Thursday, 31 December 2009

My Favourite Albums of 2009


1. Butcher Boy - React Or Die
year-end heads-up for DiS

Glasgow is typically characterised as a dreich, dank and violent city, but much of its musical heritage seems to be centred around the light, graceful and romantic: Orange Juice, the Fannies, Belle & Seb, and Camera Obscura. Butcher Boy need to be added to that list, and not just because of their similar style; their continuing low-profile, even in their home city, is perplexing considering the strength of both their albums so far. If debut Profit In Your Poetry was hugely promising, React Or Die fulfils that promise, with ten achingly pretty, perfectly paced and impeccably produced songs in thirty fatless minutes.

In opener 'When I'm Asleep', singer John Blaine Hunt pointedly insists that his night-times are sterile: "I never dream, I never feel anything" he sings over a trilling mandolin melody. His vocal control is important: he doesn't hold a note for an instant more than necessary; it's only when the song swells, when the strings and mandolin combine into a gorgeous melancholy, that his vocals allow for breath, his emotion seeping through. It's as if his stoicism is stolen by the song.

This whole record does that to me. I struggle to stay composed. I've tried to pinpoint why the keyboard outro of 'You're Only Crying For Yourself' draws my eyebrows into an arch and teases my tear ducts to stir, every time I hear it, like Pavlov's bell. But, well, my attempt at critical detachment is stolen by that song, by all of them, by their exquisite arrangements, by Hunt's romantic lyrics. I'm convinced React Or Die will one day be recognised as an equal of any of its hometown's indie-pop classics. For now, it's either "just too beautiful and bright for these times"; or I'm finally going batty.

React Or Die is streaming in full on Butcher Boy's MySpace, and on Spotify.

And the rest...

2. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion
MPP was The Skinny's album of the year, as you can read about here (or that last blog post on the left there).
3. Fever Ray - Fever Ray
In my head, the music I imagine my hypothetical future self will make is closer to this in style than any other album, ever.

4. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
My first Camera Obscura album. I know! Between this and Butcher Boy, I've had a swoonful year.



5. We Were Promised Jetpacks - These Four Walls
My breathless Clash review for it here, which I knew was breathless at the time but I still stand by 100%.


6. Dananananaykroyd - Hey Everyone!
My 5-star Skinny review here, which I think is only my fourth full-marks album review - after Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, In Rainbows, and Third.


7. Bat For Lashes - Two Suns
I fucking love that cover by the way.
8. The Field - Yesterday and Today
In retrospect, better than his first album, which I wanted to like more than I actually did. Yesterday and Today has several passages of staggering beauty, I can't imagine ever getting bored of it.

9. Japandroids - Post-Nothing
Anthemic garage rock well encapsulated by the minimalism and friendship of the cover; until any clever sod can work out what the fuck is really "important", the answer is mates, music, girls and fun. Lad rock says the same, but Japandroids say it better.
10. Tony Allen - Secret Agent
One of the many sensible objections to music lists is that it's impossible to compare two works of art from completely different genres, so it's feels kinda weird positioning Tony Allen in a list just under Japandroids (and, for that matter, Japandroids in a list just under The Field). I try to make a guess as to how much I've enjoyed a record and rank it accordingly, because when you begin to think in genres, you apply your own perception of stylistic limits to the limit-free work of others. I discovered Afrobeat in 2009; it's not a genre I claim to know a lot about, and perhaps Afrobeat know-alls aren't impressed by Secret Agent; I haven't a clue. All I know is I played it to death and loved it every time.

Monday, 28 December 2009

The Skinny's Favourite Albums of 2009

1. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE - MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION

@The Skinny

Time is a great leveller when it comes to musical reputations, because it's much easier to make a solid judgement when you have the space to think freely about what you're listening to without the pernicious influences of hype, fashion or the temptation to be a contrarian. A year after it was first leaked, it comes as no surprise that Merriweather Post Pavilion still feels like the obvious choice for album of the year. It felt special from the moment it landed. If 12 months haven't dulled our feelings, will ten years? When will someone criticise it on its own terms, instead of on the tenuous extra-musical grounds of over-hype or hipster-hate? Where is the backlash going to come from?

"My parents listen to it and they're proud of it, and they like a song here and there, but it's definitely not their thing," Geologist tells The Skinny. So perhaps Geologist's mum could tell us why we're wrong? "No, I don't think she'll want to start the backlash! It's something she can show to her friends or to my grandparents, show them that I'm doing something worthwhile with my life, even though I have a beard!"

