Tag Archives: The Guardian Music Blog

It’s a shame you can’t even have a strongly positive article about metal in the mainstream press without ignorami in the comments dismissing the entire genre as misogynist. It’s as if some people’s knowledge of metal doesn’t extend beyond thirty year old Mötley Crüe videos. And this is a world where Robin Thicke exists…

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Critics, Set Lengths and That Cure Review

Oh dear.

Reviewer goes to gig and is very obviously not on the same page as either band or audience. Review generates all-too-predictable fan backlash. Reviewer writes self-justifying blog post in an attempt to have the last word. Hilarity ensues.

One is left with the impression that Caroline Sullivan believes that the only acceptable format for any veteran band is an end-of-the-pier-show style greatest hits set. When a band is playing a three-hour show filled with deep cuts and obscure b-sides aimed at devoted hardcore fans, you do wonder why The Guardian sent a reviewer who’s on record for saying that nobody other than Madonna should play for more than 45 minutes. I’m reminded of that awful Steve Hackett review from last year.

As anyone that genuinely loves live music ought to know, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits all length for a band’s set. 45 minutes is all anyone should want or need from a band like The Ramones, and there is a reason few metal bands go beyond 90 minutes, with 75 being common. On the other hand two and a half hours is common for prog bands, especially long-established ones, and many audiences would feel short-changed if they get anything less.

Three hour shows are really only for veteran acts who have created a substantial body of work with depth as well as breadth. While I’m not that familiar with The Cure’s back catalogue, their longevity does suggest they fall into that category.

I just hope The Guardian never sent Caroline Sullivan to review a Marillion convention with seven and a half hours music spread over three nights…

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What novels are crying out for a musical adaptation?

The Guardian Music Blog asks what novels are crying out for a musical adaptation? I jokingly suggested “Who Moved My Cheese” set to music by The Scorpions, but followed it up with a couple of more serious suggestions.

For starters, L.T.C Rolt’s “Railway Adventure“, which is cheating slightly, because it’s non-fiction. But the story of the birth of the British railway preservation movement when a group of enthusiasts took over the ramshackle Talyllyn Railway in 1950 is exactly the sort of thing that’s meat and drink for Big Big Train.

Second, Iain Banks’ “Espediair Street“. The ficticious band Frozen Gold have been described as being a cross between Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac, which suggests the ideal band would be none other than Mostly Autumn. Banks’ description of the wordless “Nifedge” always makes me think of the closing section of “Carpe Diem”. Whether it’s possible to do the Great Contraflow Smoke Curtain justice in Bilston Robin 2 remains to be seen.

Lastly, HP Lovecraft’s “At The Mountains of Madness“. While their Imaginos cycle immediately suggests Blue Öyster Cult, they’re better at high weirdness than out-and-out terror. It really needs Van der Graaf Generator at their most menacing, in the vein of something like “Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”.

What combinations of books and bands would you suggest?

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10 of the best: Yes

I’ve often been critical in the past of The Guardian’s lack of coverage or rock and metal in their music section, especially when it comes to progressive rock. So after some conversations on Twitter I ended up writing something myself, which they published today. It’s part of their “10 of the best” series, about Yes.

There were something like 250 comments in the first few hours. Yes, there are one or two the yet again demonstrate that middle-aged former punks are not only the worst bores in music fandom, but the worst in any fandom. But the vast majority of comments are overwhelmingly positive, which seems to suggest there are a lot more prog fans reading The Guardian’s music coverage that previously thought.

A few words on the choices I made. For starters, it’s ten of the best, not the ten best. I could have picked an entire list taken from “The Yes Album“, “Close To The Edge” and “Going For The One“. But that would have been boring; instead I chose a cross-section from right across their career, going beyond the obvious standards to include less well-known and sometimes overlooked classics. I was aware that “Don’t Kill The Whale” in particular might raise a few eyebrows, but it’s a good example of their shorter, more commercial work.

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Prog Conservatism?

