How NOT to write about music – 94. Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran cover 2

There is a new Ed Sheeran album out. This is not a review of it.

If you want to read a review of it, I suggest you try The Guardian one. Alexis is usually pretty solid when it comes to artists like Sheeran, although I cannot help but notice that he has cannily avoided voicing his own opinion in the linked piece, a tried and tested fallback for those among us who value our integrity as writers when asked to review shit stuff like this for a wider audience. Just a suggestion, but wouldn’t it be interesting if Alexis had been asked to write two reviews in parallel – one for the wider audience, and one where he voices his own opinion. Of course, the two may coincide…

Another thought: why is it that critics are allowed to voice opinion when it comes to film and TV but not pop music?

A disclaimer: if this reads like criticism of Alexis then I apologise. It is not supposed to. He is one of the few male mainstream pop critics I admire.

Note: I have derailed myself. Apologies again.

So. Where were we? There is a new Ed Sheeran album out. This is not a review of it.

If you want that, then… well, find someone who has actually listened to it, for starters, if that is what you’re after, and I’m not sure why you should be: some of the most entertaining shit music criticism I have read – and written myself – has happened because the critic in question – myself, for example – has not bothered to listen to the music. Such a wanton act of self-destruction leads by necessity to creativity, use of the imagination. And this should not be discouraged. Although I cannot but help agree with you, imaginary reader, that it really depends why you are reading the music criticism in the first place. Entertainment covers a lot of sins.

Also, you know my thoughts on this, surely?

God, I am ugly.

So what is this blog post then, if not a review of the new Ed Sheeran album? An acknowledgment, a tip of the fedora to the establishment, the zeitgeist. Initially, I had an idea I would link to a series of recent videos without a verbal commentary, in a pre-doomed attempt to point out the bewildering miasma of alternatives that are available, that are always available, as opposed to the dullard lowest common denominator mainstream. But that would be playing to the balcony, and rather pointlessly at that.

For example (and I am really not trying here):

Here is one.

Here is another.

Here is a third.

(How much patience do you have?)

Here is another.

And so forth.

I discarded that idea rapidly, though. Also, I remain slightly bemused as to why I so greatly prefer the music of Little Mix and Taylor Swift (say) to the music of Ed Sheeran (say), beyond the fact that the former do NOT make Mumford & Sons sound like a thriving farmer’s market, do NOT make Coldplay sound like Throbbing Gristle, do NOT put One Direction into perspective, are NOT the grey, are NOT the grey, are NOT the grey in the middle of grey. And, furthermore, the former remind me of the greats (En Vogue, Destiny’s Child, The Spice Girls, Taylor Swift) which the latter most patently does not, even when he is duetting with Beyoncé herself (remarkable!).

Sheeran reminds me more of the following: glazed eyes, traffic tailbacks, hot sleepless nights (not for any interesting reasons), roadkill, the new shopping mall at Shepherd’s Bush station, slow-moving elevators, meetings that drone on for hours, sun-glazed holidaymakers blocking the aisles at Clapham Junction, tv reality celebrity shows, stewed coffee in station cafes, the cultural appropriation embedded in pop and particularly middle-class white male pop, kids brawling in Victoria Park, half-empty hair salons… life, in all its stewed glory and terrible infancy.

Am I that much of a gender terrorist? I hope so. (Correct answer.)

Isn’t it great that Sheeran makes so many people happy? No. I really do not believe so but why not settle for mediocrity and a life spent not understanding why those in charge get away with it, when it’s presented to you so well pre-packaged?

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How NOT to write about music – 93. No Sister

no-sister-my-new-career

It bothers me that when I try to capture beauty I usually end up bruising it.

  • Odd. But perhaps not that odd. I was talking about you a few days ago with a couple of friends, I’m guessing you know who.
  • You are one of the people I miss from Brisbane, although I am also guessing you no longer live there.
  • I nearly wrote about your band once before, but didn’t because, I’m guessing you know why.
  • I always thought it is better to try and direct the conversation than reveal, but these days there are no sureties.

It bothers me that so few people are bothered.

  • This music leaves more questions left unsaid then it does provide answers.
  • Shopping malls and aerosols is a great rhyme.
  • This music is more reminiscent of the loneliness of overheated suburban Australian playgrounds and half-empty English hair salons than of the rain-splattered American streets reflecting neon.
  • The greatest moment in this song occurs at around 1.27, if we follow the A Certain Ratio guide, which we shouldn’t.

It bothers me that I have never attained the level in my writing style where I can be direct without being dull.

