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for most of the reasons in that piece.
good ones tend to be bland and uninformative. great ones tend to be too gushing to actually learn anything about the album.
at least bad ones have something to say.
Uh, yeah... this is still on the first page of the Blogs section - all the way from 2008:
The Rolo Tomassi backlash has really got me thinking about the criticism of music. I don't really like RT much, but I don't tend to like overly tech hardcore, so the following is indended more as a disinterested observation with them as an example than a comment on their quality as a band. This is also really stream of consciousness so please excuse any abrupt leaps in logic.
For people that are profoundly 'into' music, any attempt to 'criticise' a band or record (which I take to comprise a stab at 'objectivity' as opposed to a basic personal profession of dislike), is always something of a pissing contest. At the risk of over-simplifying what is undoubtedly a complex process, this is powered by a desire for distinction. People love to dig up new things because, at one end of the scale, it enables them to display their discrimination and individuality to others, and at the other end, it satisfies a basic psychological need for novelty and 'the exotic'/'Other'. I don't think anybody escapes this in some form - there is no music 'for it's own sake' (1).
In a similar way, one's choice of music will always involve some form of calculation attempting to balance a sense of belonging and mutual approval with the sense that one is manifesting one's individuality by exercising personal choice, and/or distinguishing oneself by discovering and displaying novelty (2).
In this context, Rolo Tomassi seem to have become hugely popular among a certain group of 'thinking indie types' because they've managed to cross 'scenes' - e.g. they play with bands like TTNG, are championed on DiS and are on the cover of Plan B etc.
To a crowd that don't normally listen to this kind of thing (and this isn't meant as a critism or a total generalisation about their fans), they sound very novel. Add to this their age and the diminutive female vocalist, and intentionally or not, it's very clever marketing (NB. I'm not trying to undermine their music, but it's indisputible that contextual/non-musical factors like this play a massive role in the taste/popularity of bands [see note 2 again])
As a 'crossover' band, RT are also an obvious candidate for a backlash. On the one hand, people that aren't 'used to' this kind of music are going to be put off by the volume and apparent incoherence of their song structures. Music appreciation is never a 'natural'/'innate' quality - it's always predicated on prior auditory experience. It's necessary to 'learn' to listen to a new type of music, by establishing a delicate balance between the level of familiarity required to lay a baseline of 'comprehension' and the novelty required to preclude boredom.
On the other hand, any hyped band's popularity is likely to raise the hackles of 'underground' music fans that listen to a lot of music with similar qualities, because popularity threatens the integrity and distinction of their taste. Attempts to distance oneself from a band which gains mainstream popularity represents an attempt to re-establish the impression of exclusivity and authority. In the majority of cases, a band will have many identifiable influences, and similar contemporaries, providing one knows where to look. In this context, when a band achieves this level of hype, it can often appear at least a little incongruous (3). The idea that music can ever be truly 'original' represents an impossibility - an artist has only their experiences and the media with which they are working, neither of which they have 'created' from a detached position of unfettered individual agency.
Exploiting distinction is hence a powerful skill for a band or marketing campaign. With a high premium on the perceived quality of 'originality' among 'serious' music fans, a band that is able to 'conceal' its influences, i.e. by combining disparate influences (especially those that are non-musical), by being sufficiently retro, or by being 'foreign' (either literally, or in terms of playing outside their 'natural' musical milieu), will tend to receive a positive reception among the critical establishment. Conversly they will also be laid open to the prospect of being 'exposed'. Hype, given its circuitous and ultimately capricious nature, and its corollary success, given that it implies inequality, will always engender resentment.
Hence to paraphrase Newton: for each instance of hype there is an equal and opposite backlash. And while on the one hand this inevitable cycle of hype/backlash seems absurd, at the end of the day it's simply a particularly visible manifestation of the basic mechanism which drives the evolution of music (hype -> popularity -> emulation -> saturation -> distinction -> hype etc. More on this some other time, maybe.)
'Criticism' is a variety of public rhetoric which appeals to some form of objectivity, and as such is always and necessarily a 'political' gesture - an attempt to establish authority. The critic aims not to convey whether they 'like' the music per se, but whether those who have produced it are actually 'good' at making music. This almost inevitably reveals less about the content of the music than about the reviewer themselves. The 'serious', critical review is always an attempt on the part of the reviewer to establish the uniqueness of their competence in distinguishing 'good' from 'bad' music. This bedrock discourse, while often couched in flowery language, is actually remarkably simplistic - at heart, criticism is little more than the public proclamation 'I am a critic - listen to me'.
The vast majority of music criticism can be boiled down to three basic assumptions about the quality of good music, all of which manifest themselves in a few, superficially different ways:
1. A musician has some kind of skill which inheres in them essentially as a being, and manifests itself substantially. This can either be posited as learnt, or innate.
2. A musician can exercise good or bad judgement, i.e. they have a choice about the music they make, and this choice (the way in which they choose to manifest their skill) can in turn be judged. Some manifestations of these assumptions are not mutually exclusive, for example, compositional skill is often seen as the product of both technical proficiency and good judgement.
