Tag Archives: Simon Sweetman

Rocks In The Attic #612: Aldous Harding – ‘Party’ (2017)

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Earlier this year, New Zealand’s Aldous Harding sparked what seemed like a national debate when she appeared on Later…With Jools Holland to perform the song, Horizon, from this, her second studio album.

The resulting YouTube clip needs to be seen to be believed – it’s a great song, but Harding peppers her performance with (frankly quite disturbing) pained facial expressions. The resulting fall-out seemed to pit a New Zealand music critic, Simon Sweetman, against every misguided miltant-feminist troll in the land.

In May, Sweetman reviewed Party by comparing the record to the sound of goats screaming like humans. A very dismissive review, for sure, but when Harding’s Jools Holland performance posted online five days later, a fire-storm ensued when Sweetman repeated a similar comment on his personal Facebook page.

We seem to be living in exciting times. In recent weeks, Wonder Woman effortlessly became the highest-grossing live-action film directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins (with the film obviously centred on the strength and possibilities of womankind), and we were introduced to a female Doctor Who in Jodie Whittaker. As a father of three young daughters, I couldn’t be happier with what seems like a snowballing of strong female role models for them. My wife’s heartbreak over the death of Carrie Fisher late last year really brought home the fact that thirty years ago, strong female role models were very few and far between.

So, we arrive at the release of Aldous Harding’s Party. However flippant Sweetman’s comments were – and they were flippant – nothing of what he said was based on Harding’s gender. ‘But it’s implicit in what he said,’ the misguided militant-feminist trolls would argue. That kind of parochial attitude would suggest that all female artists are beyond criticism – but surely women should be open to the same level of criticism as men? Sweetman’s role as a critic is to prompt discussion, and in this one instance he has been very successful.

But would he say something just as rude about a male artist? Yes, I firmly believe he would – and has! One of my only dislikes about Sweetman’s approach is that he’ll completely write off an artist, and then no matter what that artist produces, their output will seemingly be forever harshly judged – case in point: Jack White can do no right, whereas a mediocre musician like world-famous-in-New-Zealand Dave Dobbyn can do no wrong. So I worry that Aldous will never be allowed back through the door.

A friend suggested that Sweetman probably thinks of himself as the Lester Bangs of New Zealand cultural critique. I’m not sure if that’s true – and maybe he has been critical of Dave Dobbyn or praised Jack White in the past, I just haven’t seen it if he has – but nevertheless I’m convinced he isn’t sexist or misogynist: everybody’s fair game. In fact, I find these claims of misogyny to be more damaging to feminism than they are helpful.

It’s similar situation to a BBC radio interview I once heard where Halle Berry was promoting her latest film. A comment from Hugh Jackman, one of Berry’s co-stars, led the oafish presenter Chris Moyles to impersonate what an African American body-double of Jackman might sound like. “Are we having a racist moment here?” Berry asked instantly.

I find that sort of accusation deplorable, and ultimately more damaging to the cause which is being fought. I regard myself as a feminist, and I’m similarly disappointed with some of the accusations raised at Sweetman – an early champion of Harding’s career, and a strong advocate of female artists, both local and international. “Iggy Pop can get away with those sorts of affectations on stage,” the misguided militant-feminists would say, “So why can’t Aldous Harding?” My only concern would be whether those facial expressions were evidence of anything more worrying bubbling underneath.

Still, like I said, Sweetman’s role is to prompt discourse. If he hadn’t highlighted the absurdity of Harding’s Jools Holland performance, then perhaps she wouldn’t have landed so squarely on my radar. It led me to watch Harding’s music video for Blend – a clip in which most people might not be able to see past the attraction of a young woman dancing provocatively in hot-pants. I enjoyed the subversive elements of the video greatly, and the allusion to the dancing Playmates in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now wasn’t lost on me, but it was the strength of the song that hooked into me. From Blend, I moved to the video for Imagining My Man, and I was sold.

I bought the record a few weeks ago. I’m close to loving it, and will seek out her first record as soon as I can. There are still some things about Party I don’t appreciate – I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear Horizon without imaging the Jools Holland performance, and her vocal style on Imagining My Man sounds very strange, like she’s sucking on a boiled sweet – but the album’s growing on me with every listen.