I remember a discussion a few months back with The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis where I suggested that the aggregated best-of lists that appear in many music publications tended to be boring and predictable. They often end up reinforcing a lowest-common-denominator consensus, and frequently exclude the more eclectic choices of individual contributors. For example, none of Dom Lawson’s excellent choices made The Guardian’s top 40 of 2012

The top 15 of 2013 from The Dutch Progressive Rock Page seems to bear this out. Despite containing many great albums that also appear on my own best of the year list, it does give the impression that it takes a very narrow definition of “Prog”. It’s true that Riverside, Steven Wilson, Haken and Big Big Train have all made great albums that deserve to be honoured. But there’s no place for the likes of The Fierce and The Dead, Luna Rossa, Ihsahn or even Fish, all of which fall under the broad spectrum of progressive music, but don’t fit a narrow neo-progressive template. It’s also notable how male the list is; only one band out of the 15 (Magenta) have a female lead singer.

It would be easy to blame this on musical conservatism on behalf of the site’s contributors, but I strongly suspect that when a list is defined by what it excludes, it merely demonstrates that such aggregated lists are of limited usefulness.

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The Guardian: No overlap with me

So The Guardian’s end-of-year album list has zero overlap with mine. I recognise that despite their positive reviews of both the album and the Albert Hall gig, Steve Wilson’s “The Raven That Refused To Sing” was never going to be Guardian enough to feature, but I did wonder if Goldfrapp’s “Tales of Us” or perhaps even Black Sabbath’s “13″ would make the cut. But they didn’t. For those who might be interested, their album of the year was Kayne West’s “Yeezus”. I don’t know enough about hip-hop to be able to say whether it’s good, bad or indifferent, but they closed the comments after about 12 hours in which 700-odd people were decidedly unimpressed with their choice.

Sadly The Guardian’s list is yet again a rock-free zone. The top end of the list seems to be made up almost entirely of hip-hop and mumbling indie, as if they were the only genres that exist. Those records might well be the best hip-hop and mumbling indie records released this year, but anything properly resembling rock is conspicuous by its absence. As is anything strongly based around melody; where, for example was Goldfrapp’s beautiful “Tales of Us”

No, I’m not expecting the whole list to be filled with rock and metal releases, but there’s not even a token presence there. It comes over as so NME it’s quite embarassing; Paramore are the closest to “rock” that it comes, and they come over to me as rock music watered-down for people who don’t really like rock music, mainly marketed to children.

I’ve listed to a few of the YouTube videos or sound clips attached to their features whenever the description made it sound as if it might be worth a listen. But I haven’t heard anything at all that makes me want to listen further to any of them. A lot of it comes over to me as far too scratchy and tuneless to hold my attention. It may well be deeply symbolic of man’s struggle against his social-political environment, but lacks any compositional depth or instrumental flair.

Indeed, Kitty Empire writing about White Denin gave the game away with the line “Bands this proficient can easily end up making pointlessly masturbatory virtuoso-rock“. I found White Denin boring, a band playing well below their abilities is if they were trying too hard to appeal to people like Kitty Empire.

Yes, there are plenty of people out there who like that sort of thing; but it leaves me feeling that a publication that’s not supposed to be a narrow genre-specific one like Kerrang it ought to be covering a far broader spectrum of music that it does, and cover the sorts of music that appeals to a broader range of age groups that just spotty yoof alone.

One wag made a comment suggesting that the list was by thirtysomethings writing about music made for twentysomethings then being sneered at by fortysomethings in the comment threads. But it does make the point that there isn’t nearly enough music in there for grown-ups. And there isn’t nearly enough rock.

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There is something distinctly galling about witnessing mainstream media commentators gushing about Glastonbury signifying the beginning of the British summer festival season. For those of us who enjoy music that allows for a touch more aggression and energy than Mumford & Sons, the true start of the summer comes with Download” – Dom Lawson tells it like it is. Never thought I’d read words like that in The Guardian.

