If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend or, perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.
On Friday I posted to the blog to try and solicit some feedback about the album from its listeners on the occasion of the first monthiversary of its release. Little did I realize that I’d already gotten the first “negative" review of my career — a fact to which the PR firm I’d been working with alerted me to later that day (or as they put it "wasn't the most flattering" while trying to salvage a decent pull quote).
I should have keyed into the fact that something was up as I was getting a bunch of listens on SoundCloud for “You Will Sail With Me” — the album’s penultimate track and one that hadn’t been featured anywhere to date save my own attempt to push it a bit post release. I assumed that this was some random SoundCloud noise — you tend to get that sometimes from what seems to be bots or some such. It didn’t help that most of the listens weren’t providing any location data (I suspect SoundCloud was having issues because midweek the system went down). So it didn’t even occur to me to look at the source URI report, which otherwise would have been a big clue. A personal nitpick — since the album has been released, it’s a bit weird that someone would be linking to SoundCloud. It’s all well and good to be paid in exposure bucks prior to release in exchange for getting someone to “write” (I use the term loosely in some cases) an exclusive preview article, but if you have any sympathies for an artist, I think you’d at least link to YouTube or maybe bandcamp when the option is available, which will result in a few cents of royalties or maybe a purchase.
Anyway, I got a review for the full album in Americana UK, which had previously previewed one of my tracks and the take aways were 1) the reviewer doesn’t like my voice 2) the reviewer doesn’t like I use a lot of words 3) something about the production not serving the songs... but this is left vague and sort of isn't my department. He liked some of the songs, but apparently not enough to resist the temptation to write a pithy and, if we're frank, kind of churlish summary.
I honestly don’t know what to say about the voice thing — other than it’s flattering to be lumped in with Tom Waits, Neil Young and… Tiny Tim? Noticeably absent from his list is Dylan (“You know they refused Jesus too” “You’re not him”). I mean, what can you do? There are some singers I’d rather not listen to either. And there is a method to my madness of getting other people to cover my songs for my birthday show. That he thinks I “over-pronounce” is the most actionable note in the whole piece… too bad it didn’t help him when it came to citing lyrics correctly (they’re in the SoundCloud descriptions of the songs… I’m just say’n).
That he’s not into using unusual or multi-syllabic words in songs is his loss. Most people get a kick out of “Your Inexorable Pull” and I see absolutely nothing wrong with titles like “A Finnish Midsummer Midnight” and “The Comet and the Wandering Moon” which he also cites as evidence of my wordiness. I myself can think of a couple of occasions where I fought for an intentionally semi-awkward phrasing — the “glass of water” line from Ephemera — and I’ve thought a lot about that second use of the word “yellow” in Finnish, but even when the lines are syllabically packed (as is often the case in the 3rd verse of Albatross) I’m quite deliberate in what I’m doing. Given that he featured the most lyrically sparse song tells me that we’re just not going to see eye to eye on this point.
That this writer dismissed “The Albatross Song” as a novelty song to be "gotten past" is enough to tell me that he wasn’t paying particularly close attention to the content and maybe lacks the requisite appreciation for iconoclasm and silliness it takes to truly enjoy what I do... which is weird because he's British. I always suspected the genre traipsing wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea (I think genre is particularly irrelevant in a playlist obsessed world) and I honestly don't see some of the comparisons he makes with other artists (I'll take the one with "They Might Be Giants" though — even if I see shades of the press release in it). The real journalistic malpractice, however, was the assiduous avoidance of even mentioning “Lighthouse at the Edge of the World.”
In the end, someone took time to write an album review and apparently took the time to actually listen as it wasn’t just a regurgitation of the PR agency’s summary (with maybe a few extra bobs, usually with their own special typos, thrown in). I’ve indulged myself a bit in writing a bit of a response, not so much because I care so much about what this person said, but as a sort of celebration of a milestone. Being dismissed as totally ignorable and not important enough to listen to is dismaying — provoking someone to actually write something critical means I must be doing something right.
What a wonderful gift.
Read the full review in all it's glory:
Or form your own damn opinion:
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P.S. The t-shirts gonna be a real thing and I'm going to wear it proudly at the next CDBaby DIY Conference in Austin. Let me know if you want one of your own.
The extended musings of a songwriter.