"played music upon it such as the ears of Men had not heard"
October 28, 2015 12:17 PM   Subscribe

 
Waltz of the 101st Lightborne ❤️❤️❤️
posted by oulipian at 12:21 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Intellectually, I agree with the Awl piece, but anecdotally, I've found it to be women who dislike her more than men. I am a man and love Joanna Newsom, and the only folks I know who are also really into her music are men. And the women I know who dislike her seem to really, really dislike her. Granted, I'm talking about an awfully small sample size of people.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:30 PM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Listening to her and reading about her never gets old. And each new album brings its own batch of predictable criticism. But this bit on the Awl link just sums it all up, perfectly. Everything I want to remember to say next time I feel like arguing with a bro:

"That’s just the way it is, and it can be seen clearly in the way men write about Newsom: that silly voice, a long album about the breakdown of a relationship? Boring! But Bob Dylan—now there’s a true unadulterated genius."
posted by witchen at 12:31 PM on October 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


Eat Harp Love, "Matt and Ryan listen to and discuss Joanna Newsom’s Divers."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:34 PM on October 28, 2015


I've found it to be women who dislike her more than men. I am a man and love Joanna Newsom

Another data point for that. When the piece about her was on NPR over the weekend, I said something along the lines of, "Hm, interesting, kind of a Kate Bush vibe to this," while my gf exclaimed, "What the *hell* is that crap?"
posted by aught at 12:36 PM on October 28, 2015


I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard her music til right now. Love it! Thanks for the post!
posted by Thorzdad at 12:39 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


From a Vanity Fair review by Andrew Wagner quoted in the Fragile Ears of Men link:
Have One on Me is like listening to the Pride and Prejudice book-on-tape while driving on 1-94 through Indiana and Illinois with NPR’s Jonathan Schwartz riding shotgun. It’s long (3 discs!), sad, depressed, flat, antiquated, boring, and runs the risk of making you nod off at the wheel and die.
Oh man must be a fuckin' GIRL thing amirite?! VF, you should look a little harder for a reviewer who actually knows what the hell he's talking about.

Finnegan takes a bit of issue in her piece with comparisons of Newsom to Joni Mitchell, but the way she describes Newsom's music and the quotes she pulls from the reviews she mentions remind me so strongly of what many of my male friends say they think about Mitchell's music ("say they think" because, when pressed, they can't name a song of hers they've ever heard). As Finnegan says, "those doing the reducing are simply not listening to her." Sigh.

My one complaint is that Finnegan mocks male reviewers' reverence for Dylan, as if that is of a piece with their overlooking of Newsom...but I don't think it's ridiculous or sexist to consider Dylan without peer. It's just not because of his testes.
posted by sallybrown at 12:42 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


It just struck me - she's the love child of Kate Bush and Van Dyke Parks. (Both of whom I like.)
posted by aught at 12:50 PM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't want to shoot down the gender thing but I think Newsom is actually fairly inaccessible, and yet for whatever reason she has a high media profile and gets written about more than a comparable "outsider" or deeper underground type, so the people (i.e. men) you see blanching at it are guys wouldn't normally be aware of this kind of stuff at all.

I think she's really talented, even though I kind of tuned out increasingly after her first album, but I guess I just wouldn't totally let her off the hook for being a demanding or difficult listen.
posted by anazgnos at 12:50 PM on October 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


It just struck me - she's the love child of Kate Bush and Van Dyke Parks.

Funny you should say that, aught, since Van Dyke Parks did the orchestral arrangements for her second album, Ys.
posted by Bromius at 12:54 PM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Thanks for reminding me about this: I just bought the album.

I have no opinion really on her voice, other than that I'm somewhat tired of hearing about how you don't like an artists voice. She's a really talented poet who can translate her poetry into music without really making it feel like a "song" in anything but the best ways.

I guess her music is "demanding"? The lyrics are pretty complex. But the actual music is typically pretty melodic and pleasing to the ear.
posted by selfnoise at 12:55 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, I like her music quite a bit.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 12:58 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


since Van Dyke Parks did the orchestral arrangements for her second album, Ys.

That explains that! Thanks.
posted by aught at 12:58 PM on October 28, 2015


That Vanity Fair article that Finnegan quotes is godawful and I'm morbidly curious how it came to exist.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 12:59 PM on October 28, 2015


Can't hear the words, only the way they are sung. Why is she doing that?
posted by amtho at 1:01 PM on October 28, 2015


Easy to lose Newsome's music in the mess of Finnegan's EVERYONE HATES/LIKES JOANNA NEWSOME FOR THE WRONG REASONS, but it will undoubtedly bring in the clicks. ("I do not typically enjoy live music unless it’s classical or opera ...") I'm not absolutely sure the Awl isn't fucking with us there.

That one commenter gets it right, tho. Newsome's "tradition" and her peers aren't the Guthries, Seegers, Dylan's, et al., but rather musicians like (for example) Clodagh Simonds, Sally Oldham, Brigitte Fontaine, Annette Peacock, Carla Bley, Linda Perhacs, Meredith Monk ... one could go on.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:03 PM on October 28, 2015 [21 favorites]


I like her stuff, but she is definitely an acquired taste. Not feeling the "Divers" track so I loaded up "Peach Plum Pear" and am now happy.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:04 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I enjoy the work of many, many, many female artists. Joanna Newsom is not one of them.

Joanna Newsom may be a tremendously great songwriter; I wouldn't know, because I can't stand to listen to her singing for more than a few seconds. Her voice is really, really, grating to me. It's full-on nails-on-chalkboard. Dentist's drill. It makes me wince involuntarily.

I can understand why critics don't like her music, and I don't think it has the slightest thing to do with sexism.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:04 PM on October 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ys is a good place to start with her. Her lyrics definitely require footnotes. I too have noticed that women in my car will complain when she comes up in a mix disc (also true of Martha Wainwright).
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:14 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am a man, last I checked. And while I fully support Newsom's right to be an artistically gifted musician on her own terms with apologies to no one, I apply the Die Antwoord rule in that I'd appreciate not being when and where she is doing it.

I mean, I know she dislikes being stereotyped as a twee Gelfling prancing through an elven glade with a harp and a hey nonny nonny and a ring ding dell, leaving a trail of rainbow fairy dust in her wake. But on the other hand, I've heard Monkey and Bear one too many times.
posted by delfin at 1:14 PM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Her voice is really, really, grating to me. It's full-on nails-on-chalkboard. Dentist's drill. It makes me wince involuntarily.

I mean, she's no Diamanda Galas, but then who is?
posted by octobersurprise at 1:15 PM on October 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


OK, so, I love Joanna Newsom, Divers is awesome so far, and I've a nerd so I've spent a ton of time thinking about why her music turns people some people off.

Obviously, her voice is not a standard pop star voice, but I don't think this is the real reason. Dylan included, we can all point to dozens of excellent musicians with non-standard voices, male and female.

No, I think the main pop music challenge is that most of her songs don't have a traditional pop-music hook and, thus, take several listens to absorb. I'm going to use my favorite song from Have One On Me (the title track) to break this down a little bit.

The song is 11 minutes long and doesn't have a chorus - but more on that in a moment.

The first section of the song is a sort of prelude that flips between a sort of fairy tale and what sounds like a personal reflection. It last 1:36 and sounds like a completely different pastoral tune that one comes next.

What comes next, specifically, is a poetic description of the life and career of Lola Montez, focusing a bit on her "spider dance" (the tarantella). This leads to a bunch of spider imagry. Newsom makes vocal choices that illustrate the lyrics - for example, as she sings “Shake her skirts and scatter, there/a shrieking, six-legged millionaire/with a blight in his sockets” note how she sings "shrieking" both in a way that simulates a shriek and in a way that suggests the dips and swaying of the dance. Its one of my favorite moments in the song.

While there are some melodic pieces that repeat, they don't repeat with the regularity that we expect from typical pop songs. Furthermore, its not unusual for her to change the rhythms and melodic structures mid-verse.

The song relies largely on a slow build - it climaxes with the only significant lyrical refrain (the title), though even this phrase doesn't repeat itself in a regular way - its repeated at irregular intervals three times at the height of the character's desperation (Newsom switches between first and third person as the song builds - particularly around 6:55 - this also mirrors the structure of a tarantella).

And then after that, the song resolves into wordless vocals, a sprightly little tap dance rhythm and finally a sudden repeat of the opening sequence.

This is not a song that is easy to love the first time through - but once you listen to it a few times and get a sense of what Newsom is doing with it, its remarkable and moving. And Newsome has written a dozen songs - maybe more - just as powerful.

She's both one of the best songwriters and best interpreters of songs in our lifetime and we're lucky to be alive while she's at her peak and there's the promise of so much more amazing work from her.

I wouldn't compare her to Mitchell or Dylan. She has roots in traditional folk music, but the closest modern English speaking pop artist to her, I think, might be Neutral Milk Hotel or maybe some of the more experimental classical-based metal bands.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:15 PM on October 28, 2015 [15 favorites]


I wouldn't compare her to Mitchell or Dylan.

I would, however, compare her to Geddy Lee.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:18 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think octobersurprise nails her influences actually.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:18 PM on October 28, 2015


I tend to agree with the premise of the Awl piece, and enjoy Newsom's music very much. But that was so ineptly written I wondered for a moment if it was parody.
posted by Diablevert at 1:18 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Her voice is really, really, grating to me. It's full-on nails-on-chalkboard. Dentist's drill. It makes me wince involuntarily.

I get visceral like/dislike reactions to sung and spoken voices too, but just like with vocal fry, it's in some ways too easy to just dismiss that dislike as some sort of thing inherent to the quality of the voice. I have a really hard time saying myself why I like some things and dislike others, but probing into the why of that is usually an interesting thing for me to try and do.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:18 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well, it's one thing to personally not care for her voice, but a diligent critic should acknowledge her as a serious and talented musician who produces good work. Other forms of criticism don't typically allow for so much personal preference: a food critic doesn't give a pizza restaurant zero stars because they dislike pizza in general; an art critic doesn't trash a sculptural exhibit because they find sculpture personally distasteful. Sundried tomatoes taste like vomit to me and I hate them, but I know intellectually that sundried tomatoes are healthy and a good way to spice up a dish, so I would never say "this is objectively a bad food; everyone should hate it."