3. The end product (the tangible way in which skill and judgement are manifested), i.e. the music itself, has essential qualities, which in theory are subject to criticism. In actuality, music 'in itself' is rarely criticised. As music is seen as the inalienable product of a musician or group, criticism tends to be a comment on the qualities or judgement of the musician. Of course volume, tone, pitch etc are all qualities which can be measured out of context, but they are not in themselves isolated as objects of criticism - they are seen as the unmediated product of the musician's compositional choices. However, perhaps the most fundamental, morally neutral baseline used to evaluate sound in its raw, decontextualised form is whether it is the same or different to something heard before. When understood as the product of human agency, this becomes a judgement about originality vs unoriginality.
Further to these assumptions, any negative criticism of a piece of music will comprise a series of attempts to undermine or more of one the following three (overlapping) qualities (I challenge people to find exceptions to this. You might find it harder than you think, though see note 4):
1. Technical proficiency: e.g. It's 'just noise' / musically inept / simplistic
2. Judgement: e.g. It's brash / dumb / bland / safe / anachronistic / ideologically simplistic / offensive
3. Originality: e.g. It's been done better before / sounds too much like, or doesn't acknowledge, its influences
It is possible to combine these in different ways: e.g. a band may be 'overindulgent', meaning they may be technically proficient, and possibly original, but lack judgement or quality control; they may have 'good ideas', but be let down by basic technical skill, or they may be good at writing songs, but derivative.
As I'm making some attempt to avoid normativity, I'm lead to no particular conclusion. Do what you want with this analysis. Exposing the bones of music criticism may reveal it to be fatuous and pointless. On the other hand, it's undeniably enjoyable and cathartic to disparage something. We all need to get on some kind of soapbox once in a while - it's probably wired into our culture. At the end of the day, all I'm doing here is criticising - ultimately precisely the same kind of rhetorical posturing I'm purporting to lay bare. Perhaps my pre-emptive self-awareness somehow neutralises allegations of self-aggrandisement. Probably not though.
1. On a related note, cf. the odd over-hyping of some UK bands on US sites like Pitchfork, and the massive fetishisation of anything Japanese.
2. When you think about it, protestations that one is exempt from calculations beyond music 'in itself', and from concerns about the perceptions of others ("I like what I like!"), represent the same impulse to distinguish oneself/seek approval.
3. Similarly to Rolo Tomassi, the same 'they're not doing anything new/different/interesting' criticism followed hard on the tail of Gallows' and Fucked Up's hype.
4. An exception/attempt to bypass this is the contextual/non-musical criticism - e.g. the band has objectionable political views not explicitly manifested in their music, or the good old fashioned ad hominem, e.g. they are 'cunts in real life'.
then Radiohead might have made another 6 records like 'Pablo Honey'.
that from the off Radiohead weren't exactly over the moon about PH themselves
Pointlessly slagging bands off for a cheap laugh and talking their clothes, hair... but I'd rather that than over-enthusiastic gushing.
come near Stroud
sucking Everett True's dick in a desperate attempt to convince yourself you're anything other than a man who has fluked into being moderator of a successful message board and has cut-and-shut a joke of a website onto the side of it, Sean. That's your level.
personal vendetta much?
"He was briefly employed by The Guardian. It is thought that Passantino's "confrontational" style was deemed unacceptable by the music editor."
Remind me to recount the story of how Michael Hann emailed my ex-girlfriend after we broke up asking for gossip about me.
Does 'confrontational style' = 'gives low marks to artists whose record labels subsidise Guardian printing costs; also swears'?
Double-posted for truth.
But failed to take into account that it was a brilliant record BTW.
On the other hand, pretending I thought they were still great got me laid by this Scottish/Vietnamese indie chick last year, so it's all love.
Reads like a Guardian comment is free discussion. Claws out stuff.
whatever you think of Dom, Scouting For Girls needed this
awesome to the MAX!
It would appear I thought so back in 2007 too?
make me smile, well when it's band i don't like, obviously
this razorlight one still makes me chuckle - especially the last couple of lines!
this thread is so ironic!
DiS tends to review albums it suspects its readers will like and then the writers mostly choose which albums they want to review...so this site (like most others) doesn't have too many scathing reviews. (Dom P notwithstanding.) So the negative reviews are typically by omission.
But this site isn't some PR vehicle, where everything by everybody is a great record. (Except for maybe one crafty DiS writer, eh Sean?) Whenever I do a review I feel like I have a responsibility--you know, some dumb schlub might actually be influenced to some degree by what I have to say--to inform and give a thoughtful evaluation.
In the age of the internet, where everybody has an opinion, it's sort of devalued the role of the critic. Fair enough. But at one time, the critic's role was an important function in the artistic process. People used to respect what the NYTimes said about books and plays and restaurants. I still read reviews, all the time. Sure, I screw around on the message boards here, and there's something to be said for that. But it's really not a substitute for a well written formal review.
as we don't pay people then I do pretty much operate a hands up policy with album review distribution, which obviously skews things positive (they did the same at Plan B, though I guess it might have been less apparent).
I don't think it's necessarily ideal, but I suppose given that appreciation of music is generally subjective, then so long as the writer isn't just going OMG FRIGHTENED RABBIT 10/10 then it's probably better to leave it with somebody pitching because they're familiar with the band. And to be honest I think the best negative reviews are when a writer is aware that a band they're fond of have done something shit, y'know, kill yr idols and all that jazz. But there is a lot to be said for a really funny whipping of a really bad band.
j/k that album deserves like an 11
The URL tells me enough. You don't need to defend negative reviews.
Not that it'll be of interest to anyone...