Yet again, the review competition featured some fine entries in which I had to sit for a moment to evaluate my options. This time around, I had the pleasure of chatting it up with granitenotebook, who won the competition with his review of DJ Taye’s Still Trippin’, which you can read here.
(And to anyone interested in future iterations of the competition, I’ll further emphasize this aspect of the game: it’s bi-weekly. The next competition will take place on the week of March 16th. This allows for a week’s time for all entries and for me to not get burnt out on the process. A winning strategy hopefully? Now, on to the interview…)
…uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh so to start things off (along with congrats on winning this review comp) how did you stumble upon the website? Was it by curiosity or was it due to Wikipedia citing some bad 2006 staff review?
Thanks, I actually don’t remember. I got here around 2013, lurked for a while, and then made an account in 2014 when I wrote a review I thought was good enough to publish (a tbt of Since I Left You (Avalanches), which kind of destroyed the point), but I don’t actually remember what led me to finding a website that didn’t even focus on the kind of music I liked at the time. it happened somehow though lol
Glad I did though, it’s been great to get feedback on music writing and is really the best website I’ve found for that.
So how exactly did the review of the Avalanches go for you? I’ve seen from experience that track by tracks are absolutely no bueno provided the right (read: wrong) user comes across it. However, I will point out that track by tracks still have a place on the site if used correctly.
It went surprisingly well, everyone was nice about it and gave constructive criticism; that’s been the vast majority of my experience here. And yeah, I agree. Track by tracks can be great, especially on electronic EPs for example. It’s just generally not a good idea for a beginning writer from my experience, although it makes good practice.
Absolutely. So, for the sake of keeping things up to date, is there anything you’re looking forward to? Any events or records dropping you’re itching to hear?
Definitely! I’m most excited for SOPHIE’s new LP (Whole New World), since PRODUCT has been a favorite of mine since it dropped, and all the singles are sounding great. Other than that, Janelle Monae, Jon Hopkins, DJ Koze, James Blake, CHVRCHES, Grimes, Ariana Grande, Julia Holter, Hannah Diamond, Rihanna, and Burial are all artists that are probably dropping something new this year. I’ve set some more ambitious goals this year for reviewing so I’m planning on writing about as many of those artists as I can, which I’m also very excited for.
That’s wonderful to see you got quite a lot to look forward to. In terms of ambition (aside from more reviews), does this mean covering more genres outside of your comfort zone? What would you consider to be “outside” of your comfort zone?
Great question! To some extent yes; some of those artists are ones that I’m not an expert on in terms of influence and whatnot. I’d say my biggest goal is just to find my own voice outside of what I think my review should sound like. I’ve been reading a lot of reviews on Tiny Mix Tapes and from some more adventurous Emeritus or Staff like Conradtao or Robertsona. It’s 2018 and music criticism is no longer as useful in its original purpose (“what does this album sound like?”) so I see other paths as more interesting. I’m more convinced to listen to an album if I read about the surrounding context (social issues, relevancy, etc.) or a personal impact it had on someone than I am if it’s a description of what instruments are used and the songwriting styles. So that’s my main goal – be a weirder writer, and by extension, a more interesting one. And as of right now, that’s definitely outside of my comfort zone.
In the current year (very stale joke i know), there’s very much worth talking about in our writings, although in some cases, would you consider including topics about its relevancy to what’s going on today to be (sometimes) irrelevant to the album or artists itself if the record itself doesn’t exactly mention it? I know it adds to the intrigue, but where does it get to the point where sometimes just appreciating the music and the message is just enough? (tbh this is kinda a spur of the moment question)
Let me reiterate on part of this question while I’m at it: if an artist/band doesn’t explicitly mention his/her/their work’s intention, instead leaving it to the listener to piece together what the potential meaning could be, if there is any? If, for example, Kendrick Lamar were to drop a record today with absolutely no information whatsoever, what would its meaning have on the people who listen to it?
Yeah that makes sense, and it happens. Sometimes it can get obnoxious, I’ve read a few reviews that go too far in the direction of describing context or which seem like random spitballs of other things without any explanation as to how they’re related to the album or even the artist. Intrigue is still there in those cases but that tends to be it. I think if you’re writing it for yourself and not for the reader, you’re not going to write as well, and that’s where the difference comes. I try to write reviews I would want to read, not reviews to impress (read: trick) readers into thinking I know what I’m talking about. I do think that a lot of this seemingly over-contextualization of artists provides something valuable. I’ve read many reviews that get at artists making stereotypically “shallow” styles of music that expound on that and allow people who probably wouldn’t think otherwise unless they had their own deep emotional experience with it to recognize the depth in it. I think it’s important to note personal experience and context in a review because this will be valuable years from now in ways that we can’t understand in the moment.
