what does this pfm song review thingy even mean anyway?

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed
I don't understand a single sentence in this song review. And I've even heard the song a few times.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin: "House Fire"
genre: indie rock

Scrappy Boris Yeltsin-lovers from Missouri are doomed to back pats and new friends (Missouri loves company!), what with charming foot-tap hooks like the ones on "House Fire." Somewhere, some melancholic drunken geek is getting dressed to this-- first this skin-and-bones drum/keys intro, more guitars hiked up like mismatched tube socks tucked into pants, a bendy plywood voice emoting like Miles Kurosky or even Alex Greenwald. Speaking of which, come chorus there's this weird So Cal-style pep (think "Harder to Breathe") that makes SSLYBY sound, for one extremely fleeting moment, less like Shins-Will-Change-Your-Life pop and more like Phantom Planet auditioning drummers. [Rachel Khong]

i ask: huh?

erklie, Thursday, 5 January 2006 15:22 (sixteen years ago) link

Tip: When reviewing music, always compare it to people or fashions you don't like.

mark grout (mark grout), Thursday, 5 January 2006 15:27 (sixteen years ago) link

I am steadily more convinced that readers of music criticism need to stop for a second and read books. Literature. Maybe even high-school English class staples. I can't think of any other way to remedy these constant complaints that people can't understand basic literary tactics like metaphor (simile, even!), use of images, personification, and so on.

nabisco (nabisco), Thursday, 5 January 2006 17:35 (sixteen years ago) link

I'd concur w/ nabisco, but I'm part of the problem.

David R. (popshots75`), Thursday, 5 January 2006 17:37 (sixteen years ago) link

It's perfectly understandable. If you speak Pitchforky. Whether it's remotely useful or valuable as a review, or just garbage, is a different question entirely.

lczkfbgjcfbgjbfg, Thursday, 5 January 2006 17:45 (sixteen years ago) link

If you know the difference between Shinswillchangeyourlifepop and Phantom Planet auditions, then this review is rewarding. If you don't know the difference, that has its rewards too. So why complain?

'Twan (miccio), Thursday, 5 January 2006 17:55 (sixteen years ago) link

See, this is why girls shouldn't get to write about music.

Eppy (Eppy), Thursday, 5 January 2006 17:56 (sixteen years ago) link

jk. Actually, I like this review a good bit.

Eppy (Eppy), Thursday, 5 January 2006 17:56 (sixteen years ago) link

The only issue I take with this piece is: tube socks tucked into pants, surely it's the other way around?

Huk-L (Huk-L), Thursday, 5 January 2006 17:58 (sixteen years ago) link

has nothing to do with "pitchforky" - pitchfork has just as many same-ole same-ole reviewers as every other publication. but they've also given lots of room to more, i dunno, "stylised" writers (to make it sound lame) - nick sylv, rachel i guess. (i'm not sure - these days i only read stuff on pfork when i'm interested in their take. but so it seems to me.)

one kind of music writing i really like (and although i don't love this review, it does fall in the category,) strays like nabisco says toward the literary, the slightly- or lots-more oblique. some people sure hate what i do, for instance, and certainly a ton of what ends up on my blog (no editor! insane turnover!) is total shit, but whether you enjoy it or not does seem a huge issue of taste/voice/style, and not of overarching quality.

sean gramophone (Sean M), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:01 (sixteen years ago) link

the critics i most admire - yeah you, eppy; and carl; - are the ones who seem like switch-hitters, able to make an argument with a precise, illuminating rigour, and then turn round and write something with swing and abracadabra, funny and evocative and potent.

sean gramophone (Sean M), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:04 (sixteen years ago) link

Normally, I'm the kind of person who defends interestingly written reviews, too, but I have trouble following this one, too.

The tube socks image is a good one, but I'm not sure exactly how it relates to guitars: how exactly can they be "hiked up" in the same way? Unless this is just meant to invoke geeky/anxious/etc., which I can maybe hear.

I don't know who Miles Kurosky or Alex Greenwald are: should I?

Also, by "Shins-Will-Change-Your-Life pop," does she mean the Shins? Or does she mean anyone who might appear on the Garden State soundtrack? Because this is presented in opposition to Phantom Planet, who maybe aren't a Garden State band, but they're definitely an OC band (they sing the theme song, yeah?), and I consider there to be a lot of crossover between the two.

Plus, what does it mean to say "Phantom Planet auditioning drummers"? Like it sounds like Phantom Planet but with a different drummer? Or is there an implication of sloppiness there? I'm guessing not, since sloppiness wouldn't give you much "So-Cal-style pep" (and speaking of which, I had to Google "Harder to Breathe": I haven't heard this song, but is Maroon 5 seriously considered "So-Cal-style pep"? When she used that phrase, I guess I was thinking Blink-182 or Sublime or something).

jaymc (jaymc), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:10 (sixteen years ago) link

ok I need to use abracadabra as a noun more often.

