Posts tagged "criticism"

five words — “what might have been lost” — which signal the song’s shift from a series of chords that ring without any clear time signature to a steady 3/4 stomp that uses those five words as a main motif … Those words are what get me — joined with melody, they seem like a summary of the entire album, especially with that highly conditional “might.” Trying to keep track of everything lost? Or celebrating what wasn’t?

Sasha Frere-Jones, “Into the Woods: The Bon Iver sound,” The New Yorker, January 12, 2009

From an unfinished thing I wrote about Bon Iver:

People who dislike Justin Vernon usually do a much better job of writing about him than people like me, who like him. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything about Bon Iver I’ve been happy with. My review of “Holocene" was a cop out, in which I strung together words that, in combination, amounted to little:

Listening to “Holocene” in isolation draws its static beauty into focus a little, sharpening details like the muted handclaps and shifting bass that I’d previously disregarded.

My take on “Calgary wasn’t much better, though I think I was getting somewhere when I mentioned “the unexpected brutality of his best songs.” On considering one of my favorite songs of 2011, “Beth/Rest,” I made a comparison to Dream Academy, but shrank away from continuing down that path and feinted with this:

If the 2011 adventures in reinterpreting soft rock (see also: Destroyer) have been more than pose and irony, it’s because they’ve taken musical wallpaper and filled in the emotions that played out before that decor. 

In response to this charge by Alfred Soto, I have to plead guilty:

The embrace of Destroyer and Bon Iver couldn’t obviate a holding-your-nose attitude towards the eighties acts to which these acts purportedly alluded. If contempt towards a precursor is going to be the line, we owe it our readers to explain how Dan Bejar and Justin Vernon transpose these influences; we must examine the paradox whereby Chicago, Bruce Hornsby, Howard Jones, and The Blow Monkeys, to name a few artists cited all year by critics (including yours truly), suck but Destroyer and Bon Iver don’t.

Well, except that I don’t really know anything about Chicago, Howard Jones, or the Blow Monkeys. (Bruce Hornsby contributed to a good Pac song.)

But of pro-Bon Iver–related writing, one of the better examples is SFJ’s early take.

Not everyone appreciates or respects that legacy but it is substantial and will outlast the circumstances of her death and a latter-day reputation centred more on erratic behaviour and drug use than talent.

Bernard Zuel, “One of modern pop’s greatest voices falls silent but the echoes will last forever,” Sydney Morning Herald, February 13, 2012

This was from the news story on the front page of the Herald yesterday reporting Houston’s death. Am I alone in thinking those first seven words are a bit… uncalled for? I mean, there’s not a musician alive whose legacy is appreciated by everyone, but I don’t expect we’ll see news stories after, say, Elvis Costello dies that include asides reading “yeah, but some people think he was a bit shit.”

It’s not that I demand hagiography after a major star’s death — I thought Alfred Soto’s deeply ambivalent eulogy was excellent — but I don’t see the point in using the occasion to reiterate that a recently departed performer was never permitted proper entry into the rock canon, as if that fact says something important about her life.

Incidentally, I know almost nothing of Houston’s catalogue. I was turned off when I took an instant dislike to “I Will Always Love You” and I never found a way back in. That’s my failing; it’s not too late to explore.

gazzyd-deactivated20130912 asked: Who else is talking intelligently about hip-hop, on tumblr or otherwise? Please advise.

Oh, wow, awesome question. Excuse me if I go on a bit.

You will find some of the best rap writing on the Internet at the Passion of the Weiss, founded and published by all-round good dude Jeff Weiss, whose Tumblr is here. Passion writers Sach O and Martin Douglas are both real smart on hip-hop, though they seem to spend more of their time writing about bass music (Sach) or garage rock (Martin) these days.

I’ll also recommend the Singles Jukebox-affiliated writers Andy Hutchins and Michelle Myers, and not as a professional courtesy. I started reading Andy and Michelle long before they started writing for the Jukebox.

Elsewhere, you should definitely be keeping an eye on Nate PatrinDavid Turner, Willy Staley, Brandon Soderberg, Jordan SargentDavid Drake (who can also, with some other dudes, be found at So Many Shrimp), oh, and, naturally, Noz. If Real Nigga Tumblr ever comes back, make sure to keep an eye on him as well.

There are many more, and if I haven’t mentioned you, it’s almost certainly because you slipped my mind, not because I think you suck. (It might also be that you used to write about rap, but I haven’t seen you doing it much lately.) Which is why anyone reading this should reply with any other recommendations for gazzyd that you can think of.

(Thank God): Question for/about the Singles Jukebox

In the hands of great filmmakers (like Mr. Eastwood and Mr. Godard, to stick with relevant examples) genre can be a bridge between familiar narrative structures and new insights about how people interact and behave.

