Howe Gelb | How to respond to a Paste Magazine review
By Howe Gelb
Editor’s note: Here at Collapse Board we occasionally enjoy reprinting musicians’ rejoinders to criticism – e.g. How to respond to a Pitchfork review, Hysteria. PMS. feelings? (Kate Nash | A Response) – because we believe criticism to be a dialogue, not a monologue. It is, of course, always a little embarrassing when the musician is more eloquent, insightful, good humored and cutting than the critic who is attempting to take them to task. Still. It’s great to talk, right? Do Cut And Paste Magazine pay for their content? They shouldn’t.
Here’s a link to Beca Grimm’s review of the new Giant Giant Sand album Tucson that sparked Howe’s response on Facebook. It begins thus:
This record is long. To finish all one-hour-and-10-minutes of it, one must commit to feeling a little somber and dusty. It is not music to get stoked to; perhaps swap a letter in “stoked” and then it’s better aligned. Howe Gelb calls it a country rock opera. I call it a slightly schizophrenic, sometimes honky-tonk, alt-country patchwork quilt. It is what it is.
And continues thus:
Spooky, haunted saloon vibes creep over “Slag Heap,” channeling a cuddlier Tom Waits, marrying Gelb’s and Kelley’s vocal harmonies. Apparently “slag” is a synonym for “cinder,” which doesn’t make much sense in context of the chorus cheerfully chanting “slag it off.” My British friend once told me “slag” is slang across the pond for someone who is a bit of a floozie. I’m not sure if that would make more sense as a definition here, but I could see the latter acting as a more believable verb.
And here’s Howe’s response:
hi beca… and people of paste.
it’s fun to criticize critics when album reviews tend to reveal much of how their brains work, much like a sonic rorschach splotch.
in this critical slump of the music biz, with so many critics going unpaid for work delivered, it’s become the age old matter of getting what one pays for; your writing is abhorrent and uninformative.
the story line in our latest album is a tongue and cheek narrative, rather obvious cause of how the layout is made up of pencil sketches and smudges on a broken typewriter font.
it should be viewed as part of the entertainment, an exercise to suggest how the songs may thread together. when an album like bowie’s “ziggy stardust…” was released, the listener’s mind construes the album’s story line naturally without the album ever insisting there was one.
with the release of “tucson”, part of the liner notes function was to offer the resolution of how we think of such album landscapes and therefor suggest such a thread, never taking itself serious, instead allowing a new form for the songwriter’s mind to further illuminate on possible landscapes.
as for your own prowess, I am troubled by the lack of depiction in your description. a bad review is quite helpful and entertaining in itself as long as the intellect and humor of the writer shows off such ability. but these examples emphatically offer none of that:
It is not music to get stoked to; perhaps swap a letter in “stoked” and then it’s better aligned.
A rollicking exploration in identity crisis, “Forever And A Day” is like a song sandwich within just one track. It starts off with a taunting Toby Keith-esque mantra about leaving town (spoiler alert: he doesn’t).
My British friend once told me “slag” is slang across the pond for someone who is a bit of a floozie. I’m not sure if that would make more sense as a definition here, but I could see the latter acting as a more believable verb.
i have no idea of what you’re talking about. perhaps in that we share the same understanding for each other; none.
anyhow… in closing, I can offer this new york times review, whereas the writer of it actually can.
GIANT GIANT SAND.
An amiable improbability has sustained Howe Gelb’s band Giant Sand since 1983. Based in Tucson, Giant Sand grounds its music in the country-and-Mexican heritage of the Southwest, although the longtime core of the band hails from Denmark, and Mr. Gelb has, through the years, dipped into flamenco, psychedelic rock, punk and other noisy whims.
For “Tucson,” Mr. Gelb added six more musicians to the band — hence the renamed Giant Giant Sand — including a Mexican-American contingent that provides more direct connections to cumbia, bolero and mariachi. He also strung a story line through 19 songs, enough to subtitle the album “A Country Rock Opera” and to supply a detailed visual and psychological scenario in the liner notes.
It’s a tale of wanderings through surreal desert landscapes, of romance lost and found, of nature and fate and of the ways they all mirror one another: “You’re so much like the river, beautiful twisted and blue/You appear to be here forever, but really just passing through,” Mr. Gelb sings at the end of the album.
But the plot’s not the thing. The opera’s main character — described by Mr. Gelb as “a semi-grizzled man with overt boyish naïveté” — is the kind of existential drifter who’s been ambling through Mr. Gelb’s songs all these years, a figure (and singer) who ponders and aphorizes like Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and Tom Waits. His route on “Tucson” is mostly a pretext for waltzes, rockabilly shuffles, quietly torchy ballads and bouncy Mexican cumbias.
A few songs are written or sung by other band members, notably Brian Lopez, who brings a tremulous croon to his own philosophizing in “Love Comes Over You,” and Lonna Kelley, who teases through the slinky, finger-snapping “Ready or Not,” wondering, “When the end of the world comes near, will you be ready?”.
Although the band is large, it doesn’t pile on all at once. Steel guitar, accordion, mariachi trumpet, lounge piano or a small string section are available as needed, but most of the music stays modest and intimate, staying out of the way of the graceful tunes and laconic thoughts. Mr. Gelb makes himself cozy in wide-open spaces.
um.. please never review another album i’m on, and we’ll both be the better for it.