"It's ugly Doc. The album review didn't stand a chance. Looks like another case of adjective asphyxiation. They say it was the word 'ethereal' that did the damage in the end."
My critical writing is still flawed. I'm an extremely slow learner and always looking for ways to improve. For example, I've become aware of just how little I know about, or can expound on, the technical side of music. It is a mystery to me. I can't read notation, identify chords or notes, and have a limited understanding of the component parts of songs, stuff like bridges, middle eights, harmonics, melodies and counter melodies. When a musician listens to a song, what they hear is surely very different to what I hear. I can't make out the joins. I was always aware of this, but it became excruciatingly apparent to me a few years ago when I read Ian McDonald's Revolution in the Head, which is a song-by-song exegesis of the Beatles' entire catalogue and the single best book on music I've read (I know this observation looks funny in light of my first paragraph but, honest, it really is the best). McDonald had a background in music theory and this shows in a remarkably rounded critical style that considers the songs in terms of their cultural and historical context but also dissects their musical anatomies.
album X sounds like a Jackon Pollock painting looks
I sometimes feel sad that I'll never be able to write about music in that way. I've tried to brush up on music theory from time-to-time by reading stuff like Daniel Levitin's excellent This is your Brain on Music, but there is only so far my tuneless brain can be pushed in that direction. Here's a tragic fact: when I was in primary school (sixth class I think), I was such a bad singer that not only was I relegated to the chorus of the choir, but was ultimately told to mime along to the chorus instead of singing, because my discordant crow voice messed everything up.
So what can I write about? Not much really. I don't even consider myself a critic when it boils down to things, and sometimes feel uncomfortable when writing about music outside of this little space (for example for magazines). What I can offer are my personal responses to music, which continue to be intensely felt. I can discuss what it means to me and especially how it ties in with my memory. I guess I can look at it in terms of its cultural context, and I think I have a good idea of what is striking or important. I'd like to think I have a bit of a 'feel' for psychedelic and dance music (albeit a grasping and crude feel), though I'd make no great claims there either.
Hmm, so that's it I guess; my poorly equipped critical toolbox. I'm not sure what brought on this post. I put a potato on to bake about an hour ago and sat down to write about a sublime techno album called Voices from the Lake yet ended up writing this. In spite of how it reads, it's not an avalanche of self-doubt or anything like that. I'm not going to stop blogging about music, it occupies too prominent position in the life of my mind. But as to whether I properly understand it? That's a different story.
MP3: Built to Spill-Carry the Zero