In the same way, a lot of music critics are not doing their jobs well: discounting Newsom's art because they personally don't like her voice--discounting the possibility that, by most standards we use to judge music and art, her arrangements and songwriting are quite impressive and indicative of serious hard work. Tl;dr just say "I personally find it grating but I can see why you'd appreciate it; it is valid."
posted by witchen at 1:19 PM on October 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


but anecdotally, I've found it to be women who dislike her more than men. I am a man and love Joanna Newsom, and the only folks I know who are also really into her music are men. And the women I know who dislike her seem to really, really dislike her. Granted, I'm talking about an awfully small sample size of people.

I really hate to NOTALLMEN this (ugh) but I've found this to be the case as well. I've been a Newsom nut since Milk-Eyed Mender (if I'd been totally uninhibited the entire lyrics of "Inflammatory Writ" would've been tattooed to my back in the summer of 2004) but my wife can't stand her. Too shrieky, she says, Turn it off! Oh that squeaking! I have to jam out to her stuff on headphones. Same thing with Björk and Fiona Apple, whom I'm also a huge fan of. For what it's worth, in my completely anecdotal experience, my compatriots who are into those three as much as I am tend to be gay men.

That being said, I have no reason to doubt the article writer's account of the sexism in music critics reactions to Newsom. It confirms my view of rock critics as sexist douches masquerading as anything goes laid-back cool-dudes complete with soul patch.
posted by dis_integration at 1:20 PM on October 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Jesus fucking christ I'm tired of hearing about how people don't like her voice. I mean, it's fucking fascinating how you don't like it. And how you think that other people also might not like it. And god knows it's impossible for a person to hear this music, which they are required to do, without registering their thoughts about it, which are, for some reason, important for us to know. I realize that every single opinion is important and valuable and all of us have a voice which must be heard , whether it be in the Newyorker or the humblest comments section, or else I dunno we fucking cease to exist.

And yet, I'd still rather listen to the album again. 101st Lightborne is v. amazing, as stated, as is the Karen Dalton cover (Same Old Man) and I think I kinda love Time as a Symptom too. But then again I've only listened to it a few times. So that's just my shitty opinion.
posted by hap_hazard at 1:21 PM on October 28, 2015 [14 favorites]


The thing about her voice is that she had one particular kind of affect on her first two records, and from what I read ended up blowing out her voice, developing nodules etc, possibly had surgery, and now sings in a more "natural" way but with baked-in hardness that is, sadly, even less easy on the ears than the first thing.
posted by anazgnos at 1:22 PM on October 28, 2015


I realize that every single opinion song is important and valuable and all of us have a voice which must be heard [...] or else I dunno we fucking cease to exist.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:23 PM on October 28, 2015


I can understand why critics don't like her music, and I don't think it has the slightest thing to do with sexism.

This sounds defensive to me. Most of the passages cited in the article don't even mention her voice, and even then I think it's worth unpacking whether that specific reaction to her voice is a result of a general conditioning to more easily find women's voices annoying or grating.
posted by invitapriore at 1:23 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I get visceral like/dislike reactions to sung and spoken voices too, but just like with vocal fry, it's in some ways too easy to just dismiss that dislike as some sort of thing inherent to the quality of the voice. I have a really hard time saying myself why I like some things and dislike others, but probing into the why of that is usually an interesting thing for me to try and do.

And vocal fry is something that women get criticized for way more than men, even though men totally do it too. And just anecdotally, female vocal artists with unusual or non-standard singing voices seem to get labled "grating" or "irritating" way more than men with similarly non-standard vocal styles do.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:24 PM on October 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've said it before and I'll say it again: men have always been permitted to have odd voices, but women have not. This is something the author touches on. Complaints about the sound of women's voices follow us across all forms of media, when we speak, when we sing, when we whisper. If your primary kvetch is 'that VOICE UGGGGHHHH,' okay, like maybe you're different from all the other people in the world who complain about all the other women's voices, but how should I know? How much should that matter?

For everyone saying that it is women who hate Joanna Newsom, I have seen her live multiple times and the audience is usually 50/50 male/female. In my personal experience, my male friends cannot stand her for even one song. I guess we are anecdatally matched now.

and 'monkey and bear' is hardly about a monkey and bear. it is about betrayal, exploitation, and liberation.
posted by palindromic at 1:25 PM on October 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


I mean, Joanna Newsom's voice is unusual, sure, but it's been that way for a while now. Surely [insert your least favorite popular male vocalist here] reviews don't start out with "Beware: this man's adenoidal bleating is still an acquired taste." So why the need to write these kinds of prefaces about her voice? Is she not yet at that "needs no introduction" level (which would also be an injustice, IMO) or are the reviewers, as Finnegan suggests, not taking Newsom seriously?
posted by knuckle tattoos at 1:25 PM on October 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Never listened to her before. Tried both Divers and Peach, Plum, Pear. The former started out pretty normal, I thought, but veered into a little bit of weird vocalizations. Not my thing, but I have also thought Bob Dylan should have stuck to writing songs and skipped singing them.

Peach, Plum, Pear is a different kettle of fish altogether. Hard to believe it's even the same person. Sounds extremely affected (butI mean, she's a performer, so why not).

I would, however, compare her to Geddy Lee.

I have listened to more Rush than most people, and I really don't get this comparison at all.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:25 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


why her music turns people some people off....her voice is not a standard pop star voice, but I don't think this is the real reason.

No, it is definitely the reason. I've sung and studied opera and the affected sound of opera still turns me off; this bothers me in the same way, but even more, and I think it's because there's some part of me that cannot handle "adult-trying-to-be-childlike" (I've observed it in myself with adult actors playing children too).

I myself sometimes enjoy being childlike, but I expect that to absolutely annoy any other adults who witness me at the time.

Maybe if I heard her speaking (intelligently) and found out that her voice was just naturally this way, and she couldn't help it, I'd be more open to it in singing. Anybody have a link to a recorded interview of hers?

men have always been permitted to have odd voices

I absolutely feel this same way about ... that ukelele guy. Which is to say - not going to go hunt him down, and it's fine if you enjoy it sometimes, but I'll want to leave the room if he/she is on the radio.
posted by amtho at 1:28 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


reviews don't start out with "Beware: this man's adenoidal bleating is still an acquired taste."

My personal reviews of anything featuring Conor Oberst do, but I take your point.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:28 PM on October 28, 2015


Surely [insert your least favorite popular male vocalist here] reviews don't start out with "Beware: this man's adenoidal bleating is still an acquired taste."

Just because you've never read a review of a Smashing Pumpkins album doesn't mean such a thing doesn't exist.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:30 PM on October 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


absolutely feel this same way about ... that ukelele guy.
Didn't know Jake Shimabukuro sang.
posted by pxe2000 at 1:32 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]




I must have been too-early corrupted by Kate Bush and Tori Amos but... I don't find anything that weird about Newsom's music or voice.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:34 PM on October 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


And vocal fry is something that women get criticized for way more than men, even though men totally do it too.

Worst example of vocal fry I ever heard was the male reader of an audiobook I picked up for a cross-country trip. Didn't help that one of the characters was named Piper, so every few sentences I got:
Piperrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:35 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


The only time I've ever experienced JN's music was in a beer-stinking performance hall at a terrible festival on a wretched part of the English coast. Despite the surroundings, immediately that she started her set I was absolutely transported, awash in beatific joy, feelings that music had never really stirred in me before. It was amazing.

Shortly after, it became clear that this was principally attributable to a somewhat overjudged but very fortuitously timed dose of mdma. I've never dared go back to see what the records are like on their own merit.
posted by ominous_paws at 1:35 PM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I would, however, compare her to Geddy Lee.

I have listened to more Rush than most people, and I really don't get this comparison at all.


I'm willing to bet we are evenly matched on the Rush-listening front. My point was that Geddy also got pilloried by the rock press (and the public!) for having a high-pitched, nasally and (in their opinion) off-putting voice. So if you are going to compare her to male singers, he's a more apt comparison than Dylan. Maybe also Tiny Tim.

People react so strongly to voices, though, because sound affects us in ways that lyrics and song structure don't, and voices affect us in particular because they are both the center of our attention and they belong to a person whom we are, consciously or not, constructing and animating in our minds as we listen. We have to effectively empathize with the singer in order to connect with the music.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:36 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


My personal reviews of anything featuring Conor Oberst do ...

Paisan!
posted by octobersurprise at 1:36 PM on October 28, 2015


Everyone has different sets of aesthetic standards and I get that some sounds just turn people off (the Linn Drum still makes me cringe). That said, man, her songwriting and interpretation choices are just so intelligent and moving that I feel bad for everyone who is missing out because they don't like her voice.

I mean, holy cats, Only Skin. Just amazing.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:37 PM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Are we really going to make peoples' dislike of her about sexism? Really? Listen to that bag of dying cats and tell me that gender has anything to do with it.

I respect her talent. She's obviously gifted from a very cerebral, intellectual standpoint. Joey Michaels nails it when he compares her to experimental metal, for instance. That stuff is totally grating if it's not your thing. And it delights in its being inaccessible. I wouldn't go as far as to say she delights in being inaccessible because I never had the patience to get acquainted with her material. See again bag of dying cats. But turning this whole debate into a sexism thing is just silly and obnoxious. She's blatantly outside the norm. Some people are going to be able to put aside or even *shudder* enjoy it. No qualms there. But man, if someone doesn't dig it, they don't dig it. It's not that complicated.

Also, see how in his defense of her work, Joey Michaels immediately retreats to the grounds of structure and composition. Valid reasons to like music, no argument. But this is, again, to maintain the metal comparison, where metalheads go when someone makes known their dislike for "that growling stuff" or whatever. If all else fails, point out how people can't appreciate the compositional subtleties, or don't have the nuanced ear to pick up on hidden messages, or haven't spent enough time listening to wide varieties of music, or haven't read enough, or don't have the right background, or are just too dense to get it. It kinda stinks of elitism, honestly. I know that wasn't the intent, but that's how it comes across.

