In search of space - IN SEARCH OF SPACE #100

Heliotropes, keep rolling!
Well we’re drawing in on one hundred of these lysergic rock and roll essay freakouts so I thought I’d do a little helpful article (maybe 99 articles too late) on exactly what is going through my booze-addled skull each time I sit down to pound out one of this pointless self-depricating pieces of crap. For once, In Search of Space will not be roughly about a band, it’ll instead be about itself, because all good writers inevitably turn the pen on themselves when there’s nothing else left to do. So, why do I write In Search of Space, is it because I think my particular brand of rock and roll poetry is exactly the kind of barrow striding backwoods misunderstood genius stuff the world of rock criticism just can’t do without? Am I such a unique firebrand that the world without me cannot do; I don’t flatter myself. It all started with the mid-2010 demise of Julian Cope’s beautiful (and now included in a bad-ass hardback released this month) Album of the Month. The first decade of the 21st century could sleep well knowing out there someone was journeying the sonic plains night and day and keeping a diary. But the demise happened, and very suddenly we found ourselves in a world where nobody was writing about music the way we were talking about it. Nobody else seemed to be stepping up to the plate, and someone else might screw it up. So humbly we volunteered our services. Weekly long-form freakouts followed, and they were good, and then something incredible happened. Heliotropes happened, and the blog was never the same. It became clear to me that writing about long-dead heroes slaying dragons was all well and good but there’s a wealth of genius out there just flowering who never had the luxury of long-form freakouts and they damn well deserve them as much as anyone else. You’ll still find the occasional piece on Randy Holden, or Sleep, or Blue Cheer, but I’m more dedicated to bringing you the best of recent music, and bringing deserving heads the attention.

Dylan Carlson, of Earth, filling Edinburgh's
cavernous underbelly (photo - Vikki Nye)
So why the essay-length lysergic rock talk? I’m a critic, my job is to produce critique. I am not a reviewer, as some chroniclers of rock and roll describe themselves. I am a journalist, though not for this blog. I don’t believe you can do rock journalism, except perhaps by exposing the extent to which big corporate greed heads and land rapists are profiting of the blood, sweat and tears of righteous artists with their corporatized bullshit. Journalism is the art of telling the people something the guilty don’t want known, so I guess that qualifies. I’m a critic, not a reviewer. One cannot ‘review’ music because music is art. Art is most easily defined as something which has no function. Music has no real-world application, it can’t cut down trees or power your car, it can power your soul fo’ sho’, but we’ll get to that. A reviewer provides consumer advice. You review a lawn mower, you take it apart and comment on the parts, how well they are made, how long it takes them to wear out, the availability and ease of fitting replacement parts. You comment on the weight of the mower in helping or hindering its task. You comment on the quality of the blades, the variety of heights of blade and speeds available. How safe the mower is. You cut your grass and measure how short it as at the end of it, how uniform the cut. The qualities you are measuring can be quantified numerically and measured against competitor products, and you advise the buying public whether to purchase this lawnmower or another which has superior stats. This is a review. Music is different from this in crucial ways, you can own many pieces of music (my iTunes library is 12,000 and counting) whereas most people only buy one rucksack, tent, lawnmower et cetera; as these devices serve a purpose only one is required. I cannot, and refuse to quantify music this way. Music is art, it has no purpose. ‘Reviews’ that try to explain the music as a consumer purchase are entirely missing the point of the art and can be easily disregarded as work of greed heads, non-freaks and aspirational fuckless retards of every order. That’s why I don’t give scores or star ratings, I had to give those on a previous assignment and it also gave me a distinct unease, my complex opinion cannot be represented numerically, and music can’t be compared in this way. In numerical scores, is a 10 a ‘perfect’ album? It can’t receive a higher score so that assessment is accurate. If so, can you only give one 10 in your career. Are two 9s, or two 8s equivocal? It is my honest belief that music can’t be organised like this. I love Little Women’s Throat album from 2010, and I love Om’s latest, Advaitic Songs, but is my love equivocal for both? Could I express my feelings towards these albums as similar, in my opinion, no. Two albums produce wildly different emotional responses and it’s those which interest me.

Discerning head Chloe Alper at the last
Pure Reason Revolution show
(photo - Vikki Nye)
I’m a critic, I provide intellectual critique which I hope expands the medium of music. Music is more than just who played the guitars, there is a world of influences and history being poured into a record and a thunderclap of blind unique unprecedented genius that goes into everything worth listening to. There’s a perfect storm of politics, life, money, time, location, where and how, how close the band were to what ails us; all of this is poured into the terroir of a record; and I try to tease out those details, as well as interpreting my own emotional state over one or many listens, which will inevitably encompass my world and environment, love life and the music will only be a part of that. Poor quality rock and roll criticism only takes the train halfway, it’ll say that an album features superb vocals, without probing deeper into why the band wrote them, or why the critic thinks these are important. These lazy critics are a oxymoronic impossible state of both arrogant and shy. They believe their opinion that the lyrics are good has value just by virtue of being their opinion, but are unwilling to look into themselves, or at least unwilling to allow that looking to appear on the page. At least half of understanding of anything comes from understanding oneself first, it is my belief. I have emotions, they are firey and exciting and nobody has them like I do. They’re all I’ve got to sell. I am not an expert on music, I freely admit, so I never use my musical expertise as a justification for why my opinions are valid because it would collapse. My opinions are no more valid than yours, I can simply articulate them better. I intend my articles not as instruction of what to think, merely a starting stimulus to help you begin your own intellectual political historical emotional journey through the record.

I’ve explored in the previous 99 columns (somewhere) that I believe the rock and roll revolution is coming, but serious intelligent long-form criticism separating the genuinely brilliant from the passingly good is the way forward. What do I think makes a good album? I have no criteria but these. I sit here in my specific place in the world with ideas about women and the environment and the structure of a song, they’re so embedded I don’t know I have them. I want a record to come in and sucker punch as many of my preconceptions as possible, to challenge me in whatever way seems most interesting. I like when artists genuinely seem to love the music, and when they show a respect and understanding of the past, and how the past is supposed to be understood (don’t respect Iggy, he didn’t respect himself). Even music that plays with those Blue Cheer ideas, even music that does it well, if I don’t come out of the album thinking the world is at least a little bit bigger and more complex than I thought it was at the start has utterly failed, does not fulfil me spiritually and ought to be done away with. And why did I call the column In Search of Space? Well that was the first album I ever reviewed, Hawkwind. I wish there was a higher answer, but there isn’t. I also kinda like the image.

Here's to the next hundred!
Written under duress but while wearing a party hat by Steven.

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