“Musical criticism is a fictional occupation.” I remember the first time I heard this line from ‘The Basement’ off Kool A.D.’s most recent album, Sky Ladder. It stood out to me because despite spending a lot of my time reviewing albums and live shows it’s still an exercise that, every now and again, perplexes me. Why do we need it? Why do critics feel that they are justified in their opinions and projections on someone else’s work?
I’m often asked how do I review an album. Naturally, everyone has a different method when starting a new project and that is the same with writing a review. Personally, I will immerse myself in the album and artist’s past discography, building a bubble around their music that I can’t burst until the piece is done. Pending on whether the album is – objectively – good or bad this can be either tiresome and frustrating or entirely pleasurable.
A lot of what is made creatively – art, literature, music – is inspired by a story and the artist attempts to retell their understanding of the narrative through a special medium. Music is especially powerful for capturing a moment, global and personal. It is the viewpoint of one person or a collective working together. Music criticism can be like a conversation that begins with the album and ends with the review and that’s it, a debate with one opportunity to present your stance. This is where the challenge lies, you have to present your opinions cohesively and with consideration to the artist and the audience.
The timing of when you are working on a review can be crucial, too. I have noticed that when certain life events coincide with an album that is filled with relevant lyrical themes to what you’re going through, you develop a special relationship to the songs. The sentiment of lyrics or tempo of the music will resonate more when it directly relates to what you are experiencing. This is when I become simultaneously passionate and intimidated by the prospect of being a voice to share the story of that album in an equally compelling tone. There is an immense responsibility in constructing a deconstruction of someone else’s work especially when you can appreciate how difficult it is to put your thoughts and vulnerabilities into something that will be put out into the world to be dissected and criticised.
I wouldn’t entirely agree that music criticism is a fictional occupation. It may be that it isn’t essential but it is beneficial. It can inform the reader on the story of the album; its inception, how it was made, how it sounds, where it comes in the artist’s life and career. A review gives context. It should tell you how the music represents the climate it was informed by and what it wants to say to its audience. For this, it’s important to try and remove any preconceived bias and opinions from subconsciously tarnishing your neutrality in the narrative. Of course opinions are essential. If you don’t like something you have to say it, but your reasoning needs to be explained. Much like anything in life, you can’t be flippant or fickle because your aim in writing a review is to be honest. You’re trying to tell a story that has been shared by the musician. Whether that story is good or bad is another issue.
Toro Y Moi – ‘Omaha’ (Carpark)
Chaz Bundick partook in the Our First 100 Days subscription services which releases a song a day during the initial 100 days of Trump’s presidency. Bundick’s contribution came through his Toro Y Moi guise with his song, ‘Omaha’. The video features Chaz sitting tentatively in a car, clothed in a bath and then setting off a chain movement and catastrophe that Kevin McAllister would have been proud of. Do we think that this not so subtle Home Alone reference at the end of the ‘Omaha’ video is accidental? Lest we forget Trump’s brief cameo in the lobby of the hotel that the scheming pre-teen spends his second family free Christmas.
Feist – ‘Pleasure’ (Polydor)
It has been a long time coming. The wait is almost over. Due to be released at the end of the month, Pleasure will be Feist’s fifth studio album, her first in six years and she unveiled the video for the title track last week. As always, her vocals are strong and the musicality of the single demonstrates a darker side to her compositions. Warped views of the singer in the video elude to the fact that this is not a transparent insight into what’s to come.
Homeshake – ‘Khmlwugh’ (Sinderlyn)
In case you were wondering, ‘Khmlugh’ is short-hand for kissing, hugging, making love, waking up, getting high. You know, the usual weekend rituals when you make lazed-electronic music that soundtracks those activities perfectly. This song was inspired by the feelings of sadness we are all partial to spurred by the negativity of the world but how those emotions can be eased by the love and support of a partner. Homeshake, the solo project of Montreal based singer-songwriter, Peter Sagar is becoming an increasingly prominent artist with his ambient arrangements which can be enjoyed on his third studio album, Fresh Air.
Kamasi Washington – ‘Truth’
Kendrick Lamar’s steadfast collaborator, Kamasi Washington shared new music this week much to the excitement of critics and fans in the form of a fourteen minute long video for ‘Truth’. The song is relaxing, quintessential music to unwind to. The unveiling of new material naturally made everyone curious as to when we can expect a new record, it has been two years since The Epic and although we have heard his wonderful saxophone skills on his recent features on both Run The Jewels and Lamar’s most recent records, we want more of Washington. With ‘Truth’ we were treated to the news that Washington is working away on his forthcoming album entitled Harmony of Difference which will be available this summer.
Le Galaxie – ‘Pleasure’ (Reckless Records)
Dublin electro giants Le Galaxie have been making quite the impact with their latest release ‘Pleasure’, the first glimpse into their forthcoming album due to be released later this year. The video begins inconspicuously with two sleeping people that arise with the music pumping through their veins until a load of colourful paint covers their bodies. It’s unexpected, but it’s understandable as ‘Pleasure’ is such a catchy song that you would hope that listening to it repeatedly would have similar effects, as long as the paint is water based.