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Don't Criticise. Don't Analyse. Just Sell.


A non-staged publicity shot.

The response from you negative/critical creeps has been pretty interesting over the last 6 months as we've delved into the meat packing district of Australian music industry criticism. We've tackled some of your stock standard cornerstones of the Australian music bizz, and the comments sections' have not only taken a blow out across the board, but they have moreover displayed the in-depth and often constructively critical opinions that you lot have regarding Australian music and the powers at play in our industry.

Some people have written essays as long or longer than the articles themselves.

Others have given completely opposing and equally valid opinions to mine, Jonny's, or Rav's.

And others are just plain stupid — @TNA.

Point being, it's clear that a lot of people care about the state of things and, as such; why aren't there more streams of criticism out there given that the state of things is pretty fuckin woeful?

This isn't suggesting that there isn't great music in this country as there definitely is, what it's meant to highlight is that the highly publicised music in this country which flies under banners like 'indie' or 'alternative' etc etc. is for the most part painfully mediocre, and more importantly with regard to the theme of this article - it largely exists exempt from criticism. In this writer's opinion all this serves to do is perpetuate a cycle within the music industry that is focussed on replication rather than innovation, and complacency rather than creativity.

For example, if we are to focus on two of the biggest Australian bands doing the rounds at the moment — Art Vs Science and Boy & Bear. Honestly, is there any artistic validity to either of these acts when you really think about it? It's not even a question of taste. You put on the 'highly acclaimed' Boy & Bear album Moonfire (which I sat through for PoA review purposes but couldn't be arsed putting pen to paper in the end), and if you have ever listened to either of the first two Fleet Foxes albums you can't really deny that what you're hearing with Boy & Bear is nothing more than a watered down version of the original. The voice is uncannily similar, but where these tunes are really amazing is in the lyric — "I promise you when the time does come, we'll be down the river with my loaded gun".

Whaley: What's that got to with anything you've ever experienced in your life? Nothing really, right?

Boy: The Americana/pastoral/Marcus Mumford/old muskets/folk thing is huge right now and I just really believe in it. I just really love akookstic instruments.

Bear: Playing the banjo is a way of life and it's just about taking on these characters in our songs and really understanding what it's like to hunt rabbits in a river full of milk and sticks whilst waiting for a cup o' soup on the feeding line you know?

Whaley: Sure. You'd look weird in a river holding a gun I reckon.

So yeah, pretty terrible record with no eye for originality. Just a couple of dudes in waistcoats with some chords and some ripped off feelings. But hold on, this record has been nominated for the amp prize, the J award, it's just won 200 arias; my ears mustn't work.

Nah mate, my ears work fine.

The problem is that for the most part this industry of ours is not really listening to records such as this one and basing their judgements solely on the music, they are instead handing out awards based on the word of the majority and on the publicity machines behind these bands that will ensure their prominence in the undiscerning music fan's eye for the next record cycle to come.

It would hence seem that this whole notion has been lost somewhere in this country: An award given out for 'Best Album' should be given to the best album, not to the one that the most fans have called up and requested throughout the year, or to the one that has received the most publicity due to marketing spend.

In discussing this it's hard not to look at Triple J's role in contributing towards this problem of flattery without constructive criticism and analysis, given the enormous part they play in the industry, and in this case it can be done so by looking at a recent interview Richard Kingsmill gave that pretty much served as a response to our recent Triple J Unearthed bashing. He talks about being part of a team and about his desire to further develop and enrich Australian culture through fulfilling Triple J's brief as part of the ABC.

"Australian culture is just such a huge part of everything that runs through the ABC".

I 100% agree that this should be Triple J's role, and if it was what they were indeed doing then I would have absolutely no problem with it. However, this is simply not the case. If you take their role in enriching Australian music culture to mean that they make music programming decisions based on the opinions of those who can be bothered calling the request line or voting in the Hottest 100 then this is the case. If you take it to mean that their role should be in making decisions based upon artistic merit across a range of genres, then they most certainly are not fulfilling this and Richard Kingsmill is testament to this in himself.

