An Editorial Piece: Album Reviews?!? Music Criticism?!? Have things changed?

February 4, 2014 — 5 Comments

Moments after sending in samples to be considered for a freelance reviewer for *1st kid on the block music blog* Pitchfork.com and hours after reading a New York Times article about the very same behemoth, I’m pondering music, blogs, music blogs, albums, reviews, and album reviews.  After going over many of the album evaluations that I’ve written for this very blog and also for SeizureChicken.com I’m starting to think that they (album reviews) aren’t all that necessary anymore.  Hear me out.

I remember that as a college student I would devour  album reviews; reading every word David Fricke, Chuck Klosterman, Rob Sheffield, and countless others wrote about their favorite and least favorite recordings.  I remember wishing and hoping that someday I would have the same luxuries that they had/have.  But then everything exploded.  The internet made thousands of reviews by thousands of pretentious writers available at the click of a mouse and it all suddenly became very trite.  It seemed that these kids (me included) wanted to take all of the obscure words that they’d learned in lit classes along with synonyms for those same fuckin’ words and cram them all into some discussion about Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights or some regurgitated rehash of Guided By Voices Bee Thousand. And people read them (me included) and then purchased one of the best albums of the 00′s or pulled out Robert Pollard’s finest work and listened in seclusion until somebody broke the door down and told them about Beck’s Sea Change and the double disc reissue of Slanted and Enchanted that had cleaned up sound but was still the best album in anyone’s collection.

Point is, back then words were free and so it seemed was the time to read ALL of them.  Maybe it was because I was a jobless student on a major college campus that had all the time in the world to read and reread what was written about an album from a band that might not be that obscure after the review.  Or maybe it was because only really quality bands made it through the bullshit and had intelligent schoolboys comparing Animal Collective to Infinite fucking Jest. Thing is, it all made sense.

But now it’s different.  No matter how good or bad an album is, the words are wasted .   In the end I believe that it only comes down to a summarizing paragraph, a different colored text deeming value like “best new”, or a number.  That’s really all people have time for.  I mean, really, after you give album that isn’t MIA’s latest a 4.4,Travis Morrison’s a 0.0, or a 3.3 to the latest record from a previously heroic rock band does anybody really have the time to read about an album you compare to refuse, whining babies, or an American Idol reject?  On the other side, who has time to read your entire wet dream about  a record  that gets a 9.3 while you gush and gizz in glittering prose all over the first paragraph?

Tired eyes have also become a chronic problem due to the massive amount of fringe bands getting onto someone’s radar.  It seems that somebody is always waiting in the wings to become a tastemaker.  It doesn’t matter how good a band really is if there is some niche audience to stroke or some other way that the said band can create a buzz, they will get press.  In these cases, the proof is in the pudding.  MP3s or streams of tracks are as important or more important than the pithy words that got you to click on the track in the first place.   And when it comes to who gets priority it’s a race for the prize or more so a privilege for the proven.

Now I’m sure that thousands of people have griped the same gripe; I’m just venting  because I have a space to do so and also because I miss writing and reading music criticism in full.  Something has changed and it works with the rapid paced culture that we live in and some/most thrive on but it helps us settle for mediocrity and worse, sometimes not even know that what we are being told is good is mediocre. Is it hard to evaluate when you have SO many things to place value on?

I’d be really interested to see what anyone else has to say.  Weigh in if you have an opinion. By the time you read this I’ll already be on hypem….

5 responses to An Editorial Piece: Album Reviews?!? Music Criticism?!? Have things changed?

  1. 

    As a reaction to the countless ways I can decide to spend my time on the internet, and the precious little free time I have nowadays as compared to in my college years, my attention goes to (a) writers whose opinions I’ve learned to look for and (b) systems like Metacritic, that’ll give me consensus opinion.

    Still, when there’s an album I’m greatly anticipating, hearing a lot about, or flat-out in love with, I’ll read reviews about it from different places. I suppose that’s how I’ll find new writers to follow.

    So. Um. I think I agree. ::shrug::

  2. 

    I’ll add to this one other issue I’ve encountered. Aren’t albums becoming as trite as the album review–bytheway: yes, I know Tony will probably kill me in my sleep for saying this.
    If we’re talking about new ages, the album has always been defined by the medium of print. There is only so much room to write. Records held less than tapes but they both had B-sides, artists limited themselves because that was “the way its always been done”. As physical media dwindles in it confrontation with the Internet and limitations recede, are we bound to albums at all? Look at a fringe artist like Jonathan Coulton who committed to putting out a new song a day (I can’t remember for how long)…. Music is changing. I guess that is the punctuation at the end of this. That and good reviews still devolve to one thing: good opinions.

  3. 

    there’s still nothing like reading a well written review. People wade through the bullshit, make me; laugh/nod my head in agreement/ want to kill my computer… so, there is a place for reviews for me…. maybe just a smaller place, like a broom closet or an unfinished basement where I keep my magic cards and pogs.

    • 
      Anthony M. Van Hart July 16, 2010 at 2:15 pm

      I totally agree with you. I feel well written reviews attract me to albums still too. It’s just that they come in smaller packages now. Tidy and taut is what I find intriguing. I say, if you can get me to check out an album with a small amount of words as opposed to an unlimited supply, awesome. I figure I shouldn’t spend as much or more time reading about records than I actually listen to them.

  4. 

    I think albums are also being uninspired and timeworn. New music reviewers will follow the same path that was left behind by the old famous one. So, if the reviewers of present don’t stop to write this kind of worse review and criticism, then of course, this trend won’t stop easily in future.

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