The future looks bright for my daughters, in a world that is seemingly more accepting of female role-models. The last record I bought by a New Zealand artist (before Harding’s Party) was by a woman (who has gone on to massive global success – no surprises who that might have been) and the next two I buy will undoubtedly be both by women (Harding’s 2014 debut and Lorde’s sophomore Melodrama). As a feminist, I just wish that my more militant comrades on social media would pick their battles with a little more intelligence.

Hit: Blend

Hidden Gem: Living The Classics

Rocks In The Attic At 250

A bit of a misleading title, as though I’ve been writing this blog since the good year 1763…

Despite carting my 600+ strong vinyl collection to the other side of the world in 2008, I somehow felt the need at the time to sell my turntable for a bit of pre-move cash. About a year ago, after living in New Zealand for over 4 years, I still didn’t own a turntable. I was still buying records, but I didn’t have anything to play them on. It got so bad that I started buying duplicates of records that I already owned – simply because I had become a stranger to my own record collection. ‘Did I really own Tracy Chapman’s debut album?’ I would ask myself in a record shop. When I got home, I realised that yes, I did, and no, it’s not an album worthy of having two copies.

A friend at work pointed out the absurdity of my situation, so I made a point to invest in a turntable as soon as possible. My technical know-how isn’t the best, so I really didn’t know what to buy. I’ve hung around with enough DJs in the past to know that I needed a direct-drive turntable, as opposed to an unreliable belt-drive turntable, but apart from that, I didn’t know a thing. I found a Stanton turntable on Trade Me – sold by a Cash Convertors-style shop – so it was still in relatively good condition, probably pawned by somebody not long after buying it. Thanks to the surround sound system left at our house by my Brother-In-Law, and a little pre-amp unit from the local electronics store, I was back in business. All those hundreds of shiny black discs in the corner of my living room could be listened to again!

Armchair CroppedAround this time, I had started reading Blog On The Tracks – the counter-culture music blog on the stuff.co.nz news website written by Wellington journalist Simon Sweetman. What a surprise to find something like this in New Zealand – it’s a real shame but most New Zealanders only get culture from their yoghurt. Simon’s blog made me think twice about New Zealand – it isn’t quite the cultural backwater that I had become to regard it as in the four years I had been living in the country. Yes, it’s a small country, and the majority of the population prefer the dull, simple pleasures of rugby and fishing, but there are intelligent, artistic people here too. I just need to look for them.

Simon’s side-blog, offthe tracks.co.nz features a segment called The Vinyl Countdown where he gives brief reviews of records in his collection. I had been toying with the idea of starting a music blog, writing about my favourite records, but focusing more on the personal stories behind why I bought the album in the first place, or the memories that go along with each disc. I’ve always thought the standard way that most journalists review music – by actually describing the sound coming out of the speakers – is very boring to read; and I’ve always liked it when a reviewer has put their own unique, personal slant on the record.

Reading offthetracks.co.nz – and being able to listen to my record collection again – gave me the final inspiration to start writing. I already had the intention to start a blog so I “borrowed” the format of The Vinyl Countdown, which gave me a structure for what I wanted to do. I’ve since apologised to Simon a couple of times for the blatant theft, and he’s always took it in good grace. I’m pretty sure that type of format is relatively common on blogging sites anyway, but I think it’s important to always pay respect and name your sources.

Record Collection April 2013So I started my blog, originally on blogger.com, but first I needed a name. Quickly finding that every pun on the word vinyl had already been used for a blog title, I opted for something that was a bit more personal. Two of the strongest ‘70s albums from my all-time favourite band Aerosmith, Toys In The Attic and Rocks, had always been a cornerstone of my record collection, so combining these titles seemed to work. It was either Rocks In The Attic or Toys In The Cellar.

Looking back, a couple of things stand out as regrets. I started naming a ‘hit’ and a ‘hidden gem’ for each album at the end of each post, and although this sounds relatively simple, it’s bloody hard sometimes. There are a couple of records in my collection that have nothing close to anything you would regard as a ‘hit’ (or a ‘hidden gem’ for that matter); and conversely, there are dozens of records in my collection where every song is a hit. I tend to regard the most well known song as the ‘hit’ (and if this doesn’t work, then the highest-placed charting single or the opening track); and the better of the lesser known songs as the ‘hidden gem’.