Kingsmill's personal top 10 album poll for 2011 included killer albums from, Total Control, Jay Z & Kanye, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, SBTRKT, and Wilco, which suggests that the man has decent taste. However, J play stats for bands like Total control and Wilco are absolutely through the floor compared to your Art Vs Science's and Eskimo Joe's etc. Why is this the case given that the head programmer loves Total Control and artists like Jack Ladder, and as such it'd be pretty safe to assume that he thinks AVS's Bumblebee ain't one of the best songs ever put on wax? It is the case because programming decisions are based on public opinion and not on decisions made by those who are actively seeking to simply develop and embrace quality music.

Fair enough you might say. It's a public/government station and hence the public voice should be heard and heeded. Yeah sure. However, this should not be done by completely neglecting quality control, as is the case currently, and as such acting to the detriment of Australian music culture, especially when your supposed overriding goal and the guise under which you operate is to uphold this and build upon it. Furthermore, isn't this the exact function of commercial radio, to rotate songs based entirely upon popularity?

How can it really be argued that quality control is out the window in terms of Triple J programming really? And that the voice really being heard is that of the super requesting public and not that of the 'team' who's goal is to develop Australian music culture? Just look at Zan Rowe's top 10 2010 album poll list below and then tell me that she gets up in the morning and can't wait to go to work and play some Boy & Bear:

  1. Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
  2. LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
  3. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
  4. Wavves - King Of The Beach
  5. Tame Impala - Innerspeaker
  6. Sufjan Stevens - The Age Of Adz
  7. Eddy Current Suppression Ring - Rush To Relax
  8. Gold Panda - Lucky Shiner
  9. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
  10. Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me

It would be naive to say that Triple J should not listen to the voice of the public with regard to programming decisions. However, it's not foolish to say that they should not be basing their programming decisions purely on this, and that these decisions should be first and foremost made on the basis of artistic integrity and in line with what will indeed push and further enrich the quality of Australian music, and in this writer's opinion, Richard Kingsmill could not look someone in the eye given the quality of his personal music taste, and honestly say that the majority of frankly embarrassing Australian bands that hit high rotation on Triple J are indeed living up to this ethos.


Total Control.

This issue does not start and end with Triple J though, it's prevalent throughout much of the music covering media in this country. You only need to look as far as the street press down at your local pub to find a picture of that legend from Eskimo Joe on the cover. Then turn inside and you'll find a glowing article about the Eski boys and how they're rockin' around the country promoting their new single called, Mashalia oh no I spilled red wine down my silk scarf and now I'm crying like the sea.

Notice how none of these bands rarely tour overseas? Can you imagine Eskimo Tony playing at the Bowery Ballroom in New York the night before Deerhunter and the night after Drake? Nope.

Before you close the magazine though be sure to flick back a few pages to the full page Eskimo advert for their new single/tour and then let the penny drop. The front page spread, the glowing article, and the review are all in the magazine based on the ad spend the band and/or their label have made in the publication. Don't for one second let yourself believe that the interviewer actually likes Eskimo Joe. Obviously there are occasions where these magazines et. have articles on good bands or bands they actually like, however the point is that they are not discerning. If you've got the bucks behind you, you can buy yourself the front cover and pretty much write the article yourself.

The list could go on all day, but the point has been made. So many people would say that this is naive, this is a business. Nah, fuck you. Don't write something, play something, or get right up there behind something under a headline saying, 'we love this', when in reality you are either being paid to like it or promote it, or you are simply being an indecisively weak filter for the majority's voice in a side of the industry that instead requires people of power to be foresightful, constructively critical, and to stand by their convictions.

It's common to read out there on the interweb that the peeps at Polaroids of Androids are a negative bunch of Sydney lovin' hipsters who just really wanna to boof Royal Headache, but that just ain't the truth. We love bands like Royal Headache because they make great music and we hate on bands like Art Vs Science because they're shit, and we've been dismissed by the industry as negative pricks because we are and always will be willing to do so.

Filed Under
Articles
Boy & Bear
Art vs Science
Total Control
Eskimo Joe
Triple J

 

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Comments

Spoona

Amen.

2 years ago

solwat

I've ragged on Whaley and POA in the past, but to be honest, you've hit the nail completely on the head here. Critical apathy and musical mediocrity are rampant, and railing against it in public is (apparently) an incomparable sin. Thanks for calling it out.

