Posted by s woods on April 23, 2013
Sometime on Friday 30 April 1982, in an apartment somewhere in New York City, Lester Bangs dies. He is found lying on the floor. He is approximately thirty-three-and-a-third years old. He had been suffering from the ‘flu and had been taking Darvon and NyQuil. It was suggested that his immune system was shot due to an over-zealous cleaning-up of his own body following a lifetime of alcohol and speed abuse. But he was taking more than the recommended dose of both these remedies, and in addition had taken quite a bit of valium. There is a record spinning on his stereo, the needle locked in the run-out groove. The record was Dare by the Human League. It has not been specified which side he had been listening to, or what song he was hearing at the point where he may have realised that life was sliding away from him. No one could know; he left no notes, not having planned to die.
I don’t know what he would have made or thought of it…
- Marcello Carlin, reviewing Human League’s Dare on his #1 UK albums blog, brings Lester Bangs, Margaret Thatcher, and Heaven 17 to the table also. (Dare is not a record I continue to play often, but it’s probably one of the half dozen records about which I can accurately say that my initial listen to it was utterly transformative, in that it felt like a break from everything I’d listened to in my life up until then. It wasn’t, of course — nothing ever is — but initially, one Saturday evening in my basement bedroom, it felt anomalous.)
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Posted by s woods on March 13, 2013
Geeta Dayal, Simon Reynolds, and Carl Wilson discuss the new Bowie album on the CBC. (Can’t access this now, will have to listen later. And in other important news, I’m going to break down and give the Bowie album a listen as well.)
Posted in Podcast, Record Reviews | 2 Comments »
Posted by s woods on March 11, 2013
Steven Ward, in this brief comments thread, conveyed disappointment with Simon Reynolds for not (or anyway, for barely) mentioning music in his NYT Bowie review. I concur that it’s a problem because one simple question is never answered for me, which is why are people getting excited (faux-excited?) about this particular Bowie record now? Today, in Burning Ambulance, Phil Freeman reviews The Next Day, and fair to say, I think, that his piece exists at a 180-degree remove from Reynolds’s. That is to say, Freeman’s review is entirely, I mean literally almost first sentence to last, about what is happening in the music — the way it sounds, what various players are doing, etc. — with zero concern for the Bowie context, and indeed, little concern for any context outside of the music itself (I say “little,” because the review reads like an argument of sorts, for “feat[s] of instrumental interaction,” and Freeman does draw some comparisons to other musicians).
Freeman’s review never mentions clothes or hair. Reynolds’s review says nothing about how the drums are mixed. I find both approaches wholly unsatisfying, to be honest, though I’m hesitant to say that either approach couldn’t work. I’m curious how other people feel about all this; it’s a pretty fundamental argument, one that’s been taking place in music criticism for a very long time, possibly forever. As a reader — or a writer — do you gravitate towards one approach or the other?
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Posted by s woods on February 23, 2013
Anyone who’s heard Womack and Womack’s ‘Teardrops’ will know that being a banging disco floorfiller is absolutely no guarantee of it not being one of the saddest songs in the world. And not every song on an album has to be heartbroken for it to be heartbreaking, of course.
- Hazel Robinson reviews Tegan and Sara‘s Heartthrob
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Posted by s woods on February 19, 2013
But sometimes you get the real thing, as with James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Like Chinese Democracy and Vineland, Finnegans Wake took 17 years, as everybody wondered how Joyce could follow a masterpiece like Ulysses. The Wake inspired a book of critical essays before it even came out, based on the “Work in Progress” fragments he published in lit mags. But when the Wake arrived, the long wait was forgotten, because it turned out to be another masterpiece that gave everyone more interesting problems. And now MBV is the new My Bloody Valentine masterpiece, ever since it arrived on February 2nd, which happens to be the same date Joyce published Ulysses in 1922, on his birthday. He was hoping to release Finnegans Wake on February 2nd as well, but it took him a few more months. (Joyce and Shields are Irish guys. Ever wait for an Irish guy to show up on time? Don’t.)
- Rob Sheffield, “My Hundredth Listen to the New My Bloody Valentine Album: Even Better Than the First” (Rolling Stone)
Sheffield is on the case…
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Posted by s woods on February 8, 2013
Anthony Easton: At first I was sad that the production obscured her voice, but it’s in the same sub-genre as KLF and Tammy or Pet Shop Boys and Dusty, and those are some of my favourite things. It is less isolating than those examples, but incredibly intimate, the same otherness of Scott Walker, and perhaps the same rejection of pop history, but with the artifice stripped instead of compiled.
