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.