A while back on Facebook, Ruben gleefully shared a link to David Rees's "Aphex Swift" mashup album, from which there is an example below:
This was the text he added:
... it would be even easier to shut up and stop being so snobby because both T-Swift and Richard D. James (the man behind Aphex Twin's glitchy drums and swirling synths) are both awesome.
"Recognition of this dual awesomeness was behind the decision by postmodern Renaissance man David Rees to spend the summer creating Aphex Swift—a full-length album mashup of the two artists' music."
Ruben is not one to shy away from a challenge. However, his wife, Silje, felt he couldn't give a fair and impartial review, so took on the reviewer duties herself. We'll come to her review shortly (thank you, Silje!)
However, as anyone who has been a regular visitor here will know (and if you're a newcomer, a quick scan of the articles thus far on offer will enlighten) "Dave's Place Music" is about non-mainstream music. Taylor Swift is just about as representative of the mainstream as any artist currently. Why should a review of a Taylor Swift album be published here?
Well, for a start, the one thing I have never been is a music snob. Yes, I like "difficult" music; yes, some artists I listen to have fan bases that wouldn't fill a phonebooth if they were herded into it; yes, there is music I actively dislike in existence (and the reasons for that dislike are myriad, and specific to each individual case). However, I have always operated, and continue to operate on a simple system when it comes to music: if I like it, I listen to it. I honestly don't care if it's liked by millions, or merely dozens. Or even just me. The music itself is what will dictate whether I like it, not the person making it (usually – there are exceptions, of course: I don't feel comfortable listening to Lost Prophets, for example. Likewise, I find the inclusion of Rolf Harris a bit irritating on Kate Bush's "Aeriel", although I can overcome that one with greater ease as he was not the creative artist, and merely a component … although I don't regard the other musicians in that way … we all have our coping mechanisms, don't we!?) Neither will anyone else's opinion. The coolest people on Earth say this is shit? Well fuck them. I like it.
Additionally, I have a problem with music snobs. I hate how some people invent rules for what makes good music. There are no rules. Listening to music is a personal experience. Just because I can listen to angular, oblique music, with or without vocals (which may have lyrics or not, some of them as cryptic as a nun eating babies inside a bicycle pump) does not mean I should only listen to music like this. I hate it when someone says that a piece of music is "too melodic". What the fuck does that even mean? I have encountered Aphex Twin fans who say such things, yet when it comes down to it, their favourite tracks are "Windowlicker", "Alberto Balsam" and "Acrid Avid Jam Shred". Even with someone less "difficult" like Boards of Canada, they always will cite "ROYGBIV" as a favourite. Pretentious bollocks is what they talk. And often, it is truly a case of the Emperor's new clothes. I have been to some concerts where utter sonic abstraction, "music" that almost left me with bleeding ears, was dutifully applauded by a crowd wearing earnest expressions, nodding sagely, and then turning to their neighbour and using words like "primal" and "atavistic" and "expressionistic", while dropping in references to anything and everything they could think of that sounded "credible" from John Cage to Lou Reed. The fact that the "music" was actually unlistenable shite made by baboons with absolutely no understanding of what they were doing, or why, doesn't seem to enter into the matter at all. This is an annoyance on a par with those "singers" who crank up the melisma setting on their singing, and turn a song with the simplest of melodies into a roaring monstrosity riddled with wasted notes that neither ornament nor embellish. I once said my idea of hell would be a duet between Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. The power behind the universe made this happen. What a c*nt.
I remember as a child my mother took me to visit an old lady. Her house was full of the gaudiest, garish and downright eye-burningly awful knick-knacks and ornaments you could ever imagine. Even the paintings hanging on the walls were of maudlin tearful children, sad clowns, and all manner of sentimental wankology. Not a pleasant memory at all. Yet that's what comes to mind when I hear this kind of thing.
I often compare listening to music as being very similar to eating food. You can't live on an unhealthy diet of fast food, and expect physical health. Likewise, you can't listen to musical fast food and expect to be psychologically satisfied by it. The bulk of "diva" music rarely amounts to being anything more than a ball of lard and sugar. (And Whitney Houston was not a great artist, she was merely a voice used to polish turd-like songs that wouldn't have graced a supermarket CD bargain bin, never mind the Top 40 – just because she is dead doesn't change that. I'll keep my Michael Jackson commentary for another time.)
