Hello, this is David (aka murlough23) and you’ve reached my hastily thrown-together music blog. Whether you know me and you’re already aware that I’ve freely rambled about music for many years in one too many places on the Internet, or you’ve stumbled across me by complete accident while Googling a favorite band or something, I figured I should take the time to answer a few questions that will undoubtedly come up as people read this.
What is this blog about?
It’s meant to be a collective home for music reviews that I’m writing about the (mostly new) music that interests me, and for the more nostalgic and personal peeks into my past via mix CDs that I’ve made over the years. Up until the inception of this blog, I had been posting music reviews to Epinions.com, and the soundtrack thing was originally a Xanga blog until I joined Facebook and decided to keep it there for a while instead.
Currently, I have five categories of posts:
- Reviews: Critiques of albums, EPs, or other releases in which I break down my reaction to the music track-by-track and assign an overall grade.
- Concerts: More free-form commentary on concerts I’ve attended, usually with an accompanying live video of a song from that exact show if I can find it on YouTube, or a similar performance of a song from the setlist. (This category has been dormant for a few years now, as I only rarely make it to concerts these days and haven’t done a full write-up on one in a while.)
- Best-Of Lists: A rundown of the albums I liked most from a given year, written at the close of that year. On rare occasions, I might also do a rundown of all-time favorite songs by a specific artist.
- Divad’s Soundtrack: A series in which I go through the songs I’ve selected for mix CDs (originally cassettes) that I’ve been making for myself as a sort of personal time capsule since I first got into music back in 1994. This is less of a critical review (though it is sometimes self-critical!) and more of an attempt to recall why I selected each song, and who or what it related to in my mind.
- Music Journals: A running list ranking everything I’m listening to from best to worst, and also tracking release dates for upcoming albums due in the current year. (These are archived as far back as 1991, though the lists thin out considerably before around 1995, and a number of belated discoveries from the 90s have been added retroactively.)
Are you a professional critic?
Emphatic NO. Doing this for a living would suck most of the joy out of it for me. I’d have to write to constraints, which doesn’t work because I’m terribly long-winded, and my writing would be subject to someone else’s editing. I’d rather be able to say what comes to mind unfiltered, even if it means I might look at it later and realize I was horribly wrong.
Why are you so long-winded? Do you actually expect anyone to read all of this?
Back in the day when most music wasn’t readily available for free on the Internet and I actually relied on written reviews to give me an idea of whether I might want to buy something, I was always frustrated with the notion of several tracks on an album not getting mentioned at all, or only in passing. I wanted to know not just about the best and worst outliers, but whether there was filler, and whether an artist could keep up a certain level of quality for an entire album instead of just coasting on a few good singles and a smattering of lazily thrown-together tracks that no one would be terribly likely to care about. It’s my way of holding the artist accountable and discovering which ones are better suited for radio singles, and which ones are better suited for complete and well thought-out works of creativity. I do try to summarize at the top of each review for those who don’t have the time or interest to get into the nitty-gritty. The individual track reviews are really more geared towards folks who have listened to an album, but maybe not deeply enough to notice some of the sonic details or wonder about some of the lyrics the way that I do. This is also a place where I will freely admit how personal experience or beliefs can influence my feelings about a particular track.
Why do so many of your reviews from October 2013 and earlier have dead links to Epinions.com?
When I started this blog, Epinions was still active and I didn’t want to cross-post everything, so I’d just put summaries and links here that led to reviews I had posted there. When the site went into read-only mode in 2014, I started posting the full reviews here instead. Now that Epinions.com is completely offline, a lot of the internal links in those old reviews go nowhere useful. I’m trying to go back and update them so that everything is linked within my blog, but that’s going to take quite a long time, given how many hyperlinks I tend to include in most of my reviews.
Why don’t you write for Epinions any more?
Because Epinions is dead. Completely. The company has breathed its last, the website has gone dark, and so the archived content I once had posted there is no longer visible. I’m slowly working on getting all of my old reviews, which I have saved in text files on my hard drive, posted to WordPress and properly formatted, but I’m not gonna lie, this is going to take FOREVER.
Why does it take you like a year to review certain albums?
The downside of writing complete, track-by-track reviews is that I can only churn out so many of them in a given month. This means that sometimes a new release I’m less interested or need longer to fully digest doesn’t get reviewed until I come back to revisit it later. Sometimes I like to go way back and review a favorite from a previous decade that I never got the chance to write about when it was new, or that I wasn’t anywhere near savvy enough to know about when it was new! This is another part of being an “unprofessional” critic – I’d rather write when I feel it than write to meet a deadline. I feel like a lot of reviews written when an album is brand new (or even before its release) may mean well in terms of being among the first to really get the word out about an album. At the same time, I’ve seen many that seem to be written in haste, with opinions that don’t turn out to hold water over time, especially when a more experimental artist puts out something that throws their existing fanbase for a loop. (Let’s be honest. Who here liked Radiohead’s Kid A the first time they heard it?) So I’d rather be sure I’ve paid attention to the details and given myself time to “live with” new music for a while before I try to write about it intelligently on the Internet. And even then, sometimes I’m still figuring it out as I go.
