How NOT to write about music – 151. U.S. Girls

U.S. Girls - Overtime

Every time a friends alert me to the fact there is a new U.S. Girls track, I put a placeholder on my blog – a must write about the new U.S. Girls track reminder.

For example:

Acid-tinged 60s Motown female empowerment bedroom isolation

The Guardian has compared her to “classic 60s girl group and disco-era Blondie” but that is so simultaneously true and not-true it makes my head spin.

what she said ; 20 songs to deny Donald Trump (and Bob Dylan)

And so forth.

I do not know why I do this.

Increasingly, it occurs to me that I have nothing to add to the dialogue around Meg Remy except adoration… that is too strong a word… approval. Intoxication. Fascination. A desire not to move too close lest I dispel the magic. Every time I encounter a new song from the self-propelled U.S. Girls it occurs that where once I may have helped lead now I merely follow, repeat sentiments and moods that others have already, often more commandingly, expressed before me. I am no longer (rarely) a producer, but a produser. Maybe this is not a reflection on me so much as a reflection on the state of flux facing people using the channels and mediums around me. I can comment on the sound –  there is a sense of urgency, isolation, regret, no release, a late Seventies shuffle, honey-sweet vocals all the more disturbing for their honey-sweetness, a sax solo at the close – but where does that take me (and you)?

Nowhere.

As The Guardian puts it:

To listeners outside the Toronto indie underground, Meg Remy’s brilliant 2018 album, In a Poem Unlimited, came as a revelation. To be fair, its pointed glam strut, an upgrade of her DIY aesthetic, was probably a surprise to her OG fans too. She pulls a similar trick with the first single from her forthcoming record, this time literally reinventing a 2013 US Girls track – giving what was queasy and chaotic a vamping, hall-of-mirrors makeover fit for Jenny Lewis (with a bracing solo from E Street Band saxophonist Jake Clemons). Similar subject matter to Lewis’s 2019 album, too, as Remy discovers that a former partner was drinking themselves to death on the sly.

This tells you more, using less words. (The Pitchfork review tells you less, using more words.)

We all have our crosses.

Every time I see your grave
I can’t help but think
How I didn’t know
That you only drank
The overtime

How NOT to write about music – 127. Purple Mountains

Purple Mountains

ah, this was the side of pavement i always preferred. with the double darkness lyricism of david berman. i did not get round to listening to the album before david died and now he is dead listening – like much of life – seems futile. most weekends i spend wondering how old my kids need to be before i can die without anyone noticing. most days and evenings are spent dreaming of sleep. lush and orchestrated and opulent and still this music cannot keep the darkness at bay. all his happiness is gone. how many times did he need to tell us before we started believing? i ain’t accusin’, ain’t finger-pointin’. the strings sound beautiful but strings usually do. the intro should last forever. that would solve something surely. yes i do. i too would like to create beauty before i die but i too see the ultimate futility in this. as the man from the guardian writes with tangy irony, “is berman’s relish in his vocal delivery, and the robust instrumentation, his way of telling us that he’s actually doing ok underneath it all? Hopefully. Cries for help have rarely been so clear, self-aware, and funny.” does it matter whether this is david’s finest music or his worst? really? what do you base your assumptions upon? i’d suggest losing yourself in this but where is the point in losing yourself in this. “is the album of the year a suicide note,” asks one cipher. uh, duh. i have no words of false comfort to offer here.

i’m not trying to make sense of anything.

And as much as we might like to seize the reel and hit rewind
Or quicken our pursuit of what we’re guaranteed to find
When the dying’s finally done and the suffering subsides
All the suffering gets done by the ones we leave behind
All the suffering gets done by the ones we leave behind 

How NOT to write about music – 92. Stormzy

Stormzy stab-proof vest

Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible
Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible

Love this song.

Thwaites glacier is likely to thaw and trigger 50cm sea level rise, US study suggests
Thwaites glacier is likely to thaw and trigger 50cm sea level rise, US study suggests
Thwaites glacier is likely to thaw and trigger 50cm sea level rise, US study suggests
Thwaites glacier is likely to thaw and trigger 50cm sea level rise, US study suggests

Love this performance.

The Thwaites glacier, part of the West Antarctic ice sheet, is believed to pose the greatest risk for rapid future sea level rise. Research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found it was likely to succumb to instability linked to the retreat of its grounding line on the seabed that would lead to it shedding ice faster than previously expected.

Alex Robel, an assistant professor at the US Georgia Institute of Technology and the study’s leader, said if instability was triggered, the ice sheet could be lost in the space of 150 years, even if temperatures stopped rising. “It will keep going by itself and that’s the worry,” he said.

Glacial melting in Antarctica may become irreversible

Do you hear the connection too?

How NOT to write about music – 78. Bruce Springsteen

Western Stars

I decided to review the new Bruce Springsteen album in the style of a white male mainstream music critic reviewing the new Madonna album.

