Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Borrowing from Blogs [Their Bated Breath]

Meet David D. Robbins Jr. the man behind the one person blog, Their Bated Breath, one of my favorites. What sets this blog apart is the knowledgeable detail that David puts into each review. I have a hard time reading long reviews, a lot of times I just want to listen to the music and form my own opinion. But Their Bated Breath, full of lengthier reviews, is one of the rare ones that I actually take the time to read.

David really takes the time to listen to full albums or even just songs and forms a smart and perceptive opinion on them that he shares with his readers. He writes one of the more honest blogs out there. Not everything is a fantastically awesome hit and he is not afraid of saying it. Often times there are references to old songs I haven't heard before, and I have found that in reading this blog it has broadened my musical knowledge in a really meaningful way. I now have bands to look up just from the interview. Lastly, our musical tastes run fairly parallel to each other, at least when I am not engrossed in some chillwave hoopla. Like David, my favorite album of all time is Van Morisson's "Astral Weeks". And I agree about 95% with the other songs he mentions below. It is always a great pleasure finding another blogger, or human being, that has the same taste and passion for music which is probably why I sound like a crazed fan babbling on about this blog. But to me, it is really that good, and I'm not really that crazy.

David took some time to answer a few questions and talk about music for me via email that illustrates my points exactly. He apologized for rambling and said I could cut down the interview, but being a rambler myself I found it hard to do. So, here are some tunes borrowed from Their Bated Breath that David turned me on to. Play them while you read the interview and be sure to check out his blog.

Why did you choose to name the blog Their Bated Breath? 
Well, honestly, I wanted it to be "Bated Breath". But it was too common a phrase, so I added the "Their" to it. I wanted "breath" in the name somewhere because it seems like one of the common elements between singer and fan. Maybe it's my English studies background coming out. In some way, all vocals, at their very basic level begin with breathing. How we sculpt wind with our mouths. How our vocal chords vibrate, like guitar strings, like harp, like reverb. It's really fascinating when you think of communication in this very phonetic way. Strange how these utterances and noises take shape, and eventually hold meaning. Great musicians take that to the next level. We hear Billie Holiday sing "Strange Fruit" or Little Jimmy Scott sing "When Did You Leave Heaven?"  and there's something more meaningful than just the words. It's as if the sound of them being sung comes from some ancient, deep, place before the earth began. We know it deep down. We just can't quantify it. It's subconscious. I always call it being tapped in or having a finger on the pulse of the world. As for fans, they often wait with "bated breath" to hear any utterance from their favorite musician. It's a tad heady. And maybe a bit cheesy too. But in the end, I liked the idea.

What do you enjoy most about blogging?
The best thing about blogging is the rare time you run into a band or artist that literally floors you with their talent. I receive so many free MP3s, full albums, EPs and such through e-mail every day. Some bands are looking for a good review. But at a basic level, most really just want serious constructive criticism. They don't necessarily want you to just say all the music is great. They want to know someone is out there listening carefully and thoughtfully to an album that may have spent years creating. It feels good being able to tell something their work is beautiful. Needless to say, not all the music is good. But sometimes I'll get music from a band I know 90 percent of us have never heard before and yet they're remarkable. The joy is in being able to say, "Listen to this. I know you've never heard this before, and it's fantastic." I just hope to write well enough to do justice to the work a band has created.

What do you enjoy the least?
My least favorite thing about music blogging is trying to figure out how to say I won't be reviewing an album. I still haven't figured that out yet. I promise on the contact page of my blog to listen to everything sent to me. And I do that. It takes a lot of time to live up to this promise. So, far, so good. But there are albums I hear and know it just isn't my thing, or maybe its not right for the site, or maybe it's just not that good. I generally try to write back to everyone who sends music.  But it's getting near impossible to do that now. Usually, the first thing I do is thank them for taking the time to e-mail me. And then I listen to the music. If I don't like it, I just don't write about it. I feel really bad about it. I thought maybe one time, perhaps for a week's period, I'd say, "Okay, for one week I will review every single album you send me, regardless of whether I like it or not." But I suspect I'll never do that. 

If someone was perusing your music library, is there anything in there you might be embarrassed to admit you listen to? 
Oh man. I love these kinds of questions. I've never really known what was cool to begin with, so I never feel embarrassed really. I do have some indie friends who think my love for Fiona Apple's music is a bit soft for a guy. I guess I'm also a sucker for sexy mood music. Stuff like Sade. I'm a highly romantic person, so an old song like Sade's "Is It a Crime?" blows me away. Her voice and ability to induce mood allows her to get away with lyrics that might be a bit saccharine under other circumstances, like, "My love is wider than Victoria Lake and taller than the Empire State." Who doesn't grow weak-kneed when she sings, "I want you to want me too"? I think my friends would be surprised to know too that I like Marilyn Manson's song "The Dope Show", and as little as I write about rap -- I could listen to songs like "My Mind Playing Tricks on Me" by the Geto Boys, Ice-Cube's "Today Was a Good Day" or 'Lil Wayne's song "Dr. Carter" endlessly. Those grooves are great. I think Culture Club's "Strange Voodoo" is a cool song.    