'Twan (miccio), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:11 (sixteen years ago) link

Let me use my atrophied English skills here:

Scrappy Boris Yeltsin-lovers from Missouri are doomed to back pats and new friends (Missouri loves company!), what with charming foot-tap hooks like the ones on "House Fire."

This is music that will score you friends. The band is probably from Missouri, since that's where their fans apparently are. The hooks are catchy and the music is friendly.

Somewhere, some melancholic drunken geek is getting dressed to this-- first this skin-and-bones drum/keys intro, more guitars hiked up like mismatched tube socks tucked into pants, a bendy plywood voice emoting like Miles Kurosky or even Alex Greenwald.

This music is layered, but each part is distinct. I had to google for these two dudes, apparently the latter is in the later-mentioned Phantom Planet (context clues, ahoy!) while the first is in Beulah. I'm not sure what a plywood voice is, maybe it is layered while fairly bland and wooden. No wait, it says bendy. So the voice wavers. Metaphor saved.

Speaking of which, come chorus there's this weird So Cal-style pep (think "Harder to Breathe") that makes SSLYBY sound, for one extremely fleeting moment, less like Shins-Will-Change-Your-Life pop and more like Phantom Planet auditioning drummers.

Is this a reference to that Maroon 5 song? I have no idea what to make of this Shins reference, it looks like the reviewer is evoking the sound while also parodying it with a catchphrase. Apparently this song sounds more like Phantom Planet with a different drum style, or possibly a mismatched drum style, or even multiple drummers playing at once. Probably one of the first two.

Not too bad, the hanging references and in-jokes kill it for me though. If I owned albums by any of the mentioned bands I might be into it.

x-post, shit, jaymc beat me to this

mike h. (mike h.), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:14 (sixteen years ago) link

when does plywood bend (oh yeah, halfpipes!)

Huk-L (Huk-L), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:17 (sixteen years ago) link

two phantom planet references in one paragraph. in 2006! i see why this deserved a thread now.

'Twan (miccio), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:18 (sixteen years ago) link

Isn't the Phantom Planets auditioning drummers thing in ref to Jason Schwartzmann (real last name: SAJAK; as in SON OF PAT), who has left the band.

Huk-L (Huk-L), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:20 (sixteen years ago) link

Just to be clear, I think there are certainly times when music critics (like writers in all genres) drift too far into the opaque or obscure -- when their writing gets in the way of communication more than it encourages it. There are things about music writing that make this an even bigger problem than elsewhere: say, the sheer amount of cultural reference, or the effort to describe abstract sounds in poetic terms.

But this isn't even close to an offender on those grounds; if it goes down as non-sensible, it's going to take a good portion of modern-day music crit right along with it. If you don't understand a single sentence in this review, it's either because you don't follow the references or you're just not a very good reader. (Neither of these things is a huge personal flaw.) So far as the references go, they allude to things that should be fairly well-known to the writing's probable audience; so far as the reading-level required, the toughest thing that's asked for is understanding how personification works. Not being able to provide those things isn't anything to be ashamed of -- it just means you're not a part of the specific audience this piece is aimed at -- but don't blame the writer for it; she's communicating pretty effectively.

(Whether you like the content/approach of the review is a whole other matter, as mentioned above; I haven't heard the song, so who knows. If I were to nitpick anything it'd be the use of "doomed" in the first sentence, the whole sock-pants thing, and little bit of grammatical looseness -- three tiny casual nothings that I wouldn't even consciously ideate if I weren't going over this closely because of this thread.)

nabisco (nabisco), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:21 (sixteen years ago) link

I thought it was fun to read. there's definitely a style in the track reviews on the site, kinda wordy, kinda post-bowers, but pretty entertaining

Dominique (dleone), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:22 (sixteen years ago) link

She said exactly what I was thinking about that song, word for word.

Whiney G. Weingarten (whineyg), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:23 (sixteen years ago) link

The doomed is superfluous and irrelevant, but "doomed" is also probably the most fun thing you can call other people (see HST), because, in the long run, it's applicable to ALL, but in the short run, it's almost a threat.

Huk-L (Huk-L), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:24 (sixteen years ago) link

I always take track reviews as like a mixed shot--you're gonna gulp it down and not look back and enjoy the overall impression. You're not going to sit there sipping it and wondering about the componant parts.

But I did go back and reread this and I think it was fairly coherent.

Eppy (Eppy), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:27 (sixteen years ago) link

If I didn't make it clear, I think it's a pretty good review for a single song since it crams a couple quick metaphors, band comparisons, and atmosphere in, but it's also a review that isn't going to make me want to hear it if I am unfamiliar with the referenced artists. Anyone who complains about it being incomprehensible at first read may be right if they don't immediately infer the references from context.

That said, I like when there are single reviews like this but would probably want to hit someone who didn't give me more context on an album review.

mike h. (mike h.), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:28 (sixteen years ago) link

Incidentally, is anyone going to bring up the "Pete L'Official" reviews? Because I am not.