2 years ago

whale

I think this is related even more broadly to a kind of parochialism that causes not just the most popular but also everything else produced by an Australian, is given soft reviews. I felt this when my band's album came out and basically everyone was very kind to it. Sure, I know some people genuinely enjoyed it, but I can't help but thinking that it'd be very difficult for someone relatively small and independent putting out a debut album to get even a handful of bad reviews because subconsciously, these reviewers want to champion the local cause, want to give new, emerging people a leg up.

It's admirable in a way, but it also contributes to this minor lobotomisation of music criticism in this country. It's linked to a lower level of competitiveness, which has its upsides and its downsides. Polaroids I think does pick and choose its favourites, but at least it's taking a reasoned, critical approach to it! If it didn't come across as bitchy, I'd give a monthly digest of things I thought should have been treated less kindly. That said, there is quite a robust argument towards being a little bit kinder to an emerging act. And there's something quite lovely about feeling like you're being nurtured. But it's hard to really say that Boy & Bear and Art vs Science are lauded across the board and people like Royal Headache or (gulp) Oliver Tank aren't.

2 years ago

whale

I think the thing I find problematic about these opinion articles is that the conclusion is that *blah* is shit and *blah* is great, this adversarial dynamic that basically seems like an identity forming exercise with artefacts of prejudice about music that's popular on triple j. However, it's really refreshing that people are actually GIVING an opinion and being passionate about it, maybe if people were less hasty to blunt their views, we wouldn't be in the situation of completely boring and unoriginal acts being nominated for the Australian Music Prize.

2 years ago

Tex

This is fantastic. A critical attitude needs to be embraced by the music buying public. Instead, it's often met with contempt. I keep an open mind, but I know what I like and I know what I don't like. I recently wrote a review of a festival and was referred to as a "hater" and a "troll" because I mentioned my dislike for a particular band. It's a review. And I'm a critic. But it seems that most people prefer to take the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" approach, or they simply just succumb to the repeated airplay and do as they're told.

Having said that, it's not just the JJJ sheep that are blessed with this attitude. You wouldn't believe the hostility that I was met with when I suggested that Royal Headache's first 7" "has good songs, but the recording is fucking shit".

2 years ago

stu

great form folks.

big labels / distributors / promoters focus so heavily on pushing certain 'popular' artists. they fill up shelf space with whatever's on the agenda at the time, and since no one calls them out, Australia just keeps getting the same generic business on its plate.

of course this is detrimental. in this philosophy, innovative Australian artists doing anything out of the ordinary don't get a look in. mostly, they don't even get as far as the studio. often they'll need to settle for recording themselves, then look to labels overseas. then good look getting local distribution and promotion in Australia after that.

2 years ago

sci_fi

gasp! Whale comments on a Whaley article! surely the polaroidz will implode!

2 years ago

TeddyH

A sign you POA peeps are on the right track is when the reaction you receive is "Oh, you guys are just negative and bitter" rather than addressing the substance / validity of your arguments.

Kinda like mining 'magnates' claiming "class warfare" and other obfuscatory rhetoric when called out on their bullshit.

2 years ago

whale

Richard Kingsmill is going to get SO confused

2 years ago

Tex

The concept is quite simple. You don't agree with me - You're a troll/You're a hater/You just don't "get it"

2 years ago

whale

(i mean about the whale/whaley thing)

2 years ago

Tex

More importantly - What's the alternative? Is there any possible way to reverse what Triple J has made for themselves? Triple J is a scene. Triple J is a culture. Whatever Triple J will play, the kids will buy and the kids will line up for. What possible platform could there be that will rival this assault of mediocrity to bring the originals, the unique and unknowns to the foreground to give them the exposure that they deserve? Unfortunately, the ears of the 'indie' masses are exclusively tuned in to JJJ and they won't be looking elsewhere any time soon.

So what can we do?

2 years ago

Doubtful Sounds

Nice piece POA.