New Petula Clark single (! — if he wasn’t already dead, I’d say tell Glenn Gould the news) reviewed in the Singles Jukebox. It’s nice sometimes to read about a 10 out of 10 that a) still actually reads like a fairly measured critique; and b) makes me want to hear the thing ASAP. (The KLF/Tammy and Pet Shop Boys/Dusty analogy is the obvious hook for me, though I’d add Kon-Kan/Lynn Anderson to the mix also.)
Posted in Pop Musik, Record Reviews | 1 Comment »
Posted by s woods on January 31, 2013
“‘Who’s Crying Now,’ the hit single off Journey’s hit LP, isn’t super hip, super deep or even real, real hooky. But it does sound good. What I’m talking about is the way the song’s soft, soapy bass redeems its soft, dopey sentiment by diving beneath tiny fillips of acoustic guitar and bubbling up around a dream-sized dollop of fat harmonies. Every shimmery cymbal tick pays tribute to the state of modern engineering. Same goes for the sting in Neal Schon’s electric-guitar solo, which is what finally drives the tune up, out and home.
“Would that one could say the same for the rest of the record…”
- Deborah Frost reviews Journey’s Escape, Rolling Stone, 1981
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Posted by s woods on January 29, 2013
An M.I.A. collage I found following the release of 2010′s Maya (more colloquially known as /\/\ /\ Y /). Not as good, mind you, as Rich Juzwiak’s perfect word-collage of the same, the sort of review which, by its very being, resists anthologization (good).
Posted in Art & Photography, Links, Record Reviews | Tagged: collage, m.i.a. | Leave a Comment »
Posted by s woods on August 10, 2011
As part of their ‘Spotlight Albums of the Week,’ October 16, 1961. (Along with Lucille Ball and Marshall McLuhan, Robert Johnson turned 100 this year.)
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Posted by s woods on August 2, 2011
Two items of note in the Guardian:
1) Write your review of almost any album ever released: On the Guardian website, you can now review or star rate more than 3 million albums — or add any record to your list of favourites.
2) As guardian.co.uk launches 3 million new album pages, Alexis Petridis offers tips on how to write the perfect review.
That said, I’m not sure how much advice I can offer about the actual writing of reviews. I’m pretty certain the more you listen to an album before you review it, the better – repeated exposure to music sharpens your opinions, whether good or bad – and the more you research an album or the artist who made it, the better: the most arcane tangential fact can sometimes illuminate your understanding of it. Beyond that, I wouldn’t for a minute suggest that anything I do as a critic should be viewed in a prescriptive way.
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Posted by s woods on July 29, 2011
Tom Ewing, refreshingly sane on one of the more puzzling phenomena of Brit-pop: the (cue hushed tones among folks of a certain vintage and haircut) first Stone Roses album. (Weirdly, I probably give more credence to the quiet-pretty-folky parts of the Roses than Ewing does, though I’d still rank the album a 6 instead of a 7.)
You know how people always talk about how in the Old Days you used to buy a record and really concentrate on it and absorb it. I did that with the first Stone Roses album and I strongly remember WANTING to have my life changed by it. The whole narrative around music was to do with hearing these life-changing records, so you felt like you were doing it wrong if you didn’t have those sort of experiences on a regular basis. For indie boys reading the NME was kind of like how reading Cosmo must have been for teenage girls sometimes, except for “Oh god why havent I had an orgasm yet?” read “Oh god why haven’t I heard a Life Changing Record yet?”. But the Stone Roses album doggedly refused to morph from a Pretty Good record into a Great one.
(Ewing‘s entire name-a-band-any-band feature is a fun read.)
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Posted by s woods on July 28, 2011
Steven Hyden revisits the Eagles greatest hits collection (AV Club):
One of the most influential rock critics of the last couple of decades doesn’t write for Rolling Stone, Spin, or Pitchfork; he’s not a writer at all, actually, or even a real person. You could call this figure the man for his time and place. Even if he’s a lazy man — and this person is most certainly that, quite possibly the laziest in Los Angle-less County, which would place him high in the running for laziest worldwide — sometimes there’s a man, sometimes there’s a man…
I’m talking about The Dude here. Specifically, I’m talking about The Dude hating the fucking Eagles.
