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"It’s like Kate Bush if she knew how to write a good song."
March 21, 2013 7:53 PM   Subscribe

What makes the music critics at Collapse Board more interesting than the ones at Pitchfork or Rolling Stone or the AV Club? Well, for one thing, they have more fun: witness The Audacity of Barry Manilow, or their take on Kimbra's "Vows", written as a response to the outrage they received after a negative Gotye review. When they love something, they love it with relish – they think Micachu understands 2012 like no other musician, argue that Nirvana was the biggest thing since the Beatles, and think Lana Del Rey is more interesting than her lips. And when they dislike something, they make no qualms about disliking it – they rip into Titus Andronicus something good, describe a Matt & Kim album as "an excellent litmus test for weeding out fluff-eating imbeciles", and express more ambivalent opinions about My Bloody Valentine and The Mountain Goats. They also, predictably write frequent critiques of music criticism.
posted by Rory Marinich (87 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can already sense that this is going to be excellent fodder for everything I love and hate, or at least love hating, about music writing. Off to read.
posted by brennen at 8:04 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The website that is streaming this album says Transcendental Youth sounds like The Hold Steady and Okervill River. That’s got to hurt.

Jesus Christ, this is some high-test your favorite band sucks right out the gate.

posted by brennen at 8:05 PM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


brennen, that was the sentence that first made me suspect I was looking at something incredible.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:08 PM on March 21, 2013


I read the "negative Gotye review" and declared their music criticism DOA (Dead On Arrival AND Dumb Old Assholes). Is the guy who ridicules Mary Worth in the "Comics Curmudgeon" blog one of the writers? Because it's that same level of criticism.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:17 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did we kill it? Oh well, like brennen said, there was a lot of your favorite band sucksism going on in there, even in the positive reviews.
posted by Think_Long at 8:20 PM on March 21, 2013


argue that Nirvana was the biggest thing since the Beatles,

That's cute. This is always a great way to identify the frauds who like sounding clever about music more than they actually like music. There's this huge feedback loop where these people try to outdo each other heaping praise on that band because they think it makes them sound clever or relevant or "right."

It's the fakiest, most risk-adverse, tiredest, just-plain-wrongest thing people who don't actually like music very much say when they want to sound like they know something about music.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:27 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Either I'm just old, or this blog is rather hard to navigate. And to read in some parts. And I'm still looking for the stuff about Kate Bush. Get off my lawn.
posted by NedKoppel at 8:27 PM on March 21, 2013


So I've just read the Mountain Goats and Gotye albums, but they both mention that any listener who enjoys the lyrics probably doesn't read books. We get it, you're well-read, bruh, congats.
posted by saul wright at 8:31 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey guys, remember Brent DiCrescenzo?
posted by en forme de poire at 8:32 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Please, John Darnielle. Read the review. Take it in slowly. Really try to process it. We love you and miss you. I know it hurts, but this is important. You took a wrong turn about nine or ten years ago, but it's not too late. You can go back to your roots. You can find the raw sincerity and brilliance you once had. But only if you admit that you are powerless against the banality of producers and the superficial shine of studio recording. You have to give it up. It's killing you artistically. And it's hurting us too, John—we're all affected by it. It hurts us to see you like this. We're your friends and we just want to see you get better.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:33 PM on March 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Okay, first link, these people are too stupid to understand that the lyrics in I Write the Songs are the anthropomorphized prattlings of Music itself? They really don't get that? And I'm supposed to waste my time on more links from these idiots?
posted by localroger at 8:35 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's the fakiest, most risk-adverse, tiredest, just-plain-wrongest thing people who don't actually like music very much say when they want to sound like they know something about music.

Yeah, y'all haters can hate the fuck away. It's fun to have a group of music reviewers who hold grudges and have good tastes in things and are willing to spend a few hundred words justifying their entirely subjective opinions on things while admitting, up front, that their opinions are just that – subjective.

The approach Pitchfork and Rolling Stone take where they act like their reviews are the end-all be-all of music's existence piss me the fuck off, in part because people who read Pitchfork (particularly) try to emulate that and then all your attempts to talk music with them feel like you're being beat about the head by a gang of aroused encyclopedias. I much prefer people who know music but can still have fun.

Also, you clearly didn't fucking read the article or you'd have seen that that guy's argument for Nirvana being a huge thing has more to do with their impact culturally than it has to do with whether their music is somehow technically "superior" to anybody else's music. It was probably the best-written article of the bunch I linked, try clicking on it next time.

And I'm still looking for the stuff about Kate Bush. Get off my lawn.

It's in the Kimbra review, and I think you'll find that the reviewer was being more than a little bit facetious.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:35 PM on March 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


the board reminds me of a joke from the comic Questionable Content:

How do you piss off an indie music snob?

Actually like music.
posted by mephron at 8:36 PM on March 21, 2013 [17 favorites]


Is the guy who ridicules Mary Worth in the "Comics Curmudgeon" blog one of the writers? Because it's that same level of criticism.

That's a compliment, right? Because the Comics Curmudgeon is great, and nobody can possibly disagree with that.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:37 PM on March 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


people who read Pitchfork (particularly) try to emulate that and then all your attempts to talk music with them feel like you're being beat about the head by a gang of aroused encyclopedias.

I didn't truly know I could hate until I met a 20-year-old who spent as much time reading Pitchfork as I did when I was 20.
posted by brennen at 8:38 PM on March 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


For people who were teenagers when Nirvana blew up, and just kind of really discovering music in the way that we all do as teenagers, he's absolutely right, drjimmy11. I can remember where I was specifically on only two occasions, really -- 9/11 and April 5, 1994.

