I have a love-hate affair with music reviews. In the time I’ve been writing about music for okc.net, I’ve been handed music I like and dislike. I only choose to write about the music I connect with best. If I don’t like it, I don’t write about it. Well, this is not always true. Sometimes I like artists and albums, but I feel like they get so much wide exposure, it then becomes a question of why do I need to write another article when so many already exist?
Enter Pitchfork and others like them. Here’s the rub: when I love the fuck out of an album I want to know what went into the making of it. I want to know who the members in the band are, and read back stories that inform me, the listener, of the influences that have shaped an album I’ve come to enjoy. To that end, I see major music publications as a necessary evil. Where I refuse to write about an album because I just flat out have no interest in it, Pitchfork and others will tear down an artist’s work for the sake of having something to cover, even if it is snark just for the sake of it. Often these reviews do little to inform the reader about the artist and the material. What you end up with are these personal nitpicks the “reviewer” will obsess over as if they know exactly what the hell was going on in particular line or musical choice. And in some cases it’s readily clear they didn’t interview the band at all nor did they do very much research. Which is a shame, because as huge and widely recognized as these publications are, they could totally have contacted a band and interviewed them.
Case in point: Pitchfork’s Laura Snapes writing about Alt-J’s “An Awesome Wave.” She gave the album a 4.8 out of 10 and basically warned people off of listening to it. My favorite highlight from her review “Comprehensible intonation is out of the window, which is probably a good job seeing as very few of the lyrics make any kind of sense. “In your snatch fits pleasure, broom-shaped pleasure,” for one.”
I read this out loud to some of my office friends. We all seemed to perfectly understand what that lyric meant. I didn’t even have to draw them a diagram, as I am sometimes wont to do. Snapes later goes onto write exactly this: “The members of Alt-J have been working on An Awesome Wave for five years, and it shows. It’s both overstuffed and messy, and so overworked that what life there may once have been now exists as a kind of primordial paste. When they rise above that, as with the frequent a cappella male vocal harmonies, the effect is startling– but comically so, given how incongruous these parts are to the rest of the record. “If you give [listeners] a list of influences that come from everywhere and every genre, then there’s something for everyone and people seem more intrigued by you as a band,” drummer Thom Green told a student newspaper. By that logic, why not throw in some crooning for the olds, a little innuendo for the Rihanna crowd, a cliff face worth of drops just to round out that universal appeal? Cynical, maybe, as Alt-J have proved perfectly popular on their own terms. But if this is what’s getting tagged as an “innovative” success these days, then heaven help the weirdos.”
Well, more power to the “weirdos” that liked this album. You see, I’m not entirely sure how music reviews like these are supposed to connect me, someone who mostly enjoyed what I heard on “An Awesome Wave,” with the artist. Because what I take away from this style of review is that I’m being told what to like and what not to like. Maybe this is why I rarely read what Pitchfork has to say about anything unless I’m doing background research on a band they’ve covered. Really, the only time I find myself enjoying their content is when I’m watching music videos they produce and documenting the music out there in interviews and write ups.
But you know what? I never consulted Pitchfork on their opinion about Alt-J until after I’d listened to the whole album. You know how I heard about “An Awesome Wave?” This little internet radio station out of New York called The Indie Darkroom. I screen-capped a song that caught my interest and later had another friend bring them up again in conversation.
I’m not the only one annoyed with this pretentious taste making. I chatted with Morgan Tepsic, creator of Tepsic Magazine, about music reviews.
okc.net: Do you mind summing up what specifically irritates you the most about music reviews either by Pitchfork or others?
Tepsic: What particularly irritates me about music reviews is the simple notion that entire months, sometimes years of hard work can be summed up in a few paragraphs and a numerical rating. I’m not cool with “news outlets” aka Pitchfork shitting on albums to get high clicks on their website, which is all that really matters at the end of the day. The dollar. When artists make an album, I feel like they’re making something that will connect with a group of people. Not everybody, but for some people an album will be close to their heart for as long as they live. I think shitting on that sort of connection between a fan and the artist makes no sense. If you don’t dig it, move along, it’s 2013 and people need to start deciding for themselves without Pitchfork.
okc.net: I agree those are all valid points. As I’m looking over Laura Snapes’ review of Alt J. that’s exactly what she’s done with summing it up in a few paragraphs, complete with giving it a low numerical rating. Personally, I like the album, and even though I’m not a guy, because I do roll my eyes at some of the lyrics, it’s not as if I can’t appreciate where they’re coming from – which in their case it’s blatantly emotional/sexual/lovers frustration.
But I kind of wonder if Pitchfork serves as a necessary evil. They get things wrong and really take a crap on what they don’t understand, but at the same time I’ve got the back story on this Perfume Genius video that I don’t know would have been available to me otherwise. I mean I could know these things if I followed the artist’s social media, but you don’t always get background from them either nor are all fan questions are answered. Do you think there are reviewers out there doing it right, where they are getting that info that fans want to know: specifically what went into the making of the music that deeply resonates with them? Also, is this why you don’t feature music reviews in Tepsic mag?
Tepsic: Yes, Pitchfork does help give exposure to artists that deserve it, but do they need to keep on with their notoriously awful reviews? I have respect for people who document music within interviews or write ups like SUP’ Magazine, which is my favorite music mag. I think they are doing it absolutely right. Making you immersed in what the artist is all about, sometimes before you even listen to their music. Getting you the info straight from a fan, because those are the kinds of people that connect best with the artist. Not some douche getting paid-per-click y’know?
I don’t have reviews in TEPSIC because I want people to connect with the artist by taking a look at their photos and what it’s like to tag along with them. If you ask me my opinion on music or whatever, I’ll gladly let you know, but I think printing all that really messes up with the aesthetic of the magazine.
So how do we listeners find the artists we are most likely to enjoy? By deciding what we like and don’t like in the first place. I know I don’t like Hinder or Nickleback, so I am not going to look for music in their genres. I am not going to go to their concerts nor am I going to listen to radio stations that air their music. And while I may still occasionally browse Pitchfork and music reviewers like them, it won’t be to find “The Best New Music.” Rather I will continue surfing the web for music related to Dream Pop, Hip Hop, Shoegaze, and many more genres I happen to like looking for background on the artists that catch my interest. I’ll continue having conversations with like-minded people about the music I do enjoy, if all goes according to plan, they will tell me about artists they like and that’s how I’ll discover artists I might never have had the chance to hear otherwise. It also helps if you make friends with musicians and people who work at the record store. And remember kids, opinions are like assholes. Some are just more gaping, pretentious voids than others.
As my first real act of saying “Fuck You” to the music hype-machines that surround us, I’m going to forgo the yearly ritual of making a Top Albums of 2012 list. For one, I am still finding shit from 2009 I missed, and I’m not so narcissistic as to think the majority of you share my musical preferences. Instead I will list my top 7 favorite ways I’ve found new music this year.
1. Internet Radio and other Streaming Music Apps:
While I prefer The Indie Darkroom for my specific tastes, you may enjoy OKC’s very own indie internet radio station The Spy. There’s also Daytrotter, Pandora, Lastfm, NPR Music App, Turntable, Soundcloud, and Spotify. For the record, I either have apps and/or accounts with all these music purveyors.
2. Going To Concerts:
By going to concerts you hear opening bands, which then exposes you to new music you may or may not like. Often if they are associated with your favorite bands at this moment, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll dig these other artists as well. Although I missed Twin Shadow at the Opolis this year, I heard about Niki and the Dove through this concert. So see, sometimes you don’t even need to go! (Really, I’m still kind bummed I missed Niki and the Dove.)
3. Hitting up your friends for music:
Often this is the cheapest way to get music. It helps if you and your friends have overlapping interests. Again musician friends are great to have, but there is also the expanded friend circles of the Internet. I heard about Milagres and Perfume Genius through Tumblr.
4. Mixtapes from blogs:
I follow too many music blogs to list, but what I enjoy most about mixtapes is that someone took the time to curate a list of what they genuinely enjoyed listening to, and because they loved it so much they wanted to share it with everyone and anyone who is interested.
Remember how you would surf MySpace for music? That’s what Bandcamp.com is like, except more streamlined and accessible. They even have an app called Bandcamper where you can stream full albums from artists. You can download a lot of music legally, sometimes for free, other times for a suggested donation, or at a set price.
6. Other Indie Music Reviewers:
If nothing else, I’m usually entertained by the way Anthony Fantano reviews music. While I don’t always agree with him, I appreciate that he ends his reviews with “What did you think?” and asks for input on what he should review next. The other thing he does differently than some of the other music outlets, I’ve noticed, is that he provides people with an open forum to disagree with him. Try leaving a comment on a Pitchfork review. Guess what, you cant! You can only share it and complain, should you feel like it, to your friends via social media. Either way, you’re still giving them exposure and hits for what amounts to a shoddy ass review. Just don’t do it! Participate in the exchange of free ideas.
7. Making Social Media Work For You:
If you’re hopelessly addicted to social media then you can streamline that shit into a single feed. I follow 4AD, Subpop, Asthmatic Kitty Records, Brain Feeder, and many more on Facebook. Because of this, I started an “Interest List” to keep an eye out for music that might appeal to me. I go to my list, I scroll and click as my whims dictate.
But these are just some my favorite ways. Missing from my list? Going to the Record Store and asking the guys behind the counter what’s out there. I’ve done this, but it’s not how I usually find music. Honestly, if I’m at a physical location, you can be damn sure I already know what I want ahead of time, if not called ahead to make sure what I am looking for is actually there. But if you’re just now getting into music, this is not a bad place to start. An added benefit is that these dudes, and sometimes ladies, also have the beat on local music too. Again, keep in mind that opinions are like assholes.
Disagree with me? You are free to comment.
Have other ways of finding music? You are free to comment.
More or less, okc.net encourages listeners to speak up about their favorite music. And for as long as I write with this little pub, so help me I will try to be as fair and open-minded about what I come across.