Or, your favorite band sucks. Heh.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 1:40 PM on October 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


"Corgan whines through his wax-paper septum"

I thought you were joking? This is a very negative review that's having a lot of fun at Corgan's expense, not like the otherwise-glowing reviews Finnegan writes about that still offer disclaimers about Newsom's singing voice.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 1:41 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Geddy also got pilloried by the rock press (and the public!) for having a high-pitched, nasally and (in their opinion) off-putting voice.

Ah, I see. I thought you were saying they sounded similar or did similar things with their voices, which I completely disagree with. It's amusing that Geddy got "pilloried" for his voice, because it's not like most every rock singer ever has had a higher than average voice...his was just the highest (I think).

The Tiny Tim comparison works for me, though.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:43 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do see that there are examples that work for Billy Corgan, though. Weird that I hadn't noticed that before.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 1:45 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Are we really going to make peoples' dislike of her about sexism? Really? Listen to that bag of dying cats and tell me that gender has anything to do with it.

To be fair, and backing up a bit from my own remarks, there does exist an article out there, quoted in Finnegan's piece, called "The Virile Man's Guide to Liking Joanna Newsom", which suggests, strongly, that no self-respecting possessor of a genuinely potent penis is capable of liking this very girly, girly music. I mean that article, holy shit.
posted by dis_integration at 1:46 PM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Why the fuck doesn't drag city give you digital files with a vinyl purchase? I'm struggling over whether to spend $10 or $40 on this....
posted by mr_roboto at 1:46 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


At least Joanna Newsom doesn't have a coy, tooth-rottingly-sweet faux-psychedelic persona she trots out to the media, as did old Hubert Khaury over there.
posted by pxe2000 at 1:46 PM on October 28, 2015


Ctl-F "Lisa Simpson". Zero on page. Hmmm.

Ctl-F "Voice". Ah. There you are.
posted by SugarFreeGum at 1:50 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, mr_roboto, I knew Drag City was a bit old-school (nothing on Spotify, etc.) but that's just ridiculous.
posted by saul wright at 1:57 PM on October 28, 2015


It kinda stinks of elitism, honestly. I know that wasn't the intent, but that's how it comes across.

Everyone likes music for different reasons. I like music for a whole mess of reasons and am just as likely to be listening to Taylor Swift or Nikki Minaj as Newsom on any given day. I don't know if that makes my response sound less elitist or not. I'm just really enthusiastic about her music - that certainly doesn't make me better than anyone else whether they like her music or not.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:03 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


by the by this post made me fire up the ol' J-NOOSE and good goddamn how people don't like this shit is beyond me
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:07 PM on October 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


I feel the same way about Dopesmoker, so go figure.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:11 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Everyone likes music for different reasons. I like music for a whole mess of reasons and am just as likely to be listening to Taylor Swift or Nikki Minaj as Newsom on any given day. I don't know if that makes my response sound less elitist or not. I'm just really enthusiastic about her music - that certainly doesn't make me better than anyone else whether they like her music or not."

Yeah for sure. Sorry if that came across fighty. I actually liked your insights because it might, down the road, give me a reason to come back with new ears.

My frustration is less about your specific comment and more about that stance because it can often be said with less charity behind it.

Like I said, I know that wasn't your intent. IT was obvious you were coming from a place of genuine appreciation.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 2:18 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Another data point for that. When the piece about her was on NPR over the weekend, I said something along the lines of, "Hm, interesting, kind of a Kate Bush vibe to this," while my gf exclaimed, "What the *hell* is that crap?"

A lot of big Kate Bush fans seems to be male as well. I wouldn't be confident saying women are more likely to dislike Newsom or Bush but the Dude Who Really Likes Female Singer-Songwriters is... a thing. And not necessarily a twee music-critic type.
posted by atoxyl at 2:24 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I get an affection for female folkies from my dad I think in fact. I like Joanna Newsom - I actually really like her voice - but I don't know if I'd sit through a triple album either (depending on what the music is like).
posted by atoxyl at 2:32 PM on October 28, 2015


My one complaint is that Finnegan mocks male reviewers' reverence for Dylan, as if that is of a piece with their overlooking of Newsom

Really? Because my complaint would be more along the lines of: plenty of people, even including male reviewers, deride the voices of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and (are you kidding me?) Geddy Lee, or (not mentioned by her but of a piece with Lee) Jon Anderson. Like "Bob Dylan can't sing" is not an unfamiliar line of criticism.

Admittedly, I think Newsom does have a squeaky voice that matches Ben Ratliff's quoted description. I first heard both her and Josephine Foster—who does not, pace Finnegan's bizarre intimation about Kate Bush, have a low voice—at the same concert, and I'd much rather listen to the latter, whose projects are pretty damn quirky, than the former. The whole article is rather odd to me, because she's obviously talking about a real phenomenon but choosing exemplars that seem baffling. Like, what's wrong with the sentence quoted from the Chicago Tribune? Newsom's work does require time and attention—nothing wrong with that—and it is personal, and the bit that's quoted seems like unadulterated praise. (And it's not as if the AV Club reviewer to believe that Newsom has predecessors.)
posted by kenko at 2:47 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Loved this bit in the Awl piece: "Man voice make music good. Woman voice music bad: Too high. Too sharp. Too warbly. Sounds like birds, screams, mother."

I don't think disliking Joanna Newsom's music is necessarily rooted in sexism, but I do think the way male music critics and listeners talk about her (whether or not they dislike her songs) very, very often is. That so many dudes have long felt the need to repeatedly proclaim it has absolutely nothing to do with sexism no way not at all hasn't exactly discouraged me from this line of thinking. To be honest, the more loudly men are moved to respond with a hearty "NUH UH" in response to accusations that a particular belief, practice, or choice of words is sexist, the more confident I can feel that it is, in fact, quite sexist indeed.

If that kind of defensiveness and denial didn't have such an incredible social cost to it -- well outside of the bounds of music reviews, but also encompassing them, because it's all just parts of the same stupid puzzle -- it would probably be at least a little amusing. For now, it just manages to be a combination of predictable and disappointing.
posted by divined by radio at 2:48 PM on October 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


reviews don't start out with "Beware: this man's adenoidal bleating is still an acquired taste."

Pretty sure I've read something pretty similar to that in reviews of Danielson, but the closest I could find in under a minute was Each note is a shambling, raucous mix of high-pitched squeak and frantic chant.

Oh wait: "But as soon as Daniel Smith unleashes his voice-- an agitated palsetto that performs spastic cartwheels on the outer rim of aural bearability--"

These are both favorable reviews.
posted by kenko at 2:52 PM on October 28, 2015


#SomeOfMyFavoriteMusiciansAreFemale
posted by anazgnos at 2:56 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Danielson is a gold mine: "it's a little like Pere Ubu's David Thomas ingesting helium while placing his hand on a hot stove."

Or, "His vocal delivery was something of an acquired taste — the word “yelp” could be used to describe it with some accuracy. It was interesting, but oftentimes contentious, the source for abundant debate as to whether or not the quirkier aspects of Smith’s discography (released, depending on the musicians involved, as Danielson, Brother Danielson, and the Danielson Familie) were appealing or annoying. "
posted by kenko at 3:00 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I hadn't heard the new album yet, so I'm happy to see this post.

She has incredible control of her instrument and is making deliberate artistic choices that, for whatever reason, resonate with me. I really like her approach of performing carefully structured melodies with a vocal approach and instrumental accompaniment whose eccentricity obscures the underlying songs.
posted by The World Famous at 3:04 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just a BTW. From the Awl article: "It was eminent that she was a genius." I thought this was a misprint of evident. But it's correct. And Newsomian.
posted by oluckyman at 3:09 PM on October 28, 2015


I find the first video linked, Divers, as mistaken (in the way it centerpieces her) as the one for Sapokanikan is... magisterial. It's totally freeform, yet incredibly focused, enthralling. So I had to check the credits - aha: one more gem from Paul Thomas Anderson (director of unforgettable Fiona Apple videos...).
posted by progosk at 3:10 PM on October 28, 2015


I don't think the premise is entirely baseless. Like Kate Bush, Newsom comes across as hyperfeminine, which is something that we all, regardless of gender, have been conditioned to see as frivolous, insignificant, and annoying. Hell, maybe some women have a stronger reaction against that sort of thing because they're used to femininity being used as an insult or a silencing tactic.

Newsom would be an acquired taste on that count alone, but it goes beyond that. And I totally disagree with the author's implication that accessibility is some sort of nonsensical metric. It is a perfectly valid thing for a critic to point out to their audience when something is an acquired taste. People acquire tastes because they are wroth acquiring. They defy expectations and take a while to sink in. Most adults have tastes they've acquired over time, and can probably relate to the experience of learning and experiencing something that takes a little time to understand and appreciate fully. And for someone who has put time and effort and interest into appreciating something probably isn't going to put much weight on the opinions of someone who hasn't. I don't think that's unreasonable at all.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:10 PM on October 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


Just a BTW. From the Awl article: "It was eminent that she was a genius." I thought this was a misprint of evident.

The Awl article also uses "deign" in a nonstandard way. Where are the editors???
posted by kenko at 3:13 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, not being familiar with Jaonna Newsom, after reading some of this discussion I went over to YouTube and played the first song by her that came up. (It was "Sapokanikan").

And all I can say is, to everyone complaining about her voice ... I literally have no idea what you are talking about. Like, not even "oh, well, her voice is odd but odd in a way that I like", but "huh? what do they mean?"

