Anyone who reads music blogs (or, hell, and music “press” at all) knows that there’s a dire shortage of actual criticism happening and a whole lot of ass kissing and train hopping. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Hardly anyone will actually put in the time to publish thoughtful, considerate reviews. Most bloggers are content to just throw out short posts several times a day that are little more (sometime nothing more) than a bands one-sheet that was just emailed to them by a publicist.
One really good thing about internet-based music writing versus traditional print media is that you can say whatever you like about something but post MP3s, too, so people can decide for themselves.
For example, I think the new Dirty Projectors record is utter dogshit but, at the end of the post, you can still check it out and disagree. On the other hand, though, people are now accustomed to getting all their information as quickly as possible. Indeed, some people now resent record reviews that are longer than 100 words or so. Their attitude is “Just tell me what the record sounds like.” Some of this I can understand. Music writers can be awfully long-winded and self-absorbed, especially those who were literature or creative writing students. There’s also a whole breed of “music writers” who aren’t music writers at all. They’re aspiring authors or journalists who have dipped their toes in the music pool to gain experience or pad their resume.
They aren’t music obsessives who breathe this shit day in an day out. But there’s also a whole lot of shit-breathers who are insufferable, too.
You know that now-unattributable saying “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”? Well, whoever said that was just plain wrong. Not “full-of-shit” wrong but incorrect. The assumption is, of course, that architecture cannot be described, comprehended, or have it’s majesty, or lack thereof, projected through a dance inspired by it and writing about music is an act that is also woefully ill-equipped to accomplish it’s determined task. That is, language cannot accurately exhibit the transcendent power of a piece of music. Part of this may be true. Anyone who has ever been at a loss for words when trying to describe a piece of music can attest it’s factuality. And words do not replace the activity of actually hearing a piece for oneself. But the subtext of that quote is that it’s an absurd and ridiculous activity. And that’s where the saying is wrong.
The best music writing is about more than just the music being written about. Why can’t it just tell you what a record sounds like? Because art doesn’t exist in a void. As a cultural product it is necessarily is telling you something about the culture that produced it. It has context and location. It has substance and texture. Visual artists (and those who write about visual art) understand this. Why is music (especially pop, indie, metal, rap, etc) seen as outside the sphere of this existence? Even if one buys the argument that pop music is disposable and created to be thrown away (therefore not worthy of serious consideration) the act of buying into that mode of thought contradicts ones goal in accepting it. Are there not important things we can learn from the disposable goods a culture produces? And, if we’re examining the disposables of a culture we belong to then might we learn something about ourselves?
And then there’s people like me who actually think this Rock and Roll stuff is serious cultural business. That Rock and Roll matters. And the goal here, even though there will be occasional posts that are little more than a few words and some links, is to try the damnedest to not only figure out where a record is coming from but what it is saying, not only about itself but about the world and us.
Free For All Friday! Download and enjoy: