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No Sufjan, No Credibility
July 12, 2006 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Steven Thomas Erlewine prosecutes Sufjan Stevens A solid indictment of both Stevens and Indie Pop, from AMG's Whole Note series. Hopefully, the Arcade Fire get theirs next.
posted by klangklangston (158 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Well, that's an opinion, alright.
posted by redsparkler at 11:03 AM on July 12, 2006


I'm not sure he deserves that. Not one of my favourite ever artists or anything, but listen to Casimir Pulaski Day on Illinoise and then come and tell me he sounds "as if he's reciting all that he learned during his time in the library".
posted by godawful at 11:06 AM on July 12, 2006


Fuck him and the horse he rode in on. Jesus, the guy put's out two brilliant albums and then one not so good one and, suddenly, he's a washed up failure. Reason number 3481 why music critics suck.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:08 AM on July 12, 2006


I read the headline, and I first thought...Sufjan Stevens prosecuted? Indicted? For what?

He seems like such a nice, talented man, maybe he identified with John Wayne Gacy a little too closely. He made a lot of mistakes.

Then I realized what was oing on here. Your favorite artist sucks........criminally.
posted by edverb at 11:09 AM on July 12, 2006


(Except that he's put out two middling albums and then a truly sucky one. Though to be fair, the truly sucky one was outtakes and b-sides, which already implies a lower quality).
posted by klangklangston at 11:10 AM on July 12, 2006


ILM has some interesting stuff to say about this, especially about Sufjan's Christianity...
posted by klangklangston at 11:11 AM on July 12, 2006


Son Of YourFavoriteMusicSucksFilter.

Actually, this guy is one of the hundreds of reasons why I do not read music criticism. Of course, hearing a music critic rail against someone for pretension and having a Smarter-Than-You attitude has my irony meter in the redline.

But, I liked Illinoise, so my opinion is meaningless.
posted by absalom at 11:11 AM on July 12, 2006


It seems like the main problem is that he's been overpraised. I think this article is mainly written for the author and his circle of critics to set himself apart from his buddies who like the artist in question.
posted by cell divide at 11:11 AM on July 12, 2006


So this opinion, do I have to be an asshole to know about it?
posted by elwoodwiles at 11:12 AM on July 12, 2006


But, for me, this week's release of The Avalanche only offers further proof that Sufjan Stevens has been wildly overpraised for music that has deliberately limited appeal.

Oh, and this can't be said about any other critical darlings? So basically, it's the Beatles and maybe the Stones, and everybody else is either too narrow or too commercial. What an idiot.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:12 AM on July 12, 2006


I'm not that into Sufjan Stevens either, but at least I can acknowledge that it's just a function of my tastes. Anyway, fuck AMG; ever since their redesign a couple years ago the site's been worthless.
posted by aaronetc at 11:12 AM on July 12, 2006


the kind of record you listen to several times and marvel at its ambition, scale, and quirk, yet one that rarely finds its way off the shelf (or accessed from the hard drive)

Actually, no.
posted by driveler at 11:12 AM on July 12, 2006


Three Part Names are pretentious.
posted by unmake at 11:15 AM on July 12, 2006


Sufjan Stevens, whatever.

Death From Above 1979 has been rocking me nonstop for weeks. It's like a vial of illicit rock that I take with me everywhere I go.

I can't believe Canadians can rock so fucking tight.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 11:15 AM on July 12, 2006


Yes, no one should ever make anything musical without my explicit approval ever again, because I, Steven Thomas Erlewine have deemed it so!

God, critics are a bunch of wankers. Why not try to create something instead? (ahem, klang)
posted by fungible at 11:16 AM on July 12, 2006


What aaronetc said.

Meh.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:16 AM on July 12, 2006


Solid? When it comes to art I make it a rule to not waste so much time and energy worrying about what I like and don't like. I have found that people that do are proof that those that can't do mostly like to bitch.
posted by tkchrist at 11:16 AM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


I do like how Metafilter quickly becomes "Your favorite critic sucks" and takes to the ramparts in defense of the artists without really, you know, bothering to think about the points raised.
CRITICS ARE BAD BECAUSE THEY HURT OUR FEELINGS.

(I thought the schoolboy points were right on.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:17 AM on July 12, 2006


Fungible— Criticism is creating. Or is only fiction art?
posted by klangklangston at 11:19 AM on July 12, 2006


I don't see why he couldn't just write "Not my thing" and be done with it.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:21 AM on July 12, 2006


The Jesse Helms: "let's make love and listen to Death from above" (mp3, right click save as)
posted by shoepal at 11:27 AM on July 12, 2006


Don't worry guys, eventually you too will realize "indie rock" is to the 2000s as boy bands were to the late 90s.
posted by keswick at 11:27 AM on July 12, 2006


(I thought the schoolboy points were right on.)

To a certain extent*, they were. But they don't really prove the thesis -- that Stevens is creating insular, redundant music. Personally, I think the "schoolboy" aspect is driven by necessity, and is more a curse than a blessing. I suspect Stevens will regret starting down the "state" road, if he doesn't already.

*I say "to a certain extent" because this: "his adolescent fascination with John Wayne Gacy, Jr." is just wrong. First, that song is extremely moving. It's emotional, not book-report-ish. And how does one song translate into an "adolescent fascination"? That said, the song titles are pretentious, and there is a certain repetitiveness and bloat to the album.

P.S.: Klang, don't get so defensive. There is no objective right or wrong -- not about artists, not about critics. No consensus will ever be reached in one of these threads.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:27 AM on July 12, 2006


What records has this guy released. Let's see...

http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:v72vadoku8w2

Oh. It seems none. So, he's just a fat fuck who doesn't play music? Someone remind me why his opinion matters, again?
posted by jon_kill at 11:27 AM on July 12, 2006


takes to the ramparts in defense of the artists without really, you know, bothering to think about the points raised.

The points have validity. The paragraph long song titles are trying too hard, the history lesson songs flirt with a "look what I learned at the library" feeling, and Sufjan will probably always be associated with the project he's undertaken (no big surprise there).

And, fuck it all....I like it anyway. Your favorite critic sucks.
posted by edverb at 11:28 AM on July 12, 2006


I find Steven Thomas Erlewine guilty of being so cool he wears sunglasses at night.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:30 AM on July 12, 2006


Arcade Fire still rock.
posted by aether1 at 11:35 AM on July 12, 2006


I'm not sure he deserves that. Not one of my favourite ever artists or anything, but listen to Casimir Pulaski Day on Illinoise and then come and tell me he sounds "as if he's reciting all that he learned during his time in the library

I'm glad I'm not the only one who loves that song. Album is alright, but that song is super great.
posted by dig_duggler at 11:36 AM on July 12, 2006


klangston: Alright, I'll speak directly to the points he addressed - i disagree with many of them. What more is there to say? I mean, it's all a matter of taste, ne? Glad we had this discussion. And, yes, the song titles are too long. But, since I don't really even pay attention to album titles, much less song titles, that one doesn't carry a lot of weight with me.

Though, considering how defensive you seem to be (4 comments in 30 minutes or so), I might suggest you try not to get your feelings hurt, either.
posted by absalom at 11:37 AM on July 12, 2006


Even Sufjan is getting tired of his music:

Pitchfork: You say "these songs sound like songs I wrote," as if that's a surprise to you. Are you getting tired of your sound?

Sufjan: Yes. I'm getting tired of my voice. I'm getting tired of...the banjo. I'm getting tired of...the trumpet.

Pitchfork: Do you think that's because you've been so prolific over the past few years, or are you just getting restless?

Sufjan: I'm writing too much, for sure. I think it's important to get a season of rest, and I'm not so sure I've done that. That's why I'm not touring, I'm only playing one festival this summer. I have the summer off. I need to ride my bike more.