Another regret is my initial choice of Blogger as the location for my blog. I had used Blogger before so I was familiar with how to use it, and despite protestations from good friend Moo, I stuck with it. The last straw with Blogger occurred when the site stopped operating with Internet Explorer, and only accepted Google Chrome. Time to decamp, I thought. I then spent a whole weekend transferring my blog, post by post, which by then was well over a hundred, onto WordPress. After I had spent a great deal of time doing this, Moo innocently asked why I didn’t just use the ‘import blog’ function in WordPress. Cue Basil Fawlty meltdown.

One thing I did lose when I transferred to WordPress was some reader comments. Most of them came across, but for a time I was operating in both Blogger and WordPress, so when I shut the Blogger one down I lost a couple, especially from one excited reader who made a few welcome comments about The Band’s eponymous album. I hope he doesn’t think I was ignoring his worthy contribution.

When I started the blog, I put together an Excel spreadsheet, to log all of the albums I was posting about. With the aid of a few pivot tables and some automated formulas, I can accurately measure a couple of statistics. For the first forty or so posts, I tried to keep the distribution of albums by decade relatively even, but I knew that I couldn’t keep that up for long – my taste is far too geared towards the ‘60s and ‘70s to give anything later a chance.

After 250 posts, I can accurately report that the ‘70s are the most prominent decade in my collection, with 82 posts (33%). This is closely followed by the ‘80s, with 62 entries (25%).  The ‘90s (39, 16%) narrowly beat the ‘60’s (38, 15%). Unsurprisingly the 1950s, 2000s and 2010s are far behind with 1 (0%), 25 (10%) and 3 (1%) respectively.

The 250 posts I have written cover 287 actual discs – accounting for double-LPs and bonus discs – and 189 hours, 8 minutes and 10 seconds of actual music.

The frequency of particular artists in my collection doesn’t really surprise me either. Aside from 12 albums attributed to Various Artists (explained by soundtracks and compilations), the most common artists are Aerosmith (with 11 entries), The Beatles (8), The Rolling Stones (7), The Doobie Brothers and Led Zeppelin (both with 5), and Bob Dylan, R.E.M. and AC/DC (4 each). I’ve covered 159 separate artists so far, although there’s some double counting in there, for example, with Paul McCartney listed separate to Paul & Linda McCartney.

Couch CroppedEvery year since 1958 is represented, except 1959, 1960, 1961, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013. I actually have records in my collection from some of those years – I just haven’t managed to get around to them just yet – but I’ll try and fill in some of those gaps for when I run this same tally at #500.

The year that appears the most is 1980 with 12 entries, which surprises me as I really thought it would be a year from the previous decade. 1972, 1976 and 1977 come second, with 11 each, and joint bronze goes to 1971 and 2000, with 10 apiece.

Rocks In The Attic was always supposed to be a retrospective blog. It was always intended as a walk through my record collection, which mainly consists of older albums, but towards the end of the year I found myself writing about new releases from 2012. I guess that adds a bit of variety, rather than endlessly talking about records that are older than myself.

One thing I’ve really appreciated since getting fully back into listening to vinyl is the annual Record Store Day releases (and its offshoots throughout the year such as Black Friday). I’ve picked up a few things in the last 12 months – a ten-disc box-set of 7” Stax singles from 1968 to 1974, and a 10” soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Releases like this really show that vinyl is very much alive and kicking.

So, Rocks In The Attic has reached 250 and I’m not even halfway through my still growing collection. There are dozens of classic albums left to write about – both critically acclaimed and important to me (with a few guilty pleasures thrown in for good measure). I don’t think I’ll be ending this blog anytime soon – I’m having too much fun.

Thanks for reading.

Johnny Andrews, April 2013.

Hit: The fact that I get so much enjoyment from sitting down every Saturday morning and writing about the records I’m listening to.

Hidden Gem: Having anybody read my blog, and best of all, leaving a comment.