Pop Playground
The Problem With Indie

By: Josh Love

Posted 07/27/2005 - 07:49:32 AM by gilligan:
 gvhnfthfthytyfctyhghfjghjgjgy6ujhjbmnbvnm shutup
Posted 07/27/2005 - 08:14:44 AM by iainrf:
 'Belle and Sebastian, Arcade Fire, Postal Service, Hidden Cameras and The Decemberists' Aren't these exactly the kind of indie bands appreciated by many of the same people who are really into pop anyway? If you look at the singles jukeboxes here it always seems to be the indiest of bands which do best apart from the pop... trying to get them to like Coldplay might be a bit more of a challenge.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 08:16:57 AM by gilligan:
 who gives a shit about any of this. whats your stupid fucking point
Posted 07/27/2005 - 10:32:00 AM by mbloodyv:
 "Last month, Stylus investigated rockism, broadly defined as the critical evaluation or historical hierarchization of pop music based on such rigid criteria as authenticity, auteurism, social consciousness and lyrical substance, and the subsequent veneration of rock music in particular as the primary storehouse of these preponderant traits." Wow.....what an incredibly effective way of making me want to claw my own eyes out. It's fucking MUSIC. Not that I shun intelligent discussion, but g'damn guys. This kind of pseudo-intellectual bullshit is just not fucking worth your time or mine. There are no impenetrable social implications to Colin Meloy or the Arcade Fire that deserve attention in someone's master's thesis. Keep this shit to a minimum (or just keep it to ILM).
Posted 07/27/2005 - 10:33:51 AM by jmaxwell:
 Great article and great points. I'm frankly sick of popists acting like just because something is indie(read: it doesn't sell a lot of copies) and has (god forbid) guitars, its automatically not enjoyable to listen to, and is automatically pretentious and droning. Granted, there is plenty of indie that is pretentious and droning, but there is also plenty of indie that is plenty enjoyable and fun (Ted Leo being in my opinion a perfect example. Furthermore, popists who diss on indie for not being fun or whatever reason they want to diss on it are in essence acting the same as some pretentious indie asshole who'll hate a song just because it happens to sell a million copies. There's lots of great enjoyable music in the world, both indie and pop, and people should like what they like.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 11:27:16 AM by jlynch:
 i'm not sure where you got the idea for this throwaway point about Travis Morrison singing Ludacris with "elitist contempt and ironic disdain", so just know that it's completely wrong. by the way, your entire point boils down to: popists need to lower their standards or they'll be just as bad as rockists. personally, i don't think your argument is very convincing.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 11:48:42 AM by MEKsLP:
 Yeah, I gotta say that your essay really didn't stand out as having a defineable point worth reading though 10 paragraphs for. Are you saying that there is a void between indie pop and mainstream pop and that both sides should open up their ears and partake of the good music on both sides? Welcome to 1994, or the entire 19080s for that matter. If anything indie rock is more accepted in todays scene than it ever was.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 11:54:31 AM by Xopchipili:
 Ultimately, this feels more like an indie enthusiast's attempt to shoehorn their preferred music into the pop sphere than a true arguement that pop can be found at independant levels. I love Belle and Sebastian and the Decemberists as much as the next guy, but just because they use some major chords and upbeat rhythms doesn't make them pop acts. Twee affectations and intricate wordplay do not radio heroes make. And of all the acts you mentioned, the one that (in my estimation) comes closest to capturing real "pop" is the one that has actually acheived some serious crossover success, The Postal Service. Did Big Star and the Modern Lovers make "wonderfully indelible pop", or did they write a bunch of slightly askew, quirky nuggets that incorporate some pop elements but still take a non-minimal investment from the listener to truly appreciate? There's a reason the Modern Lovers didn't make the pop canon while their contemporaries, the Ramones, did. Find me a Ramones song I've never heard, and I'll bet I could sing along with it after just one listen. To me, it seems, the independant minded bands who make true pop DO achieve popular acclaim, at least once or twice per career; look at folks like Matthew Sweet, Superdrag, and Fountains of Wayne. Ultimately, I realize I'm walking into the circular "it's pop because it's popular and it's popular because it's pop" argument. But really, is that so wrong?
