Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Please excuse this gross lack of updates; Emma and I are in the process of buying a house, and the peripherals of life have taken a necessary backseat.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Don't Give It A Name

Monday, June 04, 2007

A confession - I only listened to Spiderland for the first time after having completed the postrock top ten. So shoot me. (I’m sure some of the commentators at Stylus would love to do so given their seeming hatred and contempt for me, but there you go.)

Should I have listened to it before? Probably, but I didn’t own it till after I’d filed the piece with Todd. And anyway, when I say listened to, I mean in a recent context; I first heard it years and years ago, around the time I first heard Mogwai and Sonic Youth, when my friend Joe played it to me. And I thought all of it was backwards because I was getting my mind blown by Orbital at the time.

It was ex-Arsenal striker Ian Wright who convinced me to buy Spiderland finally actually; after reading his reaction to “Good Morning Captain” in Observer Music Monthly I found a shrinkwrapped copy on eBay and arranged for it to wing its way to me.

And the result? My reaction? It wouldn’t have made the top ten piece, MY top ten piece, as in my favourite ten postrock albums where ‘postrock’ means ‘what comes after rock’, rather than ‘Post-Rock (or, Doomed Instrumental Alternative Rock)’. Hence, people, no matter how willfully you misread the deliberately obfuscatory and pretentious introduction (Post-Rock being deliberately obfuscatory and pretentious, geddit? - yes I know it’s lame), the list cannot be ‘wrong’; it’s subjective. (Objectivity not existing, clearly, and if you doubt that you’re almost certainly an idiot one way or another. Hell, even science has pretty much given up trying to be objective, hasn’t it? Post-chaos-theory it’s basically held its hands up and said ‘wtf, don’t ask’ as I understand it.)

So, Slint… It’s a good record, but not in the slightest what I would consider ‘postrock’ according to my definition. It’s just… it’s like a slightly modern take on “Murder Mystery” from The Velvet Underground only with less groove and more oedipal screaming. I enjoyed it, and may go back to it, but it’s not a manifesto for where rock goes next, cos rock already went there. The Doors went there practically, for goodness sake. How it’s more ‘postrock’ than Daydream Nation for instance is utterly mystifying. Unless it ALL boils down to whether you sing or not...

(The Velvet Underground is BY FAR my favourite Velvets record, btw.)

The postrock top ten is problematic, obviously. I knew it would be, the little cynic voice saying ‘postrock kids are utter, utter moody, tribal one-upmanship fuckers, dont do it Nick’, but I had to have this bonkers utopic view that they’d read this piece and go ‘oooh, Beta Band, oooh, Mouse On Mars’, and all turn around and make joyous technopop records that sound like “The Rhinohead” but less drunk. Fat chance. Instead I get a barrage (less bloody than expected, admittedly) of accusations founded on misreadings; discussion in the comments about whether or not Mogwai are Scottish when it states in the body text that they are, for instance. People saying ‘it’s not the ten best of the genre’; well duh, the article is trying to destroy what you understand as ‘the genre’. Other people saying ‘I was expecting ten under-exposed classics and I’ve heard of all of these records’; well duh again, read the intro, and if you can’t manage that opening paragraph get a dictionary. Do Make Say Think are good, yeah, but if they’re anything more than an instrumental rock band I’m the pope. Mogwai are not a sacred cow; they’re a Scottish rock band.

But I knew this would happen. This always happens. People are deaf and blind to their favourites and to the orthodoxy of received wisdom. Not that I’m some kind of soothsayer or anything, obviously. Although… First this in The Times is flagged to me and then this story on BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat is also mentioned, and both on the same day. I gather there’s a piece in this month's Uncut, which they must spin-off from, I suppose. To be sure, The Times piece is written for people who don’t care about understanding the details and contexts, and it mines the ‘record companies evil manipulators of poor innocent musicians’ angle which is complete and utter horseshit, but those are my examples, that line about The Beatles wanting thicker vinyl for deeper bass is lifted straight out of Imperfect Sound Forever. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery again, Mr Adam Sherwin, media correspondent for The Times.

