17 Dec 2013

Pop, Power & the Vocal-Subject: NEW POSTS COMING SOON

I’ve been putting all my blogging on hold this Autumn, in order to complete what has become a rather monumental project of music writing which I’m provisionally titling Pop, Power & the Vocal-Subject. This will initially be a series of essay-chapters outlining something like a systematic analytical approach to pop music, in both recorded and live forms, which veers fairly erratically between musicology, pop criticism, cultural studies and phenomenology. The aim of this approach is, in turn, to inform analyses, critiques and reviews of pop music (of any style or genre) which aim to discuss the political (critical, emancipatory, utopian) potential of the music as music (i.e. bearing sonic elements in mind, rather than just lyrics, or a collection of ‘extramusical’ discourses). The project includes a large number of attempts at such an analysis, of music ranging from Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake and Donna Summer, via Burial, Björk and the Knife, to the Smiths and Nirvana.

I hope to format the essays into a PDF e-book thing which can be downloaded, as well as to make Soundcloud podcasts of chapters with musical examples, in the style of Rouge’s Foam.

I hope that, as a project, it won’t be too restrictively academic, but should nevertheless stand as my proposition for an informed, imaginative music criticism that is neither reduced to a purely subjective or coldly consumerist assessment of value, nor a quixotic academic search for the empirical ‘truth’ of a particular musical work, or of ‘music as such’. Most of all though, it’s been an opportunity to siphon off some of the more volatile and distracting (music-related) ideas from my brain and arrange them into something approaching coherence. With any luck, I’ll be back to posting more frequently by the end of January 2014.


28 Mar 2013

Some recommended reading...


Check out this Guardian interview with The Knife, getting all politisch
There's a narrative that culture or music should not have to do with politics. We are learned all the time to not think, and that of course comes through in many cultural workers. But I believe that it's in the music where you can really try out political alternatives and utopias. I have many friends who play around with these issues in their music – Planningtorock, for example, is doing that in really exciting ways – but the kind of vocabulary used around these artists is that it's pretentious or the production is not good enough. And that makes me think more about who is writing those things. (Olof Dreijer)
or how about:
We are constructed to like certain things... We've been teaching a bit at this summer camp for teenage girls who want to make electronic music, and there we often talk about this idea of quality in music and what informs our ideas of what is supposed to be good and bad music. You know that music history is written by privileged white men, so we can ask ourselves how important it is to repeat their ideas. (Olof Dreijer)
Read the full interview HERE (ignoring the snarky, reactionary commentary from the interviewer), and get excited for Shaking the Habitual on April 8th.


More importantly though, this fabulous essay from n+1 magazine (Jan 2012), by Richard Beck, wryly styled as a 'review of Pitchfork' (he gives them 5.4 out of 10). 

29 Jan 2013

Ten Favourite Albums of 2012

My last post was a total downer, I know, but it'd be wrong to suggest that 2012 was a total musical disaster. On the contrary, there've been some really excellent records out this last year. As usual, I've been pretty penniless (and I don't download records, or use Spotify because it gives me vertigo) so naturally I've only encountered a small section of the year's output. But still, all the records listed below are both interesting and important. Rather than simply throw around the standard adulations, I've tried to consider how each achieves its particular effect, and what it might tell us about our times, our culture, and the future of music. So here it is, finally,

here are my Top 10 Favourite Albums Of 2012...

24 Jan 2013

2012: The Year in Musical Disappointments

2012 was a frustrating kind of musical year for The Night Mail. Despite the fact that there were significant new releases from practically all of my super-official, fantasy-league, pantheon artists* (including my two hyper-ultra-official, gun-to-my-head favourite bands**), it was actually a pretty disappointing year for music. Or maybe it was because of that fact. There's nothing quite so conducive to disappointment as looking forward to things.

For one thing, I didn’t really latch onto any earth-shattering new artists or stylistic ideas, and - while admittedly this might be due to some personal critical oversight on my part - skimming over the various ‘End of Year’ lists on my most trusted blogs and webzines would suggest that my own awareness of the year’s hypees wasn’t too far removed from that of the broader blogosphere hegemony.

For another thing (strike two), 'Call Me Maybe' aside, it was an incredibly bad year for proper pop too. It's a good indication of the state of affairs when learning the 'Gangnam Style' dance becomes a significant plot thread on Glee. (Notes for a future thesis: Arguably the success of the first two seasons of Glee had a lot to do with the quality of the chart pop circulating at the time. To some extent, the requirement to include hit songs has a determining factor on the direction of the plot and the nature and affective quality of the musico-dramatic set-pieces available to the writers. Glee has been crap all year, go figure.)