Posted 07/27/2005 - 12:30:59 PM by andrewi31:
 The problem here AGAIN is trying to make arguments that depend on some rote, list-of-bands style definition of "indie-rock", which has to be the most meaningless and thus worthless critical term ever invented. People, can you stop using the word "indie" as a genre signifier? STOP. That is the "problem". Are you critics really this lazy?
Posted 07/27/2005 - 12:38:25 PM by GavinM:
 One thing I find compelling in Josh's article is the sense that there's something pernicious rising on the "popist": it's becoming increasingly dogmatic. A lot of people use "it's fun!" as an excuse for lazy listening, and a lot of stuff slides by with very little critical engagement, simply because it's "pop" (or dance). Look, I love rap and booty bass and pop and dance, but the new Fannypack record is lackluster (c'mon, do you still listen to it any more?). No one wanted to diss it though because they'll look like some guitar-fetishizing granddad. This makes for shit criticism, and a dangerously evolving canon, as Josh acknowledges. A lot of anti-rockism strikes me as a way for people to give acts that fit their definition of cool a pass without much thoughtfullness. Anything that references the requisite "cool" (for now) is loved (for a couple weeks): make sure it has some disco, electro, reggae, whatever in it, and you can be sure some jerk with a blog will spread an uncritical gospel about it. Indie rock is increasingly unfashionable, so the free pass it enjoyed for the past decade is crumbling. And this has nothing to do with the music (which is Josh's point, and he laments it), just stupid ideological wars that suck up a bunch of dumb kids trying to impress their friends with an impervious argument for loving Britney or whatever (more my opinion on the subject, not sure what Josh thinks about that).
Posted 07/27/2005 - 12:45:34 PM by cwperry:
 Makes sense to me. A common criticism of lesser-known/indie music is that it's steeped too long in its own seriousness, and I do sometimes have difficulty enduring music that's geared more toward the lighthearted and fun (whether it's indie or not: some musicians I find a little too cornball from time to time include everyone from John Hiatt to The Postal Service. It's not just Britney Spears that falls into this category). Then, this past weekend, I saw The Arcade Fire. They imbued their serious music with an incredibly fun performance that broke down the wall between a good time and the ability to appreciate serious music, and they did it without becoming cornball or over-the-top chipper'n'perky. They allowed themselves to not have too serious of a self-image despite the more introspective and somber tone of their lyrics - and it worked.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 01:08:04 PM by bendsinister:
 if one enjoys the music they listen to, enjoys the shows, enjoys the pure availability that the internet has afforded music fans, than there is NO problem with music whatsoever.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 01:18:35 PM by wmdavidson:
 There will always be a camp that values universal appeal and a camp that values auteurism. And as long as there are contentious, obsessive geeks on both sides, the battle to control the canon will rage. That's a good thing! Controversy and debate is what makes music criticism vital and interesting.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 01:27:02 PM by gilligan:
 no it isnt
Posted 07/27/2005 - 01:31:32 PM by gilligan:
 if you want to listen to kylie minogue then listen to fucking kylie minogue and stfu. nobody cares. how can this guy claim to be all about having fun when he spends his free time overthinking something so utterly meaningless
Posted 07/27/2005 - 01:39:49 PM by AKMoose:
 Are the Postal Service really popist-derided? They've got the second best-selling album on the entire Sub Pop label, behind only Nirvana. It's nearly a gold record.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 01:41:33 PM by idunnowhy:
 finding a lot of new words in a thesaurus does not make your ideas more interesting. nice try, though.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 01:44:08 PM by GavinM:
 "Just like what you like." Yeah, then why have musical criticism in the first place, if everyone is right and we all listen to whatever? Bad music exists (in pop and indie)! Bad taste exists (in pop and indie)! Genre wars are tired as fuck though. One thing I find weird is the move away from serious stuff... Like, you can't be serious about music or something, or you're boring or corny or whatever. That's a bullshit attitude as well, the people who make the best pop are SERIOUS about making hits. I thought we were post-irony and didn't have to deal with this any more, but it seems to be even more prevalent than it was a few years ago (as a counter to perceived "takes-themselves-too-seriously-indie-jerks" maybe?). Seems more of a reaction to fans than actual music, and once again, lazy fucking listening.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 01:46:13 PM by gilligan:
 "credible tastemakers"
Posted 07/27/2005 - 02:30:56 PM by JoshLove:
 I'm definitely not trying to discredit the value of "serious" music (my favorite band is Radiohead after all), it's just that "fun" seems to be the prevalent template for judging all kinds of music in crit-world. I'd never discount that approach, and to be honest it's helped open my eyes to alot of music I had ignored or shrugged off when I was younger, but at the same time I wanted to step back and try to figure out what kind of biases and expectations were really at play here. I admit this is all mostly inside baseball here, but still I think these emerging trends in criticism are important - certainly they're not world-changing, but they do have the potential to be very far-reaching.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 02:34:07 PM by mbloodyv:
 This essay series (and subsequent "debate") is a great way to make music boring as shit. Go back to grad school or your job as a librarian, listen to the music you enjoy, write your little music reviews, and forget about your so very very achingly important social theories. YOU are the problem with indie.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 02:50:15 PM by wmdavidson:
 Dude, if music criticism and the issues surrounding it are so boring, why do you post on this site anyway?