What’s the deal with “Divad’s Soundtrack”? Isn’t that awfully personal stuff for a music critic to post on a public blog?
Yes and no. I’ve always been sort of an open book, sometimes to a fault, but my philosophy is that if a song inspired me and you can get some of idea of how that happened, maybe giving it a listen could inspire you. Or you can relate to it when you’re feeling depressed, or overjoyed, or nervous, or gobsmacked by some out-of-your-league crush, or whatever. Or maybe you’ve already heard the song and your experience with it was completely different, and it will spark a discussion. Some of it is there as a personal time capsule for me so that I won’t forget when I’m old and senile. (Assuming we still have blogs then. I guess I’ll find some way to preserve it all if technology fails us.)
No, I mean, isn’t that awfully personal stuff about other people?!
Where I think information about some other person might be sensitive, I’ve generally tried to be vague about it and/or not mention them by name. How much to share is a bit of a work in progress, so if I’ve written something about you or someone you know that you’re not comfortable with, just let me know and I’ll be happy to change it. The point isn’t to share anyone’s dirt with the world, it’s to revisit memories and illuminate the lessons learned, and my intent is that nobody but my past self should feel embarrassed in the process.
Isn’t Facebook a better place for that sort of thing?
I thought it was, until Facebook decided that Notes weren’t a terribly important piece of functionality to be worth debugging, and all HTML tags used for layout simply stopped rendering as anything other than plain text. Kind of takes the fun out of posting album covers next to the song descriptions, sharing the cover art I designed for each volume with a photo of somewhere I visited during that time of my life as a backdrop, posting links to let you hear some of the music for yourself, etc.
Wait a second… your archived posts go back to 1994?! Blogging wasn’t even a thing back then!
Yes, and that’s very observant of you. I went back and forth over whether it was more appropriate to back-date the “Soundtrack” entries to the dates I had originally written them for either Xanga or Facebook, or to back-date them to the end of the time period that they actually cover. I decided on the latter because the time period I was writing about seemed more important to me than what year it was when I actually looked back to write about it – and I’m never gonna remember that a post I wrote about the summer of 1995 was originally published in 2006 or whatever.
Okay, but there’s a bit of a gap between your past and present posts.
I’m still migrating the review content – working backward so that the most recent stuff gets posted first. All of the “Divad’s Soundtrack” entries that I had previously written are now posted and properly formatted. Now I’m more or less sticking to a schedule of writing one soundtrack entry every two month, about the songs I was listen to exactly ten years ago. It’s a nice round number, and I think ten years gives me plenty of room for healthy hindsight. Assuming I stick to that schedule, the soundtrack entries will never catch up to “real time”.
What’s with all the Christian music? Ugh.
Most of my early soundtracks, and a good chunk of my early reviews, would fit almost exclusively into the category we commonly call “Christian music”. That is, music made by artists who are Christians, with the specific intent to express Christian beliefs. It’s largely a result of my upbringing in the church, among some people who had issues with “secular” music, and while that wasn’t expressly forbidden in our household, I never really took an interest in it when I was young. I didn’t listen to any popular music at all, except for what I was exposed to in passing, up until about the mid-90s, when a youth pastor got the ball rolling by loaning me tapes by a few artists that, while definitely entrenched in the Contemporary Christian music subculture, were at least making modern music aimed at people roughly my age. I look back now, and some of it’s kind of embarrassing. But a lot of “Christian music” nowadays embarrasses me even more, due to how it elevates sending a message and pleasing the radio gatekeepers and moral guardians over the actual creative process. So it might just be the nostalgia filter that protects a lot of the old stuff from incurring my critical wrath. You’ll notice that there’s not nearly as much “Christian music” occupying my time nowadays – though I don’t consciously avoid all of it, either. There are some old favorite artists from my formative years who I truly believe are still making quality music relevant to my current interests, and quite a few more I’ve discovered since then who write from a Christian perspective, but operate more in the “indie music” sphere or even sometimes the world of mainstream music – simply writing and creating what comes to mind, instead of doing it to satisfy someone else’s agenda or idea of what “Christian music” is supposed to be about. It was due to friends in college who listened to so-called “secular music” and found value and beauty in much of it, and through the increasing availability of music on the Internet with Napster and other (admittedly somewhat shady) means at around the turn of the century, that this artificial wall between “sacred” and “secular” in my mind began to break down. These days, I honestly don’t think about it all that much when putting together a mix of songs that are personally meaningful to me or that I hope might speak to someone else. What an artist has to say and how it might give some insight into his or her personal experiences and viewpoints, even in some cases where I may disagree but still understand why they feel that way, means a lot more to me than any sense of “us” versus “them”.