I liked the song.
posted by kyrademon at 3:18 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


well, i'm only through track 4, but some comments about her voice - i wasn't a big fan of her original style of shirley templeish vocals, although i could take it, but her new style of singing suits her much better - it's more expressive and more controlled and she actually does have a good voice

why am i reminded so much of 60s chamber pop and folk, like maybe tim buckley's goodbye and hello? - she's got wide ears, i think and has probably studied a lot of old music - i'd bet she's familiar wtih incredible string band

however, she's hard to understand - i guess that's what lyric sheets are for, but it does detract from the experience - and the music is so dense, it's really hard to get at first

there's times she also reminds me of dagmar krouse of henry cow/slapp happy

and i'm not getting whoever said her music doesn't have structure

also if you want a record that was called out for annoying male vocals, check out pavlov's dog

gee, same old man and you will not take my heart alive remind me a LOT of ISB - of course, whatever her influences are, she makes the music her own
posted by pyramid termite at 3:24 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love Joanna Newsom but for the life of me I cannot get into Ys. It's the one album that I find impenetrable. I've tried listening to it many times in a row, I've tried jumping around and playing tracks in varying orders, I've even tried giving myself a break from her for a year and then approaching that album fresh. Milk-Eyed Mender and Have One on Me I can jump in and out of at any point and I know the lyrics. I've yet to give Divers the proper amount of attention it deserves, haven't made up my mind yet but it's been on my iPod for awhile and I'm enjoying it the more I listen.
posted by Fizz at 3:24 PM on October 28, 2015


i'd bet she's familiar wtih incredible string band

She opened for them! That's where I first saw her, in fact. I recall I was sitting next to a couple who were absolutely smitten with her, like I think they were more in romantic love with Newsom than with each other.
posted by kenko at 3:28 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


The cover art for Divers is by the wonderful photographic artist Kim Keever, a discovery for me.
posted by oluckyman at 3:34 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think Bjork is the one-word rebuttal to the Awl piece - at least as quirky, strange, uncommon, female and feminine, and yet a critics' darling...
posted by twsf at 3:40 PM on October 28, 2015


This is the thinnest and ropiest argument I've ever seen for sexism in music criticism and that's surprising considering how easy it would be to make a lot of other ones. Many of the author's assertions are of this sort: "The AV Club called her a 'unique hybrid of Joni Mitchell and Nina Simone,'... to demean her." Calling her unique and comparing her to two of the most talented and original singer/songwriters in popular music history is demeaning? Plus the bad faith assertions like, "It’s likely safe to say that these men don’t mind twee male singing voices." are so vapid as to almost be meaningless.

Evidently, the author is a museum critic and accustomed to Western classical music and opera but then shockingly writes, "how can music be inaccessible? All you have to do is listen." How can a book be inaccessible? All you have to do is read it. How can a painting be inaccessible? All you have to do is look at it. How can anything at all be inaccessible other than the private consciousness of another? All you have to do is experience it.

It's incomprehensible that someone could be so conspiratorial to read into what everyone else says but is confused that someone else wouldn't immediately get music as obtuse and obscure as Joanna Newsom. Her points about "feminism as marketable product" and treating any artist (e.g. Prince and Kanye West) as some infallible baby are germane, though. It's too bad that she over-reached with nonsensical complaints.
posted by koavf at 3:47 PM on October 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


The whole article is rather odd to me, because she's obviously talking about a real phenomenon but choosing exemplars that seem baffling.

I felt that way as well. Even for the examples I understand, I feel like the article's case is overstated (with the exception of that Vanity Fair piece, which deserves whatever it gets). But it makes me think about, for example, why I've felt before like I needed to qualify my appreciation for Kimya Dawson because of her singing style. Was I trying to lower expectations because I thought being sing-songy made her music less accessible? Was I distancing myself from praising music that's emotional and unreserved? Was I selling her short because I was embarrassed? Maybe I was being hipsterishly defensive about actually liking stuff. Dunno. But I liked that this article made me reflect on that a little.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 3:48 PM on October 28, 2015


Ctl-F "Lisa Simpson". Zero on page. Hmmm.

My go-to comparison is that little psychic woman from Poltergeist.
posted by dephlogisticated at 4:00 PM on October 28, 2015


Surely [insert your least favorite popular male vocalist here] reviews don't start out with "Beware: this man's adenoidal bleating is still an acquired taste."
That happens all the time. Bob Dylan, mentioned here, is the canonical example. Off the top of my head, other male singers whose unusual voices are often front and center in criticism, some already mentioned and some not: Jonathan Richman, Neil Young, Jon Anderson, Daniel Johnston, David Thomas, Geddy Lee, Gordon Gano.
posted by dfan at 4:08 PM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I am not sure if I liked her at first or not. I know a few artists had to grow on me before I could even stand to listen to them. And there are a few I will probably never be able to enjoy at all. Tom Waits being the first example that springs to mind.

At any rate now I like her a lot and I do not notice her voice sounding strange. But if I made a list of artists that I have listened to the most, Kate Bush and Liz Fraser are both likely to be in my top ten. So perhaps that has a lot to do with it. As far as other people liking her, I do not know anybody else IRL, male or female, that can stand her. Or Kate Bush for that matter. Oh well.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 4:15 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Christ, that Finnegan article is frustrating. It's a premise that I can support somewhat — that structural sexism does likely work against Newsom's recognition as an artist, and that music criticism is still a hive of thoughtless dudery — and then full of amateur bullshit that makes it seem like Finnegan just doesn't know what the fuck she's talking about and is peeved that her favorite artist is getting dissed.

Lines like, "It would seem reasonable that Newsom would be considered among the greatest living musicians," are blithe in their passive construction — that could equally describe dismissing Newsom as not one of the greatest living musicians. It's a really heavy claim to make, at a time where there's less and less a coherent sense of "greatest living musicians" being comparable.

Or "But how can music be inaccessible? All you have to do is listen." Great, so you'll be at the listening party for the new Merzbow? We have no problem saying that e.g. Rauschenberg's combines are not easily accessible as visual art — you actually have to do more than just look. Newsom's work is specifically intended to be hermetic and outside familiar pop idioms. It seems like Finnegan doesn't even understand the terms she's arguing from.

"Jesus fucking christ I'm tired of hearing about how people don't like her voice. I mean, it's fucking fascinating how you don't like it. And how you think that other people also might not like it. And god knows it's impossible for a person to hear this music, which they are required to do, without registering their thoughts about it, which are, for some reason, important for us to know. I realize that every single opinion is important and valuable and all of us have a voice which must be heard , whether it be in the Newyorker or the humblest comments section, or else I dunno we fucking cease to exist."

Hey, guess what? That you're tired of hearing about how people don't like her voice — in response to an article that made that a central claim — is actually even more of a worthless comment! But you felt compelled to make it!

"I mean, Joanna Newsom's voice is unusual, sure, but it's been that way for a while now. Surely [insert your least favorite popular male vocalist here] reviews don't start out with "Beware: this man's adenoidal bleating is still an acquired taste.""

Not only have other people pointed out that this is a pretty regular trope, it's even a pretty regular trope for criticism of Dylan and has been his entire career! TONS of Dylan reviews are like, 'Welp, get past his voice and he has all sorts of interesting lyrics…" and the only reason why an editor would take it out is because Dylan is a household name in a way that Newsom isn't.

"I don't think disliking Joanna Newsom's music is necessarily rooted in sexism, but I do think the way male music critics and listeners talk about her (whether or not they dislike her songs) very, very often is. That so many dudes have long felt the need to repeatedly proclaim it has absolutely nothing to do with sexism no way not at all hasn't exactly discouraged me from this line of thinking. To be honest, the more loudly men are moved to respond with a hearty "NUH UH" in response to accusations that a particular belief, practice, or choice of words is sexist, the more confident I can feel that it is, in fact, quite sexist indeed."

Right, and that's a Catch-22, where attempting to rebut a pretty insulting insinuation ends up affirming that insinuation, whether it's true or not.

She's not for me. I've written a review saying that, back when Ys came out. I don't like her voice, I don't respond to either the twee magical world shit or the overwrought orchestration behind her. Similarly, I don't like the Decemberists or Sufjan Stevens. I don't like their voices; I don't like their fussy mien. (I will say that Newsom has a better sense of arrangement than either of them.) I find all three pretentious, and prone to inspiring pretentious English-major maundering over their fastidious graces. I also think that Bob Dylan is wildly overrated, and find Tom Waits hit-and-miss.

On the other hand, I love a lot of Yoko Ono stuff and think one of the biggest tragedies around her relationship with Lennon is that it overshadowed so much of her work. I love Kate Bush and like Yma Sumac. I can't say that there's not sexism in how I think about music criticism, but I can say that one of the central contradictions of the Awl piece is how it both relies on critical consensus on Newsom's work and disdains that as sexist. I don't think it's particularly fragile on my part to object to the arguments made in the article, though, again, loaded question.
posted by klangklangston at 4:20 PM on October 28, 2015 [15 favorites]


To be honest, the more loudly men are moved to respond with a hearty "NUH UH" in response to accusations that a particular belief, practice, or choice of words is sexist, the more confident I can feel that it is, in fact, quite sexist indeed.

But "he who denied it supplied it" isn't even that great a standard for farts
posted by knuckle tattoos at 4:25 PM on October 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


I like her music alright - had a couple albums of hers a few years ago, not sure which ones, and looking through my music collection now they seem to have vanished. But I could never listen to it for too long; quite often it just made me want to listen to some Coco Rosie, who tend to veer off in various style directions. I imagine that's due to the fact that JN's music is all rooted in one instrument.

Has she ever branched out - worked with other musicians, producers - or is there any interesting remixes of her work out there?
posted by mannequito at 4:25 PM on October 28, 2015


Best description of Joanna Newsom I've ever heard was that it was like Lisa Simpson making a record.

Having said that, I listened to the new record and loved it. I didn't enjoy the record's price tag when I went to buy it. Seriously? $36? The last one cost less...
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 4:25 PM on October 28, 2015


Katharine St Asaph wrote a rebuttal of the piece in The Awl that really nails why I don't like it, despite agreeing with its basic premise and wanting to like it (which is also St Asaph's position; unlike her, though, Newsom is definitely in my personal top 20 all-time favourite artists, maybe even top 10).