Eppy (Eppy), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:29 (sixteen years ago) link

I believe in the first sentence the "scrappy Boris Yeltsin-lovers from Missouri" are the band themselves. They are doomed to back pats (praise) and new friends (fans) for their charming, foot-tapping hooks. (Not "this is music that will score you friends.")

Jaymc, you're right that the ending is making what's basically a very subtle distinction: between mainstream-indie Garden State change-your-life bands (Shins, maybe Death Cab) and a slightly more popular sunny/peppy SoCal sound (Phantom Planet, "Harder to Breathe"). It's a distinction subtle enough that there's crossover, but it still feels like a reasonable one to make in terms of feel.

I assume Phantom Planet are "auditioning drummers" because Schwartzman is making a movie something particularly active or rangy or heavy is going on with the drums at that part! (Auditioning drummers = other band members might be backing off and listening to what the drummer's doing with them.)

nabisco (nabisco), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:32 (sixteen years ago) link

even if you can parse it, it's still a bad review.

cancer prone fat guy (dubplatestyle), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:33 (sixteen years ago) link

does everyone have to be so goddamn precious these days?

cancer prone fat guy (dubplatestyle), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:34 (sixteen years ago) link

When did you become Mel from Alice?

Huk-L (Huk-L), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:34 (sixteen years ago) link

when i started writing for pitchfork, i think.

cancer prone fat guy (dubplatestyle), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:35 (sixteen years ago) link

Surrounding outtakes that were just outtakes is back-in-the-day recommended to Tim and Missy (even has some pronunciation in it) and four autobiographical pieces.

jaymc (jaymc), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:36 (sixteen years ago) link

I'm having tip-of-the-tongue flashbacks: what was that one from, again? (I understand 80% of it, but it's a grammatical pile-up for sure.)

nabisco (nabisco), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:38 (sixteen years ago) link

Xgau's review of Nas's The Lost Tapes

jaymc (jaymc), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:39 (sixteen years ago) link

xgau.

xpost, c'mon dude "back in the day recommended" is an all-time ilm mountain-out-of-molehill moment.

cancer prone fat guy (dubplatestyle), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:40 (sixteen years ago) link

I took the Shins to Phantom Planet thing as two opposite ends of a spectrum. Listening to the Shins will change your life cuz it's so good, listening to Phantom Planet audition drummers will crush your soul cuz it's so dreary/boring.

zaxxon25 (zaxxon25), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:41 (sixteen years ago) link

I took "Shins-Will-Change-Your-Life pop" to mean "pop enjoyed by blogger ------- ------."

jaymc (jaymc), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:42 (sixteen years ago) link

OR listening to the Phantom Planets will most assuredly prevent your life from changing. So don't listen to 'em when you apply to college, kids!

Huk-L (Huk-L), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:43 (sixteen years ago) link

Hahahaha oh the memories!

Dan (Grammar PWN) Perry (Dan Perry), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:44 (sixteen years ago) link

(PS: I think that any adult who has trouble parsing that review SERIOUSLY needs to enroll in a remedial reading course.)

Dan (Stop Being Stupid, America) Perry (Dan Perry), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:45 (sixteen years ago) link

it still sucks!

cancer prone fat guy (dubplatestyle), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:46 (sixteen years ago) link

Not debating the worth of the review, just the understandibility.

Dan (Buy One Book, Thickos) Perry (Dan Perry), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:47 (sixteen years ago) link

I'm not sure there's as much of a value judgment in that last line as some of you are reading into it. It's a statement of a fleeting impression/effect; there's exactly one word used to pass judgment on it, and that word is "weird." We can read past that and imagine a whole lot of stuff about how she's reacting that moment -- maybe being surprised to like the pop-rock turn so much -- but as far as the review goes, she pretty much just says it's "weird," and leaves it up to you to decide how to react to that.

nabisco (nabisco), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:48 (sixteen years ago) link

"weird" in that context definitely strikes more of a "this confounds my expectations" bell than a "how did they even get the monkey in there" tone.

Dan (Hooked On Phonics) Perry (Dan Perry), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:53 (sixteen years ago) link

"back in the day recommended" is an all-time ilm mountain-out-of-molehill moment."

it was a glorious moment. gives me chills just to think of it. someday i'll tell my kids that i was there.

scott seward (scott seward), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:54 (sixteen years ago) link

but the "shins will change your life" reference IS really loaded, nabisco, and so invites "value judgment" (from me at least).

sean gramophone (Sean M), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:55 (sixteen years ago) link

Referencing "Garden State" is loaded?

Dan (Or Are We In The Middle Of Yet Another Blogwank?) Perry (Dan Perry), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:56 (sixteen years ago) link

loaded = rich = OH, THAT'S RICH.

Huk-L (Huk-L), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:57 (sixteen years ago) link

given the apparently hip-with-it writer and the pfm connection, i thought (maybe stupidly) that it was a reference to the blog of the same name...

sean gramophone (Sean M), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:58 (sixteen years ago) link

But does she hate the gays?

