“The Sad State of Music Journalism”

March 30, 2009 at 10:14 am (Music, Reviews & Articles)

I read a review of Prince’s new album Lotusflow3r today (I won’t mention the magazine or the reviewer), but it really upset me. Not because this person disliked the album, but because he reviewed it after admittedly listening to the album exactly once. That’s it. Now, how can any respected music critic write a review telling you that an album is bad (or good, even) after just one listen? I think this is irresponsible, lazy journalism and it seems to be a common practice these days. I am not going to trust any person’s opinion about an album if they have not listened to it at least three or four times. What about if they completely change their mind about the album by the third listen? Are they going to write another review letting you know they were wrong? Or are they going to allow people to continue to be influenced by that original review that they no longer stand by?

There are many artists, including Prince, U2, R.E.M., Neil Young (etc) whose albums I have to listen to several times before I can give an honest opinion about them. They don’t reveal their strengths and weaknesses so quickly and easily. Sometimes I dislike them off of one listen, but then by the third or fourth listen, I start to change my opinion. There have been albums I’ve listened to, that I did not like at all on first listen, but then months or years later, after hearing them again, I fell in love with them. Now, I am not saying that a reviewer should listen to an album a hundred times over the course of five years before writing about it. I realize there are deadline considerations to be taken into account. I realize an album you liked or disliked twenty years ago might be one that you simply feel differently about today. But they should really give an album more than just one listen before announcing to the world whether they like it or hate it. Remember, there are many people who base their decision on whether to buy something or not by what a certain reviewer might be telling them. They need to know that this critic’s opinion is something they can trust.

I realize that everyone’s opinions are different and are unique to them, and the reasons why they like an artist might be different than why I like that artist. Just because you are a so-called “music critic” does not mean your opinions are necessarily worth more than the next person. But I do hope that the critic who is writing the review knows something about their subject and has listened to the album enough times to write an informed, detailed review on it. I also hope that they have their facts straight. I read so many reviews of albums where the critic can’t even get the name of the song or album correct, that they are praising or denouncing. How can I trust this critic’s opinion when they can’t even get certain facts correct? Again, this is just lazy journalism, in my opinion. I wonder how many albums people buy or choose not to buy based on some critic’s misinformed opinion.

Another sad state of music journalism is how almost every review nowadays has to be no longer than two paragraphs. How do you properly convey to the public why an album is good or bad in fifty or a hundred words? Everything has to be a quick soundbite these days. Instead of giving a detailed review of ten albums, each magazine would rather write reviews of twenty albums that are so short as to be worthless. They simply tell you nothing of any substance. This has become a disturbing trend over the years. There are some online music webzines that are trying to reverse that trend though, and I think that is a good thing. I want to read a detailed review by someone who is an informed lover of music. Not someone who knows nothing about what they are writing about. It is one thing for someone to write a blog about something they like or dislike. If you are writing for a major magazine though, you need to do your homework before writing an article. Unfortunately, there are too many writers out there nowadays who can’t be bothered. It is a sad reflection of the “soundbite” world we now live in.

Jay Mucci

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Art Jackson’s Atrocity – “Gout” (1974)

March 30, 2009 at 8:08 am (Miles Davis, Music, Reviews & Articles)

An unreleased promo from this Miles Davis-associated collective (he bankrolled the project), cut in 1974. I never even heard of this album until I saw it on the blogsite, Never Get Out of the Boat! (link below). This album easily sounds like it could have been recorded at least 10 to 20 years later than it was. Or even right this minute for that matter. Very much ahead of its time. It’s an absolute tragedy this album was never officially released. Someone needs to put it out NOW!  
This album is a fucking monster!! One of the great lost fusion albums. Definitely wild stuff – check it out…

This review comes from the
Head Heritage / Unsung website, Nov. 9, 2007, written by Joe Kenney…

If, like me, your favorite era of Miles Davis is his electric era, specifically the 1973-1975 years in which Pete Cosey was his guitarist, then you’ve probably wondered why that super-fantastic lineup of his never cut an album together, after Miles decided to retire in late 1975. I mean, they were the greatest group in history, with Pete Cosey’s phenomenal, psychedelic guitar (the man was BEYOND HENDRIX, that’s all there is to it), Reggie Lucas’ wah-wah’d grounding rhythm guitar, Michael Henderson’s dublike basslines…hell, I can’t go through ALL of them, but if you know them, you love them…but if you’ve ever wondered WHAT an album by this super group sans Miles would sound like, well my friends, I give you Gout, by Art Jackson’s Atrocity.

Only thing is, you’ll have to hunt the blogs for it. Recorded in 1974, the album was cut as a promo by Columbia, who then went on to drop both the group AND the album, which is unreleased to this day. “The horror…the horror…” No one’s sure why (info is slim to none on this group and album), but most rumors have to do with Art Jackson’s drug abuse… In any case, the album has perfect sound quality – the only source is the promo LP, of course, and it sounds phenomenal.