REVIEW STARTS
We all get old, but never at the same age. Unless you are talking physical condition, but let’s pretend we’re not for the sake of some dreary argument. Some of us are old when we start writing about music, always harking back to a past when there was no confusion over gender because only one gender was allowed, back to the days when good music was popular and popular music was good and there was none of this annoying pop shit, others leave uni with the thrill that they need never pretend to like anything released after 1981 again, others are female so they automatically qualify as old soon as they hit 40 – 45, tops. Most of us think we’re doing pretty well, then we find ourselves nodding appreciatively at something in the Coldplay catalogue and suddenly death is real.

For years, Springsteen outpaced all of this. In 1980, The River looked like ushering in his middle age, but he did a surprise about turn, delivering blue collar rock on Tunnel of Love (1987). Wrecking Ball (2012) was even better, its Abba samples and smooth deep house [Are you sure about this? – Ed] a way for him to stay out past midnight with dignity, rather than trying to score gin and juice off twenty-something rock bands at after-show parties, musically speaking.

But he couldn’t run forever, despite his claims otherwise. Perhaps it began pre-The River when he nicked John Steinbeck’s entire oeuvre so he could parasitically extract his youth and stay young forever. Not to go on about his age, you understand. Certainly by 2008, Springsteen was playing catch-up with the new breed of blue collar rockers (Mumford & Sons, Timbaland), spurring Foo Fighters on to some of their weakest work ever, a good 50 years after their pomp.

Springsteen doesn’t try to sell himself as a sex symbol by gyrating on stage in skimpy clothes, tongue flapping around the place like a Vegas stripper, while trying to sing songs that clearly imitate the latest trends in shite pop music. Not like some people we know. Oh no. That’s not for Springsteen (let’s call him Bruce). Bruce sells himself as a sex symbol by gasping into tight jeans and sweat-patched white T–shirts, flexing his biceps, guitar flapping all over the place like Donald Trump faced with a bevy of Royal asses to lick, while trying to sing songs that imitate the latest trends in shit rock music.

To his credit, Bruce has not done what many in his position would do: lick his wounds and continue touring the world endlessly. [Some mistake surely – Ed] With Western Stars, Bruce Springsteen instead licks his wounds, grits his teeth, flexes his biceps – which surely belong to a man of 50 rather than the 70 he actually is – finds a brand new tight white T to wear, breaks open a fresh six-pack and goes out riding with the lads down to the liquor store. He’s 70, and boy, I would. Wouldn’t you?

He looks in the mirror with some seriously reduced eyesight (I mean, he’s 70, right: so no disrespect) and says: “Bitch, I’m Bruce Springsteen.” And by drawing on the blue collar influence of his fake upbringing he has once again produced his most natural-feeling, progressive and original record since whenever the last one was.

Buck up Bronco, the cover seems to be saying. Ride ’em home cowboy. Yee-hah.

Seventy years old and he doesn’t look a day over 65.

Note for the tourists: the title of this blog IS How NOT to write about music. Do not write about music this way. You will never get paid work again.

Related posts: Run, Bruce, Run!

How NOT to write about music – 54. The 1975

The 1975 Brits

I’m increasingly of the opinion that The 1975 are the greatest rock band in the world right now. (Note: define rock.) (Note: I am using the traditional (male) definition here because of course there is no way that the greatest rock band in the world right now are male.) This 1975 song reminds me of XTC circa ‘Senses Working Overtime’. (Note: it sounds nothing like it.) (Note: I am talking about the way the vocals have been treated, and the modulations, the pauses for breath. Not the content.) Between this and the new Billie Eilish one, it can be quite exciting listening to the Radio One Breakfast Show these days. Fact of the matter is: politics, sex, a sense of belonging. Fact of the matter is: jarring, explosive, political, not pandering. Fact of the matter is: passionate.

Living on the edge. Nervy. Living on the edge. “Is this song your jam, dad? Is it? Is it?” I don’t know, give me a chance. I like the Billy Eilish one. Give me a chance. “Is this song your jam, dad?”

Give me a chance.

“We need to stay angry and we need to stay woke.”

Here is singer Matt Healy at the Brits last week:

“I just want you to listen to me for one sec. Just a couple of sentences that a friend of ours, Laura Snapes said this, and I thought that we should all really, really think about it,” Healy said before quoting Snapes as she described her written response after a misogynistic remark was made about her by Mark Kozelek. “She said that in music, male misogynists acts are examined for nuance and defended as traits of difficult artists. Whilst women and those that call them out are treated as hysterics who don’t understand art.”

I’m guessing Radio One didn’t play the opening lines:

We’re fucking in a car, shooting heroin
Saying controversial things just for the hell of it

Most people sing like they’re singing in the shower. Not Healy. He’s too intent on being intense. Fellow chart-botherer Lewis Capaldi sings like he’s been sitting on the toilet for 20 minutes now, unable to get relief. Strain. Reach those notes. Strain. Reach those notes.