That being said, the Erlewine piece just seems to be missing the mark on so many occasions. "...his adolescent fascination with John Wayne Gacy, Jr." - huh? The Gacy track isn't a love letter to the man, it's an attempt to inspect and understand the man. Artists have been doing this kind of stuff for ages. If he takes the lyrics associating Sufjan with Gacy as literal, he shouldn't be writing about music in the first place.
posted by NationalKato at 11:38 AM on July 12, 2006


If you like something (music/film/people/food/wine/beer/etc) it automatically is good. Fuck what critics (metafilter's included) say.
posted by terrapin at 11:42 AM on July 12, 2006


Someone remind me why his opinion matters, again?

Because his uncle founded the All Music Guide, so he gets to write lots of reviews and artist bios.
posted by Jart at 11:45 AM on July 12, 2006


The Whole Note article author made a whole host of assumptions about Sufjan Steven's motivations and partially indicted him on that, which is a bit unfair. And I like the long song titles, I find them amusing when I first read them, then I forget about them.

Whoever made the point about this article being about the critic differentiating himself from his peers by disparaging a critical darling is probably on the money. There are three tactics to differentiate yourself as a critic: hate something everyone else loves, love something everyone else hates, or discover something before anyone else does.

And for the most part, music criticism is "creating" only in the most technical sense.
posted by Falconetti at 11:45 AM on July 12, 2006


If you like something (music/film/people/food/wine/beer/etc) it automatically is good. Fuck what critics (metafilter's included) say.

I'm not sure I agree. It means you like it, but that is an argument without end. I still weigh in that if a majority of people who specialize in critique in a certain field love or hate something it says something about it's intrinsic goodness/badness.
posted by dig_duggler at 11:46 AM on July 12, 2006


I would like to add my unnecessary additional praise to "Casmir Pulaski Day." A wonderful, moving little song about mortality and faith. My girlfriend, though, says it sounds "like church music." It is the one song I never skip over when my iPod shuffles to it randomly.

Oh, and your favorite band sucks (unnecessary self link).
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:47 AM on July 12, 2006


Sufjan Stevens has a talented and unique ear for his specific brand of orchestration. If you're into it, it's quite sublime and fun. If you're not, you're not. Opinions are like a*holes, but some a*holes happen to write for allmusicguide.
posted by gcbv at 11:47 AM on July 12, 2006


Well said, Falconetti
posted by terrapin at 11:47 AM on July 12, 2006


Who the hell or what the hell is a Sufjan Stevens? And why should I care what a critic thinks?
posted by willmize at 11:50 AM on July 12, 2006


What records has this guy released. Let's see...

http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:v72vadoku8w2

Oh. It seems none. So, he's just a fat fuck who doesn't play music? Someone remind me why his opinion matters, again?


Oh, do fuck off, please.

So who is this Jacques Derrida? Some dead fuck who's never written a novel. Someone remind me why his opinion matters, again? And don't get me started on Pauline Kael. Bitch never directed a film in her life!

Not that Erlewine ought to be compared to either of those two. He has some decent points: there's a nugget of truth in the accusation that he's reciting the notes from his latest trip to the library, though I don't buy it completely – there are more than a few songs on Illinoise which have plenty emotional heft and aren't just look-at-me-cleverness. And he's on to something when mentioning the total absence of chicago blues and jazz, but to say of an album that hints at everyone from The Cure and Simon & Garfunkel through to Curtis Mayfield and Steve Reich that it "lacks variety" and is just "baroque folk pop" is wide of the mark to say the least.

Other than that, Erlewine just seems like a bit of a hunourless bastard; someone else bemoaning the disappearance of whatever he considers to be true soul in music
posted by Len at 11:50 AM on July 12, 2006


willmize, do your own legwork. Thanks for stopping by.
posted by NationalKato at 11:53 AM on July 12, 2006


Gather up all your toys, twee records, and ironic tees, indie rock kids, and feed them to the fiery furnace! You have been bested by Truth this day.
posted by gigawhat? at 11:54 AM on July 12, 2006


Erlewine's not a bad music critic at all; his AMG entries tend to be learned and serious, and here he makes a number of strong points about Sufjan Stevens's overrated music, though I think he's utterly wrong about the J.W. Gacy song.

(Klang, you're pissing into the wind re: the Arcade Fire - Funeral is extraordinary. But I worry it might be impossible for them to top.)

My reaction to the album was similar to STE's: this is the sort of faux-earnest baroque poppycock that young snobs flip out for (cf. Fiery Furnaces, who have talent to burn but have yet to make great music), but it isn't actually (or merely) bad. The '50 states' conceit is conceptual-art rubbish - I should think that'd be fairly obvious - but at the album's high points, Illinois shows Stevens's knack for lovely arrangements and pretty, nonthreatening singing. It's a cute album primarily, and that is not a goddamn aesthetic virtue. Still, the cuteness has remarkable power in the 'Gacy' song, 'Jacksonville', and a couple of others. (I haven't listened to it in a little while so I can't name 'em.)

'Chicago' is a nice little composition, but there are three more versions on Avalanche, of which two are superior to the album track. Among all his music I've listened to, only the fourth version of 'Chicago' shows anything you might call 'balls' - and I don't mean that as a compliment. The preciousness, earnest tonal palette, 13-year-old-child title scheme and lyrics, and time-signature shifts for their own sake are the mark of a musician with talent but apparently very, very little to say.

The attacks on STE aren't interesting; 'Don't piss in my sandbox' might be a reasonable request but it's not a considered position from most indie rock snob types. I'm a longtime diehard Phish fan, and I'm used to having critics savage my favourite band from a position of ignorance, but I believe Erlewine knows whereof he speaks in this case.

If anyone has a better argument to counter him, other than 'Dude just listen it's so awesome you shouldn't criticize what you don't LOVE,' this would be the place to post it, no?
posted by waxbanks at 11:54 AM on July 12, 2006


My summary of the thread so far:

Post: this musician is sort of mediocre and definitely overpraised.

Thread assertion: WTF? Critics suck!

Counter-assertion: Critics suck?? Only because you don't realize he's right.

I don't have an opinion one way or another about Sufjan Stevens (gasp); I do, however, think that the article linked was veerrry mediocre criticism. For instance, he makes assertions like: "The orchestrations and compositions on SMiLE are purposeful -- on Illinois, they're clever-clever and showy", without ever being specific enough to actually make his point. How are these orchestrations different from Brian Wilson's? What, in the critic's opinion, makes one substantive and the other showy?

Most music criticism does indeed suck*, because it speaks in vague generalities about musical "feel" or "character". It's like Oprah for the pop rock set. Critics seem to have forgotten that criticism is not about whether you like a given work of art or not--I, for one, could care less about some writer's opinion; criticism is supposed to explicate, enlighten, and enliven a work, by discussing its context, structure, ambitions, etc. (Or excoriate based upon same.) Criticism can even comment as to how successfully the critic thinks the work achieves its ambitions, etc. But whether or not you like it? Who cares?


*In fact, I'd make this indictment for contemporary criticism in general--Richard Roeper is the poster child for the kind of nonsensical, feely dilettantism.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:54 AM on July 12, 2006 [2 favorites]


What absolom & Falconetti said.

Heh.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:55 AM on July 12, 2006


That Pitchfork interview is excellent, incidentally. Notwithstanding the 99% value-free nature of Pitchfork (starting with its writers' obsession with rock bands' sounds, the pet fixation of people who can't actually play music but feel the urge to talk about it).
posted by waxbanks at 11:56 AM on July 12, 2006


I still weigh in that if a majority of people who specialize in critique in a certain field love or hate something it says something about it's intrinsic goodness/badness.

Only if you put more value on other people's opinions than in your own. Why should the majority rule when it comes to something as relative as taste?

If I like a song and someone else doesn't, even if hundreds of others don't like it, why should that change my opinion of something I like?

If I like fish sticks more than filet mignon*, should I shun my favorite food because I am told I should prefer something else more? No, of course not.

If I like Budweiser more than Thomas Hardy what does it matter what Michael Jackson thinks?

Sorry, this post just seems like another attempt for someone who values their musical opinion to thumb their nose at a current hipster fave.