Merriweather Post Pavilion is going to be spoken of in rarefied terms for years to come, so you'd better get used to it. Sick of hearing the Kid A story yet? Well there's a MPP myth in the works already, you know how it'll go: progressive-this and zeitgeist-that. It's a wonderful album. It deserves it. "We love this record and are really happy with it, and we're very happy that people are receiving it so well. It feels good, you know?" Geologist says. "Everybody who puts something out into the world... wants it to be respected. We put a lot of work into it. But I think we have to be careful about it, we're going to be very conscious next time not to make MPP part two because that would be pretty boring." Panda Bear is still picking faults: "I don't know that we'll ever be completely happy," he says. "Listening to something 500 times or so throughout writing, touring, recording, mixing, mastering... you start to notice little things you might change. Sometimes you want to change things just because when you started the thing you were a different person."

Change it? Don't be silly. Panda Bear tells us something else remarkable: "We knew we wanted to have more of a focus on bass and bass frequencies, and we had some themes in mind like ballet, but like most of our albums the spirit of the thing kind of just came on gradually." Did you catch that? Ballet! Geologist, on the other hand, drops names like Kylie, dubstep star Burial, and Berlin minimal techno label Kompakt. Try to pin a genre on Merriweather Post Pavilion. It can't be done. Part of the MPP story, still in production, will require a succinct distillation of its aesthetic, one or two words to sum it up. But everyone's stumped. Merriweather Post Pavilion is an alien conflation of Burial, Kylie, Kompakt, ballet and bass. How could it not be album of the year?




the rest @The Skinny

2. GRIZZLY BEAR - VECKATIMEST
Through no fault of their own, sometimes great bands acquire unhealthy legacies: Nirvana, I'm looking at you particularly. One of Pavement's aesthetic choices which was seized on big-time was a perceived musical sloppiness, a too-cool-to-care attitude that has afflicted countless indie rock bands since. Grizzly Bear care about the placing and playing of every note, and that discipline doesn't breed sterility: their studied vocal harmonies evoke plenty of emotion. And when they're livelier, as in the first two songs and the last two-but-one, the spotless production gives every movement its space. Grizzly Bear might've sent you to sleep before, but now they'll start you dreaming.

3. DIRTY PROJECTORS - BITTE ORCA
Bitte Orca is where everything finally came together smoothly for New Yorker Dave Longstreth, mastermind of the Dirty Projectors, who'd previously handicapped himself by concocting ambitious ideological aims for his albums that he wasn't quite able to fulfil. Bitte Orca keeps things simple, relatively speaking, by foregoing overarching themes in favour of accessibility, achieved not by compromise but by focus. It's not a concept that glues these nine tracks together, it's the songs themselves: post-punk, afrobeat, indie pop, garage rock and contemporary R&B all mingle happily in the company of Longstreth and the girls' elastic vocals. Bizarre on paper, brilliant in practice.

4. DOOM - BORN LIKE THIS
2009 was a strong year for hip-hop, thanks to the likes of Raekwon and Mos Def outperforming the disappointing returns of megastars Jay-Z and Eminem. Best of them all was Daniel Dumile's umpteenth album, his first as all-caps DOOM, an endlessly replayable journey through his comic book rogue fantasies that's a little darker than prior efforts. Dumile's gruff croak serves up a thousand perplexing rhymes for you to unravel, and guest spots from Rae, Ghostface and a little-known lady called Empress Star all impress. Born Like This is Dumile's best solo record since Vaudeville Villain.

5. THE TWILIGHT SAD - FORGET THE NIGHT AHEAD
"We didn't want to make something that sounded like the first record, we definitely think we've progressed and moved on as a band" guitarist and producer Andy MacFarlane tells The Skinny. But how Forget The Night Ahead compares to debut Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters is a matter of heated debate. We (or rather you, discerning reader) placed Fourteen Autumns second on our list of the best Scottish albums of the decade; the NME included this one in its overall century of the century. "You'll always get some people saying 'it's not as good as the first record'" MacFarlane says. "Those people are wrong. But other people have been very kind about this one." It's a tight call, we'll grant that.


6. CONVERGE - AXE TO FALL
"This is a brilliant, furious album that manages to be both misanthropic in its message yet therapeutic in its sheer catharsis" said Chris Cusack in his 5-star Skinny review of Converge's seventh album Axe To Fall. But it wasn't straightforward for the progressive hardcore band to put together, because they borrowed the talents of nearly 20 guest performers. "Bringing some friends in to contribute to the songs added some new challenges to the process for us for sure," vocalist Jacob Bannon tells us. "But I really enjoyed what we created together and it seems that people are enjoying it, so that's a positive thing".