I suspect you are maybe a little younger than I am, so maybe you started paying attention to music AFTER everyone else had to adjust to a post-Nevermind world, in which case Nirvana probably kind of seems like one of several sort-of similar sounding bands.
posted by axiom at 8:38 PM on March 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


They have no fucking idea whatsoever about music. To paraphrase David Lee Roth, Pitchfork writers all like Bon Iver because Pitchfork writers all look like Bon Iver.

This is some bulslhit, right here. I disagree with Pitchfork a lot but they obviously know a lot about music and Bon Iver isn't both critically acclaimed and popular just because of narcissistic bearded 30-somethings.
posted by saul wright at 8:45 PM on March 21, 2013


what happened on April 5 1994? cuz I first heard Smells Like Teen Spirit in a club called Industry in Detroit in the summer of 91. did it really take 3 more years to blow up? I feel like everything went crazy with grunge and Pearl Jam like fall 91.
posted by spicynuts at 8:46 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's when Kurt Cobain committed suicide.
posted by Team of Scientists at 8:55 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Kurt Cobain died on that day. I probably remember where I was when I found out he died, so like April 8th or something, but my point was just that to teenage me, Kurt Cobain dying was a really memorable day. I'm not even a huge Nirvana fan or anything (anymore), but back then it was a big deal.
posted by axiom at 8:58 PM on March 21, 2013


About half as clever as it thinks it is.
posted by Flashman at 9:05 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry Saul, I'm afraid I'm going to have to agree with CollapseBoard on this. Thanks for playing, we do have some lovely parting shots err... GIFTS! Lovely parting gifts for you.
posted by evilDoug at 9:13 PM on March 21, 2013


The best music review site is The Singles Jukebox, obviously.

/self-promo
posted by subdee at 9:16 PM on March 21, 2013


Hey, they're from Brisbane too. I guess that's cool? I'm looking through the review archives to see if they've reviewed anything I've listened to in full, which will thereby give me some kind of metric by which I can measure whether I agree with them or not, but I can't, so, uh. I mean there's that Interpol record but I haven't listened to that in about 5 years and so I guess I agree with their assessment that it isn't really relevant to us any more.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 9:18 PM on March 21, 2013


The approach Pitchfork and Rolling Stone take where they act like their reviews are the end-all be-all of music's existence piss me the fuck off

Most music writers act like their reviews are the end-all-and-be-all of music's existence. Start with Lester Bangs and Robert Christgau and it's the same attitude all the way down the line.

I like the line "Everyone wants to be Joy Division, but nobody has ever wanted to be Interpol." Pithy.

This, not so much: "Coming into class the morning after an over-enthusiastic celebration of my birthday[3], wearing a baseball hat that read ‘YOU CAN ALWAYS TELL A GERMAN BUT YOU CAN’T TELL HIM MUCH’, purchased in South Dakota while on tour with a group called The Guerilla Poets[4]," etc., etc., etc.
posted by blucevalo at 9:19 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's ironic cause the douchey holier-than-thou writing reminds me of Pitchfork 10 years ago more than anything.
posted by saul wright at 9:22 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


To quote Steve Martin,
posted by shakespeherian at 9:27 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, here we go: they review John Maus and Gang Gang Dance. John Maus gets a resounding NEUTRAL which I agree with since I like maybe 3 songs off the entire album, and they seem to dig Gang Gang Dance the same way I do, so, yeah, I give this site five bananas.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 9:31 PM on March 21, 2013


SHall I just leave THIS here?
posted by evilDoug at 9:37 PM on March 21, 2013


What do you call a person who falsely accuses others of taking themselves too seriously, but only because that person is not in on the joke, mostly because they take everything so seriously?
posted by grog at 9:43 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The last 9 or 10 years of Mountain Goats albums have been absolutely splendid. The previous 9 or 10 years were, too.

Then again, I was never all that impressed with Nirvana, and I prefer old Tom Waits to new Tom Waits, so what the hell do I know?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:43 PM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


saul wright: "It's ironic cause the douchey holier-than-thou writing reminds me of Pitchfork 10 years ago more than anything."

Case in point.

Really, it just seems like they love to rag on good artists who are just a tiny bit past their prime, but still making decent music. There's a time and place for snark and curmudgeonism (the AV Club often does this well, probably thanks to their officemates), but these guys just seem outright mean-spirited.

REM's last few albums weren't their best, but we're no worse off for their existence. At the very worst, that kind of album deserves a "Meh" rather than "This is shite," especially if the band has gradually faded into obscurity. It's fine to criticize U2 for hogging the spotlight way past their prime, but it seems wrong to criticize a guy whose good new music isn't quite up to par with his good old music.

So, no. These guys seem to think that they're far more clever than they actually are.

(That said, it was a bit cathartic to finally see somebody in the music press wonder aloud how Matt & Kim ever became credible. There are a few bands that make me go how the hell is this popular, and it's nice to see somebody break the groupthink for a moment. On the converse, I'm sick of hearing criticism of Gotye -- the independent press fawned over the guy until the moment he became popular. I don't think that his songs worked particularly well as radio singles, but that's not his fault.)
posted by schmod at 9:51 PM on March 21, 2013


I believe it's called "taking the piss out", and it is a well-honed craft indeed.

Bravo Collapse Board!
posted by roboton666 at 9:51 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


saul wright: "It's ironic cause the douchey holier-than-thou writing reminds me of Pitchfork 10 years ago more than anything."

Mmm, I don't think so. I mean, if there's anything really and truly interesting here, it's that he seems to be good at trashing things insightfully whilst also finding the best in them in an honest way. I mean, check out the review of Interpol's "Turn On The Bright Lights" - he says (quite rightly) that there's not much that's really outstanding about the record, but he also takes the time to point out that it is more consistent than Joy Division's "Unknown Pleasures," which might be the highest praise you could ever give an Interpol album. And he paints his own emotional resonances with the record along the way.