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Golden Rules for an Independent Band

An entertaining Guardian Music Blog piece by a band called Mazes about the 10 golden rules of being in a DIY indie band. It’s about independent bands touring the club circuit rather than “indie” as a style of music, so many of these are application to any genre. The whole thing’s worth reading (As is typical, the comments rather less so), but there are a few that jump out.

1: You probably don’t need a sound engineer
The in-house engineer at the venue invariably knows the room and sound desk better than the guy you’re paying £100 a day to drink your rider. No offence to travelling engineers, but anyone who would rather sit in a van all day for less money than they’d get for showing up to a static venue at 6pm is a sociopath

Well, perhaps not so much this one. Certainly for prog bands playing small clubs, the sound engineer is as important as anyone on stage, and can be the difference between a great gig and an unlistenable one.

I can speak from the experience having been to many gigs in small clubs, and seen people who either (a) don’t know the room or (b) don’t know the music, and screw it up very, very badly.

If your band is, to quote a musician I know, “Crash bang wallop, you’ve my Wonderwall thank you goodnight”, then it might not matter, but if the music is any more sophisticated than that…

6. Don’t slag off other bands
They will find out, or, when you bump into them buying kale in at the grocer’s and they tell you they like your new record, you will feel like dying.

Let’s not mention any names, shall we? Also don’t forget some of their fans might also be your own fans…

10. Have fun
The record industry was ruined by expense accounts and arrogance. Don’t even try to make money or think about quitting your day job. You should be doing this because you want to experience new things, to see new places, to meet like-minded people and to scratch the creative itch many of us have … the primal misguided quest to leave something when you die or for people to think you’re “cool”. Make music that you’d like to hear.

The last line needs to be engraved on the heart of everyone who wants to make great music.

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Flogging a Dead Cliché

When a writer begins with the line “much has been made of the recent death of guitar music and how this year should see its glorious return“, is there really any point reading any further?

I may be missing out on some really wonderful music, but I get the feeling I probably won’t. I get the impression that any writer who uses such dreadful tired clichés as the one above thinks “three-chord indie-pop” and “guitar music” are synonyms, and genres like blues, metal or punk which centre around the sounds made by electric guitars either don’t exist or aren’t relevant. I can also safely assume the band he’s writing about are most likely to be some form of dull landfill indie and will not be worth three minutes of my time.

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The Guardian Needs More Dom Lawsons

The Guardian have been doing their annual rundown of the Albums of The Year (Their #1 was Frank Ocean‘s Channel Orange, if anyone reading this blog actually cares). As usual, it’s assembled from votes by individual writers. I have always thought that such aggregated lists complied by a committee are a complete waste of space. Regardless of the mechanism used to tally up votes, they end up favouring the lowest common denominator, which at the moment seems to be faux-edgy indie-rock and commercial R&B at the expense of the more diverse and interesting.

Far more interesting and illuminating is the individual critics top tens, which is a good guide to which of their critics are worth taking seriously, and which ones are not.

When comparing with my own end-of-year list, there are two in common with Dom Lawson’s list, Gojira‘s “L’Enfant Sauvage” and Marillion‘s “Sounds That Can’t Be Made“. None of my other albums of the year appear on the lists of a single Guardian writer. I recognise some of my choices are independent releases by artists without large PR budgets that might not be on the radars of those whose exposure to new music is limited to major-label freebies. But the absence of a record like Anathema‘s “Weather Systems” does make one question the depth and breadth of The Guardian’s writers’ musical horizons.

What’s very telling is just how much Dom Lawson’s albums of the year are completely out of line with the rest of The Guardian’s. A few days earlier a couple of Guardian writers were making rather arch remarks on Twitter about Guardian commenters complaining about the lack of Swans and Scott Walker on the official Guardian list. Then Dom Lawson goes and puts those two at the very top of his list.

This does give me the impression that Dom’s taste in music is more widely shared by the readership than some of their other writers seem to realise. What The Guardian really needs is far more writers like Dom Lawson, not specifically metal fans, but people with a deep knowledge and love of different non-mainstream genres. They can pension off some of the surplus superannuated NME types to make room for them.

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