When I’m writing a review, it sometimes becomes rather clear how far off one can be from “getting it right.” In the past, I often declined from writing a poor review, not wanting to give any sort of “publicity” to a bad album. But that was a disservice to potential listeners seeking information, and a misunderstanding of what reviewers do.
Still, it isn’t any fun wondering if you’re the poor sap who just doesn’t “get it,” and I’m sure this worry has led to more tepid semi-approvals of bad albums than payola ever did. After all, everyone wants to be feel included– and very few people are more worried about missing something cool than DJs and music reviewers. Major labels are obviously used to it by now.
Worse yet is being on the receiving end of a bad review, especially when it’s clear that you were misunderstood. Read these two excerpts from reviews of Lou Reed’s 1975 “Metal Machine Music,” both written by competent, well-meaning reviewers:
“…four sides of unlistenable noise (a description, not a value judgement) that angered and disappointed all but the most devout Reed fans. If he was simply looking to goad people and puncture perceptions, Metal Machine Music was a rousing success.” -Ira Robbins
“…searingly beautiful electro-acoustic composition for electric guitar… lends a feeling of infinite universal and atomic surface compression permeating everything. ‘Passion-realism was the key’ is the significant line from the otherwise rather posed liner notes. Sudden silences leave the listener floating.” – “Blue” Gene Tyranny
To begin with, the majority of both albums sound a lot like someone rummaging through a large box of percussion instruments. On “Resistance Cruisers,” this is initially punctuated by a horn noise of some sort– remarkably like an animal call, but overdriven. Although I can hear tracks changing, to my ear, there is little to differentiate one track from another. There are a variety of small splashes, scattering noise, and the occasional large crash– but the album doesn’t go far enough to quite become a noise release, nor congeal sufficiently to convince me of any real sense of direction.
“Rashaya” is not a lot different, although there is a bit more variety to the sounds, and some increased dynamics. The disc starts with a fairly large boom, but devolves back into the “instruments in a box” gray area again. With both discs, there is enough room noise to be a bit distracting, with some interesting smaller sounds becoming lost.
It is hard to tell if these were simply “off” days for Weston, or if much of what he performs is buried in the mix, though I suspect the latter. For what its worth, Weston IS playing a lot here– to create these sounds, there is no doubt he’s working hard.
So yes, it’s entirely possible that I don’t get it, and its unnerving. Experimental music isn’t like pop music, where you’re reasonably certain what end a musician is chasing, and you can be confident if its been achieved. Sometimes, making a review of an experimental recording is like grading a “what I did this summer” essay– no correct answers, just everyone’s unique voice.