Eppy (Eppy), Thursday, 5 January 2006 18:58 (sixteen years ago) link

That's one of my favorite review tricks, though, Sean! You can make references that will neatly sort out who will or will not like the music in question. Like I read "weird" about the way Dave does -- "here's this surprising thing that happens; I'm going to describe it in such a way that those of you who wouldn't like that thing will probably read it as pejorative, and those of you who'd like it will think it sounds kinda neat."

nabisco (nabisco), Thursday, 5 January 2006 19:00 (sixteen years ago) link

Jess OTM. There's no analysis, nothing about the content of the song, why anyone would single it out for review*, why she has, etc etc, there's just a description, a metaphor about getting dressed that tails off nowhere, and then fully half the review is minute triangulation as to where on the indie rock landscape this thing fits exactly.

*tho this is not as baffling as why this review was singled out for a thread!

Tom (Groke), Thursday, 5 January 2006 19:00 (sixteen years ago) link

too many people were nurtured by hippie parents into thinking they could be whatever they want to be

cancer prone fat guy (dubplatestyle), Friday, 6 January 2006 19:36 (sixteen years ago) link

a FIRM HAND is what these people need

cancer prone fat guy (dubplatestyle), Friday, 6 January 2006 19:36 (sixteen years ago) link

or a STERN TALKING-TO

David R. (popshots75`), Friday, 6 January 2006 19:39 (sixteen years ago) link

the middle class has so much to answer for

cancer prone fat guy (dubplatestyle), Friday, 6 January 2006 19:40 (sixteen years ago) link

oh stop being such a crank

mark p (Mark P), Friday, 6 January 2006 19:42 (sixteen years ago) link

they have a middle-class in canada too, mark

cancer prone fat guy (dubplatestyle), Friday, 6 January 2006 19:43 (sixteen years ago) link

yes, we just got it, along with oreos and upn

mark p (Mark P), Friday, 6 January 2006 19:45 (sixteen years ago) link

you're gonna love homeboys in outer space lemme tell ya

cancer prone fat guy (dubplatestyle), Friday, 6 January 2006 19:47 (sixteen years ago) link

our canadarm was the original space hoopty

mark p (Mark P), Friday, 6 January 2006 19:48 (sixteen years ago) link

I was trying to stay out of this, but:

I just think it's bad writing period, and an obvious, rather old style utilised more for the benefit of the business interests and identity of the enterprise, than for it's usefulness (it's not) in exposing and celebrating great music.

Wait wait wait. Hold on. You can think it's bad writing, that's fine, although I disagree. But making the leap from the first part of this sentence to the second partis like jumping the Snake River Canyon. Are you saying that Pitchfork deliberately decided to get people to write badly in order to burnish its "image" of, what, bad writing? Being like Melody Maker? (College freshman: "You guys, check this site out, they're totally like this British magazine from when I was 3!") You think there's some lab where Pitchfork grows their writers, that they're not, like, real people?

Look, I know we all hate Pitchfork and stuff, but it's not an "enterprise," no matter how much you want to talk about its advertising income or its editorial oversight or anything. It's a bunch of writers and editors doing what they think is right and good, just like anything else, and treating it as an enterprise is just monumentally disrespectful to the individual writers involved. (If you want to talk about the "enterprise," at least say "Ryan.") It's been clearly demonstrated on this thread that many people think this is a good piece of writing, so if you want an explanation for how it got up on the Pitchfork website, why construct this whole devious scheme that apparently involves Pitchfork staking its identity on "obviously" bad writing (muh?) when it's much more likely that the editors liked the piece and decided to run it? Is that really that hard to believe?

Eppy (Eppy), Friday, 6 January 2006 21:48 (sixteen years ago) link

what if we write for it? can we still refer to it as an evil empire then?

cancer prone fat guy (dubplatestyle), Friday, 6 January 2006 21:50 (sixteen years ago) link

Read the contract, Strongo.

David R. (popshots75`), Friday, 6 January 2006 21:53 (sixteen years ago) link

section 4, subsection IV sez only if preceded by at least three additional adjectives

mark p (Mark P), Friday, 6 January 2006 22:01 (sixteen years ago) link

there's a contract?!

cancer prone fat guy (dubplatestyle), Friday, 6 January 2006 22:02 (sixteen years ago) link

Dude, come on!

David R. (popshots75`), Friday, 6 January 2006 22:03 (sixteen years ago) link

shit, i'm fucked.

cancer prone fat guy (dubplatestyle), Friday, 6 January 2006 22:03 (sixteen years ago) link

dewey, cheatam, and howe strikes again.

cancer prone fat guy (dubplatestyle), Friday, 6 January 2006 22:04 (sixteen years ago) link

Next you're gonna tell me you didn't get a Christmas bonus.

