How NOT to write about music – 162. Slum Of Legs vs Porridge Radio

Brighton_Pier_at_dusk

Two bands have dominated my musical existence (community? taste? listening?) since my return from Brisbane five years ago. Both are from Brighton. Both have/are releasing albums (one their second, the other their debut) right now. One is going slightly above the parapet and is being written about in effusive fashion in a variety of places – Pitchfork, NME, The Quietus, the regulars. One isn’t – or not so much. Both should be everywhere, all the time. I do not love both bands equally because that would be insane, see patronising. Equal but differently.

I want to use this moment to record that my brain is currently imploding from the sheer musical wonderment of it all, especially as I got sent both albums the week I discovered the debut Roxy Music album 45 years on. I simply cannot process all this magik all at once. Give me space! Give me space. It is enough for me to know that others are taking note, others are feeling as enthused and confused and wired and charged as I have been by this splurge of music and awkwardness and humanity and passion over the last five years. This is music that is not just my heartland but that which defines me. I cannot imagine life without either, and it makes no sense to engage with…

When you’re sad, you’re invisible
A flicker at the edge of an eyeball
When you’re sad, you’re invisible
A flicker at the edge of the disco
At least we are not a painted
Macabre French
Sensation
Benetint & Malevolence 06:49

Collectively, I have written about the two bands on at least 20 occasions… and NONE of those for the mainstream (or even alternative mainstream) press… and yet I am not listening to either album from either band, just revelling in the knowledge they exist and they exist and they exist… this behaviour is similar to the way I way I reacted in the early 1980s when I never actually listened to the first two Birthday Party albums or UT on vinyl because I DID NOT NEED TO, I had the wonderful unpredictable charged unfocused focused live experiences to buoy me, to charge me, even (with Slum of Legs) if it’s been several years now.

My musical memories have never been at fault.
It’s just everything else.

GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY
GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY
GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY
GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY

My mum says that I look like a nervous wreck
Because I bite my nails right down to the flesh
And sometimes, I am just a child, writing letters to myself
Wishing out loud you were dead, and then taking it back
And I used to be ashamed until I learned I love the game
And I slowly move away from everything I knew about you
And my mum gave me this pen, she said it lights up when you press it
And you are still so depressed, and I like that you need me
You will like me when you meet me
You will like me when you meet me
You will like me when you meet me
You might even fall in love
Sweet 03:44

Members of both bands have given me support at crucial moments: and I want to thank them now because I know I ain’t always so good at communicating away from my Other Self.

GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY
GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY
GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY
GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY

Someone commented recently, “do you know how hard it is to keep the same group of six people together for five years?”

GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY
GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY
GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY
GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY GO DIY

Now, I am cross with myself. How dare I devalue one band by mentioning the other? There are links: some obvious, some not: but that is not the point. Listen to this. Listen to this. I just want to say this to you.

I was thinking of a compromise
When I saw the beauty in your eyes
It heightened something in me so I’ll say so

Now I just want to say this to you
Listen to this, listen to this,
I want to say this to you
You never know, oh oh
(Here we go)
I love you, I love you
I love you, and it’s true and it’s true and it’s true

Listen to This – Dexys Midnight Runners

With its looming ferris wheel and wooden pier, Margolin notes that Coney Island loosely resembles Brighton, the college town on England’s south coast where she met her bandmates and formed Porridge Radio in 2015. What began as Margolin’s lo-fi solo project has evolved into a fierce wrecking crew fueled by unvarnished angst. On the group’s lurching new album, Every Bad—their first release for esteemed indie imprint Secretly Canadian—Margolin is a snarling antisocial who’s constantly at war with her body and mind.
(Pitchfork)

Since emerging with a three-song tape in 2013, Brighton’s Slum Of Legs have maintained the same six-strong lineup, and do you have any idea how hard that is? (In this specific instance, neither do I, but statistically speaking one expects a limb or two to drop off now and then.) Their self-titled debut album, on Nottingham/Bristol label Spurge, is their first release since 2015, but Slum Of Legs’ component parts circa singles ‘Doll Like’ and ‘Begin To Dissolve’ – Krauty/proggy discord, post punk jags, indie pop froth, feminist rhetoric equally exaltatory and condemnatory – remain in place on these ten numbers.
(The Quietus)

Somewhere, I think this fits. Awkwardly. Don’t force it.

They’re loud, they’re smart and they want us to be better people. Porridge Radio are about to conquer the planet with their breakthrough album ‘Every Bad’, a record of art-rock mantras that betrays their towering ambition and cocksure spirit. Matthew Neale talks to singer Dana Margolin about being hailed by Nirvana’s best mate, the dread of being branded a political band and why it’s important to make a difference.
(NME)

 

How NOT to write about music – 160. Dixie Chicks

Dixie Chicks - Gaslighter

A student just played me the new Dixie Chicks song, their first in 12 years. It’s blown my head apart. So inspirational. I appreciate that the song (‘Gaslighter’) may well be about Natalie Maines’ ex-husband but I am certain I am not the only one who will take it in a much broader context to refer to America’s Gaslighter-In-Chief, Donald Trump.

