Tag Archive: review


Text Versus Video

In the past, I used to write down some of my thoughts about the records I was buying purely for my own entertainment. (Check out the review section of this site for some of the crud that I penned). I think I started doing concert reviews – as I liked to keep a diary of what I’d seen – and this extended to album reviews too, thanks to my involvement with a music fan site I am no longer involved with. I used to get a bit of traffic off these reviews and there used to be a spike in virtual footfall whenever I posted a review of a concert.

Indeed, the days after writing about a live gig I would see people searching on Google, seeking other people’s thoughts on the night’s entertainment. This was pleasing and a feeling of inclusion in the World Wide Web is a nice thing. I was happy to share my thoughts and share my experiences with strangers. It seemed a nice, productive way of spending my time.

This was until June of this year when I posted a review of a pretty high profile concert (Madness at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Ray David Meltdown Festival) and I saw zero traffic for my review. Nothing, nada, not a fucking bean. How so? I couldn’t understand why no-one would be seeking out reviews of the concert. I even went so far as to type in the gig into Google to see if:

1) There were any other reviews of the concert
2) If my website was even in the page ranking

I can’t remember exactly where my website rated but it was pretty deep into search results. Of course, people tend to search for something and then not bother clicking through 20+ pages of search results – so being on the front four or five pages is key to a successful website. Despite my review being very current (I posted it the same night as the concert), for whatever reason my words were designated by Google as not being relevant enough.

I then did some digging around and discovered that this year Google had changed their search algorithm, which apparently changed all the page ranking and now the search engine basis a websites suitability in terms of fresh, original content. Despite my site being packed with fresh, original content, I was no longer featuring highly. I saw my traffic plummet to single digit visits on some days and I found others on the Google Forums who were in the same position and wanted to know how to fix the problem.

There is no fix and there are businesses out there who depend on Google to direct customers to their sites and I read harrowing stories of established internet businesses finding their customers disappearing overnight. And there was nothing they, nor Google could do about it. It was all part of this search algorithm change.

So for a month or so, I watched my website die. OK – I didn’t have the greatest amount of traffic in the world, but people come to my site for certain requests and my regular daily traffic was gone – just one man and his dog was turning up. So I was left with the dilemma – do I quit now and take off all my content or do I try and come up with a new strategy? The weird thing was that despite my site being almost invisible on Google I was still shifting hundreds of Gb of data with my music and video files coming off the site. So I thought I would come up with a new strategy and it has kind of paid off.

Google and YouTube are the same company, no? There’s an awful lot of viewers on Google, right? So what if I try and harness the power of the two, bring them together and somehow kick-start the traffic to my site legitimately without using Blackhat SEO techniques? I had this idea to move my music reviews onto YouTube and then link to them via my site – cross indexing the two. I started my “Prog Review” channel and have seen an incredible increase in traffic to my site. My site is alive again. Huzzah! However, I have had to generate content for YouTube (which is Google) to get to this point.

But despite this success, I’ve had a couple of nay-sayers on the music website I used to be involved with saying that video reviews are crap because they can skim written reviews faster and sitting through some fat head flapping his chops about records takes up too much of their time. They do not want to be entertained, they want the facts fast. They kind of missed the point in what I was trying to do, but it got me thinking about Text Vs Video.

I personally cannot stand reading music reviews (or reviews in particular). People who are paid to write music reviews are the lowest form of life. They don’t buy the things they review, so therefore sit in an artificial domain compared to us serfs who actually pay out our hard-earned money and there is very often an agenda involved. Cripes, I used to work in magazines and on a number of occasions I had written stinky, honest reviews of products only to be told by my editor to bump up the score because an advert from the company involved was appearing in the mag. That left me pretty much fucking jaded with writing reviews for a living.

But yeah: words versus pictures? Will one supersede the other? I’ve been spending a lot of time on YouTube over the years and I’ve seen lots of interesting content made by enthusiastic amateurs who review electronics, computer games and what-not. And now I am trying to do the same. If you want to take part and be mildly entertained, then join me. But if you want to remain in the past, skimming reviews written by people who have no right to express an opinion, then play on, my friend.

The internet has changed everything…

Sound on Sound Reviews “The Luckiest Man in the World”

I don’t ever send music off for review or to record companies or to whatever. My music is mine and belongs to me and no-one else. I decided to send a copy of “The Luckiest Man in the World” to Sound on Sound – a magazine I have read since the early 1990s and is key to my musical education – in order to see if I could get some feedback on the quality of my music production. Unfortunately, the review didn’t really go that way and evolved into a more traditional music review. The criticism is valid, but I was hoping for more on my mixing and overall sound of my album. Oh well, maybe I should make some sweeping soundtracks instead?