Such fatball music isn't exclusive to pop, though. There's a lot of fatball jazz, fatball hip-hop, fatball metal, and so on. Genre does not preclude the generation of a sugary fatball. If you get to the end of that Whitiah travesty ("Whitiah" – now I feel like a popular culture critic, worthy of a wage in some right-wing tabloid! Huzzah!) you'll hear something that could be just about any fatball. Change the vocalists to two saxophonists. Allow the drummer space to improvise as well. Or replace the backing track with comping piano. Or change Whitiah to two slightly distorted guitars (or better, heavily distorted guitars). It's excess with no purpose. Extraneous rubbish. Of course, in this case, the song itself sucks. It is already loaded with sugar. It makes Coca Cola look like a mouthwash.
I like maximalism, but that is excess under control (at least when it's done right). My friends, Mungolian Jetset, are masters of maximalism. They mix Disco with the epic grandeur of symphonic prog rock (to use critical shorthand). They create a veritable banquet of earfood within a single track, yet never leave you feeling like you've swallowed a brick that will leave you hungry an hour later (the sensation I always get after eating from a certain fastfood chain … which I now no longer do, 'cause I'm too old to take any more chances).
Regardless of all this, and partially because of all this, when Ruben sent me an email with Silje's review, I wasn't sure what to do about it. Does this belong here? Do I need to create a context? Who will actually read this if they come here to read what's on offer here? Isn't there enough written about Taylor Swift already without DPM adding to it? And so on.
However, I had actually planned to discuss another matter that Taylor Swift has helped re-highlight recently: Streaming. Many of the great and good have been discussing this. However, I feel that the majority of people dodge certain details. And further, where it relates to Taylor Swift, the matter is not as clear as many want it to be.
And so it is that I have appropriated Silje's review as part of an extended "Cerebration" article. My own review will follow in the second part, because I know a lot more about Taylor Swift than most people would expect, and have been listening to her music for almost as long as her recording career has been going. Silje and I will have different opinions on "1989", but it might surprise you how much we seem to agree upon.
Taylor Swift's "1989" – Review by Silje Lærk
I've been an adult Swift fan from the first time I heard "Love Story" many years ago. What started as a guilty pleasure rapidly grew to open admiration to the point that I managed to convert other non-country friends, never mind music made for and by a teenager. She is just one of those plainly talented musicians where no matter what kind of music you are into, hers can be appreciated. Taylor has slowly moved from Nashville princess to the royalty of pop.
Arguably, the lyrics are still the same but with, as she is fond of mentioning on this album, a different beat. Her style of singing has changed with the genre as well, and I find myself liking the more spoken sentences she outs in some of her songs.
However, I didn't realise changing niche to pop music meant so much repetition. The album named after her birth year is also a credit to the '80s and '90s pop era. You will find that big-picture sound on most songs and arguably, the first few times I listened to the album I had problems differentiating the songs.
However the album has definitely grown on me and now I miss the songs when I've been hours without them. "Out of the woods" gives me the association of seeing end-credits rolling across the large screen while leaving the cinema. Don't be surprised if you hear it in a movie sometime soon.
Together with the ode for one of the USA's most famous cities, the two songs gives a good example of this repetitiveness. Throw "Bad blood" into that mix too. All of the songs are very catchy but it's not of the song writing quality I'd expect from Taylor.
On the other hand, "Blank Space", "Clean", "Shake it off" and "Style" all are. The cheekiness of Taylor's list of ex-boyfriend's having a blank space available is quite amusing. "Clean" which is co-written with Imogen Heap has that sad, desperate but beautifully hopeful feeling. "Shake it off" being her first single from the album clearly stands out as the most catchy and positive song and will always be one of my favourites. "Style" gives us a new, well, style of singing together with smart lyrics.
Speaking of ways of singing - at one point I thought the album was finished and that my music player had started playing from my Lana Del Ray collection - until I recognised Taylor's voice and also the same attire and makeup that she just sang about in "Style". Interesting twist of genre Taylor, it suits your voice well!
There is also a deluxe version of her album as there always is, and I particularly find "You are in love" worth mentioning. It comes as a soft quiet and comfortable lullaby at the end of the album. Describing the wonder of recognising unconditional love, she says it so well - "you understand now why I've tried my whole life to put it into words".
Taylor has mentioned that making jokes regarding her future boyfriends having to watch out is under-mining her music. After all - isn't most art about love whether it's happy or unfortunate?
Taylor you do this well - although I might say this is not your best album yet, I'd say Shake the critics Off and continue in your own Style.