Wednesday 10 June 2020

cool music and... why I won't 'review' your track

I’ve been feeling a little inspired by the post I wrote recently about the origins and history of the blog for it’s anniversary. I’ve felt for a while as if I wanted to explore some wider topics in longer, rambling posts (apologies in advance for that) to create some more range in the things I write about. Sort of essay-esque, exploratory pieces on whatever topics spring to mind. Perhaps these are the ‘things’ that the blog’s name so mysteriously nods towards? Here goes for a mildly coherent ramble, anyway. 

I’ve never really explicitly talked about this here because it’s never felt like it particularly needed saying (and still doesn’t, I just had time on my hands and started writing) but as a rule, I try to avoid describing my posts as reviews. In my head, at least. Something about the term has always made me feel a little uneasy. I think that initially, as I didn’t have any musical qualifications or talents to speak of (though I have been trying to learn some ukulele and guitar in lockdown so… watch this space) I thought that I couldn’t refer to what I was writing as a review. In a sense, what right did I have to be reviewing something? Nobody had hired me to do that, I’d just set myself up a website and started to write. Who actually cared? Now though, it feels more that I simply don’t want to 'review'. Referring to a post as a recommendation or write-up sits better with me, personally. It feels positive, and for a blog which was born out of wanting to share the love I had for my favourite artists, that seems a perfect fit. 

While arranging a session video for the Youtube channel I set up recently, I was discussing the blog with Irwin Sparkes of White Tail Falls, whose record was released recently and is an instant album of the year for me - ‘write-up’ to follow, fingers crossed, and there's an interview a couple of posts ago here. Being a generally lovely human being who has always been supportive of the blog, he said some kind things about the site, and that what he loved about it was how positive it was, how I was “spreading the word on stuff that brings you joy.” It’s something that I’ve been aiming towards for the site from the start, and it means the world to have somebody else identify it. Irwin encouraged me to post some of the thoughts that I’d shared with him (so you’ve got him to thank for this ramble, though it was a lot shorter at the time) which basically concluded with the idea that the blog is a kind of online diary of the music that I love, which I let people read. 

I’m the blog’s biggest fan. I’ve been doing this for five years and I’ve surprised myself to have stuck at anything for that long. In ‘normal’ life I work full time and use the majority of my spare time to write posts, update my playlist, listen to submissions and tweet nonsense to my favourite bands. If I didn’t enjoy it, and didn’t love what I was writing about, it probably wouldn’t have lasted this long. 

A few years back when I was living and studying in Oxford and consuming just about as much live music as I possibly could while still getting a degree, I attended a music industry panel as part of Independent Venue Week. There was a really interesting discussion between people from various areas of the music industry. A music journalist, who has been running a local music magazine for longer than I’ve been alive (he knows his stuff) made a point which really registered and stayed with me. He suggested that it was important for a publication to share both positive and negative reviews to maintain credibility. 

As I’d not long moved the blog onto the new site to 'make a proper go of it' and was still finding my feet with it, I took what he was saying as gospel and thought about it a lot. Could people not trust my blog because I only ever wrote positive things? Did the fact that I was only ever nice invalidate the nice things that I was saying? Retrospectively, it’s a peculiar thing to worry about, especially when the blog was so tiny. Even now, my blog is fairly removed from the likes of his magazine and, well, it isn’t the NME. I doubt anybody else has ever sat looking at the site wishing I’d slate something and stop being so full of love and admiration. The ‘secret’ is that I can’t post about everything, and the things that I don’t enjoy don’t get to be featured… simple. Which isn't to say that if I don’t write about something, I dislike it. There’s only so much time and so many posts to go around. Less posts equals more love going into each post. It’s a balance I’m still figuring out. 

Over time, as I’ve developed the blog and figured out the sort of direction that I want to take it in, I’ve explored the idea more. For bigger publications, it makes sense that readers have expectations. You want to know what your favourite larger publications think about a new release. With multiple writers and constant new releases, there are bound to be quite a range of opinions shared. Art is subjective. Even so - and increasingly so - some negative reviews I’ve read lately have started to sit a little uncomfortably with me. For those writers, it is work and they have to say something, but it can sometimes become too personal. In an age of increased mental health awareness, sometimes it feels like they can go a little too far. 

The conclusion I’ve drawn over the years is that if you were to sneak a look at the never-ending list of post ideas in my spreadsheet, and the submissions I’ve tagged as ‘to write about’ in my inbox, you’d quickly realise that I haven’t physically got the time to write about everything I love. It’s partly why I don’t write so many album write-up posts, because they need far more time and attention to do them justice. One of the best things about the blog being entirely written by one person is that everything you read here is a snapshot into my mind, or a page of the diary. There doesn’t seem much point in me wasting my own time, and yours, by telling you about things that I don’t like. Instead, I’ll continue pouring all the love I can muster into the things that I do enjoy. 

With retail stores looking set to reopen in a few days in England, it looks as if all the extra time I’ve had for the blog will soon reduce dramatically. I won’t get too much into the huge reservations I have about returning to work at the moment, but will say that the prospect of blogging less does make me sad. While at the start of lockdown I was struggling to find any time (despite having an abundance of it) to write posts, when I threw myself into creating some kind of celebration of the blog’s birthday, it sparked something. I’ve never had so much time for the blog and it’s been a genuinely lovely thing to see the blog grow more in the last month than it has in years. In a time where connection is so precious, the blog and the people who support it have come to mean even more than before. 

In short: I love this blog, and this blog is fuelled by love. But I probably won't 'review' your track. I may say some lovely things about it, though. 

(Ramble complete.)

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