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 Scott Creney

What the hell are we doing here? A Collapse Board manifesto of sorts.

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by Scott Creney

Some people continue to misunderstand us. Collapse Board keeps making them angry. Angry to the point of hacking into the website and shutting us down for a week. [Actually, we still don’t know what happened – Baffled Old Hack Ed]

We’d like to take this opportunity to explain ourselves. We have very good reasons for writing the way we do. There is, to quote PiL, “meaning behind the moaning”.

We don’t want to be bored. We’re tired of being bored. And we don’t want anyone who reads us to be bored either.

This should be a golden age of music criticism. Thanks to the internet, you can hear anything you want to. Music writers no longer have to describe the music. In theory, none of us should ever have to read about ‘jangling guitars’, or ‘pounding drums’ or ‘throbbing bass’ ever ever again. Make the video part of the article. You can actually HEAR the music while you’re reading about it. Brilliant. A music review in the 21st century has no purpose other than to entertain the reader and (possibly) make them think. It can, and should, exist SOLELY as a vehicle for the writer’s thoughts and ideas about the music. Nothing more.

Some people don’t like this. They think CB has a responsibility to be as dry and pedantic, as consumed by know-it-all dullness as the rest of the music writing they come across. (Or as some commenters have put it, “music journalism” — a pretty ridiculous word to toss around about a record review.) Because it’s not enough that there’s 34 places for them to be bored, apparently they need a 35th in order to feel happy.

You don’t need someone to tell you what this music sounds like. You don’t need someone to tell you where it comes from. And you damn sure don’t need someone to tell you whether or not it’s any good.

We can learn the facts about an album — where it was recorded, what has the artist done up until now, what kind of ‘buzz’ is leading up to it — from the goddamned internet. We don’t need criticism that regurgitates a press release. If I want to read the press release, I’ll go to the artist’s label and download it myself. I don’t need some 20-something college graduate posturing and pontificating around something a publicist wrote about a band’s new album. It’s a waste of everyone’s time, including the artist.

Hell, most music is already boring enough. Do we really need to read reviews that are equally boring? Reviews that seem determined to turn music into something as dull and tedious as the people who are writing about it?

Paul Morley described the current state of music criticism better than I ever could.

By 2003, being a rock writer was a nice career, sort of idle management, a way of organising a very chaotic world of music into nice patterns and packing them into a brightly lit supermarket. To be a rock critic in 2003 is to be a sort of clerk a civil servant, a statistician. You give records marks like you are a geography teacher. You have a duty to discover new artists, but you perform this duty politely, with a corduroy reserve, a grey consistency.

Collapse Board, and the people who write for it, strive to never ever become any of those things.

Music is supposed to be fun. It isn’t supposed to be church. Here at CB, we believe there is NO SUCH THING AS BLASPHEMY. No artist should be placed on a pedestal. We insist that the listener is — at the very least — the equal of the artist. No matter who you are, you deserve as much respect. Any of you could do what Kings Of Leon do, or Fleet Foxes, or Cults. There is nothing special about these people, whether you love their music or not. Their music may feel magical, but it is not as complicated as it seems. They are not better than you. They are not deserving of hero worship. And they should not be given special dispensation simply because they are able to make music.

We are playing for the same team, Collapse Board reader. You and I are both listeners. We are both consumers of music. We are both passionately in love with music, and will most likely stay that way for the rest of our lives. Please understand that our teasing, our mocking, even our disrespect, is firmly rooted in a place of love.

Pitchfork’s decimal-based rating system originally began as a joke on Rolling Stone, Spin and all their ‘3 ½ stars’ bullshit. Ten years later, and with actual real advertising $$$ riding on every last decimal point, Pitchfork’s editorial board assigns the score as a group, and only after much debate and discussion. (Incidentally, if I ever find myself in a room full of music editors arguing whether the new Matt And Kim album deserved a 7.3 or a 7.8, please pull out a gun and fucking shoot me — because I am obviously already dead.)

[7.3, clearly. Oh no. Wait. Let me just email Lucy and Wallace. And Hannah – Ed]

As we see it, the critic’s job is to make whatever they’re writing about seem interesting, by any means necessary. It has nothing to do with whether or not we like the album. Nobody gives a shit. YOU certainly don’t give a shit. And you shouldn’t. We at CB believe you’re capable of having your own opinions, forming your own conclusions, and deciding for yourself what’s good and what isn’t.

Sometimes we intentionally lie, because we don’t want you to trust us. Sometimes we rage, because it’s better than being asleep.