And I feel like he's at least mostly right about the Mountain Goats' "Transcendental Youth," though I'd rather not admit it to myself.
posted by koeselitz at 10:01 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


When Kurt killed himself my childhood seemed to die at the same time. I mean, even if you hate Nirvana and he's Justin Bieber to you, imagine if Bieber hung himself or something like that. People who were into Nirvana because it was our thing, and those who loved them the same way they loved Color Me Badd (are there two ds?), it was still a huge slab of reality for someone who was in 8th grade.

And for those youngins out there, remember this: my favorite band before Nirvana was literally Def Leppard. Or Leopard. Or whatever it was, and Bon Jovi was on the top of the charts. There were legitimately sexy saxophone solos still happening in those days, and that's all that I had heard. I didn't live in the middle of a city. There was no internet. I was alone in this weird suburbia of big haircuts bizarrely ignorant and innocent getting a kiss would be swell place... People viewed lip piercings with suspicions of satanism. It was fucked.

And probably after the dying solos of Blaze of Glory, on MTV, I heard this noise. What kind of instrument can make that kind of noise? Is that guy trying to break those drums? I watched, completely spellbound. My older sister said, "He looks like a monkey" and probably muttered something about if you want real punk music... but I wasn't listening.

When I got my hands on that cassette, it never left my side. But for a lot of people I know, that was our first introduction into all of the new music coming out then. And that was back in the day when you couldn't sneak something around on a flash drive. You either had a CD, or you didn't. And if some parents caught you with Nirvana, or NIN or Marilyn Manson... do parents even still do that? Anyway, I eventually got into all of the "real" bands of the 90s, but I still listened to Nirvana. And then the news came in, just as we were all beginning to mature in the uneasy late adolescence of lives.

It wasn't like, "Oh shit, our idol partied himself to death!" It was, "Oh shit, our idol blew his fucking brains out." Didn't he have everything? He didn't seem crazy...

So, anyway, if someone is arguing for the importance of Nirvana as a cultural moment, I certainly support that hypothesis.
posted by tripping daisy at 10:07 PM on March 21, 2013 [22 favorites]


Ah, Everett True. Gadfly of the Australian music press, UK expat, inveterate name-dropper who apparently introduced Kurt to Courtney, and briefly a Something Awful front-page writer. I don't usually agree with him but a country that produces acts like Flume and Gotye and a back-slapping music critic and radio culture of mediocrity (see: FBi, Triple J) needs shaking up.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:16 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


In our defense we did also produce The Paradise Motel, Dead Can Dance, Nick Cave and, uhh, the Bee Gees.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 10:19 PM on March 21, 2013


For people who were teenagers when Nirvana blew up, and just kind of really discovering music in the way that we all do as teenagers, he's absolutely right, drjimmy11. I can remember where I was specifically on only two occasions, really -- 9/11 and April 5, 1994.

I suspect you are maybe a little younger than I am, so maybe you started paying attention to music AFTER everyone else had to adjust to a post-Nevermind world, in which case Nirvana probably kind of seems like one of several sort-of similar sounding bands.


Hell, I still remember the first time I saw the Smells Like Teen Spirit video on MuchMusic. But all the cool kids had already played the fuck out of Bleach.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:24 PM on March 21, 2013


I came here to find out where the line "It's like Kate Bush if she knew how to write a good song" came from.

I found this:
“Love is like a silhouette of dreams” is the best line I’ve heard all year. It’s so meaningless, it verges on the avant-garde. “Open up your heart and let me pull you out” is, in the most literal sense, profoundly disturbing. Her lyrics subvert the very cliches they swim in. It’s the kind of deconstructionist pop nonsense that Greer Gartside tried to achieve on Scritti Politti’s Cupid & Psyche 85. Where he failed, Kimbra succeeds. Would anyone who believed in the power of linguistics write, “Love is like a silhouette of dreams”? She knows that language has failed us, that an “ooh-ooh-oh” can say more than any words. Whether she arrived at this knowledge through her Pentecostal roots or through endless readings of Lacan is something for future generations and interviewers to ponder.
Well worth the price of entry
posted by subversiveasset at 10:28 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


And if some parents caught you with Nirvana, or NIN or Marilyn Manson... do parents even still do that?

I recall the year my brother got The Downward Spiral for his birthday. We were sitting at the dinner table, and for laughs, my mom decided to read aloud excerpts from the lyrics, including choice lines from Closer. She was cool enough to find it find it funny rather than horrifying, but was also known to be distinctively less cool regarding other issues. All in all, we got off pretty easy.

I do remember local moral panic regarding "The Roof Is On Fire" and White Zombie in general.
posted by dephlogisticated at 10:28 PM on March 21, 2013


Please, John Darnielle. Read the review. Take it in slowly. Really try to process it. We love you and miss you. I know it hurts, but this is important. You took a wrong turn about nine or ten years ago, but it's not too late. You can go back to your roots. You can find the raw sincerity and brilliance you once had. But only if you admit that you are powerless against the banality of producers and the superficial shine of studio recording. You have to give it up. It's killing you artistically. And it's hurting us too, John—we're all affected by it. It hurts us to see you like this. We're your friends and we just want to see you get better.
Thou hast blasphemed.
posted by deathpanels at 10:47 PM on March 21, 2013


These guys are just trolls with a point. I view it as a modern take of Dr. David Thorpe of Something Awful's Your Music Sucks by way of Hipster Runoff.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:48 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I say this as a longtime internet curmudgeon who has been trying to simply enjoy what I enjoy without feeling the need to convince others that their ignorance of what I love is a character fault.. a habit that developed in 1994 when I discovered USENET..

