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Scott Creney reacts to Chuck Klosterman’s article about tUnE-yArDs pretty much exactly the way you’d expect him to

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Merrill Garbus

By Scott Creney

Chuck Klosterman, former full-time music journalist (he now writes about the broader topic of ‘popular culture’) shared his thoughts this week with the readers of www.grantland.com about tUne-yArDs.

The album w h o k i l l by tUnE-yArDs was just named record of the year by voters in the 2011 Pazz & Jop poll.

Cool. Good for her. If you’re going to pick the album of the year by consensus, that’s not a bad choice. Personally, I found the album a little long. Some songs blew me away, some couldn’t end soon enough, but you have to admire the innovation, creativity, etc. They certainly could have done a lot worse. (For those of you who don’t know, he’s referring to the annual critics poll in Village Voice.)

I’m guessing this doesn’t mean much to more than (maybe) 10,000 people in the entire country. But there’s something about this situation that I find pretty fascinating, even though it’s speculative and only partially related to music.

Awesome! I love it when people are fascinated by their own guesses and speculations about music, especially when it’s only partially related to music. Me, I’m hoping the other part will be related to French cinema. Or Coldplay.

When (and if) you listen to w h o k i l l by tUnE-yArDs, you are listening to two things: a record that’s very good, and/or a record that will someday seem way worse than it actually is.

Wow. You sure are hedging your bets with that and/or. Got that everyone? People may or may not one day in the future think whokill is worse than it actually is. Have we gotten to the fascinating part yet?

And logic suggests the latter is more likely than the former, even though that’s no reflection on the value of the artist.

This logic is something that Chuck Klosterman just invented — we’ll call it ‘The Klosterman Principle’ whereby every record you like become worse and worse as time goes along. Every record you like now? Well you’re going to like it a lot less someday. This is what Chuck Klosterman calls ‘logic’.

I’m not really in a position to argue for (or against) the merits of tUnE-yArDs, simply because I’ve barely listened to w h o k i l l. Had it not won the Pazz & Jop poll, I might not have listened to it at all.

With all these disclaimers, I’m starting to wonder why Chuck bothered writing this fucking article in the first place.

It’s been on my iTunes since whenever it came out, I know my wife loved it, and I had no problem with it ideologically. I just never got around to playing it. Somehow, I hadn’t read a single story about tUnE-yArDs, so I wasn’t even sure what genre of music it was supposed to exist alongside.

We get it, Chuck. You have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about. Now start telling us all about Tuneyards (I write the name however I want).

The only thing I knew was that the words “Tune Yards” were spelled “tUnE-yArDs”, which seemed like reason enough to ignore it (not a good reason, but a reason nonetheless).

Yeah, the spelling thing is pretty annoying — at the very least, it’s a pain in the ass to type. And Chuck, just so you know, the self-deprecation bit is starting to get a little old. If you feel you’re unqualified to write about the album, just don’t fucking write about it.

But then it was voted No. 1 in this poll, which made me think, I should at least know what it is. So I started playing it, totally uninformed and with no motive beside sincere curiosity. This being the Internet, you can listen to it yourself. If you don’t feel like listening to it, here’s enough information to pretend like you did:

It’s ‘besides’ not ‘beside’, and I’m sure that despite your unfamiliarity with this music, as one of the most widely published music critics of the last 20 years, you are about to have all kinds of insights into this original, complex, and at times beautiful album.

(continues overleaf)

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38 Responses to Scott Creney reacts to Chuck Klosterman’s article about tUnE-yArDs pretty much exactly the way you’d expect him to

  1. Kevin January 26, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Completely agree and well done. An ill-conceived, insulting, awful article powered by a half-hearted attempt to give a crap.

  2. Lucy Cage January 26, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Oh my god, the poor fucker: he doesn’t know how to think.
    How awful to be in that tangled head, spending your time working out how you ought to be evaluating something. I wonder where his love went?

  3. Oed January 26, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Awesome breakdown of klosterman’s lazy, mean-spirited article.

