What is this blog about? (And other Q’s that I’m guessing will be FA’d)

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.

10 thoughts on “What is this blog about? (And other Q’s that I’m guessing will be FA’d)

  1. Just found your blog by searching for reviews on Paper Route (I think). I like a lot of the same bands and artists that you do and I’m happy to see some well thought/intended album reviews. In a world of .99 downloads its nice to see there are still some people that love albums. I count Nickel Creek and MuteMath to be my top two favorites right now. Glad to see I’m in good company.

  2. I found your blog when I was looking for reviews of Brooke Waggoner’s Sweven. I’ve never known anyone that has such similar musical taste and background as I do. Very glad to have found your blog. I started listening to Christian music as well. Iona is one of my favorite bands as well, and Murlough Bay is my favorite Iona song too! As I listen to a lot of guitar music – like Joe Satriani, Nuno Bettencourt, Phil Keaggy – I expanded into progressive music (Kansas, Dream Theater, Kings X, Rush, etc). I listen to a lot of singer-songwriters and indie music as well, especially artists that have a Christian or spiritual bent to their music. I love instrumental music and have gotten into jazz, especially jazz piano. Love the energy and creativity of Hiromi. I still listen to some heavier new music like Animals As Leaders. Anyways, looking forward to reading more of your longform posts and expanding my music collection based on your recommendations.

  3. Hey, I’m glad to find your blog. I was involved with epinions sporadically for at least a decade, initially writing about CCM and later books. Even got a hat in books eventually but stopped writing new reviews when life got busy; still, I kept coming back to read your stuff. I realize now that you were pretty important in shaping my musical tastes and introducing me to many artists that have stuck with me–Vienna Teng, MuteMath, Sufjan Stevens, Muse, Derek Webb, Eisley, Nickel Creek, Switchfoot, Fleet Foxes. And probably lots of others too. A heartfelt thanks!

    • Wow, thanks! I never expected to have that much influence on anyone’s musical tastes, really – I assumed maybe I’d pique a passerby’s curiosity in an artist or two and then they’d move on. In turn, I owe some people whose tastes were less mainstream than mine were at the time a hearty debt of gratitude for introducing me to artists like Sufjan Stevens and Fleet Foxes. I never would have guessed when they were first described to me that they would soon become all-time favorites of mine.

      Speaking of which, I need to get busy and finish up my review of the new Fleet Foxes.

  4. What is the differenace between critisism vs appreciation?
    I stumbled across your site while searching for “American Prodigal Intro” which you stated, not much there and gave it a C-. For songs like these, I feel sometimes they are mere vessels and what’s in them is really what’s in your own heart.

    • This is a really good question, and I’m going to update my FAQ to include a more general answer to it.

      Specifically where the Crowder song you mentioned is concerned, I can see why an artist would want to split up a song into intro/outro parts, to bookend an album and give it thematic resonance. Crowder did this on his previous record and the David Crowder Band also did something like this a few times. The risk an artist runs when doing this is that having half of a song hanging out there by itself, without any direct link to the track it’s an intro or outro for, can make it feel like a complete song that doesn’t have as much value outside the greater context of the album. When rating an album as a whole, I try to consider how all the songs fit together, but when rating a song, I try to imagine how I would react to that song by itself, with no other context. This isn’t a perfect system, since some songs just weren’t meant to be taken out of context. But intro tracks generally aren’t going to score in the “A” range with me, because they’re either going to do something that feels incomplete and puts a lot of pressure on the separate track concluding what they started to be worth the wait, or if they DO sound amazing, I’m probably going to be a little annoyed that the whole track wasn’t together in one piece. I think Crowder’s done this sort of thing better on past albums, and especially since “America I/O” was included as a bonus track, bridging the different lyrical elements of the song together, it made the separate pieces feel a bit redundant.

      If you got something out of the track, that’s great, and I wouldn’t want to take someone’s meaningful personal experience of a song away from them. But I think often in Christian music, a song is judged solely on its message, not necessarily on how eloquently/artfully it communicates that message or how interesting/entertaining the performance is, and these are all angles that I try to consider, especially considering how much an artist like Crowder has impressed me on all of these fronts in the past. I know what he’s capable of, and his decision to hold back on that particular track made it fall a bit short of the potential that I felt it had based on past experience.

      I should add that the “C” range for me just means “it didn’t do much for me”. It’s not an overly negative evaluation – I didn’t actively dislike the track. That’s what “D” and “F” grades are for.

  5. Hi! I’ve been following your reviews since the Epinion days and your blog is on my daily reading list. Ever listen to Tori Amos? I’d love to read your thoughts on any of her albums. I’m also a fan of Pat Benatar, Heart, Out of the Grey, and Margaret Becker. I use your blog as a guide for new music so keep it up. I love track by track reviews and yours are the best I’ve read. Keep it up!

    • Wow, it’s nice to know I’ve retained a reader from that far back! Honestly, sometimes my mix of musical interests is so strange that I question whether anyone else would even find it relatable.

      I’m doing a 90s binge right now, both going back to old favorites and trying to catch up on some stuff I missed out on back then that I potentially would like now. It’s probably the perfect time to listen to some Tori Amos records, since I don’t know much about her other than a few select songs that some college friends enjoyed. Is there an album of hers from that era that you think would make a good starting point?

      This month I’m listening to all the 1991 releases, so Out of the Grey’s debut (an all-time favorite of mine) is coming up soon, and I just recently listened to Margaret Becker’s Simple House for the first time (I hadn’t gotten into her until Soul and Grace, which came out in 93 and 95). Literally all I know of Heart before this year was playing “Crazy on You” as a level in Guitar Hero, which is a phenomenal song. I gave their album Brigade a try last month when I was going through all the 1990 releases, but it didn’t take. It might be better to get on board with them with some of their 70s or 80s stuff, I suspect. I wonder if Margaret Becker was ever advertised as the Christian rock “try if you like” equivalent of Heart, because I can hear some vocal similarities.

  6. Just coming across your blog now. A few of my favorite sites that I used for discovering new music went down over the pandemic, and it’s a refreshing relief to find a new source for creative stuff I’ve never heard before. You’ve already turned me onto Good NightOwl, Holden Days, and Lovebites in a matter of minutes. Please keep this up! I’ve bookmarked this for the future.

  7. I can’t remember the Google search that led me to your page. But it turns out that we have VERY similar tastes in music. I became a Christian in the very late 90s and jumped into the Christian music scene at the tail end of 1998. secular bands and artists, similar to what you listen to. I love Switchfoot and yet we also have the same beliefs that Switchfoot’s prime was around mid 2000s and hasn’t been the same since. The only thing we disagree on is politics but that’s another discussion for another blog entirely. I look forward to reading new reviews as they come out. Keep on keeping on my friend.

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