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Posted by s woods on June 28, 2011
Sandy Pearlman, reviewing the Stones’s Got Live if You Want It! in issue #8 of Crawdaddy! (March 1967):
On this album the Stones go metal. Technology is in the saddle — as an ideal and as a method. A mechanically hysterical audience is matched to a mechanically hysterical sound. Side two of the album is a metal side. Most mechanical. It has the historic “Last Time,” one of the Stones’ first big metal songs but sounding pretty tame in this company, a very metallic “Time is On My Side,” without the mellow yellow organ of the first try. A metal “I’m Alright”; and a moderately metal “Satisfaction” with metal mitigation supplied by Billy Wyman’s newly super-miked bass, which sounds as if San Francisco in August and the Airplane and Jack Cassady might have had something to do with it. It also has a significant merger of the metallic and the morbid…
Is this the earliest use of “metal,” as applied specifically to rock? I personally always think of “metal” as following on the heels of “heavy metal” (much in the way that “rock” followed on the heels of “rock and roll,” and much in the same way that “Led Zeppelin” begat “Zeppelin” which in turn begat “Zep”), and yet, according to Wikipedia, “the first documented use of the phrase [heavy metal] to describe a type of rock music identified to date appears in a [May 1968 Rolling Stone] review [of Electric Flag] by Barry Gifford.”* In other words, Pearlman leapfrogged past the still-impending heavy metal sound to prop up what he heard in ’67 as simply metal (and with his persistent use of the term “mechanical,” he could just as well be writing about Voivod or someone) — a pretty neat trick, when you think about it.
* “Nobody who’s been listening to Mike Bloomfield — either talking or playing — in the last few years could have expected this. This is the new soul music, the synthesis of white blues and heavy metal rock.”
Posted in Record Reviews | 3 Comments »
Posted by s woods on June 15, 2011
The only music review section in the world I give even a smidgen of a damn about these days is back! After an excruciatingly drawn-out hiatus of, um, two weeks.
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Posted by s woods on June 10, 2011
While we’re on the topic. A critical roundup, of sorts.
Alfred Soto: “With Born This Way, Gaga aspires to become an all-purpose avatar for misfits and losers. Laughing at her for selecting the godawfulest album cover ever printed is part of the point. She accepts our derision; she invites it. That she succeeds three quarters of the time is testament to her development as a songwriter. Where she once struggled to write decent choruses for solid bridges or vice versa, every song on BTW boasts the surefire get-outta-my-dreams-into-my-car stomp of a Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange composition (when Lange himself co-produces a song I barely noticed).”
Kitty Empire: “The spaceship thing, especially, is misleading. Gaga may have given birth to an alien race in the eye-catching video for ‘Born This Way,’ but its parent album is recognisably terrestrial, dividing its affections between two landmasses — the Americas and Europe. Born This Way runs big, timeless American themes — freedom, self-actualisation, the romance of the road, the Boss, even Neil Young — through the pointy prism of decadent European dance music. It effects Cher’s transition from AOR diva to dance queen in reverse.”
Nitsuh Abebe: “Gaga has quickly reached that brief apex of stardom where anything an artist does is compelling simply because she’s made the decision to do it. To make this record successful, all she needed to do was produce something — almost anything — bold enough for people to react to. And Born This Way is, from the cover on in, a fire hose of such things. On one single, Gaga says she ‘vomits her mind,’ a metaphor that’s hard to improve upon.”
Michaelangelo Matos: “Gaga is also big on that other ’80s child here: self-help. ‘Born This Way’ admonishes, ‘Don’t hide yourself in regret/ Just love yourself and you’re set.’ That palpable urgency to simultaneously accept everything and push it out at the edges gives those platitudes more charge than usual. They could come from anywhere, but only one person would put them together like this. Finally, an album to match all those photos.”
Ann Powers discusses the secret connection(s) between Gaga and Dylan at Soundcheck (a podcast).
Rob Sheffield: “It’s one thing to sing about a motorcycle, and it’s another to sing about a unicorn. But when you put your motorcycle song and your unicorn song in the same song? And call it ‘Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)’? Now that’s a pop visionary.”
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