We have a freedom that Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, daily and weekly papers lost a long time ago. The freedom to say whatever we want to say, however we want to say it. We want to help blaze a trail, to drag music criticism kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. We at Collapse Board demand a criticism defined by feelings, defined by its emotions and its intelligence. A criticism that entertains. A criticism from multiple perspectives. A criticism that doesn’t pretend to be objective, but rather insists on the subjectivity of its writers.

Any consensus that emerges, about an artist, about a musical trend, will emerge from all the disparate voices that make up our site. That is why the editor puts so much goddamn energy into trying to find people to write for him who have voices you wouldn’t normally hear. That why you get to read this, or this, or even this. Takes on music that you’re not going to find anywhere else.

We are interested in hearing what people have to say about music. Period. The comments left by our readers, especially by the ones who are unhappy with what we’ve written are more interesting, and infinitely more passionate, than most of what you’re going to read in other places. Seeing your thoughts and ideas makes us very happy. Being misunderstood, or being attacked for not writing like Pitchfork, makes us less happy. To respond to the person who wrote,

“I am still confused as to whether this site is pure genius or the Spinal Tap of music journalism – it sways between the two. Moments of prodigenous insight are punctuated by moments of journalistic shame.”

We strive, most of the time deliberately, to be a little bit of both.

We welcome any and all readers, any and all opinions (though we prefer ideas and thoughts instead). We’re all in this together.

42 Responses to What the hell are we doing here? A Collapse Board manifesto of sorts.

  1. Matt June 20, 2011 at 9:41 am

    For the record, I don’t subscribe to this manifesto – but that’s only really because I’m a bit tired of the why the wherefore of creative endeavours and the explanation thereof. I just want to do things.

    Yes, I’m aware of the irony/hypocrisy 😛

  2. Everett True June 20, 2011 at 9:56 am

    For the record, I don’t subscribe to this manifesto

    I would hope that most of our contributors don’t, Matt.

  3. Matt June 20, 2011 at 9:56 am

    If I were to resort to such proselytising, my goal with my work on Collapse Board is simply to engage in an equitable dialogue.

    It’s essentially thinking aloud. I say something with the intention of connecting with others and seeing what they think – because I want to know the truth of the matter.

    That sounds very highfalutin put like that but it’s quite simple: I’m curious and I like people. Having written about music for so long, it’s the most accessible proxy through which to explore those interests.

    And, again, I’m aware that I’m somewhat regurgitating the post with which I supposedly disagree. My point of difference lies in means to the end, I suppose. I would never, for example, condone the idea of operating through whatever means necessary.

    Riling against a system is useless unless you have an alternate system to place in its stead. If you have nothing, that means whatever your opposing must have everything. Freedom without discipline isn’t rebellion – it’s infantilism.

    To this end, I have my own little hippocratic oath – all are equal in the eyes of the court, the facts will always be interpreted in favour of the defendant, all judgements are subject to change and, at all times, tell the truth and do no harm.

    I sometimes fall short of those requirements, I admit, but I’m always measuring myself against them and I feel that is what is most important.

  4. sleevie nicks June 20, 2011 at 10:37 am

    i am so happy lord everett and sir scott are laying down the rules on here. the rest of you follow suit or you’ll be assigned to write press releases for bon iver for eternity or the end of one of his records whichever comes first.

  5. Everett True June 20, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Principles mean shit if you didn’t have any to start with – Billy Corgan

    I want to be the girl with the most cake – Courtney Love

    There’s no such thing as bad publicity – Gary Glitter

  6. Darragh June 20, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Sleevie – I was reviewing the new Bon Iver for another publication and on it’s press release was a quote from Rolling Stone that read “Justin Vernon’s voice is an instrument.”

  7. Darragh June 20, 2011 at 10:49 am

    “This should be a golden age of music criticism. Thanks to the internet, you can hear anything you want to. Music writers no longer have to describe the music.”

    Scott – you’re clearly discriminating against the deaf. Or those who’ve lost their hearing as a result of listening to death metal for 20+ years at ludicrously high volumes. Doesn’t CB have a responsibility to them!?!

  8. sleevie nicks June 20, 2011 at 10:53 am

    @ darragh or as i will call you from now corndawg. here’s a link, save yourself loads of trouble on that bon iver review, this will have you covered my friend.
    http://www.amazon.com/Christopher-Cross/dp/B000002KKX

  9. sleevie nicks June 20, 2011 at 10:56 am

    @ corndawg, there are 41 customer reviews on that christopher cross record. everything that can be said about bon iver has already been said about XX or criss-cross as i like to call him. just remember bon iver’ll make ya jump jump, mack daddy make ya jump jump, daddy mack’ll make ya jump jump.

  10. Darragh June 20, 2011 at 11:00 am

    @Sleevie – I would have gone Chris Rea, but Cross works for me.