"Somewhere along the line it got ossified into the progressive stance that comparing female artists to other female artists is sexist [ . . . .] This started with specific comparisons that were lazy and overdone, then gradually became “comparisons to other female artists are sexist.” (Sometimes it isn’t just female artists; the piece takes issue with comparing Joanna Newsom to Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush [”male critics compare her to other female artists to demean her”], and then it takes issue with comparisons to Bob Dylan and Fairport Convention [”remember, ladies, behind every great woman there are decades of greater men”], which prompts the question: who the fuck, exactly, is allowed to be compared to her?)"

She goes on to talk a lot about canon-building and the like, and, you know, as a teenaged Tori Amos fanatic who got deeply into Kate Bush because of the constant comparisons (which weren't always kindly meant, yes), I very much see her point.
posted by erlking at 4:34 PM on October 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


TONS of Dylan reviews are like, 'Welp, get past his voice and he has all sorts of interesting lyrics…" and the only reason why an editor would take it out is because Dylan is a household name in a way that Newsom isn't.

Guess I'm too young to have read those reviews. I've only ever heard this from people looking for an excuse to try out their "Memphis Blues" Dylan impression (and who can blame them; it's irresistible).
posted by knuckle tattoos at 4:37 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can say is, to everyone complaining about her voice ... I literally have no idea what you are talking about. Like, not even "oh, well, her voice is odd but odd in a way that I like", but "huh? what do they mean?"

While I think of the three songs of hers I have now listened to the one you mention had by far the most normal sounding intonation, all I can say is you must be from somewhere that they talk pretty oddly to not notice anything weird about it. At times I was reminded of the Dolores O'Riordan from the Cranberries, although she has the excuse of being Irish.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 4:49 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a woman who likes lots of inaccessible music. I like riot grrrrls and weird folkies and Karen Dalton and Celtic folk and books about wizards and whatever. I can't stand Joanna Newsom.

And as an observation, I sell way way more Joanna Newsom records to men than to women. And 99% of the men who buy them find some way to remark on how pretty and innocent and magical they think she is. And that feels way more sexist than me saying that I'm not a fan.

(Jessica Pratt, however, is marvellous)
posted by thivaia at 4:52 PM on October 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


Well, if we can draw one conclusion from this thread, it's that we are going to be judged by tremendously arbitrary and poorly considered metrics for every iota of our musical taste. Good!
posted by selfnoise at 5:06 PM on October 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I liked the piece on The Awl -- for all its flaws -- but I read it more as a comment on how lazy so many men are when writing about women musicians rather than just Joanna Newsom specifically. And it is tiring. I've mentioned before I've basically given up on reading reviews of women musicians written by men. They're not reviewing the music -- at least not entirely. They're reviewing the women.

How many reviews of women musicians have you read that mention their physical appearance in some way? Now think about how many reviews of men musicians you've read that have done the same.

(I remember there was a review of one of Warpaint's albums -- a band of all women -- that went out of its way to mention all the men who worked on the album in one way or another, like as a producer or the photographer for the cover, before it bothered to mention any of the women in the actual band. For so many male critics, women can't just be making music on their own terms. Men think they need to define them. And it gets exhausting.)
posted by darksong at 5:11 PM on October 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


I have a special browser extension where every comment in this thread says "Joanna Newsom is obviously amazing"

I appreciate about Newsom that she doesn't seem to take the criticism overly to heart, in the sense that with each album she continues to refine and expand the aesthetic space she's already staked out instead of attempting to "reinvent" herself as a synthpop artist or a lo-fi confessional mumbler or whatsoever.

NB: either of those would still probably be fucking excellent though
posted by threeants at 5:22 PM on October 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


It doesn't bug me so much when someone opines that they don't like her because they don't like her voice, I have that issue with some artists and it's understandable... but that conversation very often takes a sharp turn into implying that people who do like her do so in spite of her voice and all of a sudden the conversation is "admit that her voice is horrible because nobody can like her without a big fucking asterisk" which is super tedious bullshit. I love her voice and have from moment one and I'm definitely not alone. Not everybody had to treat listening to her like homework to get past this supposed impenetrable exterior. I heard "Bridges and Balloons" in a coffee shop and had no idea who it was, had to write down lyrics and google them when I got home just so I could get more. Her early stuff reminded me a lot of Jean Ritchie and just like with Jean Ritchie, to a lot of people the voice is a feature, not a bug, and doesn't need defending or discounting.
posted by jason_steakums at 5:48 PM on October 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Well, I'd like to thank this thread for finally pushing me to get Joanna Newsom off of my "to listen to" list, where she'd been languishing for a few months. I thought "Divers" was a really lovely bit of music, and I liked how she takes her pretty, clear, and very flexible voice and does interesting things with it. But then, I do also like Kate Bush, Jane Siberry, Tori Amos, and Björk. So I guess it is a matter of what you already like?

Poking through her back catalog reveals that I'm not going to like EVERYTHING she does, but the very recent stuff I like very well, and some of the older songs are nice too.
posted by angeline at 5:49 PM on October 28, 2015


this is all good, but can she be in more films soon? she knocked it out of the park in Inherent Vice.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:51 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have no idea who most of these artists are but I love Joanna Newsom. Maybe it's because I have spent time around people who see poetry appreciation as a valuable thing, and "oh that poem is easy to read" as orthogonal to that poem's value.

In other words, Joanna Newsom's music is layered. It doesn't all hit you at once. That is a good thing. It makes it enjoyable and surprising. She is also the number one heartbreaker of all time. You can listen to On A Good Day without crying? Ok, but damn. Damn. And she talks about a lot of things and experiences that I don't hear represented in music very often, and she talks about them with depth and poetry.

Anyway, I'm not listening to her new music because I need to be emotionally continent for the next while.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:59 PM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


also it's funny to imply that her music doesn't resonate with women--so much of it is so woman-experience-centric. That doesn't mean women have to like it, of course, but it's really just not giving a fuck about the male audience.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:05 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just a BTW. From the Awl article: "It was eminent that she was a genius." I thought this was a misprint of evident.

The Awl article also uses "deign" in a nonstandard way. Where are the editors???


Oh, they were swept away and down to sea / amidst the pernoctalian, judging gallery / of demersal anchoviiies...
posted by clockzero at 6:28 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


How many reviews of women musicians have you read that mention their physical appearance in some way? Now think about how many reviews of men musicians you've read that have done the same.

OK, this is too relevant not to tell.

When Kate Bush was at her peak fame, I was in one of those indie record stores where the employees judge the customers openly all the time. I'd pretty regularly get the assumption that I was buying music for boy-related reasons--either I had a crush on a band member or was trying to impress some boy who legitimately liked whatever I was buying.

Anyway, I wasn't into Kate Bush at the time (although I later developed some appreciation), but a couple of guys in there were discussing her. They spent maybe thirty seconds on her voice, and then they both went full-on Tiger Beat. All about her appearance and how fuckable she was, and, effectively, what it would be like to be her boyfriend. IIRC, they concluded that she would probably be high maintenance, but worth it.

I can guarantee that if they overheard two teenaged girls having the exact same discussion about a male musician, they would have piled on mercilessly. And I can similarly guarantee that they never once would have acknowledged that they were doing the same thing.

(Throwing in a "not all men" here, though.)
posted by ernielundquist at 6:50 PM on October 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Not Newsom specific, but every time I start to roll my eyes at my wife's latest weirdo musical discovery, she reminds me that I like The Fall and I shut up.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:52 PM on October 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Not Newsom specific, but every time I start to roll my eyes at my wife's latest weirdo musical discovery, she reminds me that I like The Fall and I shut up.
Speaking of male singers who are famous for having unconventionally attractive voices!
posted by dfan at 7:29 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


My one regret about Newsom is that she will never duet with Captain Beefheart. But one of my first encounters with her music was hearing her cover of Eno's By This River: she'd heard the same song that I'd heard, and she described it so much better than I ever could, and I became something of a fan.

She demands attention and thought and a chunk of my favourite Charles Ives quote - "Stop being such a God-damned sissy! Why can't you stand up before fine strong music like this and use your ears like a man?" (yes, I know. But so do you.)

Not every music fits every heart. Not everything Newsom's done finds my combination. On paper, I should run screaming. The magic of good music, though, is that the whole is sometimes in a different dimension to the sum of the parts, and she has that magic for me.

It's still (like the ISB) a pleasure that I rarely reveal to others, and I love exposing my hapless friends to my outre tastes, when I suspect they may be pleasantly surprised. Much here I don't understand.
posted by Devonian at 7:37 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


I kind of think her voice sounds like a cabbage patch doll's, but I've listened to her albums and enjoyed them.
posted by Catblack at 8:29 PM on October 28, 2015


I always figured she was doing a Malvina Reynolds sort of thing with her delivery. Reynolds seems like an obvious touchstone for Newsom; they both have a sort of Northern California hyperintelligent musicological thing going on.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:32 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm female.

When I was in college, I lived in an arts collective wherein my bedroom shared a wall with a (male) metal sculptor. He'd stay up till the wee hours welding and blasting Joanna Newsome. I haaaated him for it.

Needless to say I disagree that liking Joanna Newsome is a female thing, or having a special dislike of the way her voice sounds is a male thing.

(FWIW I have since made my peace with Joanna Newsome, as long as she's not being played loud enough to shake the walls.)
posted by Sara C. at 8:56 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


And as an observation, I sell way way more Joanna Newsom records to men than to women. And 99% of the men who buy them find some way to remark on how pretty and innocent and magical they think she is. And that feels way more sexist than me saying that I'm not a fan.

As I alluded to above I have this somewhat inchoate notion of The Man Who Is Really Into Femme Singers, because he is in love with them, basically. I don't think this is necessarily sexist but for the general prevalence of sexism - fundamentally I think it's a less-admitted-to equivalent to the perennial well-recognized sexual-charismatic power of male musicians.
posted by atoxyl at 9:54 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


LOL at this piece of shit article. So Liz Phair is a sell-out, PJ Harvey has a man's voice, "Beyonce feminism" isn't real feminism, Joni Mitchell and Nina Fucking Simone are "demeaning" comparisons, Taylor Swift is an ironic aside, Judy Dyble and the legendary Sandy Denny apparently never existed (the latter's massive contribution to Fairport Convention gets completely elided in the phrase "decades of greater men"), and it seems all of them simply lack the femininity required to fall victim to the wicked critique of critics. And this is meant to be the feminist defence of Joanna Newsom??