7. THE PHANTOM BAND - CHECKMATE SAVAGE
"We went in [to the studio] pretty na├»ve thinking that we were ready to make an album and were all set to record it in a fortnight, and it ended up taking about 9 months on and off" reflects Rick Anthony, lead singer of Glasgow's Phantom Band, who released the best debut LP of 2009. "It sometimes feels like we’re parents of this kid – you try and bring it up right and do the best by it but at some point you have to step back and let it go off on its own. It has its fuck ups but we still love it." We love it too.

8.MASTODON - CRACK THE SKYE [by Dave Kerr]
Having equated the struggles of modern life with hunting for crystal skulls down a dark hole on 2006’s Blood Mountain, Mastodon took to the sky(e) for the fourth and final album in their ‘elements’ series. “It’s an astral planing dream,” guitarist Brent Hinds forewarned us of the progressive odyssey to unfold. With a narrative backdrop of Tsarist Russia, psychedelic flavours were thrown into a blender with banjo-led sludge metal and ADD song structure – an unlikely recipe which has seen the Atlanta quartet realise a curious crossover appeal. So what are they doing differently? “We scream like banshees being stuck in the ass with a knife, although now there’s a lot more singing going on,” Hinds shrugs. Will someone please relay this idea to Duffy?

9. BAT FOR LASHES - TWO SUNS
For all the talk of its mystical themes and lavish production, what few people seem to mention about Two Suns is just how great a singer Natasha Khan is. Granted, singing ability isn't as important as X-Factor judges might claim, but Two Suns wouldn't be half the album it is without Khan's exceptional pipes. There's not a hair out of place on Bat For Lashes' Two Suns, a surprisingly inventive and remarkably touching second album that confirms Khan's singular talent. She even persuaded Scott Walker to collaborate; how can she possibly exceed that?


10. BUTCHER BOY - REACT OR DIE
It's well established by now that Glasgow's indie-pop credentials are second to none, a view supported by another fabulous album by Camera Obscura this year. But don't overlook Butcher Boy, whose second album React Or Die is a real treasure, borrowing equally from Belle & Sebastian and Arthur Lee's Love in the sculpture of ten heartbreakingly pretty songs. "My initial direction was that we should aim for something folky, in the sense of it being old and unsettling", singer/songwriter John Blaine Hunt told us. "And even if it was unsettling, it must still be beautiful." It definitely is.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

FUCK YOU...

OK so I'm warming to the idea of Rage Against The Machine topping the UK charts this week, in preference to the new X-Factor winner. Generally, I think RATM is tedious, adolescent bullshit, and I couldn't give a fuck about Christmas number one, or Easter number one, or Halloween number one. It's always shit. It doesn't influence my life. I didn't care when Mr. Blobby was the Christmas number one, or Bob The Builder, or Westlife or Alexandra Burke and I won't care if it's Joe McElderberry. But it would be quite funny to see the world's media squirm as they try to explain it, because saying the number one is an age-old song called "Killing In The Name Of" doesn't explain it. Would Christmas Top Of The Pops bleep out every single "fuck"? They'd have to, but it would draw more attention to it than conceal it.

Today Tom Morello and Zach De La Rocha appeared live on BBC Radio to talk about it. Before they went on-air, they were politely asked not to sing the offending lines, to which they agreed. But they couldn't hold to that, of course...



In a year in which Britain has seemed to regress towards conservatism with the Sachsgate pallaver (also involving BBC Radio), it would at least be amusing to end the year with a redress, a collective and explicit "FUCK YOU!" aimed at whoever you want it to be aimed at.

...I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!

But I didn't really want to dwell on RATM, because I've been thinking further about about how people react to hype. Last week I criticised music writers who have purposefully avoided Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion even though there's a good chance they'd really like it. These other people, I said, were reacting against the hype, refusing to even take part in the discussion out of some sense that they were fighting the cause of a greater good. How silly! And some who did listen, only to review, were forced to trawl the depths of their creativity to come up with criticisms, out of a belief that someone ought to be damn criticising it, even if it meant overlooking a lot of positive qualities.

