An almost completely random collection of things I’ve loved so far in 2011
As for writing about music, the site I read more than any other (except for Collapse Board, naturellement) is the UK’s DrownedinSound. And the DiS writer I read more than any other is Wendy Roby, who breezes through the weekly singles column in a style so apparently mannered, ickle-girly and sugary you’d want to brush’n’floss afterwards. First time I read anything by her I hated it. HATED IT. Why would a woman caricature herself in such an extreme way, as if childishness, incompetence and petulance were hard-won laurels to be flaunted? It seemed the height of self-disempowerment. But she introduced me to good stuff. The fact that she’d write ‘exactly’ as “HEGGS ACKERLY!” or drop an “Oh, how perfectly dread!” into the mix like a flighty female Bertie Wooster mattered less the more I read. She name-checked Dave Eggers last week, and I had an “Ah ha!” lightbulb moment.
However, her style is utterly her own, and that’s surprisingly rare in the great grey tides of internet opining and has got to be to her credit. She refuses to pander to notions of tick box reviews; she’s as likely to describe how the circumstances in which she was listening to the single in question (at her mum’s house over roast dinner; on an iPod while riding her bike; moping over a broken heart) have affected her appreciation of it than bore on with facts. So I like her a lot. I’ve come to terms with the girlieness, because why the fuck not? The world has enough cock-led gonzo lads writing about music via the aggrandizing of their own drunken exploits, why privilege that style over something explicitly feminine? There’s room enough. She might be whimsical but she’s no shrinking violet. She is astute, bright, funny, inventive, fierce, sorted. As a comment under her column had it recently, “I enjoyed reading about these songs much more than I enjoyed listening to them”. Tick.
DiS has its other gems, despite having a readership that shows its best side on the lively community discussion boards but bays like unfed hounds when denied simple things such as descriptions of what the music sounds like or a proper appreciation for back catalogue. So my next nominee is Chris Trout, who was recently called a “douche” by a disgruntled reader for not providing the standard review fare, instead handing over a meandering, witty, critical disquisition on the state of music, far more interesting than trotting out the usual. Here’s the debate which ensues when the readers try to tell him how he ought to review records: it’s a fascinating argument about what is expected from criticism. And them readers aren’t ever going to win. Also, check out his own website, which, among other highlights – it’s all worth reading – has a wonderfully constructed, intelligent, cantankerous, funny (really funny) dots-joining take on last year’s best albums; it’s not in any way a list, mind, more a rambling autobiographical essay about loving music. Anyone – that’s you, that is – needing to read why Arcade Fire “are as punk rock as a battered shoebox full of gerbils dipped in Crazy Color at their own request” start here. I dare ya.
Finally, here’s a quite astounding piece of writing on my other favourite UK site, The Quietus. Neil Kulkarni has written here on Collapse Board before so you might already know what a passionate, funny, insightful writer he is. (Ngaire-Ruth describes reading his stuff as “like skateboarding, while hitched to a rare, classic car, driving, at speed, in zigzags through bustling city streets”. Quite so.) This (another autobiographical essay) is fantastic: a three-part look at life growing up in Coventry as a second-generation immigrant through the music he listened to and loved. It’s like nothing else you’ve read. So go find it.
PS: Do musicians writing about cooking count in the listeners writing about music stakes? You get to the same place in the end anyway, whether you start off from pate or Pavement. So, here is Luke Fucking Genius Haines’ food blog, peppered liberally with excellent swearing and copious amounts of booze while talking you through rabbit stew and Hawkwind. “Leave the whole fucking shebang cooking on a low, low heat for another hour, or until you hear ‘You Shouldn’t Do That’ bursting out of your kitchen at the end of CD2 of Space Ritual. If Hawkwind are saying ‘You Shouldn’t Do That’, I’d listen to them, cos whatever you’re doing must be pretty bad if Hawkwind are telling you to stop doing it. The stew is done”.
Compare and contrast with Steve Albini’s food blog, which shows him – as if we needed telling – to be as meticulous in his cooking as Haines is slapdash. But quite as equally entertaining and often just as filthy: “Most of the red meat I’ve eaten recently has been grilled by Tim Mydhiett in his back yard. He masters a beautiful ceramic egg barbecue oven and tends to rub things on his meat* before sticking it in there*. Lately he has been using a rub of finely-ground espresso, salt, pepper and sumac, and it has been exceptional every time I’ve had it … I didn’t have any sumac so I used the other spices for a whiff of the exotic. Yma Sumac was a Nice Jewish girl from the Bronx named Amy Camus anyway”.**
*You’ll have to go to the blog to get the footnotes.
** It’s worth it.