Chad Parkhill

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Loving (and Hating) Tori Amos

Published by Killings, 13 June 2014. Original post. Tori Amos by Pat Moore and Tim Teeling (Creative Commons).

Tori Amos is hardly to blame for the existence of her fans’ expectations, nor for their disappointment when her work does not live up to them—but that doesn’t prevent that disappointment from feeling intensely personal, as though she’s slighting all of us when she releases an album as tepid as, say, 2009’s Abnormally Attracted to Sin. Of course, Tori is not the only recording artist who has ever disappointed their fans, but it is perhaps a testament to the emotional heft of her brilliant early work that we feel entitled to her very best work every time she releases a new album.

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Still Climbing the Ladder to God

Swans’ To Be Kind

Published by Killings, 22 May 2014. Original post. Album artwork (collage), Swans, To Be Kind (2014).

Those of us lucky enough to have seen Swans live in concert will know that they are unlike any other band currently touring. Other bands may be heavier, other bands may be louder, other bands may be noisier, but no band is quite as intense as Swans—a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that its leader, chief songwriter, and sole constant member, Michael Gira, turned sixty this year, and that the band had been on a decade-long hiatus before reforming in 2010.

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The Critic as Parasite

Published by Killings, 7 May 2014. Original post. Iggy Azalea by Laura Murray (Creative Commons), Grimes by Tom Øverlie (Creative Commons) and Lorde by Annette Geneva (Creative Commons).

It’s an interesting time to be a music critic. So far 2014 has been marked by an assortment of micro-scandals about the way that music criticism is written, from both inside and outside the profession. Not long before Ted Gioia’s plea for music critics to learn and use the technical language of music theory was published, The Jezabels’ lead singer Hayley Mary launched a broadside against the profession (if indeed you can call it that), telling music critics to “fucking get a real job”.

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Radical Honesty

EMA’s The Future’s Void

Published by Killings, 23 April 2014. Original post. EMA by Erica M. Anderson.

Erica M. Anderson’s recently released second solo album, The Future’s Void, has been for the most part well-received by critics—albeit with some caveats. Most have praised the way she has maintained her songwriting identity despite shifting from the folk/blues/noise rock of her debut, Past Life Martyred Saints, to a 90s-influenced mélange of post-grunge and industrial pop (à la Nine Inch Nails). The bone of contention seems to be that The Future’s Void is understood as tackling a Big Theme—namely, our relationship to internet technologies—and is therefore pushing a Message, in contrast to the supposedly message-less Past Life Martyred Saints.

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Beyond Tragedy

HTRK’s Psychic 9–5 Club

Published by The Quietus, 22 April 2014. Original post. HTRK by Gareth Jones (Creative Commons).

It’s impossible to talk about Psychic 9–5 Club without talking about tragedy. The press release accompanying advance copies of the album makes this explicit: this is, after all, the first HTRK album without any input from founding member Sean Stewart, who took his own life as the band were working on their second album, 2011’s Work (Work, Work). Even in their original three-piece incarnation, HTRK were no strangers to tragedy, having worked closely with Australian post-punk legend Rowland S. Howard—on both their own debut, Marry Me Tonight, and Howard’s final solo album Pop Crimes—before his untimely passing in 2009. You can therefore forgive Ghostly International’s publicists for pushing the band-marked-by-tragedy-makes-record-about-hope narrative, because in one sense it’s absolutely true: HTRK absolutely have known a great deal of tragedy—far more than their fair share of it—and Psychic 9–5 Club is indeed a record with a sunnier disposition than the claustrophobic Work (Work, Work).

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Do Music Critics Need Music Theory?

Published by Killings, 9 April 2014. Original post. Woodcut of Pythagoras from Theorica musicae by Franchino Gaffurio (1492).

Canadian musician Owen Pallett—the man who arranged the strings on Arcade Fire’s albums, co-wrote the soundtrack for Spike Jonze’s Her, and has a bunch of wonderful solo albums—can now add another feather to his cap: that of an engaging music writer. His recent series of three essays for Slate, each aiming to explain the appeal of a well-known pop song through music theory, tackles some relatively dry subject matter with impressive brio.

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An Unspoken Pact

Festival Report: Golden Plains Eight

Published by The Quietus, 27 March 2014. Original post. Golden Plains festival by Ty Johnson.

What makes a music festival not merely good, but positively special? You can examine the various facets that come together to create a festival—lineup, production, logistics, performances—and assess each separately, but no amount of dispassionate dissection will render the secret alchemy visible. There’s something irreducible at the core of it. At least it feels this way while I’m at Golden Plains—held annually just outside of the quaintly bucolic town of Meredith, 122 km or so from Melbourne—which is arguably Australia’s finest music festival.

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Drips, Leaks, and Spurts

Published by Killings, 26 March 2014. Original post. Todd Terje by Lei Yang (Creative Commons).

I’ve spent the last two weeks in a state of perpetual excitement—musically speaking, that is. First came tUnE-yArDs’ new song, ‘Water Fountain’, a joyous, riotous explosion of colour and movement. Then Swans released ‘A Little God in My Hands’, a seven-minute epic of a track that chases a noisy, transcendent ecstasy. Finally, Todd Terje released his collaboration with Bryan Ferry: a cover of Robert Palmer’s ‘Johnny and Mary’ that ramps up the latent sadness of the original into something surprisingly moving.

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Uncanny Beauty

Metronomy’s Love Letters

Published by The Quietus, 14 March 2014. Original post.   Metronomy by Mike Mantin (Creative Commons).

For all that Metronomy’s 2011 album The English Riviera was compared with Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac on its release—the critical idée reçu being that it channeled both of these heavyweights of 70s AOR—the truth is that it actually sounds nothing like either of these bands (who don’t sound all that much like each other in any case). Go on, crack open your streaming service of choice and compare ‘The Look’ with, say, ‘Peg’ or ‘Go Your Own Way’. While it’s clear that The English Riviera has taken a few hints from the aforementioned, it’s also clear that there’s nothing derivative about it—it disregards the cruisy pleasures of Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan for something nervier, reedier.

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Singing Out

Published by Killings, 12 March 2014. Original post. Merilai Lilburn from Lilburn family photo collection.

My maternal grandmother, Merilai Lilburn, recently died in a nursing home in Katikati, New Zealand, of complications arising from pneumonia. She was 82 years old. At the time of her death, I and the other members of our extended family based in Australia were flying to Auckland from our homes on Australia’s east coast, trying to arrive in Katikati in time to bid her a final farewell. We didn’t make it, but this mad dash to Katikati did have the effect of drawing together a geographically atomised family for close to a week of mourning and funeral preparation.

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