Actually, I have nothing. Music journalists have been and will always be narcissistic. Its like politics, but way more personal and abstract since its art. Everyone loves what they love and you are wrong for not.
posted by mediocre at 11:01 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The best band in the world broke up tonight and you never heard them, about 15 people did, at their one show down at some local coffee shop, too bad. They were really fucking great.
posted by roboton666 at 11:03 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which explains why I went to the SA one day and found Everett True promoting bands that few people outside of Melbourne had heard of. The 'review an album by just its cover' feature is great, and the Australian streetpress deserves everything they dish out.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:03 PM on March 21, 2013


“Love is like a silhouette of dreams” is the best line I’ve heard all year. It’s so meaningless, it verges on the avant-garde. “Open up your heart and let me pull you out” is, in the most literal sense, profoundly disturbing. Her lyrics subvert the very cliches they swim in. It’s the kind of deconstructionist pop nonsense that Greer Gartside tried to achieve on Scritti Politti’s Cupid & Psyche 85. Where he failed, Kimbra succeeds. Would anyone who believed in the power of linguistics write, “Love is like a silhouette of dreams”? She knows that language has failed us, that an “ooh-ooh-oh” can say more than any words. Whether she arrived at this knowledge through her Pentecostal roots or through endless readings of Lacan is something for future generations and interviewers to ponder.

And this is perfect because people take Kimbra seriously because she was on that GOTYE song and had some success overseas. She doesn't often get reviews like that.
I wonder if Mr True will appear on MeFi soon?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:05 PM on March 21, 2013


You took a wrong turn about nine or ten years ago, but it's not too late.

But The Sunset Tree
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:14 PM on March 21, 2013


We Shall All Be Healed is still so, so much better than The Sunset Tree, which is fine but everybody just loves it because 'it's so real, he's being so honest on here and so raw' – as though the authenticity that is truth can be bought by just telling true stories from one's past
posted by koeselitz at 11:42 PM on March 21, 2013


The 'review an album by just its cover' feature is great, and the Australian streetpress deserves everything they dish out.

True enough. I wrote a bunch of gig reviews for Beat down in Melbourne ten years ago (when I still gave half a shit about live music) and they were fucking toolkits every single step of the way.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 2:13 AM on March 22, 2013


So, I read the Barry Manilow review, and what I got out of it is that they're far more concerned with being clever than actually saying anything of substance. To be honest, it seems like it was written by a couple of reasonably bright, yet not terribly mature, college sophomores.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:24 AM on March 22, 2013


When I clicked the link, the first thing I saw starting to load was the word "Pylon." I don't have time to dig into the site right now, but anyone, in 2013, who even knows who Pylon is gets my attention for at least a little while. As an old curmudgeon myself, I often wonder if I'm just too old for music these days or if most of what is currently released is simply reductive to a mind-numbing degree (I'll take a curmudgeonly stand with the latter). I'll give the Collapse Board folks a closer look when time allows.
posted by kidkilowatt at 3:06 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: a gang of aroused encyclopedias
posted by Daily Alice at 3:29 AM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I used to be unbearably moved by Mountain Goats music. But I can find nothing of value in Transcendental Youth and I can’t say for sure which one of us has changed."

I wish I didn't agree with that Mountain Goats review, but I totally do.
posted by mneekadon at 4:11 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh. I remember Everett True's byline from early 90s, in Select or the NME or something like that. Can't say I'd ever wondered what happened to him, but now I know.
posted by Flashman at 5:15 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is great, Rory, thanks. The Barry Manilow review made me laugh out loud like eight times.

And seriously, "There is nothing even remotely frightening in a Mountain Goats song, not anymore" puts into words perfectly why I've stopped listening to Darnielle's stuff over the last few years. I had no idea that's what it was, but yeah, that's what it was.
posted by mediareport at 5:24 AM on March 22, 2013


(He's still great to see live, though. Always a blast.)
posted by mediareport at 5:34 AM on March 22, 2013


Noel Fielding rekindled a childhood affection for Kate Bush with this performance I went back and raided her best of and so on and got my daughter into some of it; I REALLY didn't understand Wutehring Heights when I was young; but I really Dug Cloudbusting.

I dunno; Kate bush is pretty damn awesome; I always though that the modern contemporary(ies) of Kate Bush were Tori Amos and PJ Harvey...
posted by NiteMayr at 5:36 AM on March 22, 2013


you're being beat about the head by a gang of aroused encyclopedias

for the last time, stay the hell out of my dream journal, Marinich.
posted by echocollate at 5:41 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


roboton666: "The best band in the world broke up tonight and you never heard them, about 15 people did, at their one show down at some local coffee shop, too bad. They were really fucking great."

Make that about 16. A friend of a friend of a friend gave me a bootleg disc they burned of that performance.
posted by Samizdata at 6:23 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really liked the Lana Del Rey review by Brigette Adair Herron, which not only goes in depth into analyzing some of the music and lyrics in the hit single from her album in a way I found insightful, but also touches on the gender politics of the Internet criticism of her and her work last year.

Many of the other pieces on the site by other writers appear to me to be more in the style of sarcastic criticism for entertainment value, using music as a platform to launch a comedy piece rather than as a genuine focal point. In the context of a purported music criticism website, it comes off as self-involved and attention-seeking.
posted by Pfardentrott at 6:30 AM on March 22, 2013


Wow, Pfardentrott, you're not kidding. That's a really nice piece about Lana Del Rey and "Video Games":

It’s as beautiful a collage about American celebrity culture as you can get. And at the same time it conjures images of 100,000 middle class homes where the female of the species rests quietly, maybe just drunk, in a haze of marijuana smoke watching quietly as one or more males play video games. The snapshots of this microcosm and macrocosm reveal that the same issues of power and control form the basis of each, and have the same depressing results.