I’m just sayin’.

I think this is a prime fit for sexuality. This song makes me want to go right back to their concert and hear them play this song all over again. It was the one they closed with and it left the biggest impact. Matty (the lead singer) asked for his little speech before the song to be kept a secret between him and everyone else at the venue and so I’ll do that for him. But honestly no matter if you’re watching the music video on youtube, seeing them in concert or watching them doing a live version on youtube as well, everything about this band is unreal. I could go on forever about how much I love the 1975 but I’ll stop now and leave this here.
“Being a sexually empowered woman doesn’t make you a slut or a slag” | Songs related to sexuality

I am just sayin’.

“You learn a couple of things when you get to my age.”

Like, community matters. Like, when the magic dispels and the glamour fades and the paper bag is finally removed from Charlie Brown’s head, no one is interested. A solo heartfelt performance witnessed by no one. Everyone has better things to do, more appropriate people to call. Like, why not give yourself a try? At the age of 29 or 57, it does not matter. OBSERVATION: that dude from The 1975 is like Brian Molko crossed with Harley Quinn. OBSERVATION: this song from The 1975 does not pander, does not talk down (except everywhere). OBSERVATION: killer riff.

“And what will you say to your younger self?”

Like, family matters. Much as you might like to pretend it doesn’t and that you can cut yourself adrift, run wild and free and with no thought for collecting friends or kudos or security. Much as you love to pretend you were early, you were late. OBSERVATION: killer riff. Seriously killer riff. You couldn’t be more wrong actually, I’m unbelievably sentimental. Have you missed me? I sure as fuck have missed you. Where did you go? Why did you go? No, wait. I think I understand that. OBSERVATION: The 1975 are great because The 1975 are both cliched and wrong. Wrong is always attractive in pop music ESPECIALLY when you are not exposed to pop music. When you are exposed to pop music, and in the context of Nick Grimshaw’s Radio One breakfast show, The 1975 are fucking GENIUS. How can they even get away with playing this shit? (Well, simply. It’s a killer riff and they can talk over the words.)

“And I was 25 and afraid to go outside.”

Every time, Daniel goes “You like this song don’t you dad?” as I’m negotiating another two cars parked on a blind corner, cyclists holding up a line of 30 cars treating the country roads like their own personal gymnasium, horns blaring in fading frustration, another couple of hundred quid added to the bodywork bill. And I’m like, “NOT NOW DANIEL” and then realise how I am too late and stutter an apology for my grumpiness, my lack of good humour. He’s right, I do like this fucking song. A lot. Killer guitars, Killer riff. And now I’ve listened to it eight straight times on YouTube I like it even more – smart lyrics. Smart, smart lyrics.
THE 10-MINUTE REVIEW – 25: THE 1975

I am just sayin’.

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.

WORLD EXCLUSIVE! Live review of ‘fake’ metal band THREATIN at Camden Underworld

In recent days, the metal blogosphere has been buzzing with the story of  ‘fake’ metal band THREATIN. What no one has managed is to file a report from any of their shows: no wonder when only three people showed up to the Camden Underworld…

threatin_underworld

Surely, this is of interest? We were there. “Three people show up and one of them’s a music journalist! Jammy bastard! What are the chances of that?” Quite high, actually. It’s what we do. As keen metal fans here at How NOT To Write About Music, we posted this report a couple of days ago – but no one paid attention. So here it is again: whether the band is ‘real’ or not is not of importance to us here at How NOT To Write About Music. To us, they were real when they played. What is far more important is the question: does the band rock? And trust us, like you’ve never trusted a music critic before: this band… well, read for yourselves.

ADDENDA: Apologies for the shortness of the review, but we did not realise that the show would become as notorious as it has. Also, if anyone wants to reprint this review, please can they send us money first?

THREATIN
Camden Underworld, November 1, 2018
Poodle rock and hair metal are two distinct genres, and ones not easy to master either. Singer and guitar god Jared Threatin smartly keeps a foot in both camps: the mysterious atmosphere of classic poodle rock bands such as Quiet Riot, The London Suede and Twisted Sister, and the more emotional nature of hair metal (Triumph, The Auteurs, Whitesnake), but without the self-pitying melodies of the latter. So it is of considerable disappointment to me that when i show up at the venue there are less punters than it costs to buy a pint of beer (in pounds). Surely, a band with this much of a YouTube following should be able to find fans, even in such a notoriously un-rockin’ spot as Camden? But no: when the band ask us “London, are you ready to rock” the only sound that can be heard is that of my colleague’s cellphone as he taps in “get me OUT of here!”. A shame, because it is the band’s ability to alternate in this way that keeps poodle rock delivered alive, with all the technique and structure that makes songs like the classic ‘Living Is Dying’ so distinctive and expressive.

A really good band, but not much atmosphere. 7/10