  • I have no idea what you’re thinking.
  • This is way better than you think it is, however good you think it is.

It bothers me that when I try to capture beauty I usually end up bruising it. This one line from the band themselves: No Sister’s upcoming release is an acknowledgement of an elemental, unavoidable creative facet: influence: is brilliant. Hemmed-in, but with the creative freedom such acknowledgment brings.

Building on the shoulders of giants. This is a billowing, bruised beauty – isolation and solace and the echo of late night footsteps receding. So fine. You don’t have to believe me. Just play the song over and over again, thinking of me playing the song over and over again, grappling to articulate emotions the closer I get to the further they slip away.

If you want more detail, the band put it far better than I can. There again, I have nothing riding on this. This, and Tropical Fuck Storm, are the two bands you should be listening to right now.

‘My New Career’ — a song exploring a simultaneously hyperbolic but very real sense of DIY feminism — abounds in influences. The opening lines “I used to do my hair with rollers, but now I use spray cans and pliers” were borrowed from an artwork by Melbourne artist Ruth O’Leary, with the song’s sentiments further propelled by writers such as Sheila Heti and Anne Boyer. Meanwhile the musical and aesthetic influences range from David Sylvian, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Prince and other 80s fascinations — in their new EP No Sister expand their post-punk sound to include influences from both sides of the Atlantic (and Pacific).

Self-released in Australia by No Sister, Influence was recorded by John Lee and Pat Telfer at Phaedra Studios (Beaches, Love of Diagrams, Small World Experience, Lost Animal, Stonefield), mixed by Mino Peric and mastered by David Walker at Stepford Audio.

How NOT to write about music – 92. Stormzy

Stormzy stab-proof vest

Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible

Love this song.

Thwaites glacier is likely to thaw and trigger 50cm sea level rise, US study suggests
Thwaites glacier is likely to thaw and trigger 50cm sea level rise, US study suggests
Thwaites glacier is likely to thaw and trigger 50cm sea level rise, US study suggests
Thwaites glacier is likely to thaw and trigger 50cm sea level rise, US study suggests

Love this performance.

The Thwaites glacier, part of the West Antarctic ice sheet, is believed to pose the greatest risk for rapid future sea level rise. Research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found it was likely to succumb to instability linked to the retreat of its grounding line on the seabed that would lead to it shedding ice faster than previously expected.

Alex Robel, an assistant professor at the US Georgia Institute of Technology and the study’s leader, said if instability was triggered, the ice sheet could be lost in the space of 150 years, even if temperatures stopped rising. “It will keep going by itself and that’s the worry,” he said.

Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible

Do you hear the connection too?

How NOT to write about music – 91. Haley Heynderickx

Haley Heynderickx

Some sweet, awkward music in a sweet setting. I like the fact you can hear the joins, anticipate the embarrassment. I like the fact she can articulate her songs, that there is thought – possibly too much thought – behind them. I like the fact you can hear echoes of The Roches in her (don’t say winsome, don’t say winsome!) winsome music and gently teasing harmonies. There again, I love traces of The Roches wherever they may fall. I love the trombone, even if it does sound too mournful and worthy for my comfort zone.

Note to self: not sure how a trombone can sound worthy. Wonder whether this word is being used as an euphemism.

It’s the first song I love the most. The next too are too fussy and self-aware, and self-consciously smart. Nothing wrong with being self-conscious or smart, just the linking of the two can send tremors down places I would rather the tremors did not travel. I greatly prefer this song:

And I greatly prefer this live version to the recorded version, which feels a tad too solemn and over-produced for my own very particular taste. It’s a thin line that separates, etc etc etc.

From Portland. Of course she is.

How NOT to write about music – 90. Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish
Reinforcement. That’s what music journalism usually provides, not searching out new routes, supplying treasure maps to undreamed-of troves, expanding minds. Reinforcement. You want your taste validated, reinforced… well, come this way. Walk this way. Talk this way. You know you don’t really need a seal of approval, an award, a plaque on your wall stating what great aesthetic choices you make on a day-to-day basis, but… well. It’s still nice, isn’t it? Get an expert in to agree with you. Check your DIY plumbing and vouchsafe for its sturdiness. In the absence of any friends…

The shocker for me is the way I often validate myself, sometimes unknowingly. I wrote about Lizzo yesterday, but I first wrote about Lizzo six years ago (thanks to a then brand-new writer Lee Adcock). I knew how cool Billie Eilish was the first time I heard her on the Radio One Breakfast Show. The review I wrote then remains inch-perfect and I see no reason to change it now.