To answer your second paragraph, I think there is meaning to every art, and it is defined almost entirely by the reader. It’s never going to be universal, and that’s why it’s important to explain and be clear in your writing what you’re trying to say, which is where I feel a lot of these over-contextualizing and random-ball-of-references type reviews falter. They don’t say what they mean, they just say “x” and leave it to the reader to connect “x” to “y,” where “y” is the album. Ultimately, I think even if they’re going off on some wild trail of loosely-related tangents and connections the artist might not have intended, if that’s what they get out of the album and that’s what they think is important to communicate to the readers (two big ifs), then that’s what they should communicate. It’s up to the reader to judge how much these connections matter. I also think it’s important to note that many of the complaints about reviews reaching come out of assumptions about genres. If you write a thesis-style review about the latest Selena Gomez album, nobody will take you as seriously as someone who did the same thing about a Deerhunter album, even though there’s no objective reason to see more depth in one artist than another. I think sexism plays a big role in this. Sorry that was way longer than I meant it to be lol.
Oh, don’t sweat it, give the people something to read! You raise some very fine points and of course, with the Gomez v. Deerhunter comparison, there will be a steep hill to climb in trying to emphasize what makes her latest good against elaborating on how the latest Deerhunter is a stroke of genius, you know? In some aspect, it’s a thing a writer deals with when writing about specific genres. Sexism could be a cause of this, but to keep in mind Selena Gomez is a pop artist (not quite the most critically respectable genre, at least within the Top 40, maybe?) and Deerhunter are a rock group (and were practically Pitchfork’s darlings a decade ago, I don’t know about now though). The genre of the artist is always going to be a point in how it will be received, I feel; and with a Top 40 artists, I feel like the challenge is more prominent because of how saturated the Top 40 is now.
True, genre makes a big difference; and there’s definitely more than just sexism at play. But, I think it’s a bigger factor than people are willing to admit – why do we favor rock over pop? Isn’t it at least a little bit because we think “teenage girls like pop music” and, subtly, that makes it worse. Deerhunter vs. Selena is not the best example (although there’s an argument to be made there) but I think we definitely treat artists differently when they’re writing with something other than guitars, or if they’re women, or any minorities for that matter.
If you don’t mind me going on a minor rant, since it’s Women’s Day and everything.
There’s obviously huge problems with women in the music industry, with a #MeToo-esque movement on the verge of breaking out any time, and festivals having to make 5-year plans to have gender equality in their lineups. But we as music listeners and fans ought to do a lot more to listen to women and to question our assumptions about what makes something deep or shallow. It’s certainly easier to see blatant sexism on some websites (/mu/ comes to mind) but Sputnikmusic users (including me) are certainly guilty of ignoring the vast majority of women in the music industry, objectifying them when they become popular, and generally refusing to talk about their music as music. I know at least part of this is because we’re still holding on to traditions from critics from decades earlier. But I’d like to use this public platform to promote listening to more women in the industry. There are just as many genius female artists as there are male, and that matters. We ought to try to care about them more, and to care about their music, because we don’t. We can make it normal to listen to as many women as we do men, but it’s gonna take a lot of effort. We’re really far from that goal right now.
It’s weird, because I’d say Sputnik is probably one of the more accepting sites when it comes to female artists. In terms of equality, I personally see it as a double-edged sword in terms of quality and product. It’s a good thing to see more and more events fighting for it, although it’s always best to remember to make sure to get the best of the best on your stage based on their merit.
Although low key the site has quite a few total fucking perverts on some threads about female artists. Like “we get it, you really, really like women.”
Definitely agree. I’ve seen some disgusting comments that would make me feel unsafe as a woman, or at the very least completely disrespected. I agree that we have to make sure to focus on their merit as artists and the music. I just think we ignore most music written by women because of the systems we have set up that make their music seem less “objectively” deep by default of them being women.
Yeah, I’m surprised by how we do seem willing to accept at least some female artists with less sexist commentary than others. Unfortunately, it seems to happen primarily to artists that don’t really talk about sex appeal. Consider what percent of the discussion of the discussion of St. Vincent’s latest album talked about the music and what percent talked about the cover. As soon as female artists start discussing sex we think they’re not an artist anymore.
Of course; personally, I found her aping Prince a bit more off-putting than the cover (which I’m gonna be honest, Masseduction’s cover is atrocious, ass or not. That color scheme just doesn’t cut it.)
