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.