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…

Billie.

Should I pad this out? Careful.

And yet… I seek to reinforce what I have already written. Right now. Right here. I cannot allow such a wonderful moment as what happened over the weekend at Glastonbury to go unremarked upon. Right now. Right here. Is it remarkable that she bounces on the balls of her feet all the way across the stage and exhorts the crowd to join in on the joy? No. Of course not. Billie. Look at the way she dresses! She’s real! Listen to the way she sings! She’s real! Listen to that joy, that knowledge. Billie.

The NME has it right: a once-in-a-generation show. Every time I hear this, ‘Bad Guy’, the album… I am so happy. I think of my two youngest dancing, and I am so happy. I think of myself dancing and I am so happy. I think of Billie dancing across the stage at Glastonbury and I am so happy.

What a time to be alive.

How NOT to write about music – 89. Lizzo

Lizzo

DID EVERETT TRUE DIE JUST SO LIAM GALLAGHER COULD HEADLINE GLASTONBURY 2019

A few days ago, I had a couple of Facebook friends pull me up sharply for negativity. I chose to focus on the fact Liam Gallagher had been wheeled out again to headline at the most beloved-by-the-establishment-of-all-‘alternative’-festivals, and contrasted this fact unfavourably with…

Well, basically…

im-86470

My friends were correct to pull me up. Who gives a fuck about one single retro white male playing to the balconies when there are Janelle and Billie and Christine and the inimitable Billie also headlining across various stages – Stormzy too, of course – when all around friends and allies and insurrectionists are getting full-on inspired by the profusion of confusion on offer. And fuck Chris Martin taking on the Evan Dando role.

Duh. This is one of 2019’s defining moments. Duh.

And FUCK YEAH! to this. I haven’t even begun to process how wonderful this is:

But none of them compare to, “I want you to sing this song like it’s fucking YOURS, like it belongs to you and you only” and Lizzo’s society-crumbling flute. The crowd make it. Absolutely. Music has never been just about the performance, it has always been about the reception as well. But obv it does not hurt one bit if the performer is total 1970s soul sister-style inspirational…

DID EVERETT TRUE DIE SO…. YES! FUCKING YES!

P.S. https://twitter.com/ColinGPaterson/status/1144880941493620736

How NOT to write about music – 88. Sleepy Kitty

62086338_10157273977399836_7155515467614912512_o

Here. Have some of this. Some good old-fashioned rock’n’roll from 2015. A bit late. I admit (and WARNING contains an ex-member of Harvey Danger) but… uh, I like it.  Like a cross between Holly Golightly and The Wolfhounds, although I am of course aware that making a statement like that says far more about me as the interpreter than it does about the intentions of the band.

Great voice.

The Toronto Star has it that “fans of such ’90s femme-rock luminaries as the Breeders, Juliana Hatfield and Veruca Salt, as well as sardonic present-day rock chicks like Courtney Barnett and Laura Stevenson, will find the duo very easy to love, while ascendant garage-rock kingpin Ezra Furman and His Boyfriends are fans and friends”, but that sounds like damning a band with faint praise rather than a serious appraisal (and is also casting the net too wide).

Two comments:

  • Why the need to use the phrase “femme-pop luminaries”. There is only one female member of Sleepy Kitty (and one male).
  • Courtney Barnett? Really? Only heard a couple of female performers, have we?

Bob Boilen of NPR holds that Sleepy Kitty are, “Bright colorful and relatively analog, with leanings toward The Ramones or ’60s girl groups if Brian Eno had taken up the production. Good fun!”

One comment:

  • Love the use of the phrase ‘relatively analog’, although not quite sure Ramones would have sounded like this if Brian Eno had taken up the production. Surely they would have sounded more like U2?

Nice to be reminded of this, though:

Brooklyn Vegan describes them as “a grungier, more layered Best Coast.”

One comment:

  • This St. Louis duo are at their least engaging when they sound like a “grungier, more layered Best Coast”. Far better something ancient like this, even if it is a direct rip of a song I can’t be bothered to put my finger on.*

Black Book says that, “unlike some other image-conscious groups, Sleepy Kitty’s music speaks for itself”.

One comment: 

  • Nice to have music that “speaks for itself”. Sigh.

Photography by Erin Brown, and nicked from the band’s Facebook page. Apologies in advance if the photographer would rather I do not use it.

Here is an interesting story about recent troubles facing the band.

*Oh, wait. Pavement, duh.