We’ve not had an album of the month before, but this seems an appropriate time to begin this tradition.
Bristol producer, songwriter and multi-talented wonderwoman Penfriend released her latest album Exotic Monsters last Friday and it’s something really very special. In her own words, the project is:
more than just music – it’s a deliberate call for more meaningful connection at a time of cheap dopamine highs and increasing depersonalisation.
Welcoming the listener in to her fireside, opening her heart, and sharing her soul over a supremely listenable electro-pop-rock soundscape is Penfriend’s speciality. This album was written in pandemic isolation, and reflects on on a journey that many of us have been on in recent times – shedding dead skin, looking to the light, and reminding ourselves of the strength to be found within. That, plus animal masks.
Penfriend – aka Laura Kidd, and fka She Makes War – is my personal DIY hero. I routinely point my BIMM students in the direction of her website, email newsletters and podcast for a glittering example of how to run a career as an independent, creative musician, on your terms, without dude in a suit dictating your every move.
So I was over the moon to hear that, thanks to Laura’s talent and hard work, Exotic Monsters was heading towards the top of the album charts. It’s wonderful to think that in today’s digital world, with enormous media businesses controlling so much of what we see and hear, it’s still the case that one woman in a Bristol attic can roll up her sleeves and create a beautiful album that would sit nonchalantly amongst major label megastars in the official charts.
All the more painful then to hear that, due to a distributor’s admin error, the right sales figures were not submitted to whatever counting wizards it is who run the official charts, and Exotic Monsters missed its chance to take the midweek chart placement that it had earned. A distraught Laura wrote on Facebook:
I’ve never punched a unicorn before, but it’s strangely satisfying.
My clenched fists pummel the fabric, hard, again and again. This is actually helping. The unicorn stares out, unblinking, from the cushion cover. It’s not them I’m lashing out at. I hope they understand.
It’s been a hell of a day.
The long and short of it: we – me and everyone who has supported “Exotic Monsters” – have been cheated out of our #12 midweek chart placement due to an admin mistake. I almost wish someone had gone to the trouble of setting up a conspiracy; fixing the figures or cooking the books. “The man” (the recording industry), terrified by “the underdog” (me and you) sneaking into their domain, overturns the boardroom table with a roar, demanding that my numbers be struck from the record. This simply cannot stand! Who do they think they are?! etc.
Losing out on having my name listed next to Elton John and Paul Weller due to a clerical error feels pathetic in comparison.
Still, I rage. *I* roar. I cry tears of anger, then sadness, then anger again. I kick a light stand in the corner of the studio, which clanks against the wall. The sound wakes Mister Benji up from his seventeenth nap of the day, and I feel terrible. I kiss the top of his furry little head and he sighs. He doesn’t even know what music is.
Nothing can be done. They won’t fix it. My fulfilment partner, hired solely to ensure all UK sales are eligible to be counted for the charts (by sending out the orders, counting them up and reporting them), admit the numbers are wrong. Kantar – the company who ensures the correct data is reported – acknowledges the issue. The Official Charts Company themselves send me a series of Twitter DMs apologising, saying they’ve flagged the issue and are “working with everyone in the supply chain to ensure all album sales are included in the Official Charts”.
We take the dogs for a walk to our local village coffee shop, and I sit in the sun while Tim collects the drinks. I’m wearing pyjamas, basically, but I don’t care, and no-one else bats an eyelid. Alby “protects” me from passing dogs with some indignant barks.
I don’t know why I allow myself a glimmer of hope, when it should be obvious no-one is going to do anything. At 5.40pm I head to the OCC website and refresh the page until the midweeks are announced at 5.45pm.
When I see the number – #36 – I sob and sob and sob and rail and roar and sob and shake and curse the people whose failure to perform basic administrative duties has cost me a childhood dream. #36 in the midweek pop charts shouldn’t feel like this, but we’ve been robbed.
I’m so angry. I’m angry because the voices of independently-minded music fans are not being heard. I’m angry because not one single person in the “supply chain” could get it together to help straighten out someone else’s mistake. And I’m angry because what should have been a fun high point in my music career – leading to who knows what? – has been sullied by bureaucracy.
You don’t have to tell me that the music is more important, that charts don’t matter in the long run. I do know that, and I thank you for the kindness behind your urge to tell me so. I’’m sharing this part of the journey – first on social media as it happened, and now with you in this letter, the next morning – because the lows are part of the story.
I’m not pretending stuff that’s not okay is okay any more. I’ve been there and done that – if you’ve read my letters, you know I have. I’ve been working at this for too long to lie down and say “never mind”. They are messing with the wrong person.
I need to sit with these feelings for a while – ignoring things that are upsetting just doesn’t work, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling upset about this…it is upsetting. The music I make is about so much more than a number on a chart, but it sucks to be cheated out of something like this. Would this happen to an artist on a major label? I think not.
So, what can *you* do? It’s easy: buy the albums by the bands you love. Ignore the billboards. Ignore the big media. People are paying to play all the time and you don’t see it. Think for yourself. Question everything.
If I make music that speaks to you, please support it however you can. If you already have (THANK YOU!), please share it with a friend. Please keep finding the things you love and sharing the sh*% out of them, and I’ll do the same – it’s the very best way to fend off a world where everything looks and sounds the same.
I have until midday BST this Thursday 27th May to gather chart eligible album sales. I will keep fighting to get your generous contributions recognised, and I will always keep fighting for honesty, fairness and creative independence.
Thanks so much for your support.
Love, Laura xxx
Well, what are you waiting for? Grab your copy of Exotic Monsters TODAY and let’s harness some more of that sweet people power, and see how high Penfriend’s album can go in the charts.