  4. Nate M January 26, 2012 at 9:17 am

    I always thought Chuck Klosterman had a really good scam going with his high-profile, best-selling, unpretentious, Common Joe schtick, but if this is the kinda shit he burps up as the Johnny-come-lately who missed every single mention of tUnE-yArDs both online & in print in 2011, then I don’t think there’s any further reason for him to exist outside of his cocoa puff-littered cave of towheaded culture critic irrelevance.

  5. Lucy Cage January 26, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Btw, I’m liking Jeremy’s description up there of Klosterman as a “milquetoast hipster”. That’s my new favourite insult, that is.

  6. kareemk January 26, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Sure that reviewer was an asshole. But tuneyards is fucking awful

  7. Tommy Dski January 26, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    I don’t like Tuneyards either but that’s an awful excuse for music writing for somebody who ostensibly makes a living doing so and reportedly has some credibility. It’s the very definition of tossed off.

    Fair play to the author of this article – very good rebuttal.

  8. Neil Martin January 26, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    yes it’s a poorly written, ill-conceived piece of music journalism but not necessarily something that many of the writers on Collapse Board would shy away from themselves. Collapse Board often takes great pleasure in being nasty about bands that are held in high esteem ny other music critics. Often seemingly just for the purpose of asserting their own perceived superiority to those “other” music journalists. There seems an element of sour grapes that someone has written mean things about an artist you like and this is your chance to get back at them?

  9. Everett True January 26, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Collapse Board often takes great pleasure in being nasty about bands that are held in high esteem ny other music critics

    What, Gotye? Wild Flag? The Antlers? Brooo-hooo-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

  10. Neil Martin January 26, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    The point being it’s a little pot kettle black don’t you think?

  11. Neil Martin January 26, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    The quality of the writing may be better but there are sometimes similar motivations is perhaps more the point I am making

  12. Everett True January 26, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Chuck’s motivation is getting paid, basically. Ours is way more complex than that.

  13. Ben Beaumont-Thomas January 26, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    Great article, hadn’t read the Klosterman piece before but it’s buttock-clenchingly excruciating. The line about the proposal to his wife brought actual lols and joy to my lunchtime – thanks!

  14. Lucy Cage January 26, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    Neil, I don’t think there’s much of a comparison to be made between Collapse Board critics pricking the hype bubble and a well-known music writer turning in something that is so shoddy. Klosterman’s piece isn’t a hatchet job on Merill Garbus or tUnE-yArDs (he actually seems to think that maybe he might perhaps possibly even like the album, although he may then decide not to at some indeterminate point in the future); he’s not being “mean” about her, he’s just writing nonsense. He doesn’t even provide any insight into Whokill being top of the VV polls: he seems entirely baffled by the whole phenomenon of its popularity. So where’s the similarity? What was Klosterman’s motivation in writing his weirdly pointless piece? I’m damned if I know. I’m pretty sure that other Collapse Board writers see themselves as the kid in the crowd hollering that the Emperor has no clothes when they point out that Gotye isn’t all that etc.: it’s a righteous railing against mediocrity and low expectations.
    Klosterman merely seems to be muddled.

  15. Wallace Wylie January 27, 2012 at 1:50 am

    So, there’s this album right, and you really think you like it now, and I’m not saying I don’t or won’t (but I don’t and I won’t, probably)… well I think that one day you’re not going to like it as much as you do now. What do you think of THAT huh? Chew on that shit for a while and see how it tastes. *Points* “You’re going to like this album less, you’re going to like this album less”.

  16. Daniel January 27, 2012 at 2:18 am

    @Neil: Klosterman is writing about how unengaged he is in the process of listening to new music- aloofness taken to its most self-important and irrelevant extreme. On CB, every writer is entangled in the music. You might think that because the writers differ in opinion with some of the bloggeratti, it’s just to be contrarian, but they weigh in with an actual opinion. Klosterman is just dealing in backhanded compliments, wikipedia regurgitation and chickenshit “insight”. I have no indication as a reader that he has yet listened the Tuneyards album. When people are hating on music critics, it’s because of the imbeciles like Klosterman. His writing only satisfies a word count.

  17. Neil Martin January 27, 2012 at 2:40 am

    Your right in that Klosterman’s piece is shockingly written and essentially pointless. I suppose the point I was trying to make is that, or perhaps the question I was asking, is would the same piece (CB piece) have been written if the Klosterman piece was about a different artist?

