10 Least Read Entries on How NOT To Write About Music (April 2019)

Noname

1 (-) How NOT to write about music – 47. 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.

2 (-) How NOT to write about music – 61. Peaness
Cherry-sweet, razor-sharp melodies. Nothing complicated, nothing fancy just cherry-sweet, razor-sharp melodies. A lineage that certainly takes in Buzzcocks, Pastels, all those wonderful female Seattle groups turn of the new millennia and wonderful female Continental groups some time in the late 1970s, occasionally showing off their chops when the melodies surge but never showy, just cherry-sweet, razor-sharp melodies.

3 (-) How NOT to write about music – 64. Mary Poppins Returns
I saw Mary Poppins Returns on Sunday 16th December, 10am for 11am, with my three children at a premiere in Leicester Square. I am able to look that date up. It was the morning after my mother died, and I didn’t tell the children till afterwards when we were just about to enter The Mall right by the ICA. It seems an odd place to tell them, but then what is a good place to tell someone? Isaac had been explaining (rightly) how mawkish he found one scene where the children explain loss to their dad, and I needed to tell him then. Mary Poppins Returns is not the best film to see when you’ve recently suffered a loss. A theme of bereavement and departure runs right through it.

4 (-) How NOT to write about music – 52. Dori Freeman
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.

5 (-) How NOT to write about music – 45. Noname
This makes me feel special, like Mr Rogers.

This makes me overcome my retrophobia for a few sweet minutes and makes me think that perhaps growing up wasn’t so bad, even with all the bullies and bigots crowding in.

This makes me think that perhaps I have always undervalued both jazz and funk exponents and that really there is nothing wrong with intricately layered sweetness.

6 (2) How NOT to write about music – 22. (reprinted from 2015)
I wanted to give something back. So I started writing about music, trying to convert everyone to my cause. Even early on – especially early on – I knew that was a futile quest, but that made it all the more fun. If I didn’t think I could change the world through my writing I wouldn’t be doing it, even now. Especially now. I want to communicate the emotion, the rampant emotions that lead me to dance. I want to make everyone else dance. I barely go out to concerts these days – perhaps one every couple of months – but that’s still the case. I still want to make everyone dance. I still want to change the world. These years, I’m whistling in a wind tunnel, pissing in the billowing ocean.

7 (1) How NOT to write about music – 2. Mango
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.

8 (3) How NOT to write about music – 21: Robyn
Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn. Robyn, Robyn, Robyn! Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn! Robyn, Robyn. Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn Robyn.

9 (-) How NOT to write about music – 41. The B-52s
This is so what I want to hear now. Music that bounces and prances. Music that struts and sidesteps and makes weird bird noises every few seconds. Music that’s funky and music that’s chunky. Music that does not make you feel like a flunky. You can taste the sweat, feel the pressure on your feet. You move cos you got to move. Ecstatically, clumsily, wonderfully alert and on edge. Nerves jangling, but at ease. Music that yowls, prowls and sideways scowls. Music with brass, music with class, music that knocks you straight on your ass. Infectious beats, strange rhythmical haircuts.

10 (-) How NOT to write about music – 50. Marshmello ft. Bastille
Then there is this. I don’t understand. I really don’t. How is this, on any level, good? Six million views, 360K likes.

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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Damn.

That is some heavy-duty marketing, right there.