First, people who gaslight tell obvious lies. You know that they are lying. The issue is how they are lying with such ease. The gaslighter is setting up an abusive pattern. You begin to question everything and become uncertain of the simplest matters. This self-doubt is exactly what the gaslighter wants.

Again, you know they said what they said. However, they completely deny ever saying it. The gaslighter may push the point and ask you to ‘prove it,’ knowing that you only have your memory of the conversation that they are denying happened. It starts to make you question your memory and your reality. You begin to wonder if the gaslighter is right, maybe they didn’t really ever say what you remember. Consequently, more and more often, you question your reality and accept theirs.

Notably, a person who gaslights talks and talks. However, their words mean nothing. Therefore, it is important to look at what they are doing. The issues lie in their abusive actions towards the victim.

Gaslighting: Signs You’re Suffering From This Secret Form of Emotional Abuse

I mean I’d mention the gorgeous harmonies – and man, they are gorgeous – and the driving beat, but that’s kind of beside the point, isn’t it?

P.S. The volume is best pushed as loud as you can go.

APPENDIX ONE

What ruined Dixie Chicks?
On March 10, 2003, during a London concert, nine days before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, lead vocalist Maines told the audience: “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States (George W. Bush) is from Texas”, which garnered a positive reaction from the British audience but led to a contrasting negative reaction and ensuing boycotts in the United States, where talk shows denounced the band, their albums were discarded in public protest and corporate broadcasting networks blacklisted them for the remainder of the Bush years.

APPENDIX TWO

What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic in which a person, to gain power and control, plants seeds of uncertainty in the victim. The self-doubt and constant scepticism slowly and meticulously cause the individual to question their reality.

Perhaps the best way to examine this inherently abusive behaviour is to go straight to the source, the 1944 film Gaslight. The film tells a story of a husband systematically brainwashing his wife to the point that she legitimately thinks she is going insane. The wife fights to protect her identity all while her husband viciously tries to take it away.

While it never disappeared, over seven decades later, gaslighting has fully resurfaced in the dating world. Additionally, the term has resurfaced recently in some online publications to describe President Trump.

APPENDIX THREE

The last time the Dixie Chicks reinvented themselves, it was hard to know what would come next. On their most recent album, 2006’s Taking the Long Way, the country trio wrote about being spurned by their industry, faced with uncertainty at the point when most bands on their level are finding career equilibrium. “They say time heals everything,” Natalie Maines sang in the mammoth single ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’, “but I’m still waiting.” They would continue waiting: After the tour for that album, they took a decade-plus hiatus from releasing new music together, during which their influence loomed larger than ever and their fight against a misogynist industry was echoed by a new generation of singer-songwriters.
Best New Track, Pitchfork

APPENDIX FOUR

Sixteen Years Later, Country Radio Is Still Mad at the Dixie Chicks
Their appearance on Taylor Swift’s “Soon You’ll Get Better” is prompting angry comments and calls from radio listeners still upset about their anti-Iraq-War stance.

APPENDIX FIVE

Considering all the ground that the Dixie Chicks broke, it’s almost fitting that they also pioneered getting cancelled in the digital age. But their refusal to back down didn’t just impact their legacy; it impacted how we see cancellation itself. Through their actions, the Dixie Chicks asserted that fandom isn’t ownership and that you can’t control someone’s thoughts just because you buy their albums or see their movies (or refuse to buy their albums or see their movies). They asserted their rights to be complex human beings and not live up to whatever image their fans projected. It was an incredibly risky statement to make. But in the end, it paid off, for them, and for everyone else who refuses to shut up and sing.
The Dixie Chicks Were Cancelled For Criticizing The President. Now, They’re Heroes.

APPENDIX SIX

‘Gaslighter’ conjures Dixie Chicks standbys like ‘Not Ready To Make Nice’ and ‘The Long Way Around’, songs that turn the group’s own personal turmoils into layered pop texts. The trio’s ‘Gaslighter’ video, with its unsubtle political and historical imagery, uses Maines’ travails as a template for decades of personal and collective national pain.
You Definitely Need to Hear This New Dixie Chicks Song

APPENDIX SEVEN

Little known fact: the producer on the new Dixie Chicks album Jack Antonoff is a huge Daniel Johnston fan. (He also produced Taylor Swift’s seismic ‘Out Of The Woods’ and Lorde. Respect.)

How NOT to write about music – 119. Chromatics

Chromatics

The song stands out. The band don’t even bother to mask it. The insistent, lovingly-caressed, two-note guitar, all warm fuzz and intonation; the insistent, one-dimensional drum beat reduced to an Atari-era beep; the drawn-out vocals and implied harmonies and lovingly-left silences; the overwhelming debt to The Velvet Underground but also the inspired stripping away of all that is extraneous, all that does not matter; the simple lyrics; the occasional refrain or chorus if you feel like calling it that; the sly dig reference to all of rock’s archaic forms and origins; the unconscious reiteration of themes already well worn by the time the second album came out; the spaces, the silences, the warm buzz and purr of the fuzz pedal; the knowledge that less is more, that simple cuts through, that loss is more poignant than gain…

There is a new Chromatics album out. I like it. I like it quite a lot. I like nothing on it half as much as I like their cover of this Jesus And Mary Chain song from Darklands, though. And I like nothing on Darklands half as much as I like this cover. There is nowhere to go from here, but inward. There is nowhere to go from here, but down. There is nowhere to go from here.