    I do however disagree that CB writers are not trying to be contrarian. I would argue there is a distinct streak of wilful contrarianism that runs through a lot of the writing on CB. That is not to say it is not fuelled by genuine passion and engagement but it is there nonetheless.

  18. Lucy Cage January 27, 2012 at 3:39 am

    Yes, I’m all for contrariness! As I’m sure Everett wrote on here not that long ago, it makes for a much more engaged debate if you take the position that The Beatles were shit: you fling open the door to all kinds of counter-intuitive marvels that way. Shakes things up and makes you think harder, better, closer.

    I can’t see how the artist that Klosterman wrote about is that relevant to the fact his piece was disengaged and pointless; there’s no canon on here. In fact, that it happens to be tUnE-yArDs illustrates the point perfectly: there’ve now been several different pieces/reviews written on here about the band with no party-line between them at all; just check out the “similar posts” to the right there —>

  19. Lucy Cage January 27, 2012 at 3:49 am

    Going back to Scott’s piece, it’s absolutely fucking NUTS that Klosterman reads Garbus as asexual because she doesn’t appear to him as conventionally feminine – despite the obviously sexually charged nature of the whole album.
    Poor blinkered ears, poor blinkered mind.
    I’d hope nothing that stoopidly misogynist would get published on here.

  20. Neil Martin January 27, 2012 at 4:08 am

    Fair enough. I absolutely agree about the ridiculousness of the asexual comments and the thinly veiled misogyny of the piece. Interestingly though you seem to find her appearance an equally important signifier in your review of her Brighton gig? Not trying to pick a fight just asking some questions.

  21. Victoria Birch January 27, 2012 at 7:35 am

    @ Neil – of COURSE her appearance is a signifier. She has a moustache for god’s sake! Women do and Merrill has a lovely one – not a thick bristly man moustache, but a fine and delicate lady line of hair above the lip; the kind women spend too many hours trying to get rid of even though it’s perfectly natural and feminine. It’s a totally inspiring aesthetic and absolutely worth shouting about.

    As Lucy said, the issue with Klosterman’s appraisal of Merrill’s appearance is not that he makes mention of it but that he equates her ‘unconventional’ femininity with being asexual. It’s lad mag thinking and deeply insulting.

  22. Rory Mackie January 27, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Chuck would have saved everyone a lot of time if he’d just written,”I don’t have a clue about pop music
    anymore” and had them print it in 500 point sans serif.

  23. Elmo Keep January 27, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    I’m a big Chuck Klosterman fan, and I found this piece to be in the least lazy, and at the most offensive, but it is also not a critique of the artist so much as it is a critique of indie criticism — it’s right there in the title of the piece.

    Why he didn’t put more thought into this, I do not know. But it is an interesting proposition to say to writer: write about a critically revered artist you know nothing about, from listening to the album once and gleaning what knowledge you can from some cursory reading — which is the way a lot of “critical” music writing you read on the internet is written.

    But to call Klosterman a misogynist is to misuse the word and incorrectly label him as a man who hates women. The piece is however, sexist in parts, which is why it’s so disappointing.

  24. Everett True January 27, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    But it is an interesting proposition to say to writer: write about a critically revered artist you know nothing about, from listening to the album once and gleaning what knowledge you can from some cursory reading — which is the way a lot of “critical” music writing you read on the internet is written.

    I agree. I’ve been experimenting with this approach a lot over the last year – e.g. The Horrors, Radiohead, Cults etc etc etc. Plus, I critique a whole LOAD of indie music criticism.

    You don’t get anyone going around claiming to be a big fan of my writing, though. Maybe I should be more deliberately offensive towards female performers? That seems to be how you get respect among the indie rock community.

  25. Everett True January 27, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    P.S. I have no idea who Chuck Klosterman is, having never encountered him before this. Was he ever any good? An ex-Spin journalist, right? Sorry, I would’ve blanked him back in the day if that was the case, as I’ve always viewed Spin as a tepid version of the UK music press.

    I’m glad to hear that they had the occasional semi-decent writer, if he was such a beast.