Good stuff. Don't skip the 2nd page (and really, CollapseBoard, you're gonna break that sharp piece of writing into 2 pages, with the link to the 2nd page *below* the share icons? What the fuck are you thinking? Stop it; you know that means fewer readers will see the 2nd half - you *know* that. Just fucking stop), which adds this:

The image of playing a video game could be a metaphor about how he controls her every action. It embodies the detached feeling that follows a party lifestyle and mirrors the disintegrating line between reality and reality TV. This isn’t a love song. This is a song about being controlled.

And all they can chatter about is “Are her lips real?”

posted by mediareport at 7:14 AM on March 22, 2013


Given that there are streaming music services that let me listen to just about anything for myself these days, I'd love to see a site that just lists new releases. Give me the genre, the musicians involved, a few lyrics, and I'll figure out if I like it on my own. It's not like the old days where I have to be talked into shelling out fifteen bucks for music I may not like.

It's pretty clear by now that anyone who really cares about music has pretty unique tastes, and doesn't change them based on the opinions of others. So what's the point of music criticism anymore?
posted by MrVisible at 7:18 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Greer"!??!11? It's Green Gartside. Who is amazing, and Perfect Way is one of the most awesomest pop songs EVVVAAAER! [/15 year old me]
posted by droplet at 7:38 AM on March 22, 2013


It's pretty clear by now that anyone who really cares about music has pretty unique tastes, and doesn't change them based on the opinions of others. So what's the point of music criticism anymore?

Good question, which their articles about Pitchfork deal with frequently.

The point of music criticism is to get people thinking about music. It does that by having writers with strong opinions (that don't align perfectly with yours) argue about why they think about music the way they do. Oftentimes, they'll say something that'll make a song or an artist click with you in a way that it didn't previously. Sometimes they'll critique something that you like, and make you aware that music could be more, it could be something even funner and magical-er than you've previously experienced. And then you leave some of your old tastes behind, and pursue a newer and richer world of music than you knew existed.

I discovered Collapse Board yesterday because somebody in my thread about Cardiacs posted about their keyboard player, William D Drake, whose music I knew existed but hadn't listened to before. One of his songs got stuck in my head, so I excitedly started Googling for lyrics, and Collapse Board had one of the only articles which mentioned his lyrics at all. And that article opened with this:
A fair chunk of music that has been produced this year could be classified as music for people who don’t like music. A fair chunk of all pop music ever has been. You know the type. When I was a student everyone had to own Bob Marley’s Legend and Born In The USA. That was how it was. Produce the cassettes and you get to wear your keffiyeh down the uni bar. Not that some of it isn’t good – draw your own Venn diagrams here – but the music that gets sold at petrol stations has a particular flavour to it. I mean, if you’ve only bought a couple of albums in the last six months and you’ve picked from Fleet Foxes, Adele, Lady Gaga or Eddie Vedder and his faux-rustic, common man, back to basics ukefuckingleles, you’re consuming music in a very different way to someone who devours it for breakfast, lunch and tea, whose pulse beats faster at the thought of the filthy shouty racket that the best new band in town will make tonight and who can actually literally feel their mouth watering when they read enticing reviews of new releases (please tell me that’s not just me).

Everyone I’ve met who likes Cardiacs has LOVED music. Every single one. There is no such thing as a casual Cardiacs fan. They have the hunger on them. Music isn’t an optional extra, it’s the centre, the hub, the pivot around which everything else wheels. They get the shivers, they get the buzz. They don’t get Death Cab For Cutie from beside the till at BP before a long journey home to see the folks.
It sounds like you're the first type of music consumer being mentioned – the one who just wants something pleasant to put on, well-categorized, well-enough-written, that's that. I more strongly identify with the latter. I could never just browse through a series of new releases and expect to hit upon something that triggers anything fierce in me. I need more. And I need people with the same cravings to help me find what I'm looking for.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:48 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


for me, spit it out. so I find a lot of words in between me, what they think, and some music. so i classify Resistance Level One. Resistance Level One indicates insecurity or incompetence or both. so go write, and study those Strokes artworks, but don't come on with We Understand More and Deeper. In fact, less and shallower.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 8:05 AM on March 22, 2013


It sounds like you're the first type of music consumer being mentioned – the one who just wants something pleasant to put on, well-categorized, well-enough-written, that's that.

That's a strange conclusion. Extroverted music listeners, who get a lot of excitement out of interacting with others about music (even passively, in the form of reading and so on) often seem not to get that there's more than one deep and serious way to love music. I understand that you have to do things your own way, but the way I see it, I feel far, far too strongly about music to ever be interested in what other people have to say about it. I have no more use for strangers' music recommendations than for their boyfriend recommendations. How could they possibly know? They couldn't. It's got to be magic. It's got to be just us. And it takes some looking, but it has to be that way. Criticism, which places music in its historical and cultural context, is different. But reviews and recommendations are a waste of my time. I'll take the list.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 9:11 AM on March 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


NiteMayr: “I dunno; Kate bush is pretty damn awesome...”

It's probably worth noting that the passage in question ("Kate Bush if she knew how to write a good song") is deeply, deeply sarcastic.
posted by koeselitz at 9:36 AM on March 22, 2013


It's good to see someone doing actual music criticism. Good stuff, thanks Rory.
posted by klangklangston at 11:16 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


One thing about being a pop culture critic - movies or music - is that you end up hearing/seeing a ton of really crappy stuff. This has a couple of consequences -- it makes you really cranky and it also draws you to stuff that just feels different.

