How NOT to write about music – 138. Lankum


Goddamn. I am loving this band so much.

Back when I helped helm magazines such as Plan B and Careless Talk Costs Lives (all though the 2000s, in fact), there is no way we would have passed over such rare talents as Dublin’s Lankum. Such emotional, deceptively simple music. The sound of a drone, constant and unsettling. The sound of a drum, slowly beating. Heartbeats. The sound of raw, beautiful voices singing tales of rawness, of beauty. There is so little to dislike here, it throws the rest of life – of your fucking culture – into sharp relief. And not in a good way. Lankum make you appreciate that yes, there are still people out there who care, who can sing, who understand the dreariness of the mundane and the ecstatic pull of the soil. They recall Young People to me (the unknown band we made cover stars of the penultimate issue of Careless Talk: I used the feature as a way of trying to come to terms with my father’s impending death). There’s something unbidden about this music. Just gorgeous. They recall Brighton’s Hamilton Yarns to me, the clarion call of the trumpet. Distant, unbidden.

Just recently I have been enjoying the twin peaks of televisual splendour: The Detectorists and Worzel Gummidge, and it’s the attention to detail, the small things, the minutiae that I so rarely feel these days… the heart, the warmth, the friendships, the companionship, so much of which is missing from my life these days and yet I know that I have but to reach out my hand and grab it. This is what Lankum remind me of, most of all – the secret ways, the fading maps – and this is why I love them so dearly.

Lankum: Dublin folk miscreants. That is a reasonable way of summing them up.

How NOT to write about music – 9. Amyl and the Sniffers


Wow. OK.

Clash magazine has it that Melbourne band Amyl and the Sniffers are “a bunch of deviant children enjoying illicit behaviour and the odd pineapple juice”. Beat My Bones says, “Their songs are as fast as the Ramones with the obnoxious smuttiness that the Sex Pistols had”. It is not in my nature to quote other writers when it comes to hyperbole but OK. Wow.

Watching Amyl and the Sniffers at The Windmill in Brixton yesterday evening is what I imagine it must have been like going to CBGBs in ’75. Not that there’s anything four decades old about Amyl and the Sniffers. Not even vaguely.

This clip partly captures it…

Great harmonies.

What this clip fails to do is capture the hi-octane movement of Amyl herself, shaking herself into a frenzied ball of excitement and inspiration, passed across the heads of the audience as she attempts to pull the lighting rig down from the ceiling, super-cool yet super-intimidating (precisely cos she is so super-cool), the humour, the laconic asides, the bare chests of the lads gleaming with perspiration and the righteous heritage of Coloured Balls, GOD and AC/DC, the short punchy songs about lust and shopping centres and boozing and revenge, the harsh metallic clash of second generation punk – we’re talking ’78 here – songs that are equally rooted in 1970s Aussie boogie and 1970s UK Oi!…

Old school.

The guitar dude reminds me of Fast Eddie.

What this clips fails to do is capture the infallible exhilarating sense we have (I’m speaking for others here, but surely everyone must feel this) that we are bearing witness to a Rock Star. For Amyl is without a shadow of a doubt, a fucken Rock Star.

Shameless, and direct, like all great Rock Stars should be.

“There’s no way they haven’t heard Cosmic Psychos,” the 50 per cent Australian part of me (check my passport) yells to my neighbour.

“No fucken way.”

I’d shower you with song titles and raucous commentary – ‘Cup Of Destiny’, ‘Westgate’, ‘Balaclava Lover Boogie’, ‘Stole My Push Bike’, the one where Amyl just lets rip with a long list of expletives – but I’m gasping too hard to take notes.

OK. Wow.

I can see why Amyl and the Sniffers have signed to Rough Trade, why folk in the UK are going ape-shit though in fairness tonight is pretty much exactly what my last five years of gig-going in Brisbane was like. Except the figurehead. Except Amyl. Saw plenty of cool shit but never saw anyone like Amyl the whole time  I was out there.

Truth is: Aussies know how to rock.

Truth is: Aussies do garage and punk (and mullets) better than most anyone simply cos Aussies never stopped doing garage and punk (and mullets).

OK, wow.

Great fucken music to listen to on the train.

Everyone in the Sniffers has mullets. Of course everyone has mullets. Haven’t you seen The Chats? This next clip captures another side, street talking.

It took me 20 minutes to conceptualise and write this blog entry, approximately the same length of time it took these Aussie punks to write, record and release their debut EP Giddy Up.

Some Mutts
You got a new dog do you remember me she walks around on my old leed
You got a new dog do you remember me am I just a memory
You got a new dog do you remember me she walks around on my old leed
You got a new dog do you remember me is she just as good as me
Oh. No.

‘Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled)’

Here is a video from last night, but I am not convinced this manages to capture the feeling either.

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.