* I don't like either of these things all that much, and I prefer a 1987 Thomas Hardy over Bud. I actually prefer warm pond water to Bud, but if someone else likes it, good for them. No skin off my nose.
posted by terrapin at 11:56 AM on July 12, 2006


I'm conflicted about this one. I agree with many of Erlewine's critiques about Illinois, yet I still find his article, as a whole, to be smuger-than-thou hipster wankery. I think I can sum up my reaction to his article thusly...

"Yeah? So what?"
posted by lekvar at 11:57 AM on July 12, 2006


Who the hell or what the hell is a Sufjan Stevens? And why should I care what a critic thinks?

They are the subjects of this thread, and if you don't know and don't care, why in god's name are you participating in the discussion?
posted by furiousthought at 11:58 AM on July 12, 2006


Who the hell or what the hell is a Sufjan Stevens? And why should I care what a critic thinks?
posted by willmize at 11:50 AM PST on July 12 [+fave] [!]


Thank God a comment like this was posted in this thread. I was beginning to wonder if I were really in Metafilter after all!
posted by nonmerci at 11:59 AM on July 12, 2006


For those that haven't heard, here's one of the outtakes from the Avalanche: The Henney Buggy Band (free mp3 from insound.com)
posted by shoepal at 11:59 AM on July 12, 2006


Death From Above 1979 has been rocking me nonstop for weeks. It's like a vial of illicit rock that I take with me everywhere I go.

I can't believe Canadians can rock so fucking tight.
-- The Jesse Helms

One syllable: Sloan! Seriously, I don't know what's in the water in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but maybe it's similar to what's in your vial there, TJH....
posted by retronic at 12:02 PM on July 12, 2006


nonmerci: Well put.
posted by waxbanks at 12:03 PM on July 12, 2006


So this Steven Thomas Erlewine, Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire, do I have to be a pretentious music snob to know about them??
posted by hatsix at 12:03 PM on July 12, 2006


Writer tries to enhance self-image of cutting edge cleverness by being the first to engage in backlash against last year's critical favourite.

Film, as they say, at 11.


(And hands off Arcade Fire.)
posted by jokeefe at 12:05 PM on July 12, 2006


*bangs head against wall*
posted by furiousthought at 12:05 PM on July 12, 2006


I have no dog in this fight, but want to point out that in the mid-'60s, Erlewine and his brother were in an Ann Arbor, Mich., blues band called the Prime Movers, whose drummer was a guy named Jim Osterberg, aka Iggy Pop.
posted by AJaffe at 12:07 PM on July 12, 2006


Oh, do fuck off, please.

Run it by me again. Why?
posted by jon_kill at 12:08 PM on July 12, 2006


I still weigh in that if a majority of people who specialize in critique in a certain field love or hate something it says something about it's intrinsic goodness/badness.

Only if you put more value on other people's opinions than in your own. Why should the majority rule when it comes to something as relative as taste?

If I like a song and someone else doesn't, even if hundreds of others don't like it, why should that change my opinion of something I like?

If I like fish sticks more than filet mignon*, should I shun my favorite food because I am told I should prefer something else more? No, of course not.

If I like Budweiser more than Thomas Hardy what does it matter what Michael Jackson thinks?

Sorry, this post just seems like another attempt for someone who values their musical opinion to thumb their nose at a current hipster fave.


Dude I said it was a never ending argument. And if you like it of course you should enjoy it. But it's just imo that doesn't make it good. In that respect I enjoy many 'bad' things, but usually I know they're bad. I know Krystal's is bad, but I love it. I know 'Who's Johnny' by El Debarge is awful but I still love it, etc. Never said it should change your opinion...
posted by dig_duggler at 12:12 PM on July 12, 2006


And it does seem that saying things cannot be labeled good or bad except for your own opinion is a way of justifying your own taste as always good. I love lots of absolute crap.
posted by dig_duggler at 12:14 PM on July 12, 2006


Well, on the subject of music criticism in general: It mostly wants to be intellectual without having any rigor. I nearly never read it, and when I do I realize it's just not for me.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:14 PM on July 12, 2006


Okay here it comes, since apparently writing something down makes you an authority...

1) Sloan used to be good. One Chord to Another was their last good release. Ever since then it's been garbage. Someone might note that they turned to shit after they moved to Toronto, but most things turn to shit after they move to Toronto, so that follows.
2) My copy of Funeral must have been missing the little pill that everyone else got, but that shit stinks. Like, objectively. It's just terrible. My email is my profile if anyone cares to debate this.
3) Sufjan Stevens is fine. Good musician, the records are cool, pleasant to listen to if you're in the mood.

Also...

So this Steven Thomas Erlewine, Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire, do I have to be a pretentious music snob to know about them??

If you're not interested in hearing about things that you don't already know about, take a few days to think about what you already know and then shoot yourself in the face.
posted by jon_kill at 12:15 PM on July 12, 2006


hatsix: No, but you seem to have 2 of 3 three requirements met already. Now just start listening to them and you can hit the trifecta.
posted by absalom at 12:18 PM on July 12, 2006


If you're not interested in hearing about things that you don't already know about, take a few days to think about what you already know and then shoot yourself in the face.

Shooting yourself in the face is so last year, although I hear Hemmingway is making a comeback.
posted by Falconetti at 12:18 PM on July 12, 2006


So this Steven Thomas Erlewine, Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire, do I have to be a pretentious music snob to know about them??
posted by hatsix at 12:03 PM PST on July 12 [+fave] [!]


Did you read the thread? I mean, you obviously didn't RTFA, but could you at least read the thread before posting your "clever" little comment?

God, some of you people really suck.

[only directed at those three posters who think they're awesome because of their sheer laziness]
posted by nonmerci at 12:20 PM on July 12, 2006


Shooting yourself in the face is so last year

Yeah, but I didn't want to name any new ways of killing yourself, lest someone object to new information coming their way.
posted by jon_kill at 12:20 PM on July 12, 2006


jon_kill: Wrong! Mainly in the 'I cite "objective" standards in the now-traditional, risibly muddled rhetoric of the times and then defend Sufjan Stevens's work by saying it's fun if you're "in the mood," without even a trace of irony' way. Thanks for playing!

Andrew Bird: now there's a goddamn serious musician/songwriter.
posted by waxbanks at 12:22 PM on July 12, 2006


I don't think the writer of the review actually listened to Illinoise very much, or with any real attention. Like, this is his assesment of the lyrics: each song is thoroughly researched, spit-shined, and presented for the class, as if he's reciting all that he learned during his time in the library

Except that few of the songs are like that. Most of the songs are rather abstract, lyrically speaking, and on Illinoise, the whole state framework isn't the gimmick the critic wants it to be, it's an artifice on which Stevens hangs his real subject matter- himself and his evolving relationship to his evangelical Christian faith.

So, for exmaple, "Casimir Pulaski Day" merely name-drops the holiday, while the song is about theodicy and loss of faith. "Chicago" isn't about the city at all; it's about rebirth and falling in love. "Decatur, Or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!" name-drops Decatur-related event and places, but the song is about being a stepchild. That the critic can't pick up on these very obvious interpretations (Stevens practically spells them out for you).

And assertions like this: The orchestrations and compositions on SMiLE are purposeful -- on Illinois, they're clever-clever and showy, as the ornamentation of the production is there for its own sake, never there to illuminate or enhance Sufjan's musical or lyrical motifs. are just name-dropping on the critic's part but aren't justified -- who's to say that the lush orchestrations on SMiLE are "purposeful"? In what way? Whose purpose?
And: he's wrong, after all. For example, a lot of Steven's phrases (the musical ones) walk up the chromatic scale of the key the song is in a emotional points in the music, especially the songs whose content is aspirtational. Like, "Chicago" which is a song about "going up to the city" and growing up, and the bridge between the sparsely-arranged verses and the lush chorus is such a scale, as if we're ascending Jacob's ladder.

