GETTING INTO DIFFICULTY
A brief survey of album review sites
Man, did I feel like a twit. I mean, I feel like a twit nearly every minute of every day, but in this case I clearly remember what sent my self-respect plummeting.
I was at the group interview prior to being accepted into Print Futures. Pat Witwicki was there, FX Sabanes was there. We were being poked and prodded (in a purely figurative sense, you understand) by Lorna McCallum and Diana Wegner. A question went around the table: "What kinds of things do you like to read?"
If I'd have known then what I know now, I'd have said, "Well, I enjoy reading an eclectic mixture of genres: annual reports, user manuals, brochures, press releases and media advisories, and, when I can't get my hands on those, I like to unwind with some Foucault, Derrida, and back issues of Harper's."
But instead, I thought for a second and said, "Well, I really like reading record reviews."
I felt a bit of a wally, but it was the truth. I do like reading record reviews. Plop a book full of reviews on my lap and I’ll happily while away the hours. I’ll probably even forget to eat. A good review (or reviewer) can make me think about a familiar piece of music in a whole new way, or introduce me to an artist or genre that I’d always been curious about but never had the courage (or finances) to check out myself.
While I’ll always prefer the feel and portability of an actual book—I’m thinking of my two Bibles, The Trouser Press Guide to ‘90s Rock, and The Collector’s Guide to Heavy Metal—there are a number of websites that have become invaluable sources of record reviews. They’ve pointed me in directions I couldn’t have predicted.
So this week’s blog entry is a quick tip o’ the hat to the sites that have shown me the future and uncovered the past, affirmed my worldview and torn up some of my long-held assumptions.
Last week’s entry had a link to John Chedsey’s Satan Stole My Teddybear. Sorry about the redundancy, but I wanted to give it another plug because I think so highly of it. It bills itself as “your online source for reviews on heavy metal, punk, industrial, progressive, ambient and other music guaranteed to upset your folks.” That’s a good description. John and his team of able reviewers cast their nets wide, and I heartily approve. You’ll find reviews of prog-crusties like Genesis and Gryphon (I was very happy to find a review of Red Queen to Gryphon Three there—“This album is so cool it should be illegal to dislike it”) plus a huge assortment of underground metal reviews.
Then there’s Prog-Net, which was a fabulous site of visitor-submitted reviews. I use the word “was” because, while the site remains online, it is no longer being updated. I’m still bummed about it, because I’d just started submitting to it last summer. Then one day I visited, and read this message from site founder Chris Dixon: “I hate to do this, but at this time I am going to stop the daily postings for Prog-Net. Without going into too much detail, I can only say that there continue to be abuses of this site that are beyond my control and often without my knowledge. For now, at least, I will leave up the archive. I want to thank EVERYONE who has put in the time to participate and contribute to this site. I hope that some day it will live again in some form, but for now, I think it just needs to come to a close. Keep on supporting prog!”
Major bummer. I think the site abuse took the form of a “review bombing” campaign by fans of a certain band. They took advantage of the site’s “all-comers” policy and ruined it for everybody else. I’d certainly like to see Prog-Net open and active once again. For now, its archive of reviews is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in progressive rock/metal and jazz.
Next up, we have musique [machine]. I have to thank my friend Bruno for pointing me to this good-looking site. The music they cover falls under the metal-ambient-experimental umbrella—cutting-edge stuff. I feel a bit out of my depth when I come face-to-face with reviews of artists such as Braaxtaal and Tactile Gemma, but exploring little-known corners of the musical universe is what I live for, so full marks to this site for opening up the nooks and crannies.
Last summer was a fairly shattering time for me. Various circumstances were forcing me to look at issues I had surrounding my self-confidence, my abilities, my ambitions, my desire to commute to Richmond on a daily basis… The War Against Silence shook me up pretty badly, too. This is ostensibly a music review site, but it’s much, much more. It’s the weekly diary of Glenn Robinson, a user-interface designer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Like me, Glenn buys a lot of music. Like me, his entire life is filtered through the music he listens to. Like me, he likes a lot of music that no one else pays much attention to. We even like a lot of the same bands: Marillion, IQ, Guided By Voices, amongst others. On the other hand, he likes a lot of stuff I find abhorrent: Ani Difranco, Roxette, Alanis Morissette. I like the fact that Glenn sits down once a week and pulls an all-nighter to write his column. I should have such a work ethic. I like Glenn’s writing. It’s convoluted and brainy. The man’s clearly brilliant. Here’s what he does in The War Against Silence: “I write about music, and about other things by way of music, because music transforms everything I contact, and maybe I can give you some tiny fraction of that by example. If you can't love Big Country or Tori Amos the way I do, maybe my explication of how and why I love them can help you love whomever you love better. I call these things music reviews because they try to answer the questions I think music should be construed as asking. Writing about music without writing about how it affects your life is, to me, an exercise in surreal opacity, like writing about sex or child-rearing without talking about love, or writing about food without eating.”
I think Glenn is a lot like me. Glenn does what I want to do so much better than I could ever do it. I don’t know if I like Glenn.