Throwaway Alternate Choice Music Prize Reality Post

Today the Choice shortlist came out. Here’s what was on it:

  • And So I Watch You From Afar “And So I Watch You From Afar” (Smalltown America)
  • Bell X1 “Blue Lights On The Runway” (BellyUp)
  • Codes “Trees Dream in Algebra” (EMI)
  • Adrian Crowley “Season of the Sparks” (Chemikal Underground)
  • Dark Room Notes “We Love You Dark Matter” (Gonzo)
  • The Duckworth Lewis Method “The Duckworth Lewis Method” (1969/Divine Comedy Records)
  • Julie Feeney “Pages” (Mittens)
  • Valerie Francis “Slow Dynamo” (VF)
  • Laura Izibor “Let The Truth Be Told” (Atlantic)
  • The Swell Season “Strict Joy” (Plateau)
  • Here’s what I would have put on it:

  • Patrick Kelleher – You Look Cold (Osaka)
  • Hunter-Gatherer – I Dreamed I Was A Footstep In The Trail Of A Murderer (s/r)
  • BATS – Red In Tooth and Claw (Richter Collective)
  • David Kitt – The Nightsaver (s/r)
  • Drunken Boat – Plumb The Depths (s/r)
  • Super Extra Bonus Party – Night Horses (s/r)
  • David Turpin – Haunted! (s/r)
  • And So I Watch You From Afar – And So I Watch You From Afar (Smalltown America)
  • Adrian Crowley – Season of the Sparks (Chemikal Underground)
  • Holy Roman Army – How Light Gets In
  • That’s a taste thing though, obviously.

    I understand that getting mad about the shortlist is in part a product of having wrong expectations of what the Choice actually is, and what it’s supposed to do.

    But what IS it supposed to do? It’s not supposed to support the starving artist, apparently, and that’s fine. That’s not what England or Canada’s versions do either. If it helps out a struggling band, well and good, but that’s not its function.

    And it’s not an annual benchmark for groundbreaking Irish musical talent, we’ve established, because Jim Carroll said it wasn’t in his comments section.

    So what is it?

    Nialler9’s Irish albums of the year has shown what the relatively well-versed public thinks, democratically. So what does the Choice do? Picks a panel of judges who are evidently quite a bit more conservative than the average Nialler9 reader, and gets them to come up with a consensus album of the year? What purpose does that serve? What does that even tell us?

    Last year Adebisi Shank were left off. This year Patrick Kelleher and Hunter-Gatherer were left off. Maybe they’re not consensus material. Or maybe it’s just time to get it straight in our heads that the Choice isn’t there to reward musical risks that pay off.

    Next year I won’t get mad. Well I will, but I’ll try not to be on Twitter when the shortlist comes out.

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    10 responses to “Throwaway Alternate Choice Music Prize Reality Post

    1. according to the website, the prize was established “to highlight those albums which deserve some extra time in the spotlight and, ultimately, to select the album which best sums up the year in Irish music.” so, yeah, fairly vague aims.
      I guess I’d understand it as a critic’s (‘choice’) award, which it essentially is if you look at the list of judges. but then there’s a whole argument about contemporary journalism and who’s a critic in respect of the internet, etc.
      As against Nialler9’s “relatively well-versed public” of 453 voters (quick calculation from the 2009 poll), I’m inclined to agree that perhaps the Choice prize is underperforming in terms of quality. Especially as H-G was the winner of the former. On the one hand, maybe that’s a particular blind spot (spin-off of conservatism, but more specific and remediable) with electronic music of the Choice panel; but on the other, it’s niche and obscure stuff that the Nialler9 poll organically throws up, and being so narrowly popular it leaves much of the list unrecognisable for anyone who doesn’t read Irish music blogs. And that recognition factor is why Choice forms the middle ground, between popular and obscure, and are perhaps damned for it.
      Looking at the Paddy Power odds, Bell X-1 are the rank outsiders for the Meteors, and the favourites for the Choice; ASIFWYA are 8/1 for the Choice, and #2 in Nialler9 (or Julie Feeney, 16/1 and #11). See a pattern? I’m assuming there were no bookmaker’s odds for the Nialler9 poll, because it only mattered to about 500 people. Even if the Choice is somewhat mediocre by comparison (and it has Valerie Francis, Julie Feeney, DRN and Codes if you want good pop, even Crowley and ASIFWYA which I don’t particularly like) it probably matters to more people, which is why complaining about its omissions so loudly makes you look elitist and obscurantist. I mean, there are grounds for that – people should listen to good art – but as long as one is aware that’s how it appears.

    2. But the “middle ground” argument brings up more difficulties in itself, because it’s not as if Julie Feeney is that much more popular than Patrick Kelleher (who won the Nialler9 poll, not Hunter-Gatherer, and his omission isn’t a blindspot for electronica). Plumping for easy listens and established acts over groundbreaking and/or (and I’m aware that it’s sometimes or) truly impressive Irish albums so as to appeal to a Joe Bloggs seems to fall down by virtue of the fact that Joe Bloggs probably hasn’t heard any of the albums on the Choices’s shortlist OR the jokey alternative one I put up. There isn’t really a critical mass for a proper, super-underground but sub-mainstream alternative scene in Ireland.