The problem with this review isn't that one disagrees with the critic; it's that the critic has done a piss-poor job of making his points, relying on shaky logic and his audience's ignorance of music and the material to disguise the fact that he just doesn't know what he's talking about. Likely, he doesn't dig Stevens, (which is just fine) and he invented a bunch of reasons why he didn't without actually listening in depth to the record and thinking about why he doens't like it (which is not cool.)
posted by eustacescrubb at 12:23 PM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


Oh god, waxbanks, the "objective" thing was a joke. I used it as a ludicrous intensifier.
posted by jon_kill at 12:23 PM on July 12, 2006


Damn, I really mangled that post when I edited it.
posted by eustacescrubb at 12:25 PM on July 12, 2006


I think at some sort of subconscious level most people realize that the music somebody likes is a personal choice that reflects something about their identity. Thus, the whole "the music you like sucks" thing is maybe a ssocially acceptable way of saying to somebody "I think you suck."
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:27 PM on July 12, 2006


Sometimes I just like reading criticism and enjoying it, sometimes it puts me on to something I don't know about or helps me to establish a context for something I don't have background on. Often it is dead wrong for my sensibility, but I like talking and thinking about why I like certain things, not just that I like them. Some of the most satisfying conversations I've had in my life were about why I like or don't like something. In fact critical ability in general is central to most forms of creative thinking.

I think there is a certain amount of chest-beating going on here about how a dude says a dude you like is no good... Don't be so silly. If you don't like critics because they potentially might say that you like something that is bad you are being more than a little bit insecure, no?

Many critics are formulaic and self-regarding and preening, but then again so is the stuff they are reviewing.

I never really did like ole Sufjan after giving him a decent listen so I never got to the point where I wanted to read criticism of him.

You know what I'd really like to see? A list of the things that people who pop into these threads and say "Who is this thing that I don't know about and why do I care?" do like and care about.

I bet it goes:

Fetal position
Cupping my hand loosely around my genitals
Sniveling softly while my "girlfriend" yells at me over the phone
Sweaty naps
Grilled cheese, no crusts
the first ten seconds after I wet the bed
Creed
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:29 PM on July 12, 2006 [6 favorites]


I reached a consensus.

Because of this thread I just downloaded Illinois to my iTunes. And you know what? It's fucking great. Thanks Klang.
posted by tkchrist at 12:30 PM on July 12, 2006


"who's to say that the lush orchestrations on SMiLE are "purposeful"?"

Their stated purpose according to Brian Wilson was to compete with the Beatles, so if anybody was being clever and showy it was probably the Beach Boys. And it was still damn fine music.

Whatever, this thread prompted me to put on Danielson's Ships album, which I'm sure Steven Thomas Erlewine despises. So there.
posted by 2sheets at 12:30 PM on July 12, 2006


jon_kill: Run it by me again. Why?

I'll assume, for the sake of argument, that you're being serious in asking that and not just being an obtuse prick, though that's a benefit of the doubt I'm not sure you deserve. Anyway, repeat after me: just because you've never recorded an album or made a film or written a novel or pained a painting (etc. etc.) doesn't mean your opinion on music/film/art/literature/delete as applicable doesn't count.

On preview: I can't be arsed emailing you to argue about the Arcade Fire album (which I think is pretty good, though not nearly as good as some), but anyone who calls it "objectively bad" just doesn't like music.
posted by Len at 12:31 PM on July 12, 2006


eustacescrubb, well written. You nailed what I was thinking. It's interesting to me how many people fixated on the '50 states' concept as something literal, instead of the artifice you succinctly explained.
posted by NationalKato at 12:31 PM on July 12, 2006


On not-preview: Ah, it was "a joke". Nice get-out clause you got there.
posted by Len at 12:34 PM on July 12, 2006


Did you read the thread? I mean, you obviously didn't RTFA, but could you at least read the thread before posting your "clever" little comment?

Evidentally someone didn't RTFA, and it wasn't me...

From the Article:
Like most recovering record collectors, indie rock snobs, and pop culture junkies, my first encounter with Sufjan Stevens was entirely pleasant.

There isn't any valuable information in this thread, it's just a YourFavoriteBandSucks, No, YourStarCriticSucks thread.


A very biased one-link FPP that's obscure for non-indie-music people? The snobs are the ones who are replying to people saying "Oh, you don't know, then get the fuck out of our conversation, God you people really suck". I'm all up for reading about new stuff, but don't post a link that talks about how some obscure indie artists sucks, then bitch when average-joe-reading-this-article posts questions about who this person is (admittedly, my post was snarky, but I had seen how you treat people who ask "Who is this, and why should I care")
posted by hatsix at 12:35 PM on July 12, 2006


That guy seems like one of those people who just doesn't "get" it. Like when my dad calls a Beyonce song "rap music."

And I was sort of close to respecting his opinion until he said Illinois "never comes close to the sophistication of Randy Newman". He lost me after that. I love a good Pixar-movie-hug fest as much as the next guy, but sophistication? Allllrighty.
posted by thekilgore at 12:36 PM on July 12, 2006


Oh, Len, jesus fuck. I'm not an idiot. It's not a get-out clause.

Did you read the first line about how writing something down makes you an authority? Did that fly by you? I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you didn't read the first line, because you shouldn't really have missed something that obvious.
posted by jon_kill at 12:38 PM on July 12, 2006


2sheets: inspired, I assumed, because of the close relationship between Danielson Famile and SS? Honestly, I got Ships and was ready to be wowed and.... I wasn't. They did strike me as a band that would be a lot of fun to see live, though, so I'm withholding total judgement. (I didn't go to their show last night in town, though - what the hell christian group starts their set at midnight?)

Oh, and what eustacescrubb said.
posted by absalom at 12:40 PM on July 12, 2006


I thought someone above was joking, but Erlewine really is the nephew of the AMG founder. That said, he's also apparently responsible for thousands of bios on the site, and for that at the very least he's contributed to the music world in a positive way.

Thekilgore, Randy Newman may be doing Pixar soundtracks now, but dig into his back catalogue and you'll find a very nuanced and sophisticated singer-songwriter.
posted by cell divide at 12:43 PM on July 12, 2006


AMG is OBSCURE? God, I must live in a basement then...
posted by klangklangston at 12:45 PM on July 12, 2006


hatsix, the ire comes from your laziness to find out who the 'obscure indie artist' is. Take some initiative.
posted by NationalKato at 12:45 PM on July 12, 2006


eustacescrubb, see, I liked your attempt at music criticism. You actually listened to the album, picked out its themes and then communicated your impressions without having to place yourself in some other muscial context. Well done. In addition, your write-up shows how wrong-headed the linked essay really was.

That said, the first ten minutes after wetting the bed are pretty nice.













But Creed still sucks.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:45 PM on July 12, 2006


You know what I'd really like to see? A list of the things that people who pop into these threads and say "Who is this thing that I don't know about and why do I care?" do like and care about.

I bet it goes:

Fetal position
Cupping my hand loosely around my genitals
Sniveling softly while my "girlfriend" yells at me over the phone
Sweaty naps
Grilled cheese, no crusts
the first ten seconds after I wet the bed
Creed


El oh fucking el, DW. Thanks for making my afternoon.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:46 PM on July 12, 2006


but I like talking and thinking about why I like certain things, not just that I like them.

To a point I agree.

But then it sucks all the enjoyment out of everything when people obsess about the minutiae of why they like, say, apple pie more than boysenberry. Obviously if you like boysenberry your an idiot. And this must be cleverly and repeatedly stated.

And that is, in effect, where art criticism, as a form unto itself, goes.

Half the joy in being a critic seems to be hating something. A quarter is labeling people who like something as philistines. The remaining quarter is the surprise in discovering you LIKE it.
posted by tkchrist at 12:49 PM on July 12, 2006


Who cares about Sufjan's music? The real question is, could he take out 311?