But really it’s just enough that people are talking about it...The upwards guitar spirals in the second half of “White Peak / Dark Peak”, when the drums drop out… wow. I don’t mind.

I should maybe explain a bit more about big stereos and audiophilia and my distaste for playing music through a computer… It’s not clarity for the sake of clarity that I’m after, not snobbishness about better equipment. It’s just that… from when I was a kid, when I first got into music, I always, always wanted to wade in it, wallow in it, drown in it, have it pumping loud and clear and overwhelmingly from a pair of great big speakers, have it get my heart pumping and my palms sweaty. It’s a big fat cliche to say you want to get ‘lost in music’, but it’s a cliche because it’s true. And I know for a lot of people music’s just… ambience, or noise, or accompaniment, but I think for a lot of people life itself is just an accompaniment. I want something more. And if I’m gonna climb inside a record, and get lost, get overwhelmed, then it helps for the music to be big and loud and precise and clear and realistic and dynamic and involving and detailed. And the best way I’ve found of doing that is a juicy amplifier running 70 watts per channel into a pair of speakers blu-tacked onto sturdy stands. I’m not listening to Diana Krall, people.


Monday, June 04, 2007


nick i have yet to hear "boxer". "not criminally" sounds ok. does it have that nasty ring that nearly all modern rock cds have. 'cos i've been opening lots of songs in audacity recently and wow you have almost been down-playing how bad this problem is.
Haha, only just seen this! I've not listened to this record in a couple of weeks and I've only got a weirdly-savaged promo anyway, so I'm not fully up on 'nasty ringing'.
As for the Audacity thing, yes, I am kind of downplaying it simply because it's SO ubiquitous that if one tried to meet it fully you'd go totally spare and hang yourself in the face of an impossible task. A lot of the time, because there's so much of it, you end up over-praising stuff that's just NOT AS BAD AS KEANE (and that last Keane album fucking hell, what a hideous, hideous mess) because it's a relief, rather than because it's done really, really well.
Like, I listened to New Adventures In Hi-Fi by REM yesterday afternoon and that's flat, very flat compared to something like the Guillemots or Electrelane or 65dos, but next to Keane or U2 it's amazing. You know, Dark Side Of The Moon's pretty fucking flat and boring and even (from memory, not listened in years), it's just not corrupted sonically in terms of the sounds being destroyed. I seem to remember a Mark S thread about DSOTM being sonically boring, actually.
And I very, very rarely go off looking at waveforms (partly cos aside from Garageband, which I don't know how to use, I've got nothing that'd do it for me), just trusting my ears, really.
-- Scik Mouthy, Monday, 4 June 2007 08:58 (28 minutes ago) Bookmark Link
ha i was thinking of starting a thread about it after i spent about half an hour shocking myself with waveforms, the difference between a pavement track form 1992 and a hold steady one from last year was amazing. pavement had all sort of wobbles even though the song itself was kinda droney whilst the hold steady song which seems quite dynamic was basically just an oblong shape.
-- acrobat, Monday, 4 June 2007 09:04 (21 minutes ago) Bookmark Link
Compression can be used to make things SEEM dynamic, but the key is SEEMING; on a different, better stereo it may corrupt horribly, for instance. The main thing that's lost is space, to my mind, and a lot of people don't know how to 'hear' space in a modern context. With The Hold Steady that's not so bad, because the aesthetic is dodgy bar band in a cramped venue playing live and loud, but if the Rufus Wainwright album did that it'd be horrendous, because the aesthetic is huge orchestral swells.
Stuff without space gets close to headache territory for me often these days because even with an illusion of dyanmic there is no actual respite. But basically as long as there's some space, some dynamic, and instruments aren't totally squished and corrupted, I can deal with it to an extent (New Adventures, for example). I'd much prefer it not to be there, though.
-- Scik Mouthy, Monday, 4 June 2007 09:14 (12 minutes ago) Bookmark Link
Also I think a lot of people genuinely misunderstand 'dynamic' and think it does just mean 'full'; not the same.
-- Scik Mouthy, Monday, 4 June 2007 09:20 (6 minutes ago) Bookmark Link