      So does it become a question of pitching for what the man in the street wants? In that case, a list this conservative becomes even more depressing, because it’s basically presuming that the man in the street – and it’s been made clear in various comments sections over various years that the Choice wants that street to be in Bantry or Ballina just as much as Camden St – wouldn’t like something a bit weird or difficult if presented with it, just because he hasn’t listened to anything much like it before.

      The reason I like the Nialler9 list could possibly be interpreted as elitist, fair enough, but I can’t get past thinking that a list compiled by 450 people who go out of their way to find Irish music during a calendar year just because they want to has more value than a critic’s choice award that doesn’t even promote albums that were fairly emphatically critic’s choice albums when they came out:

      You Look Cold by Patrick Kelleher got 4/5 in Hot Press, 4/5 on State, 8/10 off both NME and Drowned In Sound, 4/5 off the Tribune, the Independent and entertainment.ie.

      Someone made a joke in the OTR comments about a mise-en-abyme situation where people kept setting up the independent version of bigger awards ceremonies until every band eventually won something. That’s not what I’m after. I’m not even annoyed to the extent that some people were, earlier, like Nay in particular. I’m just a little frustrated on a personal level that stuff I got personally invested in in 2009 isn’t getting recognised, I suppose.

    3. well, Hunter-Gatherer did come in at #4 then. I always mix up those two, possibly because you talk about both of them a lot, and neither of them are really to my taste. Patrick Kelleher is sort of electronic, from what I’ve heard, though obviously not electronica. I was just throwing it out there that maybe there’s a certain style of artist that’s not getting on the list, i.e. sensitive male solo artists (one Adrian Crowley vs. two Valerie Francis + Julie Feeney)… like, er, David Kitt. Since Jape won the Choice itself last year, maybe that’s a hole in that argument, but then he’s a good deal more commercial. I dunno, maybe I’m seeing ghosts, but I think it’s more nuanced than simply overlooking quality. Or as Kitt points out, none of the judges have probably been to the Box Social (and neither have I). Maybe you’re all a bit miffed the Box Social scene hasn’t caught on in the Choice nominations, so clearly it needs some more publicity – unless it is inherently elitist, if not in attitude, then in scale.

      As for the middle ground, I think you’re missing the point somewhat – it’s not music that’s neither commercial nor obscure, but a bridge between the two. so while all the Irish ‘alt’ types are rooting for ASIWYFA, a lot of people interested in the Choice prize in general are probably hearing of them for the first time. Jim Carroll made a good point in his reply that: “the point of Choice is to show that the likes of Adrian and Valerie … have every right and every ability to stand on a list shoulder to shoulder with more commerical acts like Laura Izibor or the Swell Season.” Whereas something like the Nialler9 list just takes the latter out of the equation, by the nature of its audience.

    4. Gabbagabbahey – you have just spoken the most sense out of anything I have read in the last 27 hours.

    5. Where I get off the bus, in that case, is this bit: “the point of Choice is to show that the likes of Adrian and Valerie … have every right and every ability to stand on a list shoulder to shoulder with more commerical acts like Laura Izibor or the Swell Season.”

      Fuck standing shoulder to shoulder with inferior music, basically. Adrian Crowley and Valerie Francis should be standing shoulder to shoulder with each other, without Glen Hansard in sight.

      Kitt’s mention of the Box Social rankled a bit because that was obvious elitism – a semi-regular event in someone’s shed on the South Circular Road is never going to be available to a broad range of people. But I’ve seen double the amount of stuff I hated as I have stuff I liked in the Box Social, easily, and just because I like the idea of it as a place to see new music doesn’t mean I’m in any way Team Box Social regarding stuff like this.

      On a basic level this comes down to the fact that a list of the best music in Ireland in 2009 doesn’t feature lots of stuff I like. I might be elitist just by virtue of the fact that some of that music is less popular than the stuff on the list, but I’m really not trying to be, in this case at least.

    6. The auto-avatars that come up here are sometimes genius.

    7. You’re such a fuckin’ grumpy pink Triangle Karl.

    8. Fuck inferior music and illusionary giants indeed.

    9. Yeah… sorry.

    10. for what it’s worth, I don’t feel I bear any resemblance to a winking pentagon myself.

      I’m flattered that Mr. Carroll feels I was talking a lot of sense, although I feared I was being rather too aggressively reasonable about the topic. I see your point Karl about personal experience of Irish music, because I have to admit I’ve only bought 4-5 Irish albums this year (Julie Feeney, Valerie Francis, BATS, Cutaways, plus the So Cow LP), a lot less than the previous year. at least the controversy encourages a bit of sales, for the omitt-ees as well as the nominees.
      just eMusic’d the ASIWYFA album, but not really changing my feeling that it’s overrated – as someone who likes that general area of music – but still completely deserving of its chance. the Patrick Kelleher album is on eMusic too, so I may get that next month.
      also, the only name on your list I hadn’t heard before was Drunken Boat, sounds pretty good – I didn’t know there was an Irish slowcore(-influenced) band! might pick that one up sometime too.

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