Anyways, I'm not the biggest Sufjan fan, but this guy (my initial reaction was who the hell is Stephen Thomas Erlewine?) kinds of makes a claim that his critical chops can't back up. There's a bit of a mini-genre in criticism of picking apart musicians, artists and writers who are considered to be beyond critique. And it can be fun to read, and it's best when it's done by someone who actually really likes the art itself but is willing to try and challenge their own subjective impressions (kind of like that pot-smoking high school history teacher who made you debate the side of the position you didn't agree with). This almost gets there, but not quite.

It's actually kind of a fun drinking game too--throw out a band or album that you actually like, and then find reasons to hate on it. It's edumacational.
posted by bardic at 12:50 PM on July 12, 2006


jon_kill: Yes, I read that; I took it as a sarky commentary, but thought you were being serious with the rest of it. Which might make me a bit dumb, granted.

Anyway, I take back what I said about you not liking music. Anyone who's down with Hot Chip is fine with me. Maybe I just need to recalibrate my internet argument seriousness gauge ;)
posted by Len at 12:52 PM on July 12, 2006


I just read Body Piercing Saved My Life, an interesting little book about the rise of Christian rock. Stevens is mentioned, of course, but he declines to be interviewed. He, like many other artists that perhaps start out as "Christian musicians," doesn't want to necessarily be associated with that movement any longer. Pedro the Lion's David Bazan is a much more central (and conflicted) character.

Plus, if you can find Stevens' Christmas record, it rules. I listened to it all last holiday season.
posted by sugarfish at 12:53 PM on July 12, 2006


The critic fella has some valid minor points, but they're taken to ridiculous, hysterical extremes to fit the genre he's writing in.

I've noticed that Illinoise sounds fantastic for the first few songs, but that by the end I'm kind of sick of the sameness of Sufjan's sweet singing and the general moderate tempo. But as soon as I start thinking "this guy's problem is that he sounds too much like himself," I remember the hundreds of musicians I've thought that about.

For the record, I had no idea Sufjan was overhyped or even hyped until I started checking him out on the Web after listening to Illinoise. I heard the two-part title track on our college station and thought "who the hell is this!?!?" and tracked the CD down from there. So the agitation evident in this review is somewhat amusing.
posted by soyjoy at 12:55 PM on July 12, 2006


I heard listening to Sufjan Stevens makes you an inherently better person. Also, the more flash-in-the-pan "indie" bands you listen to, the hipper you are. Confirm/deny?
posted by keswick at 12:57 PM on July 12, 2006


To a point I agree.

But then it sucks all the enjoyment out of everything when people obsess about the minutiae of why they like, say, apple pie more than boysenberry. Obviously if you like boysenberry your an idiot. And this must be cleverly and repeatedly stated.


Yeah, no, totally. Masturbation, like building ships in a bottle, is an art best enjoyed in total seclusion.
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:59 PM on July 12, 2006


hatsix, the ire comes from your laziness to find out who the 'obscure indie artist' is. Take some initiative.

Why can't I expect more from a post? Why is it that if someone thinks that something is important enough to have a FPP, they can't link to important information about the parties involved.

Who knows more about the situation, the Original Poster, or Average-Joe? Who's lazyness is the issue here, the Original Poster, who thought this was important enough to post, or Average-Joe who just wants more directed information about the parties involved RATHER than just google.

Should I post an Ask.Me question to find out information about who Sufjan Stevens is? Next week I'll ask about The Arcade Fire. (I don't know if either of those links are accurate, But the Original Poster could probably figure it out)

Its not that hard to include two more links in a post... But decidedly keeping information to your self and suggesting people to "do their own legwork", and "don't participate in this conversation" comes off as pretentious and snobbish.

I have initiative, I also have hobbies that don't include indie music, pardon me for my ignorance...
posted by hatsix at 1:01 PM on July 12, 2006


(This thread is hilarious for multiple reasons, btw.)
posted by bardic at 1:07 PM on July 12, 2006


hatsix, I wish you had posted your last, detailed comment about a lack of links instead of this:

So this Steven Thomas Erlewine, Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire, do I have to be a pretentious music snob to know about them??

That way, you wouldn't have come off as such a snarky ass. I think we're on the same page now.
posted by NationalKato at 1:15 PM on July 12, 2006


In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window

In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March on the holiday
I thought I saw you breathing

Oh the glory that the lord has made
And the complications when I see his face
In the morning in the window

Oh the glory when he took our place
But he took my shoulders and he shook my face
And he takes and he takes and he takes


He may have problems with Sufjan, but to call this school boy style recitation is rather ignorant.
posted by cyphill at 1:18 PM on July 12, 2006


For what it's worth, the Erlewine in Prime Movers was the uncle and founder, not the critic. But I agree with the arguments that one not be a musician to be a decent critic.
posted by ravelite at 1:18 PM on July 12, 2006


Should I post an Ask.Me question to find out information about who Sufjan Stevens is?

Maybe you should post an Ask.Me question to find out information about what Metafilter is.

Adding wikipedia links to an FPP is not the way to go. We need less wikipedia links, not more.
posted by soyjoy at 1:21 PM on July 12, 2006


I guess that should be "fewer" instead of "less," but I was thinking "less of the wikipedia-as-go-to-link-source phenomenon." Hope that's clear.
posted by soyjoy at 1:23 PM on July 12, 2006


Jeph Jacques, in his webcomic Questionable Content, addressed this sort of stuff with a joke:

Q. How do you piss off an indie music snob?
A. Actually like music.
posted by mephron at 1:23 PM on July 12, 2006


Look, no doubt there's such a thing as a bad (music, food, film, literature, art) critic, but it's stunning what a third-grade attitude many of you guys have towards criticism itself. Bach is the best judge of his own pieces? Only Picasso can judge "Guernica"? Having practiced it myself, I'd agree that there's nothing worse than a critic who thinks he's as big as, if not bigger than, the work of art itself, but that's an isolated issue (and perhaps too frequent, I'll admit). There's lots of stuff (musical, gastronomical, cinematical, literary, esthetic) out there, and we all have decisions made for us as to what we get exposed to, or allow ourselves to be exposed to (whether we admit it or not). Unless you're going out to see a new band every night of the week and purchasing ten new albums and reissues a day, critics have a purpose.

It's just so funny to see people equate a poor to middling critique (in this case, I'd say he makes some good points, but his reach o'er extends his grasp so to speak) as the reason why ZOMG YOU CANT HAVE OPINION YOU DONT PLAY BANJO. Duh. The grown up table is over here when you're ready, kids.
posted by bardic at 1:28 PM on July 12, 2006


Q: How many Iny Rock hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: *sigh* I have this joke on vinyl.
posted by lekvar at 1:29 PM on July 12, 2006 [2 favorites]


Maybe you should post an Ask.Me question to find out information about what Metafilter is.
I guess I always assumed that metafilter was a weblog by and for the community of members. Assuming that all of the members has a ton of background knowledge of indie-rock is inane.

Adding wikipedia links to an FPP is not the way to go. We need less wikipedia links, not more.
This is exactly my point. The Original Poster should be an authority on which he is posting (or, at least, much closer than the average MeFite). HE is the one that should be adding in more information. If the someone who finds the article interesting, but wants to know more about those involved, they can go to Google or Wikipedia. BUT, if the poster and others who have such strong opinions would so kindly link to information that they find helpful, we the ignorant wouldn't have to rely on G & W.

Instead, we have pretentious snobs that are bitching and moaning about the uninformed treading into their sacred and childish arguements about who's opinion really matters.
posted by hatsix at 1:46 PM on July 12, 2006


BUT, if the poster and others who have such strong opinions would so kindly link to information that they find helpful

Many of us did.

Instead, we have pretentious snobs that are bitching and moaning about the uninformed treading into their sacred and childish arguements about who's opinion really matters.

Okay, now you're just being a prick.
posted by NationalKato at 1:55 PM on July 12, 2006


critics have a purpose

I'm sayin' yo! Fuckin' meta-filter you buncha knee-huggers.
posted by Divine_Wino at 1:59 PM on July 12, 2006


hatsix, keep fighting the good fight, so much depends on a red wheelbarrow.

