2 October 2011

Don't hate the media, become the media

Recently I was asked to review the latest album from Wooden Shjips.  I wrote a review based on what I heard from the album, what I personally thought of it and the impression it made on me.  I was asked to rewrite it to fit with the editorial style of the website I was writing for, which I didn't have too much of a problem with, but I thought it made an interesting point about the difference between a review and a publicity piece.

To me a review is someones personal opinion of something - I can't write about how other people will or did experience an album or concert; I can only write based on personal experience.  At the same time, as a review, I have to always remember that I am part of the PR machine and I get given albums to review to help sell them.  Some reviewers seem to either forget this, or are confident that their editors will back them and keep them in employment regardless of what they write.  For me, I know that if I write too many negative reviews, or upset too many record labels or managers, I'm probably going to find that my supply of music dries up pretty quickly.

It's not just something I have to always keep in mind; as music fans, you also need to bear in mind that, regardless of how independent a review seems, the reviewer has probably had to put an editorial slant on their review.

What do you think of this spin that gets put on a review?  Does it affect how you read a review and the opinions you form of music based on what you read?  Do you think there should be a greater separation between the music industry and the media/reviewers?

In case you're interested, I've copied the original review below.  You can read the final version that got published here; it was the third rewrite.

I always thought Wooden Shjips were a Dutch folk duo for some messed up reason – no idea why, apart from the faux-Dutch spelling in the name, but that’s kept me from checking them out before now.  Which is a shame, because I really got into their latest album West and now regret not listening to them sooner (and therefore missing out on seeing them on their recent trip to New Zealand).

To set the record straight for those of you who fell into the same trap I did, and hope that’s not many of you, Wooden Shjips are a San Francisco based psychedelic, prog-rock powerhouse that are onto their 3rd studio album.

I was instantly into their sound, which has a definite retro feel to it, similar to the vibe that ran through a lot of 70’s prog groups.  It’s eerie, floaty, space music, with songs that stretch out forever, repeating on themselves as they build on layer upon layer of sound, until you forget where you are and what you ever listened to before the song started. 

There’s only seven tracks here, but they are all long tracks; these aren’t a handful of 3 minute radio friendly pop songs full of hooks, no sir.  If you want to listen to Wooden Shjips you better be prepared to meet them halfway; bring your powers of concentration and an open mind to the party too because if you want to get the full experience of their music you best be jumping right in to try and untangle the musical threads they weave.
So now they’ve got me hooked I must be off to check out their back catalogue, as I cross my fingers and hope for a return visit from this quartet of musical magicians.

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