David R. (popshots75`), Friday, 6 January 2006 22:07 (sixteen years ago) link

Main Entry: en┬Ěter┬Ěprise
Pronunciation: 'en-t&(r)-"prIz
Function: noun
1 : a project or undertaking that is especially difficult, complicated, or risky
2 : readiness to engage in daring action : INITIATIVE
3 a : a unit of economic organization or activity; especially : a business organization b : a systematic purposeful activity

Seeing as it's a project and a business, isn't it an enterprise?

mike h. (mike h.), Friday, 6 January 2006 22:07 (sixteen years ago) link

Please tell me I just killed the thread by pasting a definition.

mike h. (mike h.), Friday, 6 January 2006 22:15 (sixteen years ago) link

This is all going back to my hobby horse about how people who are music critics seem to be allergic to actual music analysis

you want the Voice to be more like Guitar World? why would music theory be relevant to a critique of music that largely rejects the "design" (to use Xgau's word) it allows?

gabbneb (gabbneb), Friday, 6 January 2006 22:18 (sixteen years ago) link

(sorry mike h :( )

I don't hate Pitchfork! I'm probably just getting old and bitter. I think it's poor writing just because it's SO exclusionary (to my admittedly subjective, English ear) and painfully 'fashion' conscious, whether this has any relation to keeping an identity going, and helping bring advertisers in better...

Yeah. I'm probably reaching. Guilty as charged. I'm just baffled trying to think of other reasons why they would persist with it, whatever efforts (admirable!) have been made to broaden the scope and ambition of the rest of the site... I still cringe hard at these kind of pieces. And it undercuts the cohesion, credibility even, of the whole website for me.

Not that I mind that much... I'll still read and enjoy the pieces/writers that aren't so painfully twisted. So, I probably am grinding some axe here (which is why I'd have been better staying out of it).

Ok some of my language choices there seem overly aggressive. Sorry! *Pitchfork has plenty of good writers add-on was my lame attempt at tempering my ire & frustrations with a compliment.

Calling it an "enterprise" rather than a website just seemed to fit better at the time, seeing as I was bringing the demographic angle into it. I think it's naive not to assume Pitchfork, Ryan, whatever aren't unaware of their position in the universe of influence these days. Quite a way from just a simple review page on the internet I'd have thought.

fandango (fandango), Friday, 6 January 2006 22:19 (sixteen years ago) link

(College freshman: "You guys, check this site out, they're totally like this British magazine from when I was 3!")

ROFL! Fair point. I guess as I don't pay anything to read Pitchfork I should get over myself here, whatever issues I have with it's odd desire to unnessecarily alienate massive sections of it's potential readership for what exact reason I'm pretty unsure of.

fandango (fandango), Friday, 6 January 2006 22:33 (sixteen years ago) link

possibly related thread over in ILG: T/S: Most pathetic writing: Record Reviews or Game Reviews?

kingfish pibb Xtra (kingfish 2.0), Friday, 6 January 2006 22:46 (sixteen years ago) link

xpost
No, no, totally fair. I've certainly been guilty of seeing darker machinations behind the PF, uh, "project" sometimes. But I think if we want to find a music-related publication that's more concerned with developing its brand than publishing good writing, there's a whole magazine rack full of more likely culprits.

Eppy (Eppy), Friday, 6 January 2006 22:49 (sixteen years ago) link

Not to be all "repping for Pitchfork" but Rachel Khong is a really solid writer. This blurb's esoteric but her album reviews are engaging and they get to the point.

I actually assumed that she's English, and I mean that as a compliment.

save the robot (save the robot), Saturday, 7 January 2006 00:52 (sixteen years ago) link

Okay so if this wasn't totally totally obvious I'm not arguing with Mickey's contention that music reviews should be clear and readable; I think prose of most sorts should be clear and readable, and I don't think clarity and readability are at all necessarily opposed to sophistication and abstraction and so on.

If it wasn't totally totally obvious, I'm arguing with Mickey because his examples of unncessary opacity seem to be things that don't exactly take Ph.D.-level reading skills to work out, and I'm arguing him because he's throwing out this ridiculous across-the-board demand that criticism only ever do one thing and never ever aspire to being good writing along the way. His analogies are also kind of strange, in that if you followed them to the letter reviews would probably consist of a list of factoids about bands, ranging from town of origin to, say, the frequency range of each track. Also I like how he objects to the use of metaphors to express that a band's "sound is gigantic," which is ITSELF a metaphor, for god's sake -- reinforcing my sense that Mickey isn't actually against metaphor or stylish writing and is just asking for it to peg itself closer to his level. Plus let's just note that some of us don't read novels and such as some kind of arduous task for our self-improvement; some of us like lively prose because it's enjoyable, a pleasure in itself, and we kind of like the idea that a good writer might be able to bring some of that pleasure to WHATEVER he or she is writing about, whether it's speakers or desk-assembly instructions or whatever.