My album reviewed in Sound on Sound magazine

Look at my manic, smiling face - hee hee hee...

And to mark this epic review, I might as well point you in the direction of where you can get it:

Here and here.

First review of “Steady State of Flux”

In order to garner any interest in my music, I have to give it away. If the professionals cannot sell their wares, then how can a lowly amateur such as myself? Am I still an amateur? I don’t know. I just do what I do and hope for the best. That’s all one can do, isn’t it? Just be. Ooooh, getting a bit metaphysical here.

Anyway the following review appeared on Jamendo, a few hours after the album went live on there, and it sums up what I was trying to achieve with this collection perfectly. Hitting the nail on the head is a fine art, but this reviewer got out his invisible reviewing hammer and knocked home that nail with one fluid motion.

Five star review from “Wolfsong.The Poet”

Sweet and relaxed . . .
a laid back style of music . ..
beautiful . . . it reminded me of laying in the grass,
without a worry on my mind . . .
feeling the whole world at my back . .
and watching the clouds drift away . . .
leaving blue skies . .. and forever,
an eternity of summer days
and dreams . ..

Day dreamy music . . .

And you can download the album for FREE at Jamendo here.

Van der Graaf Generator Ticket Barbican 27/03/11

Setlist
1 Interference Patterns
2 Mr. Sands
3 Your Time Starts Now
4 Mathematics
5 Lemmings
6 Lifetime
7 Bunsho
8 Over The Hill
9 Scorched Earth
10 Childlike Faith In Childhood’s End

Encore:
11 La Rossa

The last time I’d seen Van der Graaf Generator was back in 2005 when they thundered back to the realm of live performances with their now legendary comeback gig at the Royal Festival Hall. I had tickets for their previous Barbican outing in 2007, but decided not to go because I’d gotten the Missus pregnant and I thought all the noise and excitement of a VDGG concert wouldn’t be conducive to the development of the foetus.

Despite getting a little lost driving into London, we arrived late to miss the first song and caught them blistering through “Mr Sands” from the new album “A Grounding in Numbers”. And quite a bit of material tonight was from this CD and their previous released “Trisector”. But despite this, the one hour and forty-five minute set whizzed past with such speed, such was my enjoyment and involvement with the music.

It takes quite a bit of getting used to not having David Jackson’s saxophones in the mix, but I must admit I didn’t miss him with Hammill covering his lines on guitar and keyboard. This was a very different animal, much leaner, much meaner and definitely louder. The material from “A Grounding in Numbers” felt a lot stronger than the “Trisector” songs, which felt a little meandering and meek in comparison. Of course, you also want some of the old songs and there was a smattering of those to suffice: “Lemmings” which the beginning was almost unrecognisable thanks to Hammill’s lead guitar playing, “Scorched Earth” was dispatched with a raw power you come to expect, but it wasn’t until show closer “Childlike Faith In Childhood’s End” that I felt the power of the music actually suck the air from my lungs and leave me breathless. The encore of “La Rossa” continued to electrify and left me tingling as all the hairs on my neck and body suddenly stood to attention, such was the power of the music.

The band were on good form and one can forgive the “trainwrecks” (Peter Hammill’s words not mine) that happened during the show. The power and brute force of this trio still amazes me and Hammill’s unfaltering voice, which soars and screams and whispers and talks, is worth the ticket price alone. How that man can still do what he does at his age, I find totally awe-inspiring.

I must admit that I had pretty low expectations of the concert, but I feel that was the best place the start because I had a very good evening of music delivered to me. I spent a lot of the evening transfixed by the playing of drummer Guy Evans, who is the heartbeat of the band, while Hugh Banton bolstered the guitar and keyboard playing of Hammill. The only criticism, if there is to be a criticism, is that Peter Hammill is no lead guitarist and his playing was a little weak in places and sometimes you couldn’t even hear him in the mix. But it doesn’t matter because with that voice, Hammill can sing the telephone book and I’d pay to listen.

They are a pretty tight trio when they get going and, despite their collective age, make a lot of younger rock bands look like a bunch of simpering pussies. Viva le VDGG!

CD Review: Penguin Café – A Matter of Life…

Penguin Café - A Matter of Life...

The new album from Arthur Jeffes, Penguin Café

I’ve written many words about my fondness for the original Penguin Café Orchestra and its proprietor, Simon Jeffes, and you might have already read my review of the recent concert by the revived, rebooted, Penguin Café helmed by son-of-Jeffes, Arthur. Well now there’s an album of new material written by Arthur Jeffes featuring this new configuration of musicians.