  11. sleevie nicks June 20, 2011 at 11:02 am

    @ corndawg you win, yes chris rea it is with a touch of chris deburgh. damn you to hell gene wilder for helping create the monster that is bon iver.

  12. Everett True June 20, 2011 at 11:19 am

    @ corndawg you win, yes chris rea it is with a touch of chris deburgh. damn you to hell gene wilder for helping create the monster that is bon iver.

    You’re going to hate yourself in the morning.

  13. sleevie nicks June 20, 2011 at 11:25 am

    @ overlord everett – regret is something a new order fan has to live with, i hate lots of things, but myself isn’t one of them. plus i sleep right through the morning. so like keats and yeats you lose.

  14. Wallace Wylie June 20, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Yacht is to Christopher Cross as log cabin is to Bon Ivor.

  15. Utter Shite June 20, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Utter shite. It’s one thing to have no ideas but it’s quite another to mask this lack of ideas in a cloak of righteousness. Why not just say “Hey, we suck, ok?” and be done with it?

  16. Everett True June 20, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Utter shite. It’s one thing to have no ideas but it’s quite another to mask this lack of ideas in a cloak of righteousness. Why not just say “Hey, we suck, ok?” and be done with it?

    Scott, stop trolling yourself.

  17. hannah golightly June 20, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    I like Sleevie Nicks’s humour. I like the intelligence of the writing across the board on this site. I don’t like rules… but if that’s the supposed Collapse Board manifesto, then I can see why I am writing here.

  18. hannah golightly June 20, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    p.s. What the fuck is journalistic shame when it’s at home?? Whoever wrote that was uptight in the extreme. And probably writes for Pitchfork.

  19. Charlotte June 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    I actually like to read articles that describe the music – its quicker to read a review than listen to a whole album and some text telling me about what I might here is useful.

    I also like the shit you do although I think you telling me what I do want and don’t want is a bit ridiculous – I’m intelligent enough to think for myself thank you.

    I’ll give this piece 8.6 out of 10. 😉

  20. daniel June 20, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    just went and read the bon iver review linked to over there >> way to completely contradict your ridiculous manifesto, guys.

    seriously, what a sad website.

  21. Everett True June 20, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    seriously, what a sad website.

    Scott, I’ve already warned you once about trolling yourself. Three strikes, and y’r out, buster.

  22. Everett True June 20, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    just went and read the bon iver review linked to over there

    Wait. There’s a Bon Iver review on Collapse Board? WTF!?

  23. Nazz June 20, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    Gold, Jerry, Gold

  24. Charlotte June 20, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Just realised in the above comment I appear vastly stupid by spelling hear wrong.

    I give myself 1.2 out of ten for this.

  25. Joseph Kyle June 21, 2011 at 4:04 am

    I just cried a tear, looked deep into my soul, subsequently lost 20 years of blaming you for grunge.

  26. Joseph Kyle June 21, 2011 at 4:10 am

    Hey Utter Shite, you left out part of the motto! “We suck because clearly you aren’t talented enough to do so.”

  27. Whatever You Say June 21, 2011 at 4:41 am

    Yesterday
    -“You don’t need someone to tell you what this music sounds like. You don’t need someone to tell you where it comes from. And you damn sure don’t need someone to tell you whether or not it’s any good.”

    Today
    -“Bon Iver means electric piano, horns, woodwinds, synths, backwards drums, feedback, and the occasional orchestra flourish. Justin’s gone on record comparing ‘Beth/Rest’, the album’s elegiac closer, to Bruce Hornsby, and he’s not all that far off. There’s even some Joe Satriani-esque guitar noodlings…Bon Iver is hazier than you expect. It is lost and narcoticized, simultaneously desperate and asleep. The album flows like a dream, watery and opaque. It’s difficult to make out the words. Songs flow in and out of each other in a tremulous soup…At times his falsetto veers close to Antony, other times his voice is closer to TV On the Radio. There are echoes of Dan Bejar’s Destroyer…There’s a great snare drum that comes in at the three-minute mark of ‘Michicant’. It’s all delayed-out and spacey like some kind of dub. It’s out of time with the rest of the track. The synth-strings and treated guitars swell and recede…‘Lisbon, Oh’ is the most beautiful one-and-a-half minutes I’ve heard all year. The bending synth, the random electronic noises percolating throughout — it’s closer to Eno’s Another Green World than it is to anything else.”

    I’m glad you didn’t waste any time telling us what the music sounded like or whether it was any good. That would have been a bad thing, right?

  28. Joseph Kyle June 21, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Hey, whatever.. consistency is for suckers!

  29. Scott Creney June 21, 2011 at 6:43 am

    Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that we also have the freedom to contradict ourselves. Although I think that falls under the whole ‘the only rule is there are no rules’ type thing.

