Notes from the underground
I would like to apologise to Alan Licht for misunderstanding his sleevenotes to Harry Pussy’s ‘Let’s Build A Pussy,’ and to thank him for pointing out my error (Letters, The Wire 344). If I’d had the actual sleevenotes to hand, I wouldn’t have made the mistake, but I didn’t I had a file full of MP3s and that’s all. All information about the record beyond what I knew already – including the content of Licht’s sleevenotes – I had to find online and fill in the gaps with guesswork. Licht’s line about the record being Harry Pussy’s “last gasp” is quoted all over the internet; the qualifier that follows, that Licht chides me for ignoring, isn’t.
These days most labels, including Editions Mego, refuse to part with actual copies of the records they would like reviewed. The majority of reviews in Soundcheck are not record reviews, they’re reviews of what writers think records might be like given a certain amount of inconclusive evidence: most usually MP3s and an illiterate press release.
I can see where Mego are coming from. It’s expensive to send out finished copies of releases to all the places where they might be reviewed, and I’m sure that Mego doesn’t need reviews to sell music anyway. Their releases will continue to sell because of the label’s well-deserved reputation for curatorial excellence. However, supplying writers with only half the product inevitably leads to mistakes and misunderstanding. More damagingly, it makes the product look half-baked. It’s hard to be bowled over by a zip file and shitty gloss: even great music, poorly presented, can seem mediocre. Don’t labels have a duty to present their artists in the best light possible? Isn’t that what they’re for? But all too often, artists are nobbled by the people who are supposed to be promoting them, before they’re even out the stable door.
Nick Richardson via email
The above missive is a letter that was published in this month’s issue of THE WIRE by one of their writers after a letter was published 2 months previous from Alan Licht himself, complaining that Nick had completely misread and misunderstood his liner notes for the album.
After reading this, I immediately felt a strong tinge of recognition for Nick’s plight as a reviewer. This week alone, I received a message from a new reviewer to the Grapevine asking if there were any liner notes accompanying a download link for an album I wanted him to review. My reply to him was a rather polite version of “HAHAHAHAHA! you should be so lucky.”
On top of that, just a couple of days ago I had a small e-mail discussion with our Editor overlord-in-chief about another album that I was reviewing, where we were unsure about who was involved in the production duties. In this case, one person who is apparently involved with the production has been a major influence on changing the band’s sound and direction. It would be good to have it confirmed by the band/label the true level of involvement he had.
This is something that’s been brewing for a while now. We do still get CDs and on the odd occasion, a CD with a press release. But now, more and more of what we get from bands is a mere link to download the album in MP3 format. No other info is given to the reviewer apart from what I can parse from the internet for them. and what’s even more depressing is that we’re actually lucky to get this. Some reviewers and blog writers don’t even get that!
It can all get to the point where you get e-mails from bands complaining of mistakes in your review, such as misquoting their lyrics, when all you received from said band was just a download link to their album on bandcamp (This has actually happened).
People might think, “So what? isn’t it all about the music?” Well it is, but often there is more than one person involved with the making of an album, and these people can be a major influence on the end result, good or bad. And there are times when the lack of proper info about who was involved can lead to fairly big assumptions/mistakes. Remember Björk’s complaint to the Grapevine over people wrongly stating that Valgeir Sigurðsson was the producer for her album “Vespertine“?
Now the editor has suggested that I should get in touch with the band/producer in question and get some form of confirmation, But why should I? it does seem like an awful lot of hassle for what is a 2-300 word review. Even though i am the music manager for the Grapevine, I’m not their books. It is all freelance. Same with the reviewers, who get paid a mere pittance to spend their time listening and parsing the level of artistic merit they believe an album has. If I’m being cruel, then it shows me that a band may be a bit blasé about giving their album release their full attention and effort, or that you’re not really giving a shit about us trying to do our work. Either way, it can get a tad frustrating after a while.
Thankfully it hasn’t deteriorated to the point where everyone does this. There are some bands/labels who provide all the info you need for an album review. They also put this info with their Bandcamp/Gogoyoko pages. But if you are an upcoming band or label, and you send us a download link for the album, can you PLEASE at least send a simple doc file containing who was involved with the creation of the album. This would actually go a long way to showing that you care that we have a proper listening experience and get the facts right.
Don’t both sending the lyrics though. As Sindri Eldon once noted, most of the lyrics written in Iceland these days just totally suck.