Make sure you're sitting down for this, cos it's a shocker: I, the accuser, have been guilty of similar transgressions too. It's true. I have met and interviewed Vampire Weekend, for an extended cover feature on them for The Skinny. I have seen them live twice -- once in a mid-sized Edinburgh club called the Bongo Club, I was there to interview the local support band; and once in the Californian desert, after I had met them, at Coachella. Confession: I have never listened to their debut album. Yeah, I probably would like it, even though I wasn't too impressed by them live. What can I say? I couldn't be arsed. I wrote the feature and still didn't feel compelled to acquire it (you might call that unprofessional, but you get what you pay for. I wasn't given a promo of it, and I don't like downloading things. My feature said nothing about the album, only about the background. Now, I would fire up Spotify, of course). I've never listened to any Arctic Monkeys' album either, actually. Of course I've heard individual songs by both, but never out of choice.

Why did I opt-in to the Animal Collective conversation but not the Vampire Weekend or Arctic Monkeys' ones? I have a hunch it's because I already knew and enjoyed two AC records, so I was more receptive to the idea that I would enjoy MPP; whereas Vampire Weekend and the Monkeys were new bands with hugely hyped debut albums. I hadn't invested any time in them before the hype-rush.

Guess I should get round to the Monkeys at least by now, eh?

I realise that instead of trying to put people on some kind of hype-reaction spectrum, I should've just linked to these two Wikipedia pages:

Reactance

Reverse Psychology

In summary:

"Reactance is an emotional reaction in direct contradiction to rules or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms. It can occur when someone is heavily pressured to accept a certain view or attitude. Reactance can cause the person to adopt or strengthen a view or attitude that is contrary to what was intended."

"Reverse psychology... relies on the psychological phenomenon of reactance, in which a person has a negative emotional response in reaction to being persuaded, and thus chooses the option which is being advocated against."

Hype is encouragement, lots of hype leads to lots of persuasion, but too much hype invokes reverse psychology: everyone wants you to listen to and love this album so much that you dig your heels in, because it's no longer encouragement, it's pressure, and it feels like a curtailment of your freedom to choose whether to like it or not.

Makes perfect sense, put like that.

But it's still an emotional response to outside factors, and so it should still be discouraged from entering the mindset of a music writer. Although I never bothered with the Vampire Weekend or Arctic Monkeys, I've never claimed to dislike them for their hype. I didn't react against it, I just didn't react to it, in either direction.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Amy Millan - Masters of the Burial

Amy Millan - Masters of the Burial
album review for DiS

If there exists such a thing as a die-hard Stars fan, then Amy Millan will find out when she counts the sales of her second solo LP Masters Of The Burial, because it's hard to imagine anyone other than a devout Stars acolyte being interested enough to buy it. If mediocre first album Honey From The Tombs didn't put the casual and curious off, mediocre second album Masters Of The Burial certainly will. It's an intimate, country-influenced half-hour that's very easy to miss because there's so little actually to it. For every delicate moment of prettiness, there's a dozen that are just too delicate to register. It floats on, never daring to infringe your day, except possibly to help you end it. If there is an appropriate utility for Masters Of The Burial, it could be as a late-night anaesthetic.

Amy Millan has a very pleasant voice, it's true, and she uses it throughout this album, which is a good idea of hers. No guest singers for Amy's ballads, but Amy takes on four written by others, and these are among the strongest on the record. Richard Hawley's pensive ballad 'Run For Me' is sung slowly with just a chiming electric guitar for backup, and Amy's voice is very clear to enjoy on Jenny Whitely's 'Day To Day', which she sings with only a basic drumbeat. One of the more maximal arrangements features a really lovely string backing: Sarah Harmer's wistful ballad 'Old Perfume' is the album's stand-out. You get the point: everything's a ballad.

And yeah, I get it too -- it's intentional, Masters Of The Burial wants to sound intimate and cosy and warm -- 'Lost Compass' in particular sounds like it was taped within an inch of its happening. The problem is: albums prized for their sense of intimacy need points of connection -- a terse turn of phrase perhaps, a few cutting and convincing lines, or a soulful vocal performance, or a brief rush of vim and vigour -- because otherwise they're not intimate, they're just reserved. Like a lot of great records, Masters Of The Burial is minimally arranged, slowly performed and quietly recorded; but there's never a spark here because Millan doesn't give enough of herself to it. Her lyrics are familiar and generalised, so her personality is kept shrouded. She covers Death Cab For Cutie's 'I Will Follow You Into The Dark' and I don't believe a word of it. In 'Low Sail' she repeatedly tells of a determination to "find my way back to you", but it already feels like a foregone conclusion. She wants her man to stay with her in 'Finish Line', but it's more a polite request than a plea; I don't think she really cares, so neither do I.