What’s with all the indie music? Are you some sort of a hipster?
I don’t know. Few people who are regarded as hipsters by others would choose that term to describe themselves, unless they were doing so for the sake of irony. But honestly, if I’m a hipster, then I’m an awfully lazy one. I don’t really put a lot of effort into demonstrating that I like things just because they appear to be trending, or demonstrating that I dislike things just because they’ve gone mainstream and the tastemakers have moved on to look for a new best kept secret. I do put a lot of effort into analyzing stuff and stating my honest reaction to it, which means that sometimes I fall in line with whatever the hipsters are gushing about that week, and sometimes I’m all excited about something that is so commonplace that a true hipster would have declared it to be “over” a long time ago. I just sort of… don’t care. I have to be honest about this stuff, even when I know it’ll earn me some backlash from fans or haters of a particular artist. If I’ve gravitated more and more towards indie music in recent years, it’s because of curiosity and getting tired of hearing the same things over and over – from the “Christian music” ghetto and from the mainstream – that I’ve become more and more interested in seeing what musicians will do with fewer commercial constraints hanging over their heads. Sometimes artists can accomplish amazing things entirely within the bounds of a mainstream, supposedly played-out genre. And sometimes indie music can be just as stale and repetitive as the trends it’s trying to buck. It just depends on the artist, and sometimes on my extremely fickle moods. But one of the things I enjoy the most is being pleasantly surprised by an artist or type of music that I had previously dismissed as “not for me”.
So what’s with the screen name “murlough23”? Are you really into wine, or Michael Jordan, or something?
Neither of those. I’ve had a strange fascination with the number “23” since I was a teenager, and I don’t really know why. It’s just an aesthetically pleasing number, and my interest in it has nothing to do with sports, Discordianism, Jim Carrey, or even the most well-known Psalm. As for “Murlough”, it’s taken from a song called “Murlough Bay” by Iona, one of my all-time favorite bands. The song describes a beautiful place in Ireland, where the singer goes for retreat, rest, and reflection. Depending on your interpretation, the tone of it can be romantic, religious, or both. I put the two together way back in 2001 when I needed a new handle for an online dating site I was signing up for at the time. I ended up meeting my wife on that site, and we slow-danced to the song (rather awkwardly) at our wedding in 2005.
Why do you keep linking to Spotify when there are free options to listen to the same music?
Because digging up the links for decent audio of every song on YouTube and/or Grooveshark got exhausting, and in all likelihood, any copyrighted material posted to either site isn’t likely to last for several years. (Plus sometimes you get the audio accompanied by cheesy slideshows or poorly made “lyric videos” – I threw you a bone in the link above.) In some cases, I’ll still try to link to relevant live performances or music videos. But feel free to Google stuff on your own if you don’t use Spotify. There are some annoying gaps in my Spotify playlists – try as they might to be a complete database of all music ever made, some music is out of print, or there are issues with the label, or it’s just plain too obscure. I’ll do what I can to provide alternatives in those cases.
What is the difference between criticism and appreciation?
This was an interesting question posed to me in the comments. Sometimes I think critics get a bad rap because the word “criticism” implies that it is always a negative thing. “Critique” might be a better word than “criticism”, since when someone says they’re giving a critique, I expect that this covers both positive and negative feedback. Anyway, I think criticism, critique, or whatever you want to call it, is an attempt to look at a creative work more holistically, not just going with your gut reaction of “I like this” or “I don’t like this”, but really trying to dig into the reasons behind those reactions, and compare them to other works the artist or others like them have done. I’ll never be completely unbiased, of course, but trying to identify where my biases influence my opinion of something vs. where it’s more generally seen as a bad creative move for an artist to make is usually a worthwhile exercise. I believe that there is plenty of room for appreciation within critique, because a critic should strive to point out the aspects of a work that they enjoyed and that would prompt them to recommend it to others. But pure appreciation in a vacuum, without room for criticism, is never something I was interested in. That’s the territory of fanboys and fangirls who will love anything their favorite artist does almost unconditionally (barring any major paradigm shifts in their sound or message, I suppose), and who really don’t need any convincing from folks like me that they should appreciate a musician any more or less than they already do. Appreciation is generally for those who already know they enjoy something and want to share that joy with like-minded people. I do plenty of this myself in Facebook groups or other places where fans of an artist communicate with one another. Here on this blog, I’m more interesting in reaching the curious – those who are on the fence about whether an artist, album, or song is worth their time, energy, and money. And they may ultimately disagree with my critique of an artist, but hopefully that critique has at least prompted them to think about what they like that might be different from what I like, and why.
Hey, I still have a Q that you haven’t A’d.
Leave me a comment and let me know, and if someone else has asked me that before or if they ask it after you do, I’ll consider it F and do my best to A it.