Okay. That said. Of course Dan's agreement with Mickey is right, too, because no shit, there are a lot of modern-day music writers who's "lively style" isn't actually that lively or stylish. Here's the thing: the problem is not that they're using literary tactics, it's that they're using them BADLY! So I cringe when Mickey's solution to this problem is for everyone to dumb down to some kind of ulilitarian Dick-and-Jane level (why not just list bmp and chord progression for the song in question?) as opposed to, duh, asking writers to WRITE BETTER. And I cringe, additionally, because I feel like I see way too many people doing some kind of knee-jerk dismissal of any music critic who asks them to invest the barest minimum of actual reading comprehension into the work -- like HOW DARE a critic ask me to actually read on anything higher than a fourth-grade level. If you don't want to invest that two seconds of energy to understand a sentence, that's fine, but don't leap to the assumption that the writer "makes no sense" until you've put that tiny bit of work into deciding whether it actually does "make sense" or not. (Otherwise this "doesn't make sense" complaint becomes like skimming two pages of Kant and then saying "that guy sucks, he Doesn't Make Sense.")

Okay and I would hope that anyone who's read any of my reviews will see where I'm coming from on this, because I make a definite effort to be clear about things (possibly even too much of an effort) -- I'm a big fan of clarity, just not in the terms that Mickey's preaching for it.

nabiscothingy (nory), Saturday, 7 January 2006 02:40 (sixteen years ago) link

Like basically I hate the fact that as soon as someone writes something at all challenging or unusual everyone's gut response is "this makes no sense, this writer is bad" -- which is kind of like walking up to a closed door and saying "the room on the other side is ugly." Open the door first, for god's sake -- maybe it's nice in there. But I get the feeling there's so much text out there on the web -- so much text that people are trying to absorb basically in skimming form -- that no one is willing to invest the time into decoding something challenging (because it's risky -- what if it really doesn't make sense?). So this is basically a sour-grapesy response, or at least one that really makes it a "reader's market" -- if something requires the slightest bit of effort, then ha, whatever, "it doesn't make sense."

Which is kind of sad, if you ask me, but then I have whole other horses in this race w/r/t the survival of serious print culture.

nabiscothingy (nory), Saturday, 7 January 2006 02:47 (sixteen years ago) link

Also basically I think this whole thing would be much less of a problem is music writers were MORE literary -- i.e., if instead of getting their notions about music writing from reading music criticism (like Bangs or Meltzer or whatever) they got their notions about writing from reading actual criticism in general (like Wilson or Sontag or Didion or Wood or Denby or whoever, almost all of whom write things that are both more sophisticated than the average record review AND more clear and easy-to-read).

nabiscothingy (nory), Saturday, 7 January 2006 02:57 (sixteen years ago) link

Nabs, I read your track review today and felt it was absolutely clear despite not recognizing any of the musical references besides KoD. Conversely, the track review immediately afterward by Brandon was a complete and utter shambles aside from the delightfully clever Sugarcubes reference that no one who isn't familiar with Bjork's backstory would have caught.

So basically I think I'm not really in the Pitchfork demographic because the only writers they have I consistently like are the ones who I talk to here. Also pretty much everything you've written here is totally, absolutely OTM; if you're going to be "literary", study some literature first.

Dan (Too Jaded And Anti-Indie) Perry (Dan Perry), Saturday, 7 January 2006 03:04 (sixteen years ago) link

Like basically I hate the fact that as soon as someone writes something at all challenging or unusual everyone's gut response is "this makes no sense, this writer is bad" -- which is kind of like walking up to a closed door and saying "the room on the other side is ugly." Open the door first, for god's sake -- maybe it's nice in there. But I get the feeling there's so much text out there on the web -- so much text that people are trying to absorb basically in skimming form -- that no one is willing to invest the time into decoding something challenging (because it's risky -- what if it really doesn't make sense?). So this is basically a sour-grapesy response, or at least one that really makes it a "reader's market" -- if something requires the slightest bit of effort, then ha, whatever, "it doesn't make sense."

otm, but this happens across all the art forms. "i don't see a clear meaning in front of me, therefore it's meaningless." or "the artist is just trying to be difficult," regardless of what ELSE the artist is trying to be.

miss michael learned (Jody Beth Rosen), Saturday, 7 January 2006 03:05 (sixteen years ago) link

"or Denby"

No

scott seward (scott seward), Saturday, 7 January 2006 03:19 (sixteen years ago) link

although he is easy to read.

scott seward (scott seward), Saturday, 7 January 2006 03:23 (sixteen years ago) link

With Denby I'm talking about the prose itself (and listing him partly because I just read something of his an hour ago) -- it's that typical magazine-critic style where there can be high-level ideas and judgments in there but the style is still clear and readable and non-specialized. Magazine critics-at-large get much bigger word counts to be clear with -- they can explain, not compress -- but the style is something I'm surprised more music critics don't aspire to. Like even Sasha seemed to spend a little while adjusting over to that classic magazine style at the NYer, and he was pretty good at clarity to begin with.