Masters Of The Burial ends on a high note, literally. By leaving the final bar unresolved, Millan creates the tiniest hint of tension, the only such moment on the whole record. An unresolved ending in a film would suggest a forthcoming sequel; but not even Stars fans could get excited by that prospect.

5/10

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Skinny's Best Scottish Albums of the Decade

Top 20 write-ups at The Skinny website

50. Lapsus Linguae - You Got Me Fraiche
49. Funk D'Void - Volume Freak
48. Dead Or American - Ends
47. We Were Promised Jetpacks - These Four Walls
46. De Rosa - Mend
45. James Yorkston - When The Haar Rolls In
44. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
43. Found - This Mess We Keep Reshaping
42. Christ. - Metamorphic Reproduction Miracle
41. Laeto - Zwoa
40. Sons & Daughters - Love The Cup
39. The Delgados - Hate
38. James Yorkston - The Year Of The Leopard
37. Y'All Is Fantasy Island - Rescue Weekend
36. Foil - Never Got Hip
35. Half Cousin - The Function Room
34. Withered Hand - Good News
33. The Beta Band - Hot Shots II
32. Butcher Boy - React Or Die
31. Half Cousin - Iodine
30. Macrocosmica - Art of the Black Earth
29. Life Without Buildings - Any Other City
28. The Phantom Band - Checkmate Savage
27. The Twilight Sad - Forget The Night Ahead
26. Mogwai - Rock Action
25. Arab Strap - The Last Romance
24. Aerogramme - My Heart Has A Wish That You Would Not Go
23. Idlewild - The Remote Part
22. Biffy Clyro - Puzzle
21. Belle & Sebastian - Dear Catastophe Waitress
20. Malcolm Middleton - Into The Woods
19. Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
18. Uncle John & Whitelock - There Is Nothing Else
17. King Creosote - Rocket DIY
16. Meursault - Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues
15. De Rosa - Prevention
14. Mogwai - Happy Songs For Happy People
13. Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out Of This Country
12. Arab Strap - The Red Thread
11. Aerogramme - Sleep And Release
10. Mogwai - Mr Beast
9. Boards of Canada - The Campfire Headphase
8. The Delgados - The Great Eastern
7. Arab Strap - Monday At The Hug & Pint
6. King Creosote - KC Rules OK
5. Boards of Canada - Geogaddi
4. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
3. Primal Scream - XTRMNTR
2. The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters
1. Idlewild - 100 Broken Windows



I've seen worse lists (even though it is topped by a thoroughly unremarkable album). It doesn't exactly match mine, of course, so therefore it's incorrect. But it's not bad.

I googled to see if there was any reaction. On one forum, I read "what a shite list! Two from Mogwai, Arab Strap and King Creosote in the Top 20? What about promoting lesser known bands? It's all rather mainstream and boring for me!" On another forum, I read "what a shite list! I've not heard of any of that Top 20 except Franz Ferdinand! Where's The View, Glasvegas and Paolo Nutini? Bunch of elistist snobs!" Oh well, can't satisfy everyone. Probably can't satisfy anyone (not even Malcolm Middleton).




There are 7 (seven) albums from 2009 in there. This year has been a fantastic year for Scottish music, so in that way it shouldn't be a surprise. But in another way it's very odd, because canons take time to form, and decade lists compiled before the decade has even finished are more likely to be over-weighted in older years and under-weighted in recent years. That's very true for the Pitchfork list, the Lost At Sea list, the Stylus list. If any of these pubs do it again in a few years, it'll be more proportionate. For 7/50 records in this list to be from this year, which hasn't even finished yet, is remarkable. Even more remarkable is that those seven do not include Dananananaykroyd's incredible Hey Everyone!

This was the top ten which I submitted, which was also 2009-heavy:

1. The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters
2. Primal Scream - XTRMNTR
3. Butcher Boy - React Or Die
4. Mogwai - Happy Songs for Happy People
5. Y'All Is Fantasy Island - Rescue Weekend
6. Boards of Canada - Geogaddi
7. Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career
8. Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
9. We Were Promised Jetpacks - These Four Walls
10.James Yorkston - Year of the Leopard

and even though I squeezed three 2009 albums into ten spaces, I couldn't find a space for Dananananaykroyd either! Scheisse.