    Mind you, I never said ‘We refuse to talk about what music sounds like.’ I just don’t think it should be required, or people should heap shitloads of abuse on us…

    http://www.collapseboard.com/reviews/cds/my-morning-jacket-%e2%80%93-circuital-ato/

    …if we choose not to.

    Some people visit this website looking for a certain kind of (cough) ‘music journalism’ (puke), only to get upset if they don’t find it. I wanted them to know two things: 1) We’re doing this for a reason, and 2) We have no intention of conforming to their notions of what music ‘journalism’ (puke, again) is supposed to be.

    And I wanted to be able to post a link to an article rather than having to type the same thing over & over again in the comments. I think if someone takes the time to leave a comment, they deserve a response (up to a point, of course). Now I can just refer people here.

    And for the record, I think CB people should write whatever the hell they want to write however the hell they want to write it. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s the entire point of the article. And yes, that point includes not paying any attention to this article whatsoever if you don’t want to. In fact, I encourage any writers/readers of CB to write their own manifestos (of sorts). Or not write anything at all. Or write a review that only uses adjectives. Or words that start with the letter ‘R’. I think the only real limit should be our imaginations.

    Thanks for taking the time to weigh in everyone. The comments are, as usual, way more fun than the article itself. I give Charlotte’s first comment a 9.2, and the second one a 9.8, along with a ‘Best New Comment’ recommendation.

  30. Everett True June 21, 2011 at 6:55 am

    I’m glad you didn’t waste any time telling us what the music sounded like or whether it was any good. That would have been a bad thing, right?

    Scott, I’ve warned you about this twice already. QUIT TROLLING YOURSELF! if you want to bring attention to your fine, if somewhat scarily positive, Bon Iver review then please use Facebook like the rest of us.

    It IS a very fine review though, folk … and while I’m here please could I link you to the first article from Laura Crapo. A most excellent piece of writing. Might not please those who don’t consider *writing* to be an integral part of music criticism, but hey. They can – as has been pointed out a few times already – go to a thousand other places if they don’t want that.

  31. Mr Joseph June 21, 2011 at 6:55 am

    Dear Scott, I love you and everything you stand for.

  32. hannah golightly June 21, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Time to sack Scott (see comment above from Mr Joseph for reference)

  33. Joseph Kyle June 21, 2011 at 11:06 am

    I’m just showing him the love he seeks. after all, it’s all about him, right? RIGHT? And love from a stranger = closest one comes to monetary rewards, RIGHTTTTT?

  34. Everett True June 21, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Mind you, I never said ‘We refuse to talk about what music sounds like.’ I just don’t think it should be required, or people should heap shitloads of abuse on us…

    Frankly, when it comes to discussing bands like My Morning Jacket, I consider it a mercy when folk DON’T discuss their music.

  35. Wallace Wylie June 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Wait, that thing that My Morning Jacket do is MUSIC?

  36. sleevie nicks June 21, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    alright, the comments section is getting to be just the nerds who write for collapse board, i mean don’t you people have something better to be doing like writing your own manifestos…… this didn’t upset me until i noticed wally had chipped in, you too wally, you to, u2. this site doesn’t need to be hacked cause it’s full of them.

  37. Wallace Wylie June 21, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Play the blues sleevie.

  38. sleevie nicks June 21, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    i can’t play the blues, like jack white i’m also white and privileged, so what would i know about the blues.

  39. Wallace Wylie June 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    That, sir, is nonsense. Just listen…..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9NaIYULk6s&feature=related

  40. sleevie nicks June 21, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    that’s true i should have remembered this, we had to watch this performance during black history month in school to understand the blues.

  41. Joseph Kyle June 21, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    isn’t it decidedly un-manifesto-like to take your title from a paraphrasing of a Radiohead lyric?

  42. Reid July 22, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    As a music blogger myself, I definitely think that the writing should be fun and interesting to read. I can lapse into dry writing when I’m short on time sometimes, but I usually try to make it something a little more fun to read.

    But I do think that music, as with writing or visual art, often needs someone to point out _why_ it’s worth our time, attention and even adoration. I’ve had many songs that I didn’t really like turn into ones that I loved when someone was able to explain to me what to listen for: the lyrics, the climax, the vocal performance, “this song is all about the beat”, etc., things that I just had never heard on my own. And that’s why I do think that writing _about_ the music is worthwhile, even if it’s dry and analytical.

    All this to say that I do agree that music writing should be fun, but don’t agree that everyone knows if a song is good or not just by listening to it. Insight is as important as good writing.

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