I like criticism for the most part, especially film and literary criticism (not LitCrit as in what Comparative Lit PhDs study, but more like an Atlantic essay by Christopher Hitchens or Love and Death in the American Novel).

But there is something especially noxious to me about music critics who go beyond explanation and into critique. Perhaps because of all the arts music is the least verbal (or at least the most difficult to represent verbally), music critics have to strive mightily to convey sound in words, which is just asking for shitty, "look-at-me" prose. Also, because music is often not "narrative" in an easy to grasp or conventional way, a critic has to read deeply into a piece to unlock or discover its "meaning," which is a highly idiosyncratic process. Because of this idiosyncracy borne of having very little concrete to hook your analysis on, people will have wildly differeing interpretations. Combine this with the preliterate passion that music evokes and you have a recipe for disagreements to become overheated.

Also, Danielson Famile is fucking awesome.
posted by Falconetti at 2:08 PM on July 12, 2006


Q: How many Iny Rock hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: *sigh* I have this joke on vinyl.


That's one of the funniest jokes ever.

And to whovever just left an anonymous comment on my (admittedly-boring) blog about how i haven't outgrown my youthful ignorance, i am sincerely sorry I made a joke about Randy Newman. Really. I had no idea that would cut so deep.
posted by thekilgore at 2:17 PM on July 12, 2006


NationalKato: You're the only person who posted a link. (well, there was a link to another discussion about the same article, and a couple links to other bands and mp3s, as well as a link to a last.fm profile) For that I thank you. (while I appreciate the link, and did read a portion of the interview, it's very hard to read for someone who hasn't been following Sufjan... "non-baby".. wtf?... though the interview offered more insight than I previously had.)

For the record, I'm not calling everyone that took part in the discussion pretentious snobs, and not all of the conversation was childish, but there were snobs who said "get out", and there are others besides me who have described the discussion as childish.

(though I'm not denying that I'm a prick)
posted by hatsix at 2:20 PM on July 12, 2006


eustacescrubb made the major points. Illinois is emphatically not actually about Illinois, the state -- the numerous schoolboy references are actually a kind of deliberate distancing, a fence you have to get past. I think the orchestration is very appropriate and in service of the music -- I miss it when listening to Michigan, in fact. I can also agree, in the sense of bardic's drinking game or soyjoy's experience, that there's a bit of a sameness and narrowness of sound and range within which Stevens is working. It's one reason I haven't yet bought Avalanche; they're outtakes and I expect that most were rejected for a reason (although I'll take waxbanks's note about "Chicago" and check it out). At the same time, I don't really know anybody else who's mining quite the same intersection of electronica and folk, and albums like Enjoy Your Rabbit (electronic instrumentals) show that he isn't just a lush lyricist.

I think one of the most amazing things about him is his amazing empathy for his subjects -- for example, "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.", which isn't about Gacy at all, but about the narrator's own self-worth and fears. As such Stevens is exposing and critiquing his own technique right within the song where he demonstrates it, arguably, the most.
posted by dhartung at 2:21 PM on July 12, 2006


Sounds like a short person thekilgore.
posted by bardic at 2:21 PM on July 12, 2006


Fair enough, hatsix. Hug it out?
posted by NationalKato at 2:25 PM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


Falconetti: are you saying that I've been rained on? or that I'm standing in a chicken yard?

:-) (really, I get it!)
posted by hatsix at 2:25 PM on July 12, 2006


I often find that all you need to own are two or three albums by any one artist. As soon as you buy everything they put out the sound tends to gets old, redundant and boring.

One could feel this way about anyone from Dylan to Westerberg to Sufjan Stevens.

I think this critic is dealing with that and in the case of Stevens he also got tired of him being over-hyped so much. Big deal. That's his problem. Stevens is still pretty good. Buy any one of his albums and I think you'll agree. Maybe just don't buy them all.
posted by Rashomon at 2:26 PM on July 12, 2006


Paul Williams, maybe? He always hated that song.
posted by InfidelZombie at 2:29 PM on July 12, 2006


Damn, some of you are arrogant. Everything the critic said is a perfectly acceptable interpretation of the entireness of Stevens. The critic didn't say that anyone who liked Stevens was wrong to do so. And yet there are lots of people in this thread who say that the critic didn't listen to the albums, or that he didn't listen as closely as people who love the albums, or that he wasn't paying attention at all.

You're showing your bias if you refuse to acknowledge that opposing viewpoints are indeed quite possibly held by intelligent people.

If you think the critic is wrong, then what are acceptable reasons for not liking Stevens' work? And I don't mean "My reason for not liking it is I have bad taste". I mean like: "Here is a list of things which it could be argued that Stevens doesn't do very well".
posted by 23skidoo at 2:30 PM on July 12, 2006


OK, I'll withdraw the wikipedia part - that's a big bugaboo of mine. But your central point...

Assuming that all of the members has a ton of background knowledge of indie-rock is inane.

... is still wrong-headed. I and many others enjoy Metafilter because we're introduced to stuff we don't know about. And the structure of the site makes it easy to get more info on stuff that intrigues us, and scroll on by that which doesn't. I still can't understand the impulse to come into a thread about a topic one is unfamiliar with and complain that because of that, it shouldn't be here.
posted by soyjoy at 2:37 PM on July 12, 2006


23skidoo,

One of the things I used to tell my English Comp students when teaching them how to write reviews (or liturate papers, for that matter) is that there are many right interpretations, but one certain wrong interpretation. The wrong one is one that is contradicted by the work itself.
So, for instance, one could say many things about, say, Raoger Waters' album Amused To Death but one thing that is flatly wrong about it is the assertion that it's an album of praise ot his lord and savior Jesus Christ. Similarly, there's nothing wrong with the hip hop songs in Amelie because it hasn't got any hip hop songs.
The mistake this critic has made, and the one that makes me think he's been lazy or is making the classic critic's mistake of amplifying "I don't like it" into a 300 word article is that he makes statements that just aren't true.
he can say he doesn't like Stevens' lyrics, or that they tend to be to navel-gazey, or that it's kinda cheesy to try so hard to rhyme so many words with "Decatur" but it's just not true that the lyrics are nothing more than polished schooolboy recitation of memorized facts. My first example doesn't even mention its schoolboy fact (Casimir Pulaski Day) by name, and "the holiday" is merely the setting for the album's pivotal moment, when the narrator veers between religious ecstasy and loss of faith. The music on that song, which is about a young man's struggle with his faith after his girlfriend dies of bone cancer in spite of the narrator's prayers, is subdued and heartbreaking, as is Steven's singing -- both are the furthest thing from being mere ornament that's unrelated to the subject matter.

The point is, it's not the critic's opinion that's irritating, it's that he seems to have taken the easiest way out.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:47 PM on July 12, 2006


God, I wish I had taken typing in high school.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:48 PM on July 12, 2006


Falconetti: are you saying that I've been rained on? or that I'm standing in a chicken yard?


hehe, I don't even know what I meant to be honest.
posted by Falconetti at 2:50 PM on July 12, 2006


MetaFilter: "a bunch of self-serving, self-congratulatory niches."
posted by MikeMc at 2:55 PM on July 12, 2006


In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window

In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March on the holiday
I thought I saw you breathing

Oh the glory that the lord has made
And the complications when I see his face
In the morning in the window

Oh the glory when he took our place
But he took my shoulders and he shook my face
And he takes and he takes and he takes


I'll just say that my father died on March 6th, which happens to be Casimir Pulaski day, and that this song means a whole lot to me.
posted by jokeefe at 3:15 PM on July 12, 2006


Don't worry guys, eventually you too will realize "indie rock" is to the 2000s as boy bands were to the late 90s.

This needs to be stressed.
posted by dydecker at 3:18 PM on July 12, 2006


Who the fuck is this Casimir Pulaski guy anyway, and why does he get his own day? Would this be something that I'd need a bit of Illinois history to know about?
posted by Len at 3:31 PM on July 12, 2006


You know what I'd really like to see? A list of the things that people who pop into these threads and say "Who is this thing that I don't know about and why do I care?" do like and care about.