But when done well, criticism can engage you with yourself, as Roger Ebert put it
It is important to know why you hold an opinion, understand how it emerged from the universe of all your opinions, and help others to form their own opinions. There is no correct answer. There is simply the correct process.
posted by PandaMomentum at 11:41 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I used to love reading the record reviews in Blender . They were sarcastic and absurdist without getting too curmudgeony. There were times I almost threw up from laughing at some of them.

This is in the same vein, but not quite the same.
posted by reenum at 2:05 PM on March 22, 2013


Rory, your judgment about my devotion to music is incorrect. It's also kind of mean.

The idea behind it, that those who don't listen to a particular type of music in a few particular way are dilettantes, is one of the things that turns me off most about music journalism.

I like to make up my own mind about music. I don't love music to feel cool or superior, or like I belong to a particular subset of a demographic. I listen because it moves me unlike anything else, but and I can never get enough of exploring the wonder that people can create with it.

I don't need anyone telling me what to listen to. Or anyone judging me for what I love.
posted by MrVisible at 5:12 PM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I like people insulting my taste, since it helps me realize what I like about the music and don't like about myself.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:36 PM on March 22, 2013


MrVisible: “It's pretty clear by now that anyone who really cares about music has pretty unique tastes, and doesn't change them based on the opinions of others. So what's the point of music criticism anymore? ... I like to make up my own mind about music. I don't love music to feel cool or superior, or like I belong to a particular subset of a demographic. I listen because it moves me unlike anything else, but and I can never get enough of exploring the wonder that people can create with it. I don't need anyone telling me what to listen to. Or anyone judging me for what I love.”

This is an interesting question, the question about why music criticism still exists. I can agree that it's not really fair to you to say that you're a dilettante just because you don't like music criticism at all, and prefer to live without it.

But – as someone who cares about music, someone who is a musician and who makes that a big part of his life, I have to say: the way you're putting it precludes any discussion or discourse about music. You're describing a world where people choose the music they want, and then listen to what appeals to them, without ever once talking to other people about it. And I can see how that might be sort of an ideal. Some people feel like talking about music is utterly pointless, because (as is often said) music is beyond words. There's a pithy phrase people sometimes use – "talking about music is like dancing about architecture." Why not just let people enjoy whatever music appeals to them, and leave it at that?

Well, because: human beings like talking about things. We like having discussions, we like arguing, we like disagreeing. We still have music criticism because apparently it turns out that all along the point of music criticism wasn't to inform purchases; it was to satisfy our desire to talk with each other about the things that really matter to us.

So, yes, I am going to continue to read music criticism (both professional and amateur) and write music criticism (exceedingly amateur) and argue about the state of jazz today and whether Nirvana was important and whether there's anything worthwhile in the latest Mountain Goats album and things like that. I'll particularly continue to enjoy music criticism like the music criticism linked in the post above. Why? Not because it expresses so well what disappoints me about certain musics – although it does do that. Music is a shared thing; and the things we share are the things we talk about, the things we argue about and turn over in our minds and try to come to grips with. What I find so vital about this writing is that it seems to consistently strive to communicate those moments of epiphany that are part of why music is so worth listening to.

In other words: I like it when people write about music in such a way that they can make me love things I didn't realize I could love before. That, I think, is a very noble reason why writing and talking about music can be so worthwhile.
posted by koeselitz at 7:55 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And incidentally I've always thought dancing about architecture would be pretty awesome.)
posted by koeselitz at 7:56 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh thanks for this - I really like Everett True's writing!
posted by awfurby at 2:20 AM on March 23, 2013


I like to make up my own mind about music. I don't love music to feel cool or superior, or like I belong to a particular subset of a demographic. I listen because it moves me unlike anything else, but and I can never get enough of exploring the wonder that people can create with it.

Cool, good for you. For me, music is an incredible social tool. I love when people try to explain why they love music: not when they outright recommend me music, because most people are bad at that, but when they try to explain why they like something I don't particularly care about. And I like explaining my own tastes back. And sometimes I meet somebody who has such a solid idea of "what good music is" that they can recommend me anything and I'll probably like it. Even if it's nothing at all like what I know I enjoy today.

This is a blog of people who know good music. They dismiss some music I love, and I'm curious about their reasonings. They recommend some things I don't care for, and I love seeing why they love those things so much. It is a treasure trove for people who are interested in why they like what they like.

The idea behind it, that those who don't listen to a particular type of music in a few particular way are dilettantes, is one of the things that turns me off most about music journalism.

Again, cool. This is what makes you that first type of listener. You like what you like! And that's, seriously, good for you. That is a completely valid way to listen to music and people who listen that way get a whole lot out of music. But, again, that is not how I listen to music, and it's not how some others listen to music either. You're allowed to not like our approach, and I'd go crazy if I had to listen to music the way you do, but that's okay. We both love music and that's what matters.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:40 AM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Again, cool. This is what makes you that first type of listener. You like what you like! And that's, seriously, good for you. That is a completely valid way to listen to music and people who listen that way get a whole lot out of music.

So if we actually look at the quote you took your listener classification scheme from, what you're saying is that MrVisible and, by extension, all listeners who are more interested in the music itself rather than talking or writing about the music, are listeners who 'don't like music', who are only interested in things that are 'pleasant' and 'well-enough-written' and 'well-categorized' i.e., things that are mediocre and beneath your interest.

