The Nature of Criticism

John Darnielle recently penned a post on Last Plane to Jakarta which, in turn, was a response to a post Jess Harvell on Idolator which, in its own right, was a response to the multitudinous posts on music blogs praising the glory of the Black Kids, a band that I’ve never heard of. So, just so we know where we stand, the forthcoming post is a response to a response to response to a bunch of statements that I can neither refute nor confirm. Let’s roll.

Both posts deal with criticism–especially music criticism, and most especially online amateur music criticism. Apparently, quite a few blogs (I will not look them up, but I would wager Stereogum and Pitchfork are fine places to start for the more interested), have praised an EP by a band called the Black Kids (maybe The Black Kids, or just Black Kids). I don’t know what they sound like, at all, as the iTunes store doesn’t sell them, and I gave up stealing music once I got a job. They might be great, they might be shit, and it would seem likely that they fall somewhere in between. Given that, to the best of my knowledge, this is their first album, and that the band is composed of fairly young fellows, it’s probably poorly played, poorly produced, and shows that the band has potential to be something special. This makes them very similar to uncounted legions of bands in the US today.

So, music blogs went off about the Black Kids, apparently calling them brilliant or fantastic or the best new band since The Clash, and thus, we have the reaction of Jess Harvell. Harvell astutely points out that the indie music community, in the form of blogs, is insatiable in its appetite for the next big band. Everyone wants to find and declare the genius of “Black Sunrise” before anyone else does. There’s a pride element at work here. Who wouldn’t love to have heard the Beatles before “Please Please Me” was released? Harvell suggests, that, maybe, the music lovin’ online community should slow down with all the hosannas. Not just with the Black Kids, but with all new bands. Most of them aren’t brilliant, and they’re not shit, either, and music reviews should represent that.

Darnielle’s response takes this last idea one step further. Since, after all, reviews are mostly a subjective process, the best reviews shouldn’t aspire to proclaim greatness or inferiority. They should, instead, aspire to accurately describe the music they hear. If that can be done, then the description alone will render the review as positive or negative to the individual reader. No scores or grades, just a clear and appreciate recollection of an album.

Now, this sort of philosophy is at work, to a degree, with the infrequent music reviews done on this site, with the Sine Macula series. The idea behind the series has been to review nothing new–not new to the world, and most certainly not new to me. If had hadn’t owned an album for at least a year, it wasn’t eligible for Sine Macula. This was an effort to curb a misguided enthusiasms for novelties, and for things that declined with repeated experiences–as well as for things that improved with age, so to speak.

This method has been somewhat limiting.  I mostly review music you’ve already heard of because I want to be certain of my reviews, so I take my time listening to the music before I form my opinion.  I like this philosophy though, for not just music crit, but for movies and books and all forms of art.  And so we shall adopt it–farewell to superlatives, and hello to description.  Hopefully, you’ll get a sense of what something is about, what it looks like, what it sounds like, and that alone will be enough to tell you whether to try it for yourself.

1 Comment

Filed under Blogging, How To, Music, Print

One response to “The Nature of Criticism

  1. Paul

    this was the best article on critiques ever. it was succint, eloquent, articulent, and informative. it is quite possibly the only article that should ever be consulted on critiquing ever again. beyond brilliant, it really shines a light in the darkness of those pathetic people who just want to be the first to declare something a work of genius. THIS actually IS a work of genius. and you heard it here first.

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