Anyway yeah, I'd like to think that if more people learned about writing criticism from the whole 20th-century history of critics and non-fiction writers and New Journalists and such -- and not primarily from the rock-crit establishment -- then the whole world of music writing would be less insular, less specialized or over-people's-heads ... both more sophisticated AND more "utilitarian."

nabiscothingy (nory), Saturday, 7 January 2006 03:56 (sixteen years ago) link

i think they could learn more from actual trad-journalism. just cuz something's written in formal newspaper style doesn't mean it has to be boring or stodgy. there's a lot of room to strut your stuff, only it'll be in a way that's tight, clear, to-the-point.

miss michael learned (Jody Beth Rosen), Saturday, 7 January 2006 04:00 (sixteen years ago) link

you know, i'm with you, nabisco, on the whole "people should read more" thing. i just don't know what anyone can do to make that happen. you know?

and, yeah, technically, sure, you can learn lots of stuff from denby. just reading the new yorker, in general, you can learn a lot.

scott seward (scott seward), Saturday, 7 January 2006 04:06 (sixteen years ago) link

At first I wrote a lot more, but on reflection I realized I'm just repeating myself. So, I'm just going to leave it at this:

Also I like how he objects to the use of metaphors to express that a band's "sound is gigantic," which is ITSELF a metaphor, for god's sake -- reinforcing my sense that Mickey isn't actually against metaphor or stylish writing and is just asking for it to peg itself closer to his level.

Please stop with the insulting comments about "my level" of reading comprehension. I am more than capable of reading everything on Pitchforkmedia, except for the odd inner-references I may not be familiar with ("Shins-will-change-your-life") or extremely bizarre word choice (I will never forget the "melancholic gegeinschtein" in one review). I don't want music reviews to be taken down to "my level," but I do want them taken down to a level more appropriate for what they inherently are -- ALBUM REVIEWS.

Mickey (modestmickey), Saturday, 7 January 2006 05:35 (sixteen years ago) link

Nabisco, I just went to PFM to read your review. Just so you don't keep constructing these straw man ideas of what I think a music review should be, let me tell you that I think yours is fine. It does a great job of describing the music using an amount of metaphor that doesn't go over the top.

Mickey (modestmickey), Saturday, 7 January 2006 05:39 (sixteen years ago) link

Mickey, I haven't been constructing any straw men -- I've been trying to respond to what you've actually said on this thread. You posted a list of quotes and explicitly said that you didn't know what some of them were supposed to mean. I'm not "insulting" you, I'm just taking you at your word!

Here's the problem, though: I don't understand why you think "utilitarian" writing is "appropriate" to the business of album reviews. Why would that be? There is plenty of art criticism that is far more esoteric than anything written on the web about music -- criticism of visual art, for instance, a lot of which isn't even accessible to people without some level of "academic" background. Criticism of literature, too, has its complex side, and not just in the world of academic study. An essay in the New York Review of Books (or, as you mentioned above, Harpers) demands more close attention from readers than most anything Pitchfork publishes.

So I ask you: why is "appropriate" for album reviews to be less demanding? Is it because we're talking about "popular" music, a pop-culture art form? But then film is a pop-culture art form, too, and film criticism seems to support everything from simplistic newspaper hacks to super-academic super-theoretical analysis. Same goes for books, too: you can read a tidy description of the latest thriller in your local paper, or you can follow the debates of "serious" high-level critics. Sure, all that high-level conversation about art -- books, films, painting -- tends to be aimed at a smaller, more initiated audience than the stuff in the local paper. But then again, isn't Pitchfork, too? (There are plenty more straightforward music reviews in general-interest magazines and newspapers, after all.)

So yeah, I'm asking you: why are you claiming that album reviews should/must restrain themselves to this humble straightforward role? Why is that "appropriate" to them in particular, when it's not the case with most equivalent sorts of criticism? Do you see what I mean here?

nabiscothingy (nory), Saturday, 7 January 2006 08:10 (sixteen years ago) link

Pardon me, I added parentheses that changed my meaning -- I don't have anything to say about the comparative challenges of reading Harpers versus Pitchfork. That was originally just meant to say that an essay / book review in the NYRB often requires more sustained attention and thought than the average Pitchfork text.

It's often written more clearly, too, yes, but that's not quite what I'm talking about right now: the point is that nobody writes to the NYRB to complain that a particular essay needs to be brought down to the level of "what it inherently is -- A BOOK REVIEW." People who wanted that sort of thing would just read Publishers Weekly instead.

And I might be sympathetic to the complaint that there aren't enough music publications serving that straightforward consumer-guide niche, except that I think there are loads and loads that do serve it, from AMG to EW to major newspapers to glossy magazines. The only places where the esoteric stuff really holds sway are online and in alt-weeklies, which just happen to be what everyone likes to talk about on boards like this one (presumably because that stuff is free). If there were a shortage of the straightforward -- not enough supply of it to meet demand -- that would be a very bad thing indeed, but I don't know that such a shortage exists.

nabiscothingy (nory), Saturday, 7 January 2006 08:25 (sixteen years ago) link

But what makes that track review difficult to understand isn't the style it's written in as such, it's the phantasmagoria of cultural clutter and half-baked figurative language. It's hard to imagine a medium other than music able to support this kind of criticism, and while the style obviously has its roots in attempts to address the ethereality of music, these days I often feel like this sort of review doesn't have much to do with the music it's supposed to be addressing at all. However, it's more fun than annoying to read, which is not always the case.

antexit (antexit), Saturday, 7 January 2006 12:35 (sixteen years ago) link

This is all going back to my hobby horse about how people who are music critics seem to be allergic to actual music analysis and rely heavily on Barney-fucking-Grimace prose to distract the reader from their lack of technical knowledge.

most music fans and music magazine readers have as little or less 'technical knowledge' as the writers, so unless your readership was of a level of, say, readers of Guitarist magazine or another title aimed at musicians, then that wouldn't work, because the reader wouldn't necessarily understand the technical terms being (ab)used. which isn't to say your point of view is in any way invalid, but you're representing a faction of a music mag's readership.

as an avid reader of the music press growing up, i always loved writers who could demystify the technical aspects of the music just a little, but i never anted someone to lay it open. and i was always more interested in how this music related to its influence, contemporaries, followers, etc, and the experience of the musicians and how it impacted their art. and as a writer now, yes, i'm of limited technical knowledge regarding how the music is made, but i honestly don't believe that impacts on my ability to discuss the music. because i rarely appreciate it in terms of technical brilliance, but rather the personality of the music (for want of about a million better phrases), a more emotional response, i guess.

and i'm not really sure how a review's value judgement could be anything other than subjective.

i am not a nugget (stevie), Saturday, 7 January 2006 13:44 (sixteen years ago) link

you can call me 'thread-killa' if you like

i am not a nugget (stevie), Saturday, 7 January 2006 15:00 (sixteen years ago) link

You know, I really like threads like this -- I'm working on some reviews this weekend, and between this and the end-of-week Christgau stuff I feel a whole lot more clear and focused on what I want them to accomplish.

So the more I think about it, maybe the kind of criticism we're all wary of here stems from exactly the stuff Mickey is advocating -- maybe thinking about these things as "just an album review" is exactly what causes the problem. If it's "just an album review," then why not freewheel and reference and slang it out? Whereas the clearest criticism -- in lots of different arts -- tends to come around when someone has something important to say about the world beyond the art itself. Because it has something to communicate beyond just describing the record for you, something that's actually more ambitious than that.

nabiscothingy (nory), Saturday, 7 January 2006 16:31 (sixteen years ago) link

pitchfork writers are impressive writers. the problem is that writing is different than music. and the only way you can critique a song is by writing (musically) your reaction to it. the original song is strictly a musical reaction to something musical, and maybe a couple personal events mixed in. i mean, it's all about reactions. and the writer's reaction is not musical, so it's confusing and she should at least write a musical score to accompany her words, so that way we can know if we can trust her.
boris yeltsin

boris yeltsin, Saturday, 7 January 2006 23:08 (sixteen years ago) link

most music fans and music magazine readers have as little or less 'technical knowledge' as the writers, so unless your readership was of a level of, say, readers of Guitarist magazine or another title aimed at musicians, then that wouldn't work, because the reader wouldn't necessarily understand the technical terms being (ab)used. which isn't to say your point of view is in any way invalid, but you're representing a faction of a music mag's readership.

Guilty as charged! Although really if one goal of writing about music is to get people thinking about it, why is trying to teach your reader a little bit about the way the song is put together such a verboten thing?

Dan (And So On) Perry (Dan Perry), Sunday, 8 January 2006 04:52 (sixteen years ago) link

people get real defensive when they feel dumm.

miss michel legrand (Jody Beth Rosen), Sunday, 8 January 2006 05:06 (sixteen years ago) link

A quality review is one anybody can understand, regardless of how well-read they are. It takes skill to be descriptive while simultaneously being clear. There's no substitute for simply saying what you mean in a way that allows any given reader to understand it.

name:, Sunday, 8 January 2006 06:24 (sixteen years ago) link

Although really if one goal of writing about music is to get people thinking about it, why is trying to teach your reader a little bit about the way the song is put together such a verboten thing?

dude, it totally shouldn't be! though i wouldn't be able to write that review.

my uncle often sends me letters saying he doesn't understand the stuff of mine that runs in the London Times, which is frustrating because that's generally the least-opaque, least-artful, most-straightforward stuff i write, and i *want (sometimes) to be understood by *everyone. he also clips out pieces in the paper that he liked better than mine, as 'guidance'.

i am not a nugget (stevie), Sunday, 8 January 2006 14:11 (sixteen years ago) link


You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.