I Hate Talking About Music
K, here’s a list.
1. When I said in this review back at the start of 2005 that Bloc Party were “the first band in eight years that I feel I can care about” I was not talking about bloody Radiohead! Why on earth do people always assume that? Does my head in. I don’t particularly like Radiohead, and I certainly don’t love them or care about them. I think they’ve made some great records over the years but that’s about it—they’re too cold, too calculating, too inhumane for me to really love. Guess again.
2. Also I was probably being a bit rash when I said that about Bloc Party. I should probably have said “Had Bloc Party been around 8 years ago, when I was 18, I’d have cared about them more than any other band.” But after seeing them live I realise that at 26 I’m approximately 8 years too old to go totally nuts over the their awesome, righteous, United Colours Of Benetton polemic mecha-pop guitarness. Go figure.
3. Guillemots live at Bristol Louisiana was possibly my favourite gig of last year, parping indie-jazz-pop spazmodics and alarmingly perspiring guitarists accompanied by an alluring lady double-bassist, a fat bloke drummer in a dress, and the most winsome choirboy frontman I’ve seen in a long, long time.
4. Second gig of the year goes to Patrick Wolf at Exeter Phoenix, which is a dinky arts centre. He played to about 100 people, just him, a ukulele, a violin, a little piano and a barefooted drummer who has that aura of being your best mate by accident. And his VOICE. Absolutely stunning live, he carried his tunes by strength of personality and vocal prowess alone.
5. Third gig of the year… Probably Embrace at Alexandra Palace the week before Christmas—they came out to do their largest headlining gig to date (they played MEN the next day to more people), opened with a brand new song that even I hadn’t heard before, and turned a big aircraft hanger space into a party for 8,000 people. Their fifth album is due at the start of April, and if it’s as good as I hope it will be I’ll probably retire from writing about music and follow my lifelong dream of becoming a Dartmoor Park Ranger.
6. “Wake Me Up” by Girls Aloud is better than “First Day Of My Life” by Bright Eyes because a; Girls Aloud don’t have that horrible, overly-mannered gasping-between-every-note vocal style which totally bums me out about Conner Oberst by making me think that he’s faking singing through some kind of respiratory attack as a cynical, manipulative tool for emotional blackmail, b; taking Nine Inch Nails to primary school is WAY more culturally exciting and transgressive than taking John Denver to college, c; that opening riff in the Girls Aloud tune, particularly when the drums kick in at 16 seconds, and that slightly sinister noise that runs throughout the choruses in the centre of your head like a space monster slowly disintegrating your shuttle’s airlock, excite me in a way that Mr Oberst probably can’t comprehend. There’s something about a 4/4 beat used well that makes it absolutely relentless and awesome. Love it. OK so the Bright Eyes record is recorded really beautifully and stuff, but it’s dull, and manipulative. Why are 14-year-old girls necessarily less valid listeners than 21-year-old boys?
8. Girls Aloud are totally not my favourite band (yes, music reviewers have favourite bands, no, there’s no such thing as journalistic integrity amongst music reviewers and why on Earth would there be, it’s music reviewing?!), they’re just a really useful example.
9. “Dull” is the lamest, most asinine criticism that anyone can ever use.
10. Back to Radiohead, again. I dunno, but OK Computer wasn’t anywhere near that big a deal for me. I know a lot of my friends went absolutely doolally over it, but it never struck me as important. Two things need to be considered though, in terms of my analogues of experience prior to OK Computer. a; In 1996 I got into Orbital via In Sides, which was totally unlike anything I had listened to before (I got it just before my 17th birthday, on the day it came out) and which opened my mind wide from The Beatles and The Stone Roses and seemed like the future. b; Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space by Spiritualized also came out in May 1997 (they may even have come out the same day, a quick Google search hasn’t turned up totally satisfactory release dates) (I turned 18 on May 15th), and my brother was at the time working for the record company that distributed Spiritualized’s label Dedicated, and he gave me a promo on the day before it came out. It blew my mind in a way that OK Computer, which I didn’t get until later in the year, never could have. Both these albums, amongst dozens of others over the last decade or more, have seriously altered my whole approach to music, and both of them seemed to leapfrog the achievements of Radiohead, who, as Coldplay seem like a neutered version of Oxford’s most praised group, seemed like neutered versions of what had just blown my mind. While friends of mine were going crazy for Radiohead’s experimentalism, accomplishment, whatever, I was wondering what they were raving about when, to my ears, “Cop Shoot Cop” and “The Girl With The Sun In Her Head” were both way more out there AND way more emotionally moving than anything on that little plastic disc that has come to be known as “the greatest record ever made.”
11. Maybe it’s the songwriting, but I don’t think Radiohead are anywhere near as good as Jimmy Webb, so that’s a moot point. Also, for as well structured technically as a song may be in terms of its composition, it doesn’t matter diddly squat if it does nothing for you. As such “Retread” will always be something I love way more than “The Tourist.” But the percussion on “Paranoid Android” is wicked, I fully admit that.