Posted 07/27/2005 - 03:38:30 PM by J_R_K_:
 gavin has some good points. this article is obviously divisive. good job. anything that generates this much response is doing something right. now i'll try to be more constructive in my criticsim or your critique. i'd like to see some articles dealing with how some bands sound good on record and bad live, or vice versa. not to bring up the arcade fire, but i too saw them over the weekend and they sounded as good as the record, considering it was live. if a band sounds good live, and good on record, that says a lot more than a band that can just sound good at one or the other. considering how prevelant home recording is now a days, most bands should be able to flesh ideas out before they get into the studio. and yes, you have to go to the studio if you are in a rock band and want to be taken seriously. indie rock is over. bands on independent labels can sell tons.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 04:06:08 PM by wmdavidson:
 JRK, interesting that you bring up live performance, because that really plays into the whole rockist/popist debate too, although it wasn't brought up in the article. Rockists would usually place a lot of importance in bands writing their own songs and performing their own music; popists (and rapists) not so much. Maybe a future article can tackle that debate.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 04:10:11 PM by JoshLove:
 So Isaac Brock doesn't write his own music? Jesus, I know that was bad, I just couldn't help myself.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 04:18:13 PM by Xopchipili:
 it took me three reads to get your joke. Now that I did, my coworkers are giving me some awful funny looks as i giggle uncontrollably :)
Posted 07/27/2005 - 04:29:57 PM by GavinM:
 So if you've torn down every "objective" standard by which to judge music, and accept that everyone is free to like whatever they want, how the fuck do you write music reviews? It seems to me that the current format of music reviews is indelibly linked to rockism. It continually strikes me as a poor way to discuss music in this "new" critical language. Most critics lazily punt by calling stuff "catchy" or "fun" (like these are descriptors). I, more drastically, stopped writing reviews. If you position yourself as some sort of arbiter of taste, you have to priviledge your musical values over other things -- but by "popist" logic, this is (at best) pointless (since everyone has his own opinion) or fascist (since you attempt to "impose" your own opinions on others). And with mp3 blogs and p2p, everyone can listen to the tracks themselves and make their own decisions. So where do reviews go from here? That's what I want to know.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 04:37:24 PM by wmdavidson:
 Gavin, great points. Is there a popist canon that could replace the rockist one, or is "popist canon" a contradition in terms?
Posted 07/27/2005 - 04:43:52 PM by wmdavidson:
 Josh, nice one. I know I probably should use "rappist," but "rapist" is just so much more fun.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 04:48:09 PM by JoshLove:
 Gavin, I guess my best solution to your quandry is just not to do too much arbiting (if that's even a word). That's one thing I like about the Voice - not only are there no grades, but often the writer doesn't even really worry about conveying whether he thinks the album is necessarily "good" or "bad." Honestly, my own personal taste and perspective has changed a great deal in the last few years, so I'd kind of feel like a hypocrite if all I was trying to do was serve as some kind of eternal fount of critical discretion and wisdom. So I try and, like, do other stuff.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 04:50:16 PM by bassman08:
 gilligan, you need the shut the hell up. Some of us enjoy debating music (and yes, I am aware of the whole "dancing about architecture" crap, but I don't care). And I commend whoever said there was "good music and bad music" and "good tastes and bad tastes". I mean, sure, you can have one or two guilty pleasures, a few things that you actually enjoy listening to and yet know aren't