I bet it goes:

Fetal position
Cupping my hand loosely around my genitals
Sniveling softly while my "girlfriend" yells at me over the phone
Sweaty naps
Grilled cheese, no crusts
the first ten seconds after I wet the bed
Creed


You are now my muse.

Also, I love Sleater-Kinney!

*flees*
posted by furiousthought at 3:41 PM on July 12, 2006


I have a solution.

Songs from the id. That's the future. And I am going to invent it.

I am going to invent a device that look a bit like a cross between a highway cone and a lava lamp. You wear it like a hat. This device will be called the "Cerebomaphone." And it will produce pure unfiltered music directly form your id. Unencumbered or filtered by ego. It will glow and strobe impressively once activated. Everybody will have their own music from instant symphonies to juice harp solos. And. It will be free.

The catch? Only the individual can hear what their own Cerebomaphone produces. With one exception. Those others you are directly genetically related too up to first cousins.

AND anybody you have sex with. They can hear your id music.

This device will be wildly more popular than even the Pornophronizor (Oh... that's my OTHER invention. You'll have to wait for that one).

Then due to the hidden brain washing implant I will take over as your benevolent dictator and outlaw all other forms of music.

ALL HAIL EMPEROR TK AND HIS GLORIOUS MUSIC OF THE ID!

Mwah ha haha ahahaha...

Crap. Did I accidentally mention the brain implant thingy?
posted by tkchrist at 3:42 PM on July 12, 2006


My feeling about Sufjan also doesn't jibe with this review except in the complaint about the exaggerated sincerity part. All thos eindie rocker guys try to get cred by pretending they're from everyplace but usually they're just from Brooklyn. I love all of Stevens' albums, but they're hard to listen to because, unlike Eliot Smith who I really believed was a tortured person writing from some emotional depth, I sort of feel like Stevens & Co. have found a way to be uncanny mimics of that style and create wildly emotionally powerful music that promises to love you forever and then doesn't. I don't see it as an indictment, just an "aw your diamond is made out of glass" statement.
posted by jessamyn at 3:43 PM on July 12, 2006


cell divide:

Thekilgore, Randy Newman may be doing Pixar soundtracks now, but dig into his back catalogue and you'll find a very nuanced and sophisticated singer-songwriter.

No, I agree with you. I was just making a little joke.

I guess I need to use more ;^) in my posts. And now I have a comment flamer on my blog to prove that point. Seriously - someone is seriously mad at me. Calling me ignorant, saying I "put on airs" etc. Of all the things I ever slapped on the internet, this is what got me my first troll. It's surreal.
posted by thekilgore at 3:47 PM on July 12, 2006


...music that promises to love you forever and then doesn't.

I understand your disappointment.

My music (made by the Cerebomaphone (TM)) will love you forever. Well. Ok. Maybe for about thirty forty minutes. That's pretty good, right? Then after a nap and some Gatorade I promise it will be ready to love you some more.
posted by tkchrist at 3:48 PM on July 12, 2006


Is it possible to listen to Sufjan Stevens, pay attention to his music, and then decide that you just don't like it? Because some of the comments here seem to claim that it's undeniable that his music is great. I don't think so. I bought Michigan because as a born-and-bred Michigander and long time indie rock geek, I thought it would be amusing and interesting. I listened to it three or four times, then filed it away under "artists I'll never buy another record from". But hey, I also don't like Devandra Banhart. And I heard a track from 30 years ago by Vashti Bunyan a few days ago and thought it was pretty awful too. And I always hated Donovan. So maybe it's just possible to dislike Sufjan Stevens.

It can't be because his music and lyrics are overwrought and pretentious; I mean, I like The Decembrists just fine, you know? Maybe I just don't like hippy music. Go figure.

Damn, now I have to cleanse my palate with some Mission of Burma....
posted by geneablogy at 4:14 PM on July 12, 2006


Calling me ignorant, saying I "put on airs" etc. Of all the things I ever slapped on the internet, this is what got me my first troll. It's surreal.

that is bizarre, maybe Randy Newman's manager is a contributor here :)

I didn't take offence at your joke, just wanted to clue you in... he's best known for "I Love LA" and Pixar these days, and I'm not ecactly a fan but he does have some great stuff in his past.
posted by cell divide at 4:30 PM on July 12, 2006


Stevens is mentioned, of course, but he declines to be interviewed. He, like many other artists that perhaps start out as "Christian musicians," doesn't want to necessarily be associated with that movement any longer.

One of the great problems with Christian rock is that you're stuck between critics and others who automatically assume Christian music == artistically bad, Jesus freak crap, and the Christians who alternately lionize them as saint and vilify them as sinners. The choice is to either embrace this and accept the CCM vanilla template, or to reject it and keep mum about what you actually believe. So, you're either Sufjan almost denying he ever attended Calvin College, or you're Third Day accepting you'll never have a secular market (whether they deserve it or not).

Or, you're David Bazan, saying "I'm a Christian, so what's your problem?"

Plus, if you can find Stevens' Christmas record, it rules. I listened to it all last holiday season.

It's called Hark! Sounds For Christmas and is a 3 EP set (but readily downloadable if you know where to look). He actually does a damn fine job arranging them.

Is it possible to listen to Sufjan Stevens, pay attention to his music, and then decide that you just don't like it?

No. Doing so shows a moral weakness. :)

Honestly, I would rather have people say, "I listened to it and I just don't like it" than 2000 word screeds from rock critics who think Your Band Sucks while pretending to be the next Lester Bangs. That at least shows that you made the effort to try it, rather than just read the liner notes.
posted by dw at 4:36 PM on July 12, 2006


Is it possible to listen to Sufjan Stevens, pay attention to his music, and then decide that you just don't like it?

Yep.

Because some of the comments here seem to claim that it's undeniable that his music is great.

No, I think most people here are pointing out that the critic hasn't made a good case for his statements, some of which are objectively false. That's because the critic is trying to do what you are not, i.e. that instead of it being a matter of taste, that Stevens' music is bad from some objective standpoint. He fails to make his case on those grounds. Had he written, as you have, about that he doesn't dig Stevens' music, and attached it to his personal taste and music listerning history, it'd have been a truer, better, and more helpful review. See, b/c though I think the first Decemberists album is okay, I really don't dig them, so had you written the review of Stevens' album, I'd have been able to surmise that your taste is different enough from mine that I might like Stevens' music, since you don't like it. Which is actuallly helpful.
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:38 PM on July 12, 2006


No, I agree with you. I was just making a little joke.

I was thisclose to ordering you to iTunes to download "Political Science," "Rednecks," "Sail Away"....
posted by dw at 4:41 PM on July 12, 2006



that is bizarre, maybe Randy Newman's manager is a contributor here :)


Nah, gotta be Paul Williams.

That was beautiful, InfidelZombie. Just beautiful.
posted by LinnTate at 4:46 PM on July 12, 2006


he can say he doesn't like Stevens' lyrics, or that they tend to be to navel-gazey, or that it's kinda cheesy to try so hard to rhyme so many words with "Decatur" but it's just not true that the lyrics are nothing more than polished schooolboy recitation of memorized facts. My first example doesn't even mention its schoolboy fact (Casimir Pulaski Day) by name, and "the holiday" is merely the setting for the album's pivotal moment, when the narrator veers between religious ecstasy and loss of faith. The music on that song, which is about a young man's struggle with his faith after his girlfriend dies of bone cancer in spite of the narrator's prayers, is subdued and heartbreaking, as is Steven's singing -- both are the furthest thing from being mere ornament that's unrelated to the subject matter.

Yeah, and it's untrue that all of Weird Al's songs are parodies, but I wouldn't fault anyone for saying that is what Weird Al is about. It's certainly not unfair to call the statement untrue, but to dismiss the statement out of hand directly for not being 100% accurate is the kind of thing that should be done in peer edited science journals, not by people writing (or reading) rock reviews. The statement is true to some degree, and for the reviewer it stands out waaaay more than it does for you.