12. By the time Kid A rolled around I owned loads of stuff on Warp and loads of Miles Davis too. It also came out several months after XTRMNTR and also Drawn From Memory. Was I gonna be excited by it? Was I hell. Kid A was not some kind of sweeping paradigm shift if you’d already heard Richard D. James Album and “MBV Arkestra.” It was kind of samey.
13. We’re all agreed that “Groove Is In The Heart” is magnificent, right? Right?
14. Because if we’re agreed on that, then we can get along much better.
15. I hate talking about music in person with people who I don’t know that well. I really hate talking about music. Go back to point no.1, right? When a stranger or vague acquaintance starts talking to me about music because they’ve found out that I write about it, the conversation is never actually about music. So what’s it about? It’s about that person’s favourite music, and every statement and response is couched very tightly within the strict milieu of what that person likes. Go back to point no.1, right? “The first band in eight years that I feel I can care about.” Why would that be Radiohead? Does everyone care about Radiohead? Is Radiohead the last band that anyone cared about? I bloody hope not. But the point is that I used that phrase and a lot of people automatically assumed I meant Radiohead - Tiny Mix Tapes stated so unequivocally in print without asking me first, even. And that depresses me. Like all assumptions, it says more about the assumer than the assumed. I think it also says something really, really negative about the state of online independent music journalism—that we’re all coming, or, more pertinently, we’re all meant to come from the exact same nexus point, which is the agreement that OK Computer is the best thing since sliced bread.
16. I remember buying some stackable shelving units in a popular British high street furniture store a while ago (my local store no longer stock them, the assholes). The assistant commented that they were really useful as you could just buy one when you needed one and slip it on top of the ones you already had, and I mentioned that I was buying one every couple of months due to the volume of CDs that I bought and received, and that they were great because you could just about fit two layers of discs on one shelf. We chatted for a few moments and I mentioned that I had so many CDs because I wrote about music, and she said something like “that must be really exciting.” It isn’t. I’m always pointing this out. Writing about music means I spend a lot of time on my own listening to records and then trying to think of something clever or amusing to write about them. It’s lonely, and kind of dull, and frustrating. And the pay is rubbish.
17. “Boring” is as bad as “dull.” Neither of them mean anything. Tell us why something bored you.
18. I’m considering writing reviews as minute-by-minute, second-by-second accounts of precisely what I like (or don’t like) about how a record sounds, but it’d probably melt my mind doing so.
19. We’re due back at Radiohead again I guess. Rockism is over reliance on received wisdom, right? Can we all agree on that?
20. Popism, on the other hand, is reactionary knee-jerkism of the highest order, just as prissy and narrow-minded as its supposed opposite.
21. Anytime I do end up talking about music with someone, they almost invariably seem to assume that I’ll have the same taste as them, or at least that my tastes will be consistent in one direction—that if I like so-and-so then I must like such-and-such because maybe they sound a little bit alike (perhaps they both use guitars) or have some kind of cultural link. But it doesn’t work like that—hell, it’d be so much easier if it did. It’s a cop-out when asked “what kind of music do you like?” to say “allsorts” but it really is the only answer in most cases. The favourite album question is a swine, too, because the honest answer is generally “the one I just listened to.” What I actually generally say is “Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk,” a response designed to either end the discussion there and then or else direct it somewhere at least palatable.
22. The reason I talk about music with anyone (when I actually do) is very rarely to come to a better understanding of music and never to find out about what someone else likes; it’s to come to a better understanding about myself. “Why do I like so-and-so?” is the question I’m interested in, a; because it might help me figure out what other stuff I might like and, more importantly, b; it might help me figure out who I am more. Just because someone else really loves Devendra Banhart sure as hell doesn’t mean I will. Case in point—Fiery Furnaces won Stylus’ Album Of The Year poll in 2004—I bought it and hated it. Conversations about music are really conversations about me. Which is why I don’t like talking to people I don’t know about music, I think, because how are they gonna help me find out about me?
23. Back in 2003 I ignored Broken Social Scene because I didn’t think I “needed” (yeah, I know) a Canadian multi-piece postrock oligarchy in my life, but earlier this year I finally bought You Forgot It In People, and was thoroughly impressed with it. The thing is that people had spent a sizeable chunk of 2003 telling me explicitly to get YFIIP, and I ignored them. Why? I dunno. Well, I kind of do. Getting YFIIP two years after the hype had died down and my friends had stopped saying “you need this” meant that I was able to listen to it with fresh ears, so to speak. I’d been told by all and sundry that it was packed with transcendent moments, flashes of punctum, etcetera. But when you get told that so often and find yourself listening to something about which that has been said, you can find yourself straining too hard to hear those moments of transcendence and punctum, so hard that you miss them. Why do you miss them? Because they belong to other people, firstly, because you need to find your own moments for yourself. Hearing “Anthems For A 17-Year-Old Girl” four months ago was incredibly evocative and moving because I’d forgotten what I’d been told to expect, and the tune floored me on its own merits, sans hyperbole. I often find it easier to appreciate records after the initial rush has died down.
24. Sometimes, though, it’s a great and life-affirming thing to be caught up with something right now, to be washed away in hype and excitement and anticipation.