Monday, June 04, 2007

Dangerous, Unsafe Building

yes but nick music is almost always produced and consumed within a set of conventions. when i heard 65dos i immediately made the call that it was "herky jerky post rock type stuff with not very sophisticated electronic bits" which isn't a genre per-se but enough to suggest it wasn't really going to be up my street.
i guess it depends what you want. but i imagine a new hi-hat sound in certain dance records is as exciting for some as this maximal mixing is for you.
-- acrobat, Monday, 4 June 2007 08:38 (44 minutes ago) Bookmark Link

No no no minimal mixing! Mix quietly, with lots of space! (I know that's not quite what you mean...)
It is indeed true that music is generally made within a set of conventions, and this is fine and good and a lot of music I enjoy sits squarely in one convention or another; however, I really, REALLY like music that integrates different conventions, and I think a lot of people do; Mark Hollis, of all people, once said that the only way to really innovate is to combine things that don't seem to fit together and haven't been combined before. It's why I prefer Remain In Light to '77 (also that elephant again, songwriting).
-- Scik Mouthy, Monday, 4 June 2007 08:43 (39 minutes ago) Bookmark Link

oh and there was perhaps an under current in your soulseeking essays from a long while back that opening oneself up to too much music was in the end limiting. you didn't argue it yrself but one could argue that genre mining could be a fruitful way to avoid this kind of dilettante’s overload.
-- acrobat, Monday, 4 June 2007 08:45 (37 minutes ago) Bookmark Link
Aye, and arguably what Louis and I are (kind of) doing is genre-mining - wanting a music that contains elements from different genres doesn't mean dipping into al those genres, necessarily.
-- Scik Mouthy, Monday, 4 June 2007 08:50 (33 minutes ago) Bookmark Link
i find that idea attracive in some respects. i was wondering recently what Revolver would sound like if someone tried that today. The Beatles "genius" was pastiche and plagirism and on Revolver they are sort of ram-raiding every stlye available in 1966. i don't get this feeling at all from much fo the stuff you and Louis seem to be sugggest is doing something vaguely similar but maybe that's as you suggest to do with songwriting.
-- acrobat, Monday, 4 June 2007 09:00 (22 minutes ago) Bookmark Link
The thing with Revolver is that it's doing it in a very much 'pop' methodology, and very little 'pop' recently has done similar. Certainly there are people, Timbaland being an immediate example, who are doing something similar, but if it's in a 'pop' context it's probbaly flawed in one or other directions that would rule it out for the likes of Louis or I; mixing in commercial, flat, radio-hungry manner, over-emphasis on lyrics / singing / vocal performativity, etcetera, songwriting again, the lack of a 'band' where a band is a group of musicians interracting on several levels. The dynamic of group interplay is something I like a lot, for instance, and you don't get that in figurehead-led R'n'B, for instance, or in, let's say The View, either, because they're not 'playing' in the same way as The Beatles - they're not gonna suddenly start looping and editing and using other instruments and so on in a contemporaneously progressive way that's comparable to what The Beatles did. They may, and in fact almost certainly are, using studio technology in a far more advanced way than The Beatles, because more advanced technology exists, but it'll be for different ends; autotune to smooth out vocal errors, looped guitar lines cos the guitarist can't play more than 8 bars at a time, overdubs or playing to a click because the drummer can't keep time, etcetera - the studio as orthodoxy tool rather than innovation tool.
-- Scik Mouthy, Monday, 4 June 2007 09:09 (13 minutes ago) Bookmark Link
And by pop I also mean rock - Oasis, for example.
-- Scik Mouthy, Monday, 4 June 2007 09:15 (7 minutes ago) Bookmark Link
i think damon allbran would like to do this genre tourist stuff, parklife era blur and gorrilaz both seem like attempts to do just this. that he can't quite get everything in focus in the same way The Beatles did is, for me, the problem.
-- acrobat, Monday, 4 June 2007 09:16 (7 minutes ago) Bookmark Link
I'd agree with that. I think Damon's got close on occasions, I think TGTB&TQ gets close, but then it's fucking atrociously mixed and mastered, so there you go.
Paul would you mind if I hiked a load of this stuff between us onto my blog, perhaps?
-- Scik Mouthy, Monday, 4 June 2007 09:18 (4 minutes ago) Bookmark Link
course not.
-- acrobat, Monday, 4 June 2007 09:20 (3 minutes ago) Bookmark Link


