dancing about architecture.

The first Melting Hopefuls review to come in was from Bob Makin in The Aquarian.  Despite our best efforts, the record made it’s way to the “Makin’ Waves” column, where it received its typical review from Bob – a whole paragraph of words, a fraction of a sentence that talked about the actual record:

Excuse me while I toot my own horn for a minute.  I picked these two songs as the outstanding moments on Melting Hopefuls’ most recent demo.  What’s that make me, an A&R person or something?  Anyway, this stuff is tres magnifique, kind of a cross between 10,000 Maniacs and Sonic Youth.  I’m really looking forward to Melting Hopefuls’ forthcoming album on some Midwestern indie early next year.  If it’s as consistent as this, I’m sure it’s going to be a winner.

Awesome.  A review that touts the reviewer’s A&R skill, and then promotes March Records’ nonexistent Melting Hopefuls album.  Thankfully, it at least had our address listed.

The Aquarian wasn’t the only publication to review March Records instead of our single.  The Wrap-Up wrote this:

March Records is getting its name batted around on the cover of Billboard, reinforcing that Chicago is the media’s hot focus spot.  I’m holding my breath waiting for him to release the Melting Hopefuls this January and wondering if he was just pulling my chucker when he told me about the Ween tribute album.  The Hopefuls just released their second single and played CMJ recently.  

And it wasn’t just March that was getting reviewed.  The Aquarian reviewed Kramer, despite having never heard the tape.

Melting Hopefuls have a new single out on Dromedary Records called “Pulling an Allnighter on Myself.”…Kramer invited the band to his Noise, NJ studio recently where they cut 10 tracks together.  The single is not part of that session, but an album is obviously in the works.

The Wrap Up gave some more press to everything else as well:

I first “discovered” this group of New Jerseyites on March Records’ Son of Uncharted.  The cut, “Mouth,”..

In the same review:

This is a mere snack, and both tunes can be found on the Heal Back Harder cassette EP, which is worth the extra postage.

So, umm, yeah.  Buy the demo tape, not the single.

Even Sound Views got in on the act with this one:

I won’t get into much detail here, because a review of the band’s self-released cassette – the one these tunes are culled from – should be reviewed elsewhere in this issue.  But as readers as this column must know by now: vinyl is final, so buy this!

Holy shit.  What did I have to do to get people to actually review the record?  Review after review made little more than a passing comment about the song, before going into great detail about the bands Ray was producing, their time with Kramer, their self-released cassette, their work with March Records, their CMJ show.  

I always thought it was Frank Zappa who said “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  Since then I’ve also heard the quote attributed to Elvis Costello.  The irony of journalists fucking up the source of the quote isn’t lost on me.  Either way, however, it’s dead accurate – and as someone who has written about music quite a bit over the years, the quote doesn’t offend me at all.  All I had to do was look at the press our own records were generating to understand how inept and off the mark most of it really was.

I felt like yelling “Hey!  Asshole!  I’m standing over here!  Mind reviewing the fucking record?!”

A couple of zines got it right, but it was frustrating as hell to me.  I spent a grand of someone else’s money making this record.  By the time I got the thing into a reviewers hands, that particular copy cost me three or four dollars.  I get about a column inch of review space, and it’s got to accomplish two objectives:

1) Give readers some interesting description of the record (assuming the reviewer likes it), providing them with a compelling reason to go out and buy it.

2) Give me a press clipping that I can send to my distributors, so that they know that someone actually likes the fucking thing.

A column inch with my record’s title at the top, three sentences about Kramer, and the reviewer’s name did not achieve either of the two objectives above.

In the bigger picture, the reviews did help the band.  They kept the buzz going, and the associated the band’s name with people like Kramer and up-and-coming labels like March.  But when it came to selling records, those reviews barely made it clear that there was a record out.  From my standpoint, the two brief sentences we received in Jim Testa’s Glut magazine was more meaningful than everything written above:

Very nice, soothing, dreamy indie-pop, with beautiful female vocals.  “Coming” is a bit reminiscent of Tsunami.

It was, I believe, Tail Spins that began distilling their record reviews down into a series of graphics.  They had various graphics that represented various elements of music, and then they would place the graphics next to the record title.  None of the reviews had words.

So they’d have a graphic that represented “trendy alt-rock,” and another graphic that represented “stupid lyrics,” and another graphic that represented “whiny voice,” and they’d put those three icons together after Smashing Pumpkins: Siamese Dream.

On one level, it was absolutely hysterical to read.  On another, though, they forced the reviewers to actually describe the music.  I could read a review in Tail Spins and not have to sift through the latest gossip about who was recording with Billy Corgan or who the bass player was dating – I could just read about the actual music, which was a pretty novel thing.

~ by Al on March 9, 2009.

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