Also, my womanist leanings require me to point out that citing Kanye West, the object of a decade of over-the-top loathing and a very recent, transparently racist attempted hounding off the Glastonbury roster, as the face of music industry privilege in an article about a white, pretty, skinny, twee as fuck, allegedly supremely feminine critical darling and how she has been cruelly subjected to descriptions of her voice and comparisons to Bjork is extremely obnoxious, oblivious and #ffffffeminist. Ugh, ugh, ugh.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:40 PM on October 28, 2015 [20 favorites]


So I never heard of her before, and I really like the music, but I'm frustrated by the delivery -- not because it grates, but because the lyrics sound like they would be interesting, but I can't understand a thing. I think it's just a matter of learning the accent, really. Which I probably will...
posted by smidgen at 12:02 AM on October 29, 2015


Not a very helpful comment coming up, but:

One person that what I've heard of Ms Newsome reminds me of (and who doesn't seem to get mentioned) is Victoria Williams, whose voice also does remarkable things and who also had a wonderful, wonderful album arranged (in part) by Van Dykes Park - Happy Come Home.

If anyone is in the market for women whose voices do unusual and, to a sniffy audience at least, off-putting things, I'd like to recommend Sheena Ringo's Karuki Zahmen Kuri no hana, which is on the Spotifies, if you do the Spotifies.
posted by Grangousier at 3:06 AM on October 29, 2015


Hm. It's pretty hard to take the argument seriously that men don't like her because sexism when the author makes a lot of sidewise jabs at other female artists, and when it rests its evidence on "but these are the same dudes who like Bob Dylan and Eddie Vedder".

I mean really? Because I can't get past the vocal stylings of Newsom, Dylan or Vedder, at all. However well-crafted the lyrical and compositional content may be, a person having a visceral reaction to a singer's voice is not necessarily ideologically motivated.

I will say this though: as long as we're using anecdata to level a charge of sexism against men who don't like Newsom (while simultaneously tearing down a lot of other female artists in the process), I have noticed that there's a certain type of guy who likes Newsom, and they aren't feminists. They tend to gravitate towards idealizing the infantilization of women, their purity and innocence as virtues, the quirky magical fairies come to whisk them away from the drudgery of everyday life.

And even that isn't enough to say male Newsom fans are sexists, any more than saying "yeah, sorry, I can't get past the voice, the thesaurus words and the pixieland affectation" is an anti-feminist position.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:29 AM on October 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's no pixieland affectation involved in Joanna Newsom's stuff

I wish people criticizing her fans (based on what?) would stop insulting her and her music. She's a significant artist and she's not affected or twee. Get over the fact that she doesn't use the same 3 instruments as every indie rock band. And especially get over her looks, because that's where the pixieland affectation jabs are coming from.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:58 AM on October 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


To sum: if you're a dude and don't like Newsom, you're a sexist jerk. If you're a dude and you DO like Newsom, you're a creepy sexist jerk. Also, objecting to either characterization is proof that you actually are the thing you're objecting to. Metafilter, you brilliant bastard, you've really boxed me in this time!!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:08 AM on October 29, 2015 [16 favorites]


Sometimes, other people don't like stuff that you like. Not because they're broken, or sexist, or simplistic, or aren't listening to it right. It just doesn't appeal to them.
Any response beyond shrugging and moving on doesn't make sense.
posted by rocket88 at 6:35 AM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


This thread really needs some Inflatable Boy Clams!
posted by octobersurprise at 7:21 AM on October 29, 2015


She's a significant artist and she's not affected or twee.

She's a significant artist and I like her a lot.

She also has a nine minute song featuring a monkey and a bear running away together through hayfields & drinking tea along with stableboys rescuing ponies.

It's a song about codependence and the sufficiency of love in the face of the endless quotidian drudgery of survival, but. It's also pretty darn Edward Lear and I can see why it'd ping people's twee-meters. Not everybody's gonna like Joanna Newsom, man.
posted by Diablevert at 8:01 AM on October 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


I tried sarcasm before but how about the direct approach instead: implying that men who like Newsom are creepers is both really shitty to other posters here and incredibly insulting to Newsom, who is a real person who is not making music specifically to annoy you. Jesus.
posted by selfnoise at 8:01 AM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


which niche, alternativeish contemporary pop culture couple do you think has the most divisive audience potential: Joanna Newsom & Andy Samberg or Amanda Palmer & Neil Gaiman?

my money's on nobody caring about this question at all because it doesn't really matter
posted by runt at 8:03 AM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'd rather hang out with Joanna and Andy.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:10 AM on October 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't like Joanna Newsome, but I find the extremely defensive posture (which includes building strawmen versions of things that have been said, such as "all men who like her are creepers") that comes out when people start to talk about sexist discourse about her (and female artists generally) to be really, really off-putting.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:59 AM on October 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Metafilter, you brilliant bastard, you've really boxed me in this time!!

As far as I can tell, few people on the thread are making anything like that argument.
posted by kenko at 9:20 AM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


the extremely defensive posture...that comes out when people start to talk about sexist discourse about her (and female artists generally) to be really, really off-putting.

Seriously. All I hear is "Oh woe, us men can't win either way! We are so oppressed." It's a handy way to end any discussion of sexism anywhere. Great job!
posted by witchen at 9:58 AM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


implying that men who like Newsom are creepers

Of course it's possible for a man to be a Newsom fan in a non-creepy way. But there's definitely a subset of male Newsom fans who have fixated on their own idealized fantasy image of her as their Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and it is creepy.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 10:21 AM on October 29, 2015


I find that simply not discussing how much I enjoy Newsom (and Antony & the Johnsons, for that matter) with anyone else, ever, works well.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:27 AM on October 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


She's a significant artist and she's not affected or twee.

She is certainly a significant artist. And the "twee" characterization seems to be either pointless semantics or a derogatory critical swipe that I don't have any use for.

But I'm not sure what you mean when you say she's not "affected." She has tremendous control over her vocal instrument and uses it in deliberately unconventional ways that look and sound to me like obvious, intentional and extremely exaggerated affectations. I'm not saying she's "affected" as a negative thing - I think her affectations are great, just like I enjoy Tom Waits' affectations, for example (or, in contrast, I don't like the affectations of most mainstream pop singers). But to say she's not affected reads to me as saying she can't help singing the way she does - that the vocal elements that read to me as genius-level artistic choices are actually just natural, lucky accidents.

Now, I can see there being some reasonable taste-based divergence of opinion as to whether her performance style is too affected. I don't think it is.

Is that what you meant by "affected" or am I reading you wrong?
posted by The World Famous at 10:28 AM on October 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


there's definitely a subset of male Newsom fans who have fixated on their own idealized fantasy image of her as their Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and it is creepy.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that people having crushes on performing artists they admire is not new, perfectly natural and not creepy.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:29 AM on October 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


As I alluded to above I have this somewhat inchoate notion of The Man Who Is Really Into Femme Singers, because he is in love with them, basically. I don't think this is necessarily sexist but for the general prevalence of sexism - fundamentally I think it's a less-admitted-to equivalent to the perennial well-recognized sexual-charismatic power of male musicians.

This seems perceptive, but I guess for me it doesn't seem like a terribly inchoate notion. I just sort of am that guy, and I must know another dozen or so (and hey then there are all the women I know who seem to experience pretty much the same thing). A lot of the time when I'm drawn to a woman's songs and songwriting, the experience is related to the ways that I'm drawn to women generally. I think this is, well, not every last person's experience, but sort of an integral and widespread part of the thing that is music. Sometimes a voice and a set of words just kind of hit you where you live. And there isn't any serious argument to be made that a performer's charisma and presentation and apparent self aren't essential elements of how people relate to performed art.

A friend of mine told me the other day that he really hoped it was raining on Friday, because all he really wanted to do was sit inside with a bottle of wine and listen to Newsom's new record. Is he kind of in love with Joanna Newsom? I mean, I'm pretty sure he'd say yeah. Is there anybody who cares about music who hasn't had some part in a conversation like that a thousand times?

Of course it can and does get fucked up, because the general ambient level of sexism is extremely high, and because artists are not their public or creative personas, and because sexuality shouldn't have to thread through every last thing, and so on down the list. But, you know, on preview, grumpybear69 is not wrong.
posted by brennen at 10:34 AM on October 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


This seems perceptive, but I guess for me it doesn't seem like a terribly inchoate notion.

Well when I made my first comment I had something I wanted to say but I felt I was, like, on the edge of finishing my grand unified theory of music. Then I did pretty much explain it in a couple of sentences later. Anyway I just think it's notable that it's something that I know both men and women feel but it seems men are often reluctant to admit it.
posted by atoxyl at 10:56 AM on October 29, 2015


If you're a dude and you DO like Newsom, you're a creepy sexist jerk.

And, no, I'm pretty sure nobody said this.
posted by atoxyl at 10:58 AM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think I'm partially in love with a lot of my musical idols. I think I have a serious crush on Elvis Costello, Robyn Hitchcock, Vicky Peterson, Chrissie Hynde, Bowie, Pete Shelley. I'm not sure if that makes me creepy or not. I'm ambivalent about Newsome - appreciate the artistry, but don't find myself listening much.
posted by jetsetsc at 12:21 PM on October 29, 2015


In conclusion, human beings enjoy music and the artists who make it for a wide variety of reasons.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:50 PM on October 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anyway I just think it's notable that it's something that I know both men and women feel but it seems men are often reluctant to admit it.

Yeah, fair 'nuff.
posted by brennen at 1:21 PM on October 29, 2015


"Seriously. All I hear is "Oh woe, us men can't win either way! We are so oppressed." It's a handy way to end any discussion of sexism anywhere. Great job!"