Monday, June 04, 2007

Get A Better Stereo

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A guy I know called Steve works at, who, if you know anything about the internet, you will be aware have just been bought by CBS for a cool £140m. A lot of people seem to find this very exciting; not sure why, monopoly-building in the music industry has almost always been bad news as far as I am aware. But there you go. When the ‘good guys’ are being bought out it’s OK, cos they deserve the money, or something.

But beyond this vague concern about the insidious “big fish eat the little fish” onwards march of capitalism, and with no disrespect to Steve, who is a fine man, pisses me off. Or, rather, one of the things that I feel it stands for pisses me off.

Not the social-network side of it, although I’ve long since abandoned Myspace and Facebook, because (almost) anything that encourages human communication is pretty good at least on a theoretical level, even if that communication quickly devolves into self-aggrandisement.

I’m not even that pissed off by the fact that one of’s primary (unspoken) purposes is the destruction of the critic and therefore music writing and therefore any kind of informed and impassioned discussion (and therefore communication) (the easier it is to communicate the less effort and thought people put into communication, perhaps [see above]).

Actually I am, because I think this is dangerous as all hell; much as most critics are seemingly happy just to tell you what to buy in exchange for a +1 and a promo and fifty quid, there are a number out there who are performing important duties regarding the relaying of information (finding new bands) and the recording of the history of music (letting you know about old bands), piecing together strands and constructing narratives where possible (and often where inappropriate, obviously, given that the history of music, like the history of anything, is not an easy-flowing linear story) so that we understand what music is and what it means and what it has done a little better.

There’s also another critical function, that I like to think I’m involved in (and I hope I’m not alone), which is telling people what they’re doing wrong (even if only in my opinion) so that in the future they can not do it wrong and as a result make better records. The 65daysofstatic affair is, I hope, proof that critics can and do exist, sometimes, outside of the realm of merely being catalogue guides and gatekeepers; isn’t going to write in-depth articles about dynamic range compression any time soon, I suspect.

By allowing people to bypass criticism in terms of finding new music (not necessarily a bad thing), also allows them to bypass criticism in terms of engaging with and understanding any music (pretty necessarily a bad thing). Is the positivity of the objective worth the negative side-effect? I’m not sure.

But anyway, damaging criticism is a minor concern. My main beef with is that it’s damaging music itself. How? By making people listen via a computer.

Obviously there are methods that can make using a computer as your primary music-player a decent prospect: digital music servers can be integrated into hi-fi systems; hi-end soundcards with analogue-outs can be run straight into dedicated amplifiers, etcetera. I run a 3.5-stereo-plug-to-analogue-red&whites cable from my iMac to a Denon microsystem next to the computer for the rare occasions when I do want (or need) to listen to something in that room which I only have as digital files; a satisfactory solution, but not ideal when I have a profoundly good headphone set-up within arms reach and a proper hi-fi in the next room.

But most people who use aren’t doing that or anything remotely close. If you’re lucky, some people might be running a decent modest set of headphones like Sennheiser PX100s straight from the headphone socket; far more will be using 2.1 satellite+sub set-ups (which I also have on the iMac, for watching downloaded TV programs - yes I know TV freaks will see this as heresy on several levels) which are capable of LOUD but very much not capable of detailed or accurate or nuanced or realistic. Possibly as many, maybe more, maybe less, will just be running off bundled or inbuilt speakers though; the tiny, tinny downward-firing grill on the bottom of an iMac or the insane blips and beeps that a PC tower emits. Hell, I regularly see people playing music straight off their mobile phone speaker; I can barely tolerate using the damn things for talking, such is the poor quality, let alone as a loudspeaker for music.

It’s a basic tenet of communication theory that noise affects interpretation of signals; insufficient equipment to relay a signal is a prime cause of noise (but not the only one, obviously). My girlfriend and I noticeably argue a hell of a lot more over the phone than we do face-to-face, because a huge amount of the signal gets lost. I don’t just mean facial expression either; technologically shoddy transceivers garble enunciation, inflection, timbre and tone of voice in a phonecall, and can lead to misunderstandings. Sometimes the message is simple enough and couched in enough clear and translatable signifiers that it can still be understood, but sometimes it isn’t.

With music, where for some listeners, some artists, some entire genres, the nuances of inflection, timbre, tone etcetera are utterly key to understanding and enjoyment, inadequate playback equipment can and does cause just as many problems, even if those problems are just ‘lack of enjoyment’ rather than relationship-threatening miscommunications.

And so back we go to 65daysofstatic, and also Guillemots, both of whom have made defiantly “quiet” records in absolutist, reductionist terms, that mean nothing and do nothing and sound awful when played through the kind of speakers most people run off a computer, but that become radical, enveloping, overwhelming and deeply moving experiences when played on the kind of equipment that’s designed exclusively for listening to music, rather than for running spreadsheets, word processing, accessing the internet, playing games, organising files and any of the other countless tasks that computers are used for. (And yes, I know that a CD player is just a modest computer; but an amplifier isn’t.)

By making it easier to listen to music, you make people put less effort into listening to music. Labour-saving devices are not emancipatory, utopic machines; they’re obfuscations to utopia, laziness traps, sedentary facilitators. Washing machines don’t make you free; they just give you more time to coagulate in front of the television.

I’d probably find’s holistic spiderweb of links between music fans useful, but I can’t use because I don’t listen through a computer; my CD collection, my hi-fi, my headphones cannot be scrobbled. I am more than prepared to live without’s utility if it means I enjoy the music I do listen to so much more.

In other news, I have “Martha My Dear” from The White Album stuck in my head; not sure why, given that it’s Sgt. Pepper that’s veering close to ubiquity at the moment, given its fortieth anniversary.

Also, please note that this blog looks SO MUCH BETTER on a Mac than on a PC. Forget those fucking hideous Mitchell & Webb adverts, which make me want to chuck my MacBook out of the window and take a mallet to my iMac; Macs just render graphics so much better. On a PC my pictures look pixelised and blocky, and the text font is blurred and indistinct. Not so on a Mac.

As an additional aside, Uncut magazine apparently ran an article on dynamic range compression this month. I’ve not seen it yet, but will possibly stand in a newsagent for a few minutes one day this week to have a gander. Anyway, learning this I headed to the magazine’s website to have a look, and GOOD GRIEF at their editorial blogs. If that unevolved claptrap is professional music writing, stick with the kids who do it for free.


Sunday, June 03, 2007


Friday, June 01, 2007

The most sincere form of flattery, I guess, if a very legally dubious one, as well as being pathetic.

David Renshaw, published 25th of May.

Me, published 16th of May.

Just reference me or something! That would be cool! This is theft, pure and simple. Angry email sent to editor. AT 7AM GOOD GRIEF.

EDIT: A contrite email has been received from the editor at Gigwise, assuring me that the offending piece will be taken down. Suffice to say that the paragraph he stole was my penultimate; a rather imagist and lucid piece of prose, if I say so myself, which stuck out like a sore thumb from the rest of the piece.

I actually find this rather funny.

ANOTHER EDIT: The gigwise editor has also emailed me to compliment my Kaiser Chiefs review (linked on the right). What a strange morning.

AND ANOTHER EDIT: The piece is down and I've had a tail-between-legs apology from the culprit, who's probably a nice guy. This while thing is faintly surreal.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Recent Articles / Reviews



Nothing Here Is True
Unless You Want It To Be

Nick Southall was born in southwest England at the tail end of the 70s, and is the youngest of three brothers. He has a degree in popular culture and philosophy and has written about music for Stylus Magazine, The Guardian and Drowned In Sound, amongst others. He likes red wine, expensive headphones, spicy food, and the Hungarian national football team of the 1950s. His favourite record is the last one he listened to. You can contact him by email via sickmouthy @ gmail dot com should you so wish.

All material copyright Nick Southall 2006/2007/2008

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