The Triple J debate is an interesting one as they are unique in that they sit somewhere between a commercial station and an independent/community style format. The commerciality comes with the slanting of general programming towards fairly unchallenging music yet they then have niche programming with everything from hip hop to americana to sound art/experimental stuff and only a small proportion of the music played on those shows makes it to general playlists. That is a pretty wide gamut for a station to pull off successfully and by trying to cater to everyone is always going to expose weaknesses in the format. They've recently launched the Unearthed station, I wonder if they are contemplating any other splinter stations - I reckon there would be a lot of people who would want a dedicated national station(s) that more closely resembles their tastes, whatever they may be.

In terms of music criticism, the overwhelming majority of writers (good and bad) are paid little or nothing so most are only going to take on writing reviews of albums that they think they will like. The exception would be highly anticipated releases where everyone wants to get their 10 cents in. As a result you get the watering down of opinion where favourable or passive write-ups vastly outnumber the negative ones. Pretty hard to balance that out unless we as writers start putting our hands up to listen to and write about more crap music. The upside is that people like us are willing to champion music we dig and believe in (whatever that may be) rather than reporting on everything that comes through the floodgates. That is one of the joys of the internet and before that fanzines.

Parochialism is a good thing too as it builds local communities and networks but only if it is globally contextualised. If you see a good band play every other week it is easier to fall in love with them than if a band of equal quality only tours here every 2 years - that of course depends on how you consume music and how much emphasis you place on live performance in defining a band.

2 years ago

bunnyrat

On a facebook thread that came up after the ARIAs one of the guys from The Holy Soul posted, "I've never heard of Boy & Bear. Sounds like a porno." And it made me giggle, it did.

2 years ago

TNA

Stupid?

Brilliant.

Come over here and say that. http://thenewaustralian.org/?p=1252

2 years ago

Jonny Yes Yes

*spam*

2 years ago

Jonny Yes Yes

possible white power org

2 years ago

TNA

White powder, more probably.

2 years ago

bunnyrat

TNA, you are hilarious and weird and you need to maybe know something (anything??) about Australian music before you start writing blogs about how shit it is. Now go and listen to Total Control and stop writing pointless blogs for nobody.

2 years ago

AB

the whole JJJ thing is so tired, I get it and agree but you are losing relevance if that's all you talk about.

2 years ago

Jonny Yes Yes

hello @AB, here's a review of Charge Group's latest record

2 years ago

AB

hello @Jonny Yes Yes, I see your Charge Group and raise you

http://polaroidsofandroids.com/articles/the-2011-aria-awards/6313.html

http://polaroidsofandroids.com/articles/more-like-the-amp-shitlist/6431.html

http://polaroidsofandroids.com/articles/live-blogging-the-hottest-100-2011/6415.html

http://polaroidsofandroids.com/articles/triple-j-unearthed-and-the-great-monopolisation-of/6224.html

http://polaroidsofandroids.com/news/wrap-up-of-the-2006-hottest-100/234.html

http://polaroidsofandroids.com/news/so-what-was-your-favourite-song-of-2006/233.html

http://polaroidsofandroids.com/news/triple-j-listeners-top-10-albums-of-2006/232.html

http://polaroidsofandroids.com/quick-news/hottest-100-voting-has-started/225.html

Like I said, its tired.....

2 years ago

Jonny Yes Yes

i take your point @AB, ,,, 8 posts out of around 6,500 is probably a couple too many,

2 years ago

bella

it's so cool when people sign up to a website just to tell the creators of the website how they think the website is stupid

2 years ago

flukazoid

Ahahaha some of those are from 2006, AB... I think PoA are permitted their 2 posts of cultural/industry criticism per year.

Also, the situation hasn't changed even remotely so I'm not sure why it wouldn't continue to be discussed.

2 years ago

Tex

So the problem is exposure, right? Websites like these are in the very same boat that the bands they support are in.

2 years ago

AB

I apologise I didn't mean to criticise or analyse

2 years ago

Jonny Yes Yes

hahahaa, well played @AB,, kudos

2 years ago

bert88

I agree with the sentiment of this article, most of the industry is backslapping self congratulaters breeding excessive mediocrity. It's been like that for years.

2 years ago

tastethepain

You guys are kind of cunts though.

2 years ago

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