, drawn-out, as full of silence as it is of sound, no pulse or back beat, not really, the passage of time marked by stately piano chords and vocal accentuation, the moment stretched out and decaying with every passing second and repeated line. A friend says it reminds him a little of Suicide, but I have no idea what that means. (I have an idea, obviously. I am just saying this for effect.) Ambient. Electronic mystery. What some would refer to as “dreamscapes” although in my experience “dreamscapes” is a meaningless description. (Think about it.)

This is art, on a very high level indeed. It makes you question your own life and perceptions and preconceptions. It is not comfort music. It is near impossible to listen to on any level except as a fully engaged active listener. You could put it on as background music, I suppose – but why the hell would you want to do that? That’s a long way to go to find peace of mind.

Would he have got five-star reviews whatever he produced? I mean, whatever.

Walker, Cohen, Cash, C.S Lewis… fill in your own. I don’t know what I’m doing here really, but I am so happy that Nick Cave exists in my world. “Try to imagine nothing,” Isaac once said to me when he was 4 or 5. “You can’t.” The question most folk address is what happens when we’re dead, but really it should be what happens before we’re born. This life seems a fucking rotten one, most the time.

Around 23.05, I started crying. Thirty seconds later, I had to switch the music off.

How NOT to write about music – 111. Kim Gordon

Kim GordonWater? Charger? Music?

There’s a new album from Kim Gordon, her first solo album apparently, although I cannot deny it does not feel like this is her first solo album such is her pervasive influence and presence during the pivotal decades of my life, such is her creativity and the way she has pushed at boundaries, crossing from art to punk to avant-garde to feminism and back again, and back again, the woman who made Sonic Youth punk, the woman who inspired a generation of other women and men to not necessarily automatically be assholes. And back again. Yes, she always was my favourite, much as I am fond of Lee Ranaldo’s way around an artfully constructed melody and long hair blowing in the festival breeze.

Story on return and first solo album here, if anyone wants to take notes.

This song featured today could be called dance, dubstep, whatever. And it’s over before it’s begun. It is as challenging and invigorating and inspirational and odd as I have come to expect from Kim Gordon, although perhaps even more so, if you catch my drift – perhaps because it’s heard after a decade of separation, perhaps not – I mean what? If you’re looking for classic Kim Gordon than perhaps you could go to another track on the album – this one, ‘Air BnB’ – and this is fine, and makes me want to hear the whole album, but because it is what I was expecting more or less, and makes me think of standing on a chilly winter’s day outside Max Fish NYC 1992, fails to connect with me as well as the one that does connect, to wit:

But, wait. ‘Air BnB’ one is great, but expected. That is what I am trying to say. I mean, never expect shit from no one and all that, but I already am convinced of Kim Gordon’s greatness and refusal to be anyone but herself, so I do not need a reminder, you feel me? Even though, coming from someone else, it would probably be song of the fucken year or summat. Fuck it.

Confused yet? Good. Confusion is sex.

Goddamn. Let’s have a little Daniel Johnston to clear our palettes and then listen again:

Clear? In we go once more…

If this was from Radiohead, you’d all be wetting yourselves it’s so fucken good. Dissonant. Danceable. Delirious. More fucked-up poetry from the queen of fucked-up poetry.

If this was a piece by Laurie Anderson it would be being exhibited in the Whitney right now.



How NOT to write about music – 110. Richard Dawson

Richard Dawson

“It’s very good but it feels a bit bleak” – Howard Monk

“It’s a bit Chav mystic” – Jo Kendall

“It’s almost like a cry for help, isn’t it?” – Howard Monk

“Sleaford Mods mixed with Psychic TV” – Jo Kendall

“This is like Complaints Choirs with the melody removed” – Jerry Thackray

“Music that pushes you close to the edge” – Howard Monk

“This is my life!” – Jerry Thackray

How NOT to write about music – 109. Dream Wife


Every time I hear this song, I want to hear it again.

Every time I hear this song, I stumble around and flail searching around for superlatives, fresh ways of drawing attention. I am still that kid down the front of shows, limbs thrashing wildly in a dance born from sexual frustration, frustrated at my lack of articulacy: enticing, goading, cheering, trying to drag the immovable around me into The Dance. I am still that kid unable to form full sentences, hammering out wild exclamations of joy and euphoria in the dead of night, starting every review 30 times because Tippex just don’t do it and computers ain’t been invented yet, shouting fruitlessly into The Void, hammering my head against one brick wall after another: just trying to communicate. Passion. Anything. Passion. Anything.

Every time I hear this song, I want to hear it again.

Every time I hear this song I am dancing, limbs contorted, face a blur of heated emotion, trying to punch higher and higher, reaching new heights of excitement and crazed desire, useless in my impotency but fully aware of my limitations and not caring anyway. Every time I hear this song I can’t wait for it to finish so I can start playing it again. The smile across my face is one hard-won through experience, and fleeting because of time. The smile across my face is nothing to do with circumstance or context but comes from being cast adrift, lost in the moment, lost in appreciation for the way just one syllable, one guitar chord, can be distorted to take on fresh meanings, fresh understandings with every new listen.

You never listen to the same song the same way twice.

This time. Frustration.

This time: Euphoric ecstasy.

This time: Sadness.

This time: Desire, driven by knowledge of limitations.

This time: Revitalised.

This time: Impatience.

This time: a tightly wound coil.

This time. Next time. This time. Next time.

And every time I hear this song it makes me think of you. Still. It makes me think of you.

How NOT to write about music – 108. Angel Olsen

Angel Olsen

She’s overwrought.

She’s emotionally distressed. No, no no. Quit yr fuckin’ gender stereotyping.

She’s an actor, channeling whatever passions need to be channeled to make her point, drive the feeling home. Sumptuous. Driven.

She is heartbroken.

She is alone, seeking solace and exhaustion. No, no no. Quit it.

She is a performer, making great use of dynamics and interludes and dynamics and emphasis.

She is lost in reverie.

She is lost in the moment, caught in space. QUIT!

She is useless, helpless.

She is an artist, drawing upon a myriad of musical traditions and iconography, well in command and understanding the significance of certain musical palettes and textures, associations and interpretations.

She has a voice.

She does not hold back (but she does).

She does not hold back (but she does).


This is a wonderful song for those of us who never fell out of love with Julie Christie. Does it bother me that the song YouTube auto-follows this is by Coldplay? It cuts across my reverie like a cold burst of mundane reality. Yes of course, but no of course not. There are some emotions and desires and feelings and yearnings that algorithms can never hope to capture, however ‘expertly’ sculptured. There is a line of argument that holds the creative industries will be one of the last to fall when confronted with the all-encompassing AI. Here is proof, an indication. Perhaps. If proof or an indication is what you desire. This is a song for those who feel like their heart – no, not their heart, their head – is going to burst every time they step onto the 07.37 to Clapham Junction but have to keep it secret, all welled up inside. This is a song for those who can never relax, who can never have an outlet, can never let others too close. This is a song for….

The way you scream…

The way you scream like something else as a man.

The way you scream like something else as a man.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life was always this ‘passionate’? Music as desire. Manufactured rawness.