Whether a song's arrangement is ornamental or not is completely subjective. Some people will find his arrangements to be purposeful, others not. There's no way to say that a straight-up opinion like that is wrong.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:52 PM on July 12, 2006


23skidoo, can you find me some of the lyrics from Illinoise that match the critic's desccription? Because I can't think of any offhand. I used Casimir Pulaski Day as an example, but I really am trying to think of any of the lyrics on Illinois which are merely there for the sake of schoolboy show offiniess. All of the songs I can remember have meanings more important than and apart from the facts themselves.
And anyway, my point here isn't that Stevens' lyrics are perfect, or that the critic has no point, but that the critic has done no real work to persuade me. Where are his examples? Where is the genuine analysis?

to dismiss the statement out of hand directly for not being 100% accurate is the kind of thing that should be done in peer edited science journals, not by people writing (or reading) rock reviews

I'd settle for 10% accurate. Since he offered no conrete examples of the phenonmenon he describes, the burden of proof is on him, no?

Whether a song's arrangement is ornamental or not is completely subjective. Some people will find his arrangements to be purposeful, others not. There's no way to say that a straight-up opinion like that is wrong.

Ah, but if it's subjective, then how can he claim it isn't purposeful? I've provided two examples of what seem to be purposeful arrangements; he's provided none of purposeless arrangments. As I say to my comp students, with stuff like this, the only wrong answer is the unsupported one.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:12 PM on July 12, 2006


SLOE, no? Single-link-op-ed?
posted by delmoi at 6:47 PM on July 12, 2006


Is there somewhere I could go to actually listen to samples? Ah forget it, I don't even care. :P
posted by delmoi at 6:55 PM on July 12, 2006


i've heard of mr stevens but never heard him ... that one sample someone posted a link to was interesting ... it doesn't seem as though he sings with a lot of feeling, but the arrangement was interesting and different

it seemed like a minor song to me, but that doesn't make it bad
posted by pyramid termite at 8:53 PM on July 12, 2006


All those indie rocker guys try to get cred by pretending they're from everyplace but usually they're just from Brooklyn.

I don't have anything to add. I just thought that was a great line which deserved to be posted again.

Also: Casimir Pulaski.

posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:41 PM on July 12, 2006


Pretty spot on. Doesn't matter though.
posted by sklero at 11:36 PM on July 12, 2006


Also: Motherfuck some Arcade Fire.
posted by sklero at 11:39 PM on July 12, 2006


Samples, delmoi, et al.

Jason (From A Sun Came)
Holland (From: Michigan)
posted by shoepal at 11:57 PM on July 12, 2006


No, "indie rock" is what "alternative rock" was in the 90s. Thus the cycle of underground music going mainstream goes ever and anon. So you can keep arguing about "indie rock" or go find the interesting stuff. Which I say will be called "batshit rock" five years from now as it too inevitably gets played more and more on the radio.

And who the fuck still reads AMG?

Oh.
posted by patgas at 12:35 AM on July 13, 2006


AMG is a great, free resource. Just sayin.
posted by bardic at 1:55 AM on July 13, 2006


As someone said a while ago in the Fuck You Crew, "Sufjan Stevens is the Zamfir of his generation."

Awesome post, Klang. I really dug Greetings from Michigan, but Illinoise was just way way too precious.
posted by Sidthecat at 6:54 AM on July 13, 2006


Sorry to come into the discussion (argument) late, but I wanted to throw a few things out there (I hope I'm not repeating anything above, I skimmed some of the more repetative back and forth critic bashing).

Am I the only one who thinks Surjan Stevens listened to that tinkly piano "Peanuts" record over and over again (maybe it was an x-mas record? People always seem to put it on in the fall, it's some comfort thing having to do with their childhood I guess) and has tried to emulate it ever since? I've always been bored to death by that record.

To me, Surfjan reeks of preciousness and posturing - it just rubs me the wrong way. Devendra Banhardt (whose music I "theoretically" like, whose music is inspired and influenced by most of *my* favorite music, who I have tried over and over again to like), I have similar reactions to = it rubs me the wrong way. A growing number of popular artists (like, say, the Arcade Fire, or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah) cause this reaction in me and a lot of my friends (who maybe don't talk about it in public so much for fear of dissenting from the popular band opinion). Maybe STE doesn't have a good *objective* argument but I'm finding myself alienated more and more from a "genre" or wave of music that I once considered my niche - alienated without any logical arguments I could consider anything but subjective.

I don't like the Flaming Lips any more (loved them up to Yoshimi), I don't like Sonic Youth any more (love them up to Washing Machine), I don't like Radiohead (well, always found them a little sappy but liked their 90's stuff), and I don't like nearly all the popular "indie" bands right now.

Any time I try to explain to befuddled opposers of my opinions just *why* I think these bands (while theoretically "good") at what they do have lost their fire (or never had it), I am greeted with a wealth of "Well that's just your opinion, man!" and "Well *I* think Kid A actually *is* groundbreaking because even though lots of other people had done the same stuff before, Radiohead did it on a bigger stage!" And they're right- it is my opinion, it is relative, it is experiential.

Jonathan Lethem wrote this great essay (I read it online somewhere, don't know where - it may be in his book of essays), about artists he grew up reading, watching, listening to. Among the many he talks about, Philip K. Dick, Bob Dylan, (and a few others I can't remember) were the ones he would always eventually return to, the ones who always remained after he was disappointed with the others. It had to do with a lack of posturing and a need to ask questions. It wasn't that the artists wanted to *tell you* something, it was that they wanted to *know*, and they were always going to try and figure it out, through their art, and you could join up and watch, participate, whatever. And that was the most fulfilling - because it wasn't pandering, it wasn't telling you what to feel or trying to manipulate you.

So I think what it comes down to (for me, and from my observations among my friends) with music like this, is how much you want to know - how much you *ask of your music*, how much you've already learned from music that is similar, and how honestly, deeply passionate and driven the artist is to asking his own questions for you to see.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 7:18 AM on July 13, 2006


Sid— Goin' to the Shadow Art Fair?

Smiley— You and I are in the same place as far as those bands.
posted by klangklangston at 7:24 AM on July 13, 2006


Ok, correction:

"So I think what it comes down to (for me, and from my observations among my friends) with music like this, is how much you want to know - how much you *ask of your music*, how much you've already learned from music that is similar, and how much *you believe* that the artist is honestly, deeply passionate and driven the artist is to asking his own questions for you to see."

And I just don't believe Surfjan Stevens.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 7:25 AM on July 13, 2006


Ok, messed up that correction, but the point is there.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 7:29 AM on July 13, 2006


A well-articulated p.o.v., SmileyChewtrain.

can you give some linkage to the Letham essay?
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:41 AM on July 13, 2006


I can't seem to find an online version, but I did search around and discover it's the last essay in his book "The Disappointment Artist," and it's called "The Beards."

It's absolutely worth reading if you can find it online, or read it in the book.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 9:24 AM on July 13, 2006


cell divide: Bad Love is really good too. Randy Newman's good material isn't all of "the past."
posted by raysmj at 3:57 PM on July 13, 2006


Although 1999 is the past to, just as yesterday was, technically. But, y'know, the past past.
posted by raysmj at 3:58 PM on July 13, 2006


You lot wouldn't ahave ever heard the name Sufjan Stephens were it not for rock critics, so getting self-righteous about how rock critics are worthless complainers rings pretty fucking hollow.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:56 PM on July 13, 2006


You lot wouldn't ahave ever heard the name Sufjan Stephens were it not for rock critics...

Listening to the radio may have played a small role in it too.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:23 PM on July 13, 2006


Alvy, a good DJ is a rock critic who plays you the songs, too. A bad DJ plays what his marketing department tells him to.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:44 PM on July 13, 2006


Touché.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:24 PM on July 13, 2006


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