I did not need to check it was a cover, it is so clearly a replicant of a replicant. Ironic, really. I believe that is the word I am looking for.

Just like honey. Simply thrilled. Gorgeous. The Mary Chain always were their own worst enemy. Don’t bother going back to listen to the original. It has already been spoiled for all eternity.

The Pitchfork review gives it 7.1 and fails to mention the album’s greatest song. Sigh.

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.

How NOT to write about music – 18. Let’s Eat Grandma

Let's Eat Grandma

The name is a punctuation joke.

Immediately I find myself drawn towards this pair of transgressive teenagers. Their name is a punctuation joke: I don’t know why, but this one simple reveal tells me more about their potential of their music than any number of flowery lines detailing how novel and stand alone their kaleidoscopic pop is. And there sure have been plenty of flowery lines detailing how novel and unique the Norwich pair’s second album is.

“[Their] bold, tender music at once captures teenage girlhood and transcends it entirely. I can’t imagine what they’ll do next.” (Pitchfork)

“Still deliciously bratty of voice, LEG writhe from pouty indignation to rapturous fantasy as they reclaim pink and power in the most visceral four minutes of pop this year.” (The Guardian)

I wonder how many of these writers are the same age as Let’s Eat Grandma? (Yes, I do believe it to be relevant.) At least many of them are the same gender.

Unique? Novel? Really?

Within seconds of listening to the luscious ‘Hot Pink’, I’m reminded of Gothic Americana popsters, the sisters CocoRosie, with a much more immersive understanding of EDM. I am not trying to pull Let’s Eat Grandma down by making this observation (also, this is superficial, based around a certain Helium trill in the intertwined voices and love for esoteric slightly jarring sound) – just pointing out the danger of calling something like “nothing else in pop right now” (thank you Pitchfork) when a statement like that is more revealing of the writer’s own lack of immersion than the music itself. Indeed, the description Pitchfork applied to Let’s Eat Grandma’s debut album could so easily be applied to Cocorosie’s early work, “If anything, I, Gemini’s everything-at-once psychedelia spoke directly to the feeling of being a young teenager—a kaleidoscope of unknowns, as terrifying as it is cool.”

That’s not to say it’s not a great line. It is. It’s a great line, especially the phrase “a kaleidoscope of unknowns”. It makes me want to listen, for sure. (And isn’t that one of the primary functions of music criticism?) Better than the NME’s “This is a thrilling, fascinating album that continually startles: it’s a bold step forward and one that feels like a glimpse into the future” – a line which frankly could have (and probably has) been written about any one of 10, 000 other albums, from Paul McCartney’s Back To The Egg to Britney Spears’ latest to the debut from Coldplay.

Also, comparisons. So the fuck what?

I will forgive The Quietus their header of “Walton and Hollingworth’s second album is a richly chaotic collection of warped weirdo pop” but only because it is a header (notoriously difficult to get right), and skip straight to the part where the writer talks about how “‘Falling Into Me’ unpicks pop’s lining perfectly, with its broken, neon disco beat racing into a savage techno high that’s pierced by a recorder.” And everywhere, every review extant, there is the obligatory description of the 11-minute long ‘Donnie Darko’ as an “epic”. What else could it be? It is 11 minutes long.

Great song, though.

The Drowned In Sound review fails (mostly) by trying too hard to be Pitchfork, and it is difficult to get past the clanger of a misjudged opening line, I’m All Ears opens with ‘Whitewater’, a thunking great ice-bucket challenge of an instrumental that answers that age-old question: ‘what if the soundtrack to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive had been written by Godspeed You! Black Emperor?'”

Yeah, right.

Stereogum go on and on so much about how the discussion around Let’s Eat Grandma was framed almost entirely around the phrase “but they’re kids!” it makes the reader wonder whether the writer is resentful that these “kids” have moved on. (Damn, do Stereogum need a decent editor.) Also, the comparison to Lorde (as another high profile former “kid”, presumably?) is surface-level to say the least.

Rolling Stone call Let’s Eat Grandma’s second album “a balancing act of modern bubblegum synth-pop with rangy indie-rock restlessness” but you would expect them to say that, wouldn’t you? Speaking of which, much of I’m All Ears (e.g. ‘I Will be Waiting’) is not any more musically adventurous than Wolf Alice (say) – not an insult per se (I really could not give a crap about perceived innovation), just an observation.

Man alive though, that closing line! “The future, after all, belongs to the young.” Oh my fucking God.

There is a Needle Drop review, but I can’t be arsed with that.

Two nights ago, Q Magazine awarded I’m All Ears the heady title of Album Of The Year, and good on them for that. So pleased to see the magazine stepping away from countless years of Paul Weller Lifetime Achievement Awards and Gallagher brothers covers.

weller

Oops.