It's also been pointed out to me by a mate that Kode9 is Glaswegian. That reminded me that Kevin Martin, of The Bug, was born in Paisley. If this list was not limited by geography to a country which is still very culturally homogenous, it would be criticised for itself being quite homogenous, being 95% indie-rock. In retrospect, it'd have been pretty cool if Memories Of The Future, London Zoo and Hudson Mohawke's Butter had made it, just for a bit of stylistic diversity. But (not butter) the first two are intrinsically linked with London, it would have been a bit odd to see them on a Scottish list. I wonder if they got any votes at all, just because the association is never made. And the latter (Butter) was released too late to be seriously considered - only a week or two before votes were cast.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Pernicious Influence of Hype

So it was exciting to have Simon Reynolds give the Stylus comeback a shout-out in his latest Guardian decade round-up yesterday. Also, he's participating, which was a surprise. I know he did an article for Stylus when it first opened, but he wasn't a regular contributor, unlike one or two of the regular writers who I believe can't take part. Anyway, one of the things Reynolds talked about was ex-Styluser Ian Cohen's Funeral blurb on Pitchfork's Decade list, which posited that Funeral was "the last of its kind", a unifying consensus-builder whose reception was so positive that it gave birth to a cynicism and contrarian-impulse in today's blogosphere that makes such unifying "event" records near-impossible now.

But cynicism and contrarianism have been a plasma through the internet's venous system since it came to life. Was Funeral's reception really cynicism-free? I liked Reynolds' phrasing that the blogosphere's "greatest liability" was that "there's no cool or ego-burnishing value to be generated from agreeing with other people". He's right: saying "I agree" doesn't impress anyone. Saying "no, you're wrong, and here's why..." is potentially very impressive. It's how you prove how smart you are, how different you are, how you tend to be right whilst everyone else is fooled by a variation of the same mysterious osmosis which fools the idiot public into believing the Black Eyed Peas are amazing. Look how smart I am, I see through it all. But that all depends on the "and here's why..." explanation being convincing.

Third gratuitous Stylus reference: the still-going Singles Jukebox last week caused a minor music blog kerfuffle by being very critical of the Animal Collective song "My Girls", being retrospectively analysed as it was missed on initial release. Of course, no record in the world could be loved universally, and there are surely lots of very good reasons to be unimpressed by Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavillion and "My Girls". But they weren't articulated well here; instead we got nit-picking rants, generalisations, assumptions and a lot of imagination. It looked less like genuine musical distaste and more like personal rep building. It wasn't "this is what I think of the music" it was "this is how uniquely I think".

It seems to me that a person's mode of reacting to music can be placed on a spectrum. At the far left, there are people who are very tolerant of and receptive to hype, who convince themselves that whatever their own most credible source says about a record is how they feel too; positive, negative or indifferent. These people rarely admit to being so influenced but to them, the canon is self-evidently accurate. At the other end, there are people who are very intolerant of and suspicious of hype. They convince themselves that the conventional wisdom on a record is dead wrong. If a record is well-hyped, it's probably shit, because other people get excited about rubbish things. People rarely confess to this position either (though Frank in my office does - which is maddening, but refreshing). To these people, the canon is self-evidently boring.

[Unfortunately, it's not quite so simple as this (so help me refine this if you can), because we have to work out what counts as "hype", a "credible source" and a "canon", because none of these things are the same for everyone. Also, I suspect a lot of people react differently, left-or-right, based on many different factors.]

Well, any critic who wants to be better at his job should strive to sit in the middle of that spectrum. The ideal is that no review should be influenced by other, prior reviews. I know I've been guilty of that in the past (and I probably don't know that I have, too), but people who put themselves forward as reviewers should at least attempt to adopt that mindset: of being equally as skeptical of hype as of dismissal. I don't think Ian Cohen is right that Funeral was the last of its kind, because I've read convincing rebuttals of that album's status, whilst the only Merriweather Post Pavillion backlash I've read has been straw-clutching and self-serving.

I admit it: I love Merriweather Post Pavillion; I don't care if you think I'm just another bee in the hivemind. I love Funeral too. So mock me.

Finally: to go further, the ideal is that no review should be influenced by any external factors at all. This reviewer must live in a cave with only a record player and a selection of fine headphones for company. Is Amy Winehouse's second album actually one of the best of the decade, as OMM and The Times have claimed? I always avoided it because I suspected she was mostly famous for being a fuck-up. Is it humanly possible to listen to that album without her tabloid persona influencing your reaction?