  26. Elmo Keep January 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    A lot of people hate Klosterman because he is pretty famous — in the way that as a critic is known as a part of culture. But like any writer, if you aren’t into what he covers, then it’s easy to not know his stuff. I particularly like Fargo Rock City, Killing Yourself to Live and Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs as places to start. He’s got eight books out and was a critic as Spin, obvs, as well as Esquire. Some of his good stuff is here: http://byliner.com/chuck-klosterman

  27. Lucy Cage January 28, 2012 at 8:30 am

    “But to call Klosterman a misogynist is to misuse the word and incorrectly label him as a man who hates women. The piece is however, sexist in parts, which is why it’s so disappointing.”

    Actually, I didn’t say Klosterman was a misogynist, I said that eradicating a woman’s sexuality (calling her asexual) because she doesn’t conform to standard notions of femininity was a misogynist thing to do. I stand by that. Because it’s a crass and offensive (rather than merely “disappointing”) thing to do.

  28. Capitalist Lion Tamer January 28, 2012 at 10:55 am

    A bit of a belated response here (the usual, family, work, family passing the stomach flu to each other like a joint in a high school parking lot), but not to worry, it’s sure to be one of the longest!

    I will out myself as a Klosterman fan, but I have to admit, this is far from his finest moment. Whatever point he was trying to make either failed to make it out of the editing process or, more likely, failed to make it into the piece itself.

    It’s one of the most definitely non-committal pieces I’ve ever read, from any writer, but I think a lot of the grey-shaded wording stems from the subject matter: a female. The piece itself has an undesirable tinge of sexism to it, but if Klosterman removes all the “maybes,” “perhaps,” and anything else that renders the discussion (I should really put that in quotes…) more concrete, he risks coming off as a misogynist. It’s not much of a choice, but given that he wrote himself into this corner, it’s better (and easier) to take the slightly higher road.

    He pulled no such punches when dealing with the guys. His takedown of Loutallica’s album (also over at Grantland) left the reader with the clear impression that it was terrible, verging on unlistenable, and as grandly masturbatorial as any sort of artwork whipped up by rich people amusing each other. (Of course, he half-heartedly tried to lay the blame at the feet of piracy, which is an entire discussion of its own…) Not a lot of waffling and a much stronger piece. Of course, the subjects were MEN and could presumably TAKE IT. That presumption ties in with this presumption: that WOMEN can’t. Hence the badly-worn kid gloves (made out of deflective teflon).

    A fair presumption on his thought process? Probably not. But there it is.

    Regardless, there’s no way he “wins” with this one. The only way to win is not to play. Chuck amassed a few disjointed thoughts about tune-yards (if you don’t mind, I won’t be skipping all over my keyboard like a script kiddie) and, for better or worse, has an outlet for them. Scott’s rebuttal is what this kind of self-centered wandering needed.

    Now, if I can offer a bit more presumption (and let’s face it, we’re all pretty much powerless to stop me, including me): here’s what I gather his point might have been before he undid it in so many ways.

    There are great albums, universally heralded, that become the CD that stays in the box in closet for the next indefinite period of time. They were amazing at the time, but as time and distance take their toll, it becomes harder and harder to identify with whoever you were or whatever you were feeling at the time that you listened to it on repeat for x number of weeks/months.

    Part of this is burning yourself out on the music. Another part of this is the surrounding acclaim. Everyone loves year-end Best Of lists, if for no other reason than feeling vindicated by seeing something you like near the top of the list. Once that falls away, it’s pretty natural to find the object of your affection looking a little duller with each passing day.

    Here’s a couple of personal experiences as examples. Back in the early 90s, everyone was playing the hell out of the Spin Doctors (as was I). It was the soundtrack to an entire summer spent with my uncle, playing the hell out of that album and the Sega (simultaneously) while we were supposed to be out looking for work. (How’s that for shameful back-to-back statements. [Lay off. I was all of 18.]) By the time the year ended, just the opening riff of any of their 3 (or so) hits was enough to make me vomit into the stereo and hurl the works into the street.

    A few years down the road and everyone is playing the hell out of (and praising the hell out of) Kula Shaker. (As was I! Often from a DJ booth!) Of course, this was before the whole lead-singer-is-actually-a-racist-fuckhead falling out and back when it was still a pretty cool mixture of restrained psychedelia and post-baggy-beats. Six months down the road and the dew was off the petal (or whatever) and to this day the CD has never made its way back out of storage (if I even still have it).

    These things happen. Amazing stuff (not that these two are in tune-yards’ league in any way) becomes annoying stuff, through no fault of the artist(s) involved. That’s my take through the badly-worded haze. That doesn’t excuse this piece’s existence, but that’s what I managed to pull out of it (with some extrapolation).

    [Side note: I deeply fear the Kasabian will be my next Kula Shaker. God, I hope not. But I fear it all the same. Kasabian does have more than one good album, though. That helps pace the burnout.]

    [Also: Beastie Boys - Hello Nasty. Same thing as the above two examples. It's enough to make a sworn electro acolyte swear off vocoder altogether.]

    As for tune-yards, they don’t do it for me. I really wish they did. I read Princess Stomper’s post on the Age of Clank while at work and could not wait to get home and hear this new genre. I’m an industrial fan and her descriptions led me to believe this would be right up my alley. I was dismayed to find it wasn’t and watched video after video hoping I’d stumble across the one that sounded like I thought it would sound when all I could do was imagine the clamorous din that awaited me. Come on! Einsturzende Neubauten! Test Dept.! Banging on shit! Plus more! I really really really wanted it to be, but alas and all, it wasn’t.

    So that’s my take. tune-yards for a lot of thee, but not for me. Nothing personal. Just not what I thought I was looking for.

    [Oh, and a quick "thanks" to ET for posting a link to my blog on his Facebook page, especially considering I referred to him as a "semi-legend" running a "hobby blog." Too cool by far. {I totally meant the "mock disparagingly" I threw into that sentence.}]

  29. Darragh January 29, 2012 at 1:22 am

    Chuck Klosterman resembles one of those boring looking dudes whose faces end up as a Guess Who? board game flip tile.

  30. Stocky January 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    In The Age today: “I do wonder what Zooey Deschanel will do 10 years from now, when she’s no longer the cutest button in the basket.”
    I find this concern with the future of some women a little strange.

  31. flimflam January 30, 2012 at 3:37 am

    plus, it sucks to equate “somewhat androgynous” with “asexual”.
    I’m somewhat androgynous & decidedly sexy!

  32. Pingback: OK, I Will Allow Myself to Be Trolled By the Rick Reilly of Pop Culture Critics : Lawyers, Guns & Money

  33. Baron Elmo January 30, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Never encountered Klosterman before (I work in a Berkeley music store and get most of my input on music from fellow employees and selected friends and customers), but this whole damn article reads like a thinly veiled cry for help… Chuck’s burned out on his job and wants to retire, but doesn’t want to be disconnected from that good old music/tickets/promotional doo-dads pipeline.

    I predict, if it hasn’t happened already, that Chuck will develop an acute reluctance to come out with a strong opinion of any new artist. What if he puts his rep on the line for some future sad-sack punchline band like Consolidated, Mad Season or Green Jelly? Too risky. Best to churn out “think pieces” like the journalistic slobber above, which manages to be smug, oblivious and wishy-washy all at once. Nicely played, Chuck.

  34. Brimstone January 30, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    I like Klosterman because I’m an angry, out of touch rockist.

    “and I’m assuming the Robert Plant bit is not meant to be a compliment.”

    Huh? why the fuck isn’t it?

  35. the underground of happiness February 2, 2012 at 1:55 am

    re the therapist bit of scott’s rebuttal, it’s a common problem in music writing/criticism, the writer putting themselves into or in the way of the music. meaningless toss, basically. the brigette adair herron review was at least honest, upfront.

  36. Pingback: Klosterman vs. tUnE-yArDs vs. Collapse Board vs. Wikipedia | Lost In The Sound

  37. Harvey Manfrenjensenden January 6, 2013 at 4:53 am

    If I could stand to listen to her music for more than 12 seconds I’d probably have something to say about all this

  38. Harvey Manfrenjensenden January 6, 2013 at 5:16 am

    Tuneyards sounds like a drama club nerd trying to imitate what they think people who take drugs sound like when they make music

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