The Miles connection surfaces again: Art Jackson was a twenty year-old guitarist whom Miles Davis himself recommended to Columbia records. Apparently Davis even funded the recording of the album. The Atrocity was put together around Jackson, an 11-member collective of hard-rockin’, psychedelia-lovin’, jazz-playin’ motherfuckers (two saxophonists, four drummers, two keyboardists, a guy on reeds, a guy on bass, a guy on “effects”), none of whom I’ve ever heard of (much like Art Jackson himself).

The five long tracks on Gout center around Jackson’s guitar, and the kid is Pete Cosey reborn; the stuff on here sounds almost identical to what Cosey was performing on the Agharta and Pangaea albums. That same sort of fucked-up, psychedelic distortion which goes from raging and chaotic one moment to spaced-out drones the next, the strange tunings, the works. Only thing is, unlike Cosey, Jackson’s not above playing a power chord or three, so the album packs a definite metal-rock punch. I mean, it’s fantastic, the whole thing.

The superbly-named “Shaft In Afghanistan” opens the album. Jackson’s guitar is on super-fucked mode, sounding like a cyclic tone. The rhythm section lays down a menacing, throbbing track, which Jackson and the sax & reeds proceed to riff over. Jackson soon leaves the actual “song” to the others, instead riffing and roaring with all manner of guitar sounds across the track. He’s everywhere, from wah-wah to thick distortion to cosmic fuzz. Things cool down three minutes in, but it’s only a fake-out; the track comes right back in. Jackson funks it up on wah-wah, with studio-tricked handclaps providing additional percussion. There’s all sorts of electronic gimmickry on the album; this isn’t just some quickly recorded demo. This eventually calms down again into a sort of funky ambience – but it’s just another fake-out! The track rips right back up, the drums so superbly recorded (and no doubt closely-miked) that they seem to pound within the caverns of your skull.

“Arabian Fabian” (another great title!) comes in with total menace, until a faux-lite jazz tune pops up. Funky, proto-drum’n’bass drumkit and sax. But this SOON becomes something altogether un-lite. Echoed murk creeps across the track, eerie wails, treated reeds, and dubbed-out sax bleats. Those close-up drums kick in and we’re in an altogether heavier, funkier groove. The first half of the track belongs to the Atrocity, with Jackson throwing in brief fills and licks on his mutated guitar. Things collapse into psychedelic ambience at the five-minute mark; free jazz with plinking guitar and tapped cymbal. But ominous guitar fuzz hovers in the distance, a starving wolf preparing to attack. John Carpenter keyboards arise and give the track even more of a horror-movie feel. But it’s a ruse; the piano takes over, playing a melancholy melody as the other instruments recede into the murk. This doesn’t last. Those ultra-loud drums kick the shit out of you again, jumping out of nowhere, and suddenly we’re into the strangest of strange: ambient free jazz murk with heavy metal drums. The track eventually wears itself out, descending back into the murk from whence it came.

“Available Bush” sounds like some early ‘90s industrial mash, with in-your-face drums and ripping and roaring Ministry-esque guitar. The track throbs on an off-kilter funk grove, Jackson heading the proceedings with the twists and turns of his guitar. The sax plays a faux-Middle Eastern counter-melody to his blasts and blares. The bassist throws in a few snakelike fills of his own, but his instrument sounds anemic compared to Jackson’s acidic distortion. This one humps along for seven minutes which quickly pass by, never establishing anything beyond that off-kilter groove, but never suffering for it.

“Tomato Reign” is the epic of the album, 16+ minutes of cosmic echo and free jazz. It crawls out of the murk in the opening moments, ethereal and disjointed fills from the assembled players. Things continue in this dubbed-out vein for a few minutes; nothing on the level of the Taj Mahal Travelers, but close…along the lines of the last half of Miles’ 1975 shows, when Cosey, et al would let it all hang out in improvisatory bouts of experimental noise and abstraction. Pounding, tribal drums which pop out of the murk and then disappear. Bleated sax fills which float across the sound spectrum. Even animalistic grunts, growls, and screams from the group. This culminates in ultra-fucked guitar from Jackson, sounding again like some cyclic tone from hell, and then someone (a group member? a sample from some obscure film?) states in the calmest tones, “Fuck her. Let her rot.” A few more minutes of banging, echoed drums and bleating, mournful fills from the sax, and that’s it: the freest noise-skronk ever comes to a close.

“Let’s go!” someone yells, and we’re straight into the pounding, pissed-off proto-metal of the title track, “Gout.” This is the rock version of the preceding track, another rhythmless excursion into all things free, only packing a wallop in the guitar distortion and overall menace. It pounds and snarls for six minutes, never finding a groove, preferring to live in its own sonic hellhole of chaotic din. Finally it builds to a climax of sorts, with a few final bashes on the drumkit, and the record’s over.

To be fair, you can see why Columbia refused to release this. Gout is the type of album you’d only find on some free jazz label, or, if it was recorded today, some ultra-hip indie label. But Columbia in the mid-1970s? Releasing this groundless swell of jazz-metal ambience? Hard to believe. But those master tapes are out there, somewhere, as is the full story of what exactly happened to Art Jackson and his Atrocity. In the meantime, we can only listen to their one recorded album, and wonder.

Joe Kenney

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