Is your music collection bigger in digital format or vinyl ? How many records and how many mp3s do you have? 
My digital collection is big now. I'd guess it's somewhere in the 100,000 songs arena. But I still buy hard-copy CDs. I've probably bought Jeff Buckley's "Grace: Legacy Edition" three times. That CD and "Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk", I've bought multiple times and no doubt gave away copies to friends, only to miss it so badly that I had to buy them again. Sadly, I don't own anything on vinyl anymore. I used to own a sweet collection of original jazz records, like Miles Davis' "Circle in the Round", a lot of John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life" with the single album included. I had the "Lady Sings the Blues" soundtrack on vinyl, featuring Diana Ross singing Billie Holiday, with the big pictorial booklet perfectly intact inside. But I regretfully left the records with my folks one year and they told me they ended up selling them for around fifty cents. No joke. I was mad for about week. 

What new artists/bands people should definitely know about?
Currently, in terms of bands with new records out, I think Dark Mean, City Calm Down, and Holy Spirits are way under the radar. I was astounded hearing this guy from California, making music in his basement. He calls himself Kissed Her Little Sister Lately, I've found myself really learning to appreciate a kind of music I really had overlooked for so long. This ambient style that feels more like compositions and expressions of pure musical freedom, like Elevator Boy and Julia Holter. Holter isn't for everyone. I understand that. My guess is, she's smart enough to understand that too. But popularity has never been the sole barometer of talent. And she's a musical whirlwind. One person everyone should hear is Sean Hayes. He is romance in a bottle.

I know I hate this question because I can never choose, but some people have strong and definite opinions on this: Favorite artist(s) of all time?
Yeah, that's certainly a tough one. I'm probably more of a word guy that most music fans. I love great songwriting. It's one thing to create a great melody or a great chorus. But to find an artist who can consistently do that and write great lyrics is a rarity. One of my true loves is Bob Dylan. Say what you will about the guy's personality or his singing voice, but he's a genius. Anyone who can write a song like "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands", at an epic 11 minutes, will always be a friend of mine. That being said, I still think Dylan has yet to write a perfect album in the sense of Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks", my favorite album ever, or Bruce Springsteen's "Greetings from Asbury Park" or Coltrane's "Love Supreme". Those albums are flawless. Those albums bridge heaven and earth. They're so otherworldly, that even the artists themselves could never touch that place again. I love Joy Division and an old band called TheThe. But if I had one band's albums to take with me on that hypothetical desert island, it would be the work of The Smiths. Yeah, they're sad-sacks. But such beautiful sad-sacks. Does anyone luxuriate more in words than Morrissey? And he has every right to feel that way. 

What is your most memorable concert experience?  
Wow. I have so many. I got really drunk with Dave Matthews the night before his show. We got drunk and he talked about the world, bad TV journalism, all while Devo was playing in the background. Kinda surreal. I jumped onstage once at a Bob Dylan show, on a dare, and was tackled by overly-aggressive bouncers. I saw Dizzy Gillespie play a full concert not to long before he died. On a whim, I once went to see Luciano Pavarotti by myself. Got all dressed up and attended a concert of his in Chicago. Never seen a singer answer so many encores. But one of the most memorable experiences for me was being lucky enough to see bluesman, Luther Allison, play four times. All were lucky occasions, in various state in the U.S. He would walk around the crowd with a cordless guitar playing in front of you. He once did a riff for my mother, who was in the crowd watching him at a show. Seeing Allison serenade my own mother was something else. He would wander about the crowd for sometimes 10 minute depending upon the size of the crowd. No joke, I saw Allison once follow a fan to a port-a-potty, asking, "Where are you going?" in a blues sing-song style. And then he continued to play in front of it, until the man returned, to the delight and laughter of everyone around. Absolutely hilarious. One of the best showmen I've ever seen.

Do you have any words of advice for someone just getting started in music blogging? 
Actually, I'm sorta just starting myself. My blog has been going on now for less than a year. But I do have some advice. Write what you love and don't be shy about being effusive. I mean, if you love someone's music, then say so. Somewhere along the lines, it got to be uncool to shower an artist with praise. For some reason that reminds me of this line the poet W.H. Auden once wrote, "In the prison of his days, teach the free man how to praise." I know I'm totally misinterpreting it. Purposefully. I like the notion that bloggers should feel good about heaping praise on what they like. It's refreshing. It feels good. It's liberating to define what one likes. There's nothing wrong with falling in love with music.


  1. Jessica,
    I just discovered your website, and I really like this idea of interviewing other bloggers.
    You ask good questions,
    and you help shed light on what other bloggers are doing and where to find them.
    It's one more step in the right direction -- making the web world more like a conversation among friends and less like a insane mob all clamoring for attention.
    So, thanks a million!

  2. very interesting article.thanks and keep it up.have a nice day!


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