This is still an incredibly condescending thing to say, since it positions your way of engaging with music (with a great deal of emphasis on dialogue between listeners rather than on the internal experience of the individual listener) as more authentic or intense or real than the way that the 'first type of listener' engages with the music.
posted by Dim Siawns at 8:12 AM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's that condescending; at the very least it's a rational way of treating the situation.

I mean: say for example I meet a person who says: "I really love widgets, I just refuse to talk about widgets or read about widgets or even look at pictures of widgets." Is it so odd for me to suspect that perhaps this person actually doesn't like widgets at all? And if that person proceeds to proclaim that "writing about widgets or talking about widgets or even looking at pictures of widgets is wrong and patronizing and unnatural," well, it'd be hard to avoid the conclusion.

People generally like to read, write, or at least talk about the things that really matter to them. Some people just aren't that into music. There's nothing wrong with that. Being a huge music person is not a prerequisite for being a good human. If a person insists that writing or even talking about music is pointless and patronizing and wrong, I'm going to suspect that perhaps they're not really that into music. And that doesn't mean I'm judging them; it's just hard not to feel like music really isn't something they want to have anything to do with.
posted by koeselitz at 11:15 AM on March 23, 2013


As an ex-music writer, I'll take a moment to stand up for the condescending side: There are a lot of folks who make LOVING MUSIC part of their identity, without actually investing any real time or effort into it. (The regular joke at the office was that they were the 12 CD guys; like, they got what came free from Columbia House and stopped.) It's analogous to the guys who are like "I LOVE REGGAE! I OWN EXODUS!"

Now, yeah, from my distance I can say that there's no accounting for the depths of passion — maybe the dudes with 12 CDs just love them so much that they've never needed to branch out. But on the other hand, I don't feel bad thinking of that as some social posturing and — and this is the more salient point — dismissing their opinion about music.

It's great if you love music but never want to read about it at all. I almost never want to read interviews with musicians — partly because I burnt out pretty hard on asking smart questions and getting back dumb answers, and partly because I tend to think that it's rare that people can be creative and articulate in more than one medium. But good criticism broadens the experience of the listener, allows them to get more out of the music and gives them a better ability to articulate their own tastes.

It's possible to be able to talk about music without reading any criticism, but it's certainly harder and it's generally done with a smaller, less articulate vocabulary. It tends to correspond with provincial attitudes, unquestioned assumptions and narrow tastes. That's at best dull, at worst actively stupid ("I listen to everything except country and rap!").

This is one of those things that I think wrongly gets tarred as "elitist," when it's more like climbing a hill. It's work, but when you're up there, you can see so much further, and it's so much more fun to talk to people who also have that ability to discuss a wide variety of things in an intelligent way. If you want to read that as condescending, fine, I'm being condescending.
posted by klangklangston at 11:45 AM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean: say for example I meet a person who says: "I really love widgets, I just refuse to talk about widgets or read about widgets or even look at pictures of widgets." Is it so odd for me to suspect that perhaps this person actually doesn't like widgets at all? And if that person proceeds to proclaim that "writing about widgets or talking about widgets or even looking at pictures of widgets is wrong and patronizing and unnatural," well, it'd be hard to avoid the conclusion.

In the first place, MrVisible didn't say he refuses to talk about music or read about music - what he said was he prefers listening to music over those things. He certainly didn't say that music writing is wrong and patronising and unnatural. In fact, nobody on this thread has said that.

That said, a great deal of the music writing on Collapse Board is deeply patronising - the article that Rory quotes from above, for instance, is simply saying that people who like one kind of music are praiseworthy and people who like another type of music are worthy of scorn. Then it goes on to talk about the music of the Cardiacs at some length, except that all it really says is 'I like the Cardiacs'. Which is, you know, fair enough; but if you like it so much, why are you writing about it rather than listening to it? The rest of it is a fairly reasonable review of William D Drake's album, except with occasional gratuitous swipes at music the writer doesn't like ( ... as unlike Cults or Adele or Odd Future as is a giraffe ... it's never boring ... and it's certainly not hip - i.e., these musicians are boring and more concerned with being fashionable than making good music, unlike the musicians I like) and at imaginary listeners who don't share the writer's opinion and who, therefore, the writer doesn't like (If you don’t find that refreshing and admirable, then do feel free to go hang with Tyler... - i.e., if you don't share my opinion of this music, then you are like the fashion-obsessed musicians I have already dismissed as unworthy of serious attention). Which is of course ridiculous - if the writer is so displeased with a prevailing style of music as to find another type of song a refreshing change, then it's clearly the writer who cares about fashion in music - otherwise, they would simply not have continued listening to the prevailing style of music, and listened to this other refreshing style instead.

Then there's Everett True's piece about how Pitchfork's criticism is inferior to Collapse Board's because they don't care as much as he does, which he knows because of the font size they use for their reviews. This is transparent tiresome status-jockeying, again attempting to position the writer and their experience of music as more authentic or real than another listener's experience based on absolutely nothing of substance. Not that I mean to come across as Captain Save-a-Pitchfork, but even as someone who would prefer to listen to music rather than read about it, I would take anything that Nitsuh Abebe or Andrew Nosnitsky or Philip Sherburne has written on Pitchfork over True's work.

But anyway, given that none of what you suggested was being said ('writing about [music] ... is wrong and patronizing and irrational.') is actually what was being said, you don't need to try very hard to avoid the conclusion that your imaginary person doesn't like music. In fact, you don't need to come to any conclusion at all.
posted by Dim Siawns at 12:12 PM on March 23, 2013


Dim Siawns: "In the first place, MrVisible didn't say he refuses to talk about music or read about music - what he said was he prefers listening to music over those things. He certainly didn't say that music writing is wrong and patronising and unnatural."