It’s a hard job to fill anyone’s footsteps, probably even harder to fill your father’s footsteps but “A Matter of Life..” is brave attempt at resurrecting his musical heritage. Before you even listen to the CD you have to commend his strength of character for even attempting such a feat. I mean, what if the record is a stinker? What if it is just a piss-poor shadow of the original Penguin Café music?

Thankfully, the answer to those questions is a resounding “No!”. There are some classic moments on the record where you forget that this is Jeffes Jr work and you kid yourself that the PCO are back in town, the opening track “That, Not That” and “Landau” are examples of the music just spiriting you away to the good old days and a are worth the price of admission alone.

And while it is a brave record, you can sense that there is a lot of nostalgia here, the tunes are looking back and not looking forward. A lot of the musical cues and ticks and styles are borrowed wholesale from Jeffes Snr (the “Fox and the Leopard”, for example). Is this a bad thing? Yes, if you are looking for a work of startling genius. No, if you accept the record and the project for what it is: remembering and reviving.

I must admit I’ve never experienced music or a record like this before. It feels right as a continuation, but the snickering cynic at the back of my mind asks: “Is this music genuine – does it come from a genuine place?” I don’t want to even try and answer that because I have already accepted the record and I can’t imagine my own children being remotely interested in the music I make, let alone setting out on a path to recreate it.

The bottom line is that if you are a Penguin Café Orchestra fan and you want the closest thing to bringing the band back from the dead and experiencing a new PCO album, then this is it. My only criticism is some of the later tracks feel a little underdeveloped and meandering, but the original band were guilty of this trait sometimes too.

It truly is a remarkable piece of work and my admiration for Arthur Jeffes continues. I look forward to seeing the band again in May.

CD Review: Present – Van der Graaf Generator

CD REVIEW
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Van der Graaf Generator – Present

This is the first proper studio album from the progressive rock band that’s respected by all manner of fans from John Lydon of the Sex Pistols to Mark E Smith of The Fall since 1977. The band have pushed out the boat by giving the fans a veritable feast of music, spanning two CDs and 1 hour 42 minutes. The album “Present” is like a football match and is a game of two halves: the first is the CD of studio material and the second is a disc of improvised instrumental music.

The first disc opens up with the song “Every Bloody Emperor” in which Hammill rants and raves against all those meely-mouthed politicians out there. The scary thing is that it sounds like the VDGG boys are back in the seventies and nothing has changed. The song has a nice enough lyric and the music backs it up, but there’s not enough of the Hammill fire that we are so used to and the song deserves. Where’s the vitriol, Pete? This goes into a really good instrumental by David Jackson called “Boleas Panic” and it is a cool, sax lead, slinky slice of VDGG that echoes back to the Godbluff album.

The second proper song in the collection is “Nutter Alert” and here we see Hammill revisiting old themes that he presented with “Energy Vampires”. It’s about those people who turn up, those people who are a few sandwiches sort of a picnic. It has all those manic vocal twitches that we expect from pH and gives you fair warning about all those nutters out there. “Abandon Ship” starts with some spiky guitar chords (guitar and VDGG, surely not?) and it there’s a lot interplay between the six string and the sax again, with lots of call and response going on. It’s a bit loose and I am not particularly impressed with this track. It feels a little half-baked to me.

“In Babelsberg” again starts with a heavily distorted guitar and it sees VDGG returning to that ugly music we all love and hate. It’s pretty standard stuff but again just needs that edge to push it further. I am hoping that the band tears this one up live, because it “feels” more like a live track to me.

“On the Beach” starts with some studio chatter between the band members before going seeing Hammill and keyboard delivering a lilting and sad refrain. Then Jackson comes in with his saxophone again and the song shuffles along before being enveloped in a sea of sound effect waves lapping against the shore. It’s a nice ending to the first CD.

The second CD, which begins with the waves that ended the first disc, is a completely different kettle of fish. Here the band is in improvisational mode. I am not personally a fan of the improvisational VDGG. Like the Long Hello album and the Time Vaults album, the stuff here varies in content. Some of it is pleasant, some of it is a waste of time – the band noodling around, trying to find ideas. This is a shame because the first CD is quite strong and I feel that it is let-down by the second set.

Overall, I really like the first CD of “Present” with “Every Bloody Emperor”, “Nutter Alert” and “On the Beach” being the stand out tracks. My only criticism is it seems to be a Hammill/Jackson album and Hugh Banton doesn’t really find his feet in this collection. Guy Evans is Guy Evans and he can drum his way out of anything so no complaints there. The second CD is a bit iffy. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t like it. I could probably have it on in the background when I was working, but I wouldn’t want to listen to it out of choice. It is worth buying? Of course it bloody is – only so you know the material for the up-and-coming comeback show on 6 May. I’ll be there – I have some good tickets already in my greasy mitts. 😉