I’ve seen with the discussion of sex in music to be one way or the other. It can be applied just fine, although sometimes it’s far too on the nose. However, the point you raise is fine. An example for you, and someone I mentioned just now: how come it’s fine to talk about Prince as usual despite the fact he really liked sex, but when St. Vincent makes an album about it, it’s somehow weird?
Sure, and that’s your prerogative. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with discussing sex in music, whether a cover is appropriate to the music, and what not. I just think, like you’re saying, that we have a double standard for women and men when it comes to sex. We discuss them in entirely different terms. How many people talk about Prince album covers featuring him in scandalous positions in the same ways they talked about Masseduction? I wasn’t alive for them, so maybe that was bad too, but somehow I doubt it, considering how we still talk about albums from the same era by women in objectifying terms. There are many women that have talked about this in much more clear and personal language than I am right now. If readers are interested I would recommend looking into their arguments instead of mine, they know what they’re talking about far more than I do.
Fair point. Now, to lighten things up a little bit. Watch this clip and try to make a haiku out of how you feel about it. And I must apologize for what you are about to witness.
Haikus are 5-7-5, right?
Fuck if I know lmao, in school I just winged it (A- average, miraculously!)
And now…a haiku for you:
My mind is fuzz now
I wish I understood why
Someone would do that
So, like from last time, I let someone ask a question. This time, from dbizzles, I have “What’s your favorite song that you’ve heard played at your local grocery store?”
I’m not the best person to ask that because I like a lot of the songs they play at grocery stores. I heard “I Love You Always Forever” by Donna Lewis the other day, which is classic “lite” radio fodder, and one of the most gorgeous songs I’ve ever heard. So, I’m gonna have to go with that.
I hope everyone has the opportunity to feel as spiritually connected to the universe and love as I do when I hear that song in a grocery store.
You have had much more enjoyable shopping experiences, it seems. It’s usually buttrock or jingles whenever I shop.
Yikes, sorry to hear that.
Last question: We’re going to bring a very known concept into play here to cap things off. What is nostalgia and its correlation to music and the art form to you? A lot of groups and artists use it as a vehicle to explore themselves and their music, often to some memorable (and not-so memorable) results. Shoutout to David Sylvian for “Nostalgia,” which is moreso against dwelling in it. But I digress, what does this concept mean to you? Is it important or is it irrelevant to what you listen to and who you are?
Oooh, I like this one. Nostalgia, to me, represents longing for the past. That can be good or bad, depending largely on context. To me, art is a reflection of life, and life is in how we perceive it, emotions. So, if you can express that in a powerful, unique way, it can be enormously powerful (Eccojams is one of my favorite music projects ever), like any other feeling. My taste is, like all taste, entirely subjective, and based primarily off my personality and what I was raised to believe in and listen to.
So, there are certainly songs and artists that I like more because I remember how it felt to listen to them, and I can feel a loose connection to those old feelings I’m longing for at that time, even artists that I wouldn’t probably be that into otherwise. I see those feelings as just as valid as any other feelings about music, though. I like hearing piano-based music because that was I was raised to believe was beautiful (thanks mom and dad for playing the walk to remember soundtrack on Saturdays, and getting me to take piano lessons), and I still feel cool listening to hip-hop because that’s what my older sister played on the speaker system when my parents weren’t home. I connect to art the way I do because of my experiences, and because of who I am, and that’s normal. In fact, I would say it’s what makes music discussion worth having.
Beautifully put. I don’t exactly how much of a factor it plays in my listening experience at this point, but I’ve recently rediscovered David Byrne’s Look Into the Eyeball, which contained the song “Like Humans Do,” which was used to demonstrate Windows’ Media Player (for Windows XP, in 2001). It was my first song that I loved and didn’t forget about. It’s something that even after a solid decade of not hearing it (so 2007/08), it still resonates with me thanks to a period of discovery of the world in general. Have in mind I was like four years old in 2001, so it has far more impact now than it did in 2001.
I remember that song!
I’m honestly sure people who used XP will always remember it.
It’s definitely stuck in my head as the song that we played on the computer when I was a kid.
As a child, fucking around on my parent’s desktop, it was a common presence in my early life. I highly suggest the album too, it’s probably Byrne’s finest. And it’s a good time to do so as well, considering his latest is coming out this Friday.
I haven’t heard it, I’ll have to. And I’m planning on giving it a try. You can’t say your album has contributions from Oneohtrix Point Never, Jam City and Blood Orange and not excite me.
Right? It’s a wonderful record and it’s also quite the hotbed for discussion, I ensure you (the new one, that is). However, I should probably let you go so you’re able to get on with what you need to do. Thank you so much for your time!
For sure. Thank you so much for yours, you’re a wonderful interviewer! Have a great night.