Er - to be precise, MrVisible said that, since he doesn't need reviews to inform purchase decisions now, music writing seems pointless, and asked why anyone would read, write, or talk about music at this point. And he implied that anyone who does do these things is probably just "status-jockeying" (as you put it) or trying to seem cool.

"That said, a great deal of the music writing on Collapse Board is deeply patronising - the article that Rory quotes from above, for instance, is simply saying that people who like one kind of music are praiseworthy and people who like another type of music are worthy of scorn."

See, now it's my turn to say: that is not what that review says. It doesn't heap scorn on anybody, nor does it encourage scorn. In fact, it points out that the kinds of music that are pushed hard by mass culture are not always bad; it clearly isn't saying that Bob Marley or Bruce Springsteen are terrible, or that people who listen to them are worth of scorn. And frankly I think it should be pointed out that there is something to the article's thesis about the place of music in our society. We live in a time of the limitless portability of music; because of that fact, more music is produced that is intended as "soundtrack music," providing a pleasant background, than ever before. That doesn't mean that a particular type of music or listener is bad; but it does sometimes make one yearn for that real, immediate dedication to the possibilities of music that the Cardiacs bring to the table.

And I don't think you're being entirely fair about Everett True's piece on Pitchfork, either. I really like Philip Sherburne's work, too, but it's hard to deny that Pitchfork has moved in a safer direction over the past few years.

In general, I think it's easy to see strong opinions about music and assume there's intolerance involved. But strong opinions about important things are natural, and I don't think it's fair to dismiss all such opinions out of hand.
posted by koeselitz at 1:30 PM on March 23, 2013


This is a weird fake dichotomy. I do not read any music criticism but I also have more than six albums many of which are not Best of Queen cassette tapes. I exist.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:15 PM on March 23, 2013


My point is more that I'm not an asshole for liking to read about music, although certain people in this thread seem to want to say that reading about music makes you an entitled douche.
posted by koeselitz at 2:20 PM on March 23, 2013


My point is more that I'm not an asshole for liking to read about music, although certain people in this thread seem to want to say that reading about music makes you an entitled douche.

You're not an asshole for liking to read about music, and nobody has said that reading about music makes you an entitled douche. You did, however, say that it's reasonable to conclude that people who don't like (or at least are not particularly enthusiastic about) reading about music don't actually like music, which is somewhat unkind.
posted by Dim Siawns at 2:43 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Okay.

Music means more to me than just about anything. I've had quasi-religious experiences in front of tiny little local stages, or lying on my back with the headphones cranked to deafened-dotage levels, or finally getting the melody right to a song I'm writing. I spend hours every week scouring the internet for new bands I'll love, and then I spend days wandering through their back catalogs. Then I'll check the band members' discographies for side projects. I check the listings for local shows constantly, and I hit at least two or three shows a month, making sure to buy t-shirts to support the bands I love.

You can be a music lover without loving music critics.

Appreciation of music is deeply subjective, right? I'm sure we can all agree on that basic premise.

If I find a song I love that I think a friend will love, I send them a link to the video on YouTube. They'll either like it, or they won't. And I won't think any less of them if they don't see it the way I do.

I've got as little use for music journalism as I do for literary criticism. It adds nothing to my enjoyment of the medium.

Some people enjoy literary criticism. I really don't.

I haven't accused anyone of being a douche. I just don't believe that anyone deserves to have their musical taste judged, by anyone. If it brings you joy, it's good music.
posted by MrVisible at 7:20 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Would you accept that I wasn't judging your musical taste, only commenting on your method of interacting with music? Because in honesty that is what I meant. And there are people for whom interacting with it through criticism is a big part of how they enjoy music, and if you don't feel that same appreciation then, once more, cool, that's totally fine, but it does mean you won't appreciate this and I was trying to explain why I do.

Saying that criticizing Pitchfork is "transparent tiresome status-jockeying" only makes sense if you hold that Pitchfork is, in fact, good at what they're doing, which I don't think they are. And True's arguments against them do a good job of saying why that is: Pitchfork cares to some extent about music as status marker, or as social commentary, and this has made them less good at just talking directly about music.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:17 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


MrVisible: “If I find a song I love that I think a friend will love, I send them a link to the video on YouTube. They'll either like it, or they won't. And I won't think any less of them if they don't see it the way I do.”

Well, the main thing that bugs me about this is that your unspoken assumption seems to be that music criticism implies being judgmental about the musical tastes of other people. And while that may be a paradigm in music criticism, I've been trying to insist that it isn't the only way that music criticism can go.

And in a larger sense: I'm one of those odd people who believes that music isn't a personal thing. I believe that deeply. Music is communication. It is from one or more people to one or more people; it doesn't exist in a vacuum. Maybe I feel so strongly about that because I'm a musician, but the idea that music is what it is in isolation, not to be talked about or discussed with anyone else, only to be enjoyed privately without any interaction with other people concerning it, seems not only false to me but very lonely.

But I guess I should say that I don't know that you were saying that. Maybe I was hearing this common trope in your comments because I hear it so often nowadays. Also, I guess I should say that I adore argument, and think it's an essential part of the human experience; so even the lesser forms of music criticism still hold some appeal to me.

“Appreciation of music is deeply subjective, right? I'm sure we can all agree on that basic premise.”

No, I can't agree with that premise – at least not entirely. There is something subjective about the experience of music, yes, but if that subjectivity isn't turned into something objective by being shared with other humans, then we're not actually talking about music at all. We're talking about, at most, pleasant sounds. "Music" implies communicated emotional content. It is a shared thing, not an individual thing.
posted by koeselitz at 3:24 PM on March 25, 2013


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