Why, almost as if loaded questions don't lead to good conversations!
posted by klangklangston at 1:32 PM on October 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's a song about codependence and the sufficiency of love in the face of the endless quotidian drudgery of survival, but. It's also pretty darn Edward Lear and I can see why it'd ping people's twee-meters. Not everybody's gonna like Joanna Newsom, man.

Wow, really? Not everyone? I'm pretty surprised by that.

Seriously, though, there's a difference between not liking an artist and not taking that artist seriously. The latter bugs me quite a lot. I manage to deal with the former and have numerous friends and loved ones who do not, in fact, like Joanna Newsom.

IDK. I don't go into threads about musicians who I personally don't dig (or know much about) and say randomly demeaning things about them even if I think they are true. It is lame and annoying and people are bound to be annoyed by it.

Also I simply feel that people calling her twee are being superficial and they are being wrong, and I hate it when people are wrong because they are being, essentially, intellectually lazy. If one wants to be intellectually lazy, that is fine, but there is no need to tell everyone all about it.

Why do I think it's lazy? Because simply using allegory as a device, or using extended metaphors, or talking about animals, or whatever, doesn't make something "twee". Is The Hollow Men "twee"? I mean it has a hollow dude in it, and it talks about birds, after all, (LOL!). What about "All Along The Watchtower"? That's one long-ass metaphor, is it twee? Is Revelations twee?

I mean, I like some twee-ass bands but Joanna Newsom is simply not "twee". Maybe there's some definition of twee that I am missing, but generally it means cutesy and sentimental. Just having animals or having metaphors doesn't make somebody cutesy or sentimental. (And I'm using sentimental in the poetry-bad-thing sense, meaning, sappy in a sort of dopey and simplistic way).

She's certainly not cutesy, despite people finding her "cute". She's pretty fucking intense and serious and not particularly jokey or LOL-ish. She certainly doesn't play some kind of purposefully submissive or naive role. So why "cutesy" if not because we simply might happen to find her cute?

And this this is why this whole thing with her particularly bugs me: this assumption that us finding her or her voice "cute" makes her cutesy, or that it's okay to say "oh, smallish woman from California playing weird instruments and making metaphors, obviously she's being unserious and so I can define her music with all of these unserious adjectives".

It's actually not okay for us to determine what we think of her based on superficial and stereotypical shit, even if it's easy to do so. I don't think it's okay for us to define her as an object of our feelings towards her, instead of the obvious subject that she is as an artist. Especially when these assumptions are just so inaccurate. She is one of the least sentimental artists out there--witness her ending a song about a complexly regretted abortion by her literally telling her dead fantasy baby to be gone, with more than hint of impatience and annoyance. Telling your aborted fetus to stop bugging you is not really something I would associate with tweeness, sentiment, or being "cutesy". But maybe that's just me and maybe it's all actually an extended metaphor for what it's like when your friend like totally makes you giggle ;) lol isn't it funny when we all do silly things ;) lol
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:43 PM on October 29, 2015 [13 favorites]


I mean why don't we all just pretend like Joanna Newsom writes songs about how some woman dumped her two years ago, and now her ex-girlfriend dates other people and now she's mad and she uses a guitar to sing about it all, which as we all know is an Inherently Serious Topic with an Inherently Serious Emotion that needs to be Taken Seriously.

Jack White is about a million times more affected and sentimental and yes, at times, twee. Somehow people manage to talk about him with respect. I wonder why that is.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:49 PM on October 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't think it's okay for us to define her as an object of our feelings towards her, instead of the obvious subject that she is as an artist.

IFDSSN9, your whole post is great but this bit is my favorite. I know if I wait long enough, someone will invariably articulate the crap I can't seem to squeeze out of my head. Thank you.
posted by selfnoise at 5:32 PM on October 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's okay for us to define her as an object of our feelings towards her, instead of the obvious subject that she is as an artist.

Seconding selfnoise. I've been trying to think of how to phrase this all day.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:37 PM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jack White is about a million times more affected and sentimental and yes, at times, twee. Somehow people manage to talk about him with respect. I wonder why that is.

Well, I mean, not everybody manages to talk about him with respect. I certainly don't.
posted by The World Famous at 5:59 PM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Also I simply feel that people calling her twee are being superficial and they are being wrong, and I hate it when people are wrong because they are being, essentially, intellectually lazy. If one wants to be intellectually lazy, that is fine, but there is no need to tell everyone all about it.

Why do I think it's lazy? Because simply using allegory as a device, or using extended metaphors, or talking about animals, or whatever, doesn't make something "twee". Is The Hollow Men "twee"? I mean it has a hollow dude in it, and it talks about birds, after all, (LOL!). What about "All Along The Watchtower"? That's one long-ass metaphor, is it twee? Is Revelations twee?

I mean, I like some twee-ass bands but Joanna Newsom is simply not "twee". Maybe there's some definition of twee that I am missing, but generally it means cutesy and sentimental. Just having animals or having metaphors doesn't make somebody cutesy or sentimental. (And I'm using sentimental in the poetry-bad-thing sense, meaning, sappy in a sort of dopey and simplistic way).
"

Yeah, there's actually a 30-some year history of "twee" as a contested subculture of "indie;" there's no one single definition but Marc Spitz wrote a book about it and Nitsuh Abebe wrote a long history about a decade ago. Guess what? It is both a term of disparagement and an intentional aesthetic choice! Take that, "punk."

"I mean why don't we all just pretend like Joanna Newsom writes songs about how some woman dumped her two years ago, and now her ex-girlfriend dates other people and now she's mad and she uses a guitar to sing about it all, which as we all know is an Inherently Serious Topic with an Inherently Serious Emotion that needs to be Taken Seriously.

Jack White is about a million times more affected and sentimental and yes, at times, twee. Somehow people manage to talk about him with respect. I wonder why that is.
"

You mean "Zorro on doughnuts"? And yes, "I think we're gonna be friends" was twee as fuck.

Your comments did help me recognize something that pervades the original complaint and many of the subsequent indignant comments in Newsom's defense: Confusing what assholes at your local record store may sneer at with an overall critical consensus. Like, preferring Newsom to White IS the music critic consensus — ferex, every one of her albums got 8 or above on Pitchfork, with everything but Mender (the only 8 flat) being named Best New Music. White's in the middling sevens. White's regularly portrayed not as a twee naif but as a pompous douchebag affecting nostalgia for a time when douches were Lysol. Ironically, White's too earnest in his embrace of a mythical rockist past — his sincerity's the wrong timbre for twee. Neither of them are anywhere near the best living musicians or most important musicians, and pretending that one of them is treated as such while the other is denied their rightful place is mistaking popularity for critical evaluation.

Seriously, it's like complaining that Carla Bley doesn't get the same respect as Bad Company, or that Hot Topic gives more floor space to the Sex Pistols than the Slits.

One of the things that this does highlight for me is how corrosive the chauvinism of rock criticism has been (and still is), and why it's important for editors and publishers to push for broader representation of female critics. Not only will it help get in more stuff that gets missed under the current default, it would help a lot with the perception of music criticism as a whole that leads to weird amateur media critic shit like this, the equivalent of the three-instance NYT trend piece. At the very least, reach out to Jessica Hopper for some quotes or editing before you publish! She's actually interviewed Newsom about some of this stuff AND is an active anti-sexism force in music criticism!
posted by klangklangston at 12:17 AM on October 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you don't think Joanna Newsom is close to the best or most important musicians alive then, well, good for you, but no one is saying that she's great because she's popular and we are just in thrall to popular opinion. Most people have no clue who she even is. Again, for the millionth time, she's actually good. Take that shit seriously. It's real.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:36 AM on October 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


"If you don't think Joanna Newsom is close to the best or most important musicians alive then, well, good for you, but no one is saying that she's great because she's popular and we are just in thrall to popular opinion. Most people have no clue who she even is. Again, for the millionth time, she's actually good. Take that shit seriously. It's real."

1) Yeah, I know that you're not saying that she's great because she's popular. That's why I pointed out that she's a critical darling, and that the huffy comparisons to Jack White are inane.

2) Your insistence that "she's actually good" and that I have to "take that shit seriously" is doofy bullshit. Saying she's good is an attempt to reframe you liking her as validating her as objectively worthwhile — it's empty for anyone but you. (The same applies if I tell you Led Zeppelin is "actually good," or Amanda Lear, or Jandek.)

3) "Take that shit seriously. It's real" = "Grr! My taste is important!"

Weirdly, it's a throw-back to the rockist justifications for a lot of music criticism — e.g. that Dylan is important because he speaks to the zeitgeist, that musicians listen to him even if he's not popular, etc. It's interesting because a lot of the twee and esoteric elements of her music would previously have led critics to dismiss her as not important (except that, you know, indie critics do love her), but it's still failing to bridge the gap from "important to you" to "important in general." Without the hook of popularity, where Kanye and Beyonce magnify any aesthetic import they have by having a huge media reach, an argument for important for an artist aesthetically is generally either that they're influencing a lot of other artists to incorporate elements of their sound or that they're a master of some traditional technique. But even the greatest living oud player isn't that important — most people don't care about ouds all that much.

There's probably a great article out there waiting to be written about how Newsom, I dunno, spurred a harp revival or inspired a Pocahaunted 10", but "good" and "important" are only weakly correlated. Be secure enough in your taste that you can say you like her for whatever reasons and not have to make arguments from "important."
posted by klangklangston at 2:15 AM on October 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have no dog in this debate, but I just wanted to say that "zorro on doughnuts" is legit funny and I'm going to steal that line. Fair warning.
posted by Think_Long at 6:42 AM on October 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


The comparisons to Rush grow ever more numerous.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:37 AM on October 30, 2015


"Weirdly, it's a throw-back to the rockist justifications for a lot of music criticism — e.g. that Dylan is important because he speaks to the zeitgeist, that musicians listen to him even if he's not popular, etc. It's interesting because a lot of the twee and esoteric elements of her music would previously have led critics to dismiss her as not important (except that, you know, indie critics do love her), but it's still failing to bridge the gap from "important to you" to "important in general." Without the hook of popularity, where Kanye and Beyonce magnify any aesthetic import they have by having a huge media reach, an argument for important for an artist aesthetically is generally either that they're influencing a lot of other artists to incorporate elements of their sound or that they're a master of some traditional technique. But even the greatest living oud player isn't that important — most people don't care about ouds all that much. "

I think there are also important artists that did not find popularity or become part of the zeitgeist in their time, but who became quite influential years or decades later: Nick Drake, the Soft Boys, Velvet Underground, Big Star. Not saying Newsome is in this category - depends on where her career trajectory goes.
posted by jetsetsc at 8:45 AM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean, look. I grew up in the 80s as a dork who sought a place in the high school social pecking order through playing rock and roll and spending way too much time digging around independent record stores for obscure bands that nobody I knew had heard of yet. So basically I've got plenty of experience as a guy who tells people that some band they don't like is, you guys, really serious and important and, you guys, you better give respect because if you don't like them that's just because you're both wrong and somehow deficient as a person.

I get it. And for me, it all sort of peaked and turned into self-parody when my too-cool-for-you-guys band's drummer quit and we showed up at the basement of the guy who would be the new drummer. All of us had a personal list of bands too obscure or difficult for anyone else to appreciate. It was our thing. So we walk in the drummer's basement and on the wall by the drum kit is a poster that says "If you don't like Van Halen, you're wrong." And that basically put an end to all our snobbery, because how do you argue with that? You can't. And you can make a poster like that for every artist. If you don't like Joanna Newsom, you're wrong - and we can come up with reasons all day long, but ultimately it's the same as saying if you don't like Van Halen, you're wrong.

Like what you like. Be cool about it. Don't be a jerk. You don't have to respect anyone. But it'd be better if you did. Because whether it's Joanna Newsom or Van Halen or some 80s indie band that only came out with one album that only sold at five record stores but I preached to you about it all day long in 1988, it's an artist who actually took the trouble to make music and yes it's art and no you don't have to like it but maybe be cool about it anyway.

And right about the same time that my bandmates and I were having our Van Halen poster epiphany, Jack White was a few miles down the road apparently having exactly the opposite epiphany, and now he's actually a rock star and I'm not. So what the hell do I know?
posted by The World Famous at 9:50 AM on October 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


So what the hell do I know?

Start an upholstery business out of your van?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:13 AM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I tried that, but everybody told me my upholstery was twee and affected, so I quit.
posted by The World Famous at 10:45 AM on October 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


May have already been posted: Rookie interview.
posted by box at 11:40 AM on October 30, 2015


Most of my friends became my friends because we share similar musical tastes but some of them don't care for stuff that I love and think is super-important artistically. It baffles me that they actively dislike Captain Beefheart or Tom Waits when we align on almost everything else.
But it doesn't make me angry, or declare that they're wrong. I also don't think they should have to keep their dislike to themselves. Why are so many of Joanna Newsom's fans seemingly irate over anyone who dares to say they don't like her music or her voice?
posted by rocket88 at 12:40 PM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I think there are also important artists that did not find popularity or become part of the zeitgeist in their time, but who became quite influential years or decades later: Nick Drake, the Soft Boys, Velvet Underground, Big Star. Not saying Newsome is in this category - depends on where her career trajectory goes."

I get your general point — I'd quibble on stuff like VU, since the Warhol thing meant they'd be noted even if they sucked — but I file all of those under "important because they influenced a lot of other artists" and note that guessing about that kind of legacy is generally a mug's game — see NME covers from the '80s and '90s.

"Like what you like. Be cool about it. Don't be a jerk. You don't have to respect anyone. But it'd be better if you did. Because whether it's Joanna Newsom or Van Halen or some 80s indie band that only came out with one album that only sold at five record stores but I preached to you about it all day long in 1988, it's an artist who actually took the trouble to make music and yes it's art and no you don't have to like it but maybe be cool about it anyway."

I think Van Halen is a good example of the problems with using "serious" with regard to music. They were serious musicians in that they were hard working and earnestly desired success; they were extremely unserious with Diamond Dave mugging on "Hot for Teacher." And while I can generally respect anyone's appreciation of any given music, there's a ton of music that I don't respect at all for a variety of reasons — Skrewdriver, Creed, endless blueshammer bands, etc.

"I tried that, but everybody told me my upholstery was twee and affected, so I quit."

Tweed! They said it was tweed!
posted by klangklangston at 12:45 PM on October 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Tweed is my ukelele-based Creed cover band.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:47 PM on October 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


they were extremely unserious with Diamond Dave mugging on "Hot for Teacher."

Sure, but they were putting on a show, and so is Joanna Newsom. She's putting on a different show than Van Halen, obviously. But it is still an entertainment performance, as opposed to, like, a lecture or a symposium or something. Van Halen has an element of comedy and jest that Newsom doesn't seem to have - at least to the degree that Van Halen does. But "serious" makes it sound like she's more professor than performer.
posted by The World Famous at 1:24 PM on October 30, 2015


2) Your insistence that "she's actually good" and that I have to "take that shit seriously" is doofy bullshit. Saying she's good is an attempt to reframe you liking her as validating her as objectively worthwhile — it's empty for anyone but you. (The same applies if I tell you Led Zeppelin is "actually good," or Amanda Lear, or Jandek.) ... Neither [Joanna Newsom nor Jack White] are anywhere near the best living musicians or most important musicians, ...

This is weird: you defer to the subjectivity of taste on one hand to argue against someone else's judgments, but then reveal some implicitly held sense of objective aesthetic value in defending your own. Maybe I'm misreading and the bolded sentence was meant to be vacuously true in the face of the absence of an objective ranking?
posted by invitapriore at 3:58 PM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the appeal to goodness is impotent even if you don't think it's entirely subjective (and I think importance is definitely not entirely subjective, but there too the appeal isn't going to sway someone else into also liking anything). So it's good, according to an objective metric—ok! fine! Still not something I enjoy. Same thing goes even more obviously for importance.

Even in the absence of a single objective ranking of goodness or importance, though, I think one can make intelligible the claim that on no reasonable standard of either, where it's admitted that there's a plurality of standards, is either Newsom or White near the best or most important. I think there are more or less reasonable lists of the good and bad, though I think that what makes them reasonable isn't their adherence to some external standard but the ability of their subscribers to get other people also to see what they see. That's what critics are supposed to do! Not just tell us who's good and who's bad, but get us to see the good things or bad things they see, and give us the language to talk about them! Intersubjectivity, baby. And I don't think anyone could plausibly do that for the case of Jack White being the best, the most important, the classiest musician alive.

Aesthetic judgments really are an area where "show, don't tell" carries the field. Saying "it's good" is empty for anyone but the speaker except as a species of bluff.
posted by kenko at 6:38 PM on October 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Kenko got it.
posted by klangklangston at 6:41 PM on October 30, 2015


"I have no dog in this debate, but I just wanted to say that "zorro on doughnuts" is legit funny and I'm going to steal that line. Fair warning."

Stealing it from me after I stole it from Noel Gallagher is some form of justice.
posted by klangklangston at 6:43 PM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


K mafia repreSENT
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:16 PM on October 30, 2015


Looking forward to a best of 2015 thread (we should have one of those)!
posted by thivaia at 10:01 PM on October 30, 2015




That's the Rookie interview Box put up.
posted by klangklangston at 10:29 PM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Remember Nervous Cop?
posted by kenko at 3:10 PM on November 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Aesthetic judgments really are an area where "show, don't tell" carries the field.

Agreed, and on that basis I'm always somewhat reticent to accept the existence of a "reasonable standard" of aesthetic value or importance in the absence of an example case. You have these arguments with people who invoke such standards in the process of making aesthetic claims, and then some time later you find them heaping praise on some shitty punk band from Griffin, GA who only ever managed a single pressing on a translucent orange 7". It makes you wonder whether a reasonable standard has ever been articulated or held in practice.
posted by invitapriore at 6:43 PM on November 1, 2015


Sure. I think you can reasonably give a list of the five most influential painters of the Renaissance.

For argument's sake, let's say Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Raphael and Antonello da Messino. I think it's a reasonable list, but it's not definitive and it relies on more than a handful of base assumptions, e.g. everything from the idea that there was a time period legitimately discernible as the Renaissance or that we have an accurate enough historical record to have a good sense of the candidates, etc.

Even further, that the High Renaissance that best exemplifies "the Renaissance," that the Italian Renaissance is the most emblematic of "the Renaissance," etc. But these are all assumptions with pretty decent arguments behind them, ones that have been made by 500 years of experts, both contemporary and afterward.

But while Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian and Raphael all were both literally inspirational in their time and still recognized as iconic painters in our time, da Messino didn't have the same aesthetic impact as technical — he's often credited with introducing oil painting to Italy. He's a reasonable choice, but it'd be equally reasonable to say Botticelli.

So with sufficient criteria, you can make a reasonable standard for some subjective claims — I don't think anyone would argue that Newsom's not, say, one of the most important or best harpists in indie pop or folk music. But the further you get out from the specific, the more unstated assumptions and claims are implicit, and the weaker the overall argument becomes because of it.
posted by klangklangston at 9:09 AM on November 2, 2015


As Hume put it:
One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others. To seek the real beauty, or real deformity is as fruitless an inquiry, as to pretend to ascertain the real sweet or real bitter. According to the disposition of the organs, the same object may be both sweet and bitter; and the proverb has justly determined it to be fruitless to dispute concerning tastes. It is very natural, and even quite necessary, to extend this axiom to mental, as well as bodily taste; and thus common sense, which is so often at variance with philosophy, especially with the sceptical kind, is found, in one instance at least, to agree in pronouncing the same decision. But though this axiom, by passing into a proverb, seems to have attained the sanction of common sense; there is certainly a species of common sense, which opposes it, at least serves to modify and restrain it. Whoever would assert an equality of genius and elegance between Ogilby and Milton, or Bunyan and Addison, would be thought to defend no less an extravagance, than if he had maintained a mole-hill to be as high as Teneriffe, or a pond as extensive as the ocean.
posted by kenko at 5:24 PM on November 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Uh hi I'm a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and I think Joanna Newsom is twee
posted by grobstein at 8:08 PM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


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