Modern Day Music Criticism Sucks: Told Through a Review of Manchester Orchestra’s Simple Math, Brand New’s The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me and a Bunch of Other Stuff (Or Why I Will Never Get a Job at Pitchfork)
By Benjamin Pratt
I often wonder whether music critics look back at their work and and think, “Did I really say that? I must have been on crack. What was I talking about? Sgt. Peppers is a great and timeless album.”
Hindsight is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? It’s something that us music writers don’t have the luxury of living with (unless you have stayed in this unrewarding and underpaid excuse for a crust long enough to have seen a bunch of The Grateful Dead’s back catalogue remastered and re-released earlier this year so you finally got the chance to give Jerry Garcia another go, and not under the influence of copious amounts of LSD this time ’round). But it’s something I’m sure every critic would love to have. Especially the douche at Pitchfork who wrote, “Manchester Orchestra simply plod instead of groove” about the American four-piece alternative rock band, and that one guy at PASTE Magazine who said that absolutely nothing they do is original, stating, “the Atlanta quintet are plagiarising their way through rock history, lifting from Bright Eyes’ hyper-literate folk one minute and Nirvana’s tuneful alt-grunge the next” in his review about their new album, Simple Math.
These people wish they had hindsight. (I would hope.) These people wish their editors weren’t so far up their arse on deadlines so they had some more time to, you know, actually criticise or pass an opinion on the music (not the band) instead of pumping out thoughtless, passionless, half-arsed 250 word reviews, all so their thoughts can be heard before an album is released to the public. Here is where I feel a majority of modern day music journalism sucks, and why I feel it is my responsibility to do those editors a favour and retract all the negative Simple Math reviews that were posted in haste on their websites/magazines, through reviewing the album myself, with hindsight and a number of listens in mind. But first, you must understand how I currently see music journalism becoming no different than a reprinted press release.
On one side, I understand the why it is important to have up-to-the-minute reviews and thoughts of all the latest albums by critics who spend their entire day listening to new music with only half an ear – sometimes society is just too stupid to make up their own minds so they rely on those with (assumingly) more credibility and somewhat of an idea of what “the right thing to be listening to” is to inform them on what record they should spend their spare $18 a week on. However, it’s far too often I find myself sitting on the net reading music websites or laying on my bedroom floor with Blonde On Blonde spinnin’ at 33rpm, flicking through magazines reading these reviews, thinking that the connection between listener and musician is being lost by some 100 word synopsis that should only be welcomed in music if each record were some 12-page children’s picture book and it was the description blurb on the back, under the ugly picture of the old, boring and plain-looking author.
Granted, there are some amazing reviews and music writing going around. Many of which (which do stand the test of time) can be found here on Collapse Board and other music websites and forums, even some independent magazines. But let’s face it, $12 music rags only manage to provide 100-word (with the occasional 200-300 word) record reviews so they can fit 53 reviews in 10 pages (most evident in SPIN Magazine‘s June and July 2011 issues), perhaps the most well-known music press sold out years ago (remember when they used to be the enemy?), street press is becoming more and more filled with their “not wanting to offend anybody” talk and nationally-distributed and regarded music magazines have turned into paper-thin circle-jerk bullshit, all because (I think, anyway) writers do not have the chance to become connected with the music.They don’t have a chance to truly listen and feel the music. They may be too afraid to say what they actually think or feel because some dude on the other side of the world has an ability to anonymously comment the article on his iPod while he rides the bus to school.
Well, that ain’t why I write, it ain’t no regular 9 to 5-er, it’s a chance for me to express how the music makes me feel (or not feel), how it makes me think (or not think) and where it takes me (or doesn’t take me). Something of an art that I think has been lost over the years through society becoming more and more disposable. We don’t appreciate the classics any more, man. We read a record review one day and then read another the next day, forgetting about the previous, no matter how great the album may have the potential to impress (or not impress, for that matter). Society is so disposable and consumer-driven, we are always looking for what’s next, forcing music publications and editors to keep up or be left behind, sometimes hindering quality, and at times, credibility, but more often than not, any type of personality or identity whatsoever.