A.O. Scott, “Fasten Your Seat Belts, the Chevy Is Taking Off,” The New York Times, September 15, 2011

This applies to creative pursuits beyond film. There should, for instance, be an analogue for music.



I think it’s an equal stretch to call either of these collaborators the sound of 2012…

Jonathan Bradley: Skrillex is one of those acts I’ve read more about than I’ve heard, and what I’ve read is damning: Skrillex is bro-step, some kind of terrible music for bros, that happened when intelligent genteel English electronic compositions were bastardized for uncouth American college students. I don’t know much about bros — though I expect they’re the polar opposite to Bros — but the Internet has made it clear that I definitely don’t want to be one, and that listening to Skrillex is the best way of becoming a bro. Besides, brostep is dumb and not subtle at all. So listening to this song requires chopping through a bunch of preconceptions that individually matter little to me, but are together rather daunting. I like dumb music (crunk! Rick Ross! Katy Perry’s good songs!). A genre, like dubstep, that claims superiority because it eludes mass audiences should be treated particularly warily. Subtlety is overrated. I especially like something Skrillex provides here: crazy noises that ricochet all over the place and make the track sound like it’s tearing itself apart. Is brostep all drops? So what? Hip-hop started when DJs decided music could be all breaks. And Skrillex is so single-mindedly focused on dancefloor efficiency that he has a sample announce “This is the breakdown” before the breakdown, just in case we were going to miss it. And yet none of it as thrilling as its component parts would suggest. It plods where it should plotz. The vocal snippets are big and obvious, but couldn’t they be bigger and more obvious — Baltimore Club-level obvious, perhaps? Maybe it just needs more drops.


[Read and comment on The Singles Jukebox ]

I try to avoid writing about critical response instead of writing about the song itself, but this is only the second Skrillex song I’ve heard, so given the amount of discussion around this dude, this was all I could do. Conclusion (tentative): We need a better Skrillex and Skrillex needs better criticism.

…The “1001 Things” series is of somewhat variable quality — and the idea of it is slightly depressing, these exhausting brick-sized books trying to make sense of a newly vast glut culture that’s truthfully best navigated by whim.

Blue Lines Revisited

Thank you, Tom Ewing. This is exactly why I recoil from the 1001 Things You Must X Before You Die series, and I’d never been able to articulate it before.  

Addendum to that age and experience thing

The way it causes you to better recognize music’s component parts and respond less well to novelty.

In a fit of old before my time angst*, I sometimes wonder if it’s happening to me, with my Singles Jukebox review of Cults being the most palpable manifestation of it. (But I think maybe the same thing is happening to me with Skrillex?)

The thing is, I don’t think this should be seen as just a function of getting older. Increased knowledge is good, but the effect Carl Wilson described is a deterioration of critical faculties and should be guarded against. If we’re less well attuned to novelty, we should work on understanding why we were attracted to it in the first place and how to recognize it in newer works.

This isn’t the same as setting aside our personal responses and seeking “objectivity.” It’s about listening well, listening honestly, and asking ourselves “What am I missing?” Of course, even when you’ve worked out what you’re missing, sometimes none of it was worth heeding. Other times you’ll make out new pleasures in what seemed on first glance to be old hat.   


*This is rare. Most of the time, like Rick Ross, I’m only into new shit.

But even just to deal with the music listener’s experience, it’s always been the case that if you look closely enough at any “new” music you can identify the constituent parts. And the older you are, the more prone you are to do so. Simon underestimates how all the skill and knowledge he’s built up (and possibly the aging brain’s decreasing circuits for novelty) might cause him to pick music apart almost involuntarily, and how that makes less and less sound new. No doubt there were people in the early 1970s who heard the Stooges and said, “Well, that’s just the Velvet Underground plus a little Doors and Eddie Cochran,” or what have you? But for punk that band was foundational.
Carl Wilson, “Retromania: A Roundtable with Ann Powers, Carl Wilson, and Daphne Carr,” Bookforum, January 3, 2012

It becomes evident that what he now reads as mere repetition was once revelatory to him … He wants to identify as a modernist, but modernism never invented things out of whole cloth — it took what existed and bent, folded and mutilated it. That’s the very nature of human consciousness, as the structure of language demonstrates — bricolage and juxtaposition. As the great modernist poet Wallace Stevens put it, “In the sum of the parts/ There are only the parts.”

What was new in postmodernism was to demystify that process — in a way to remove the remnant bits of 19th-century Romanticism that modernism carried.

Carl Wilson, “Retromania: A Roundtable with Ann Powers, Carl Wilson, and Daphne Carr,” Bookforum, January 3, 2012

This is important.

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