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


Blogger Ian - 5:38 am

I resolutely refuse to believe that our commenters, even the worst of them, are really that bitter and hateful. Because, to be honest, the thought of people having lives like that in this day and age makes me want to weep.

Blogger Ian - 5:39 am

I mean, part of me wants them to just accept them at face value, don't get me wrong. But it's too depressing!

Blogger Jack and Daphne - 2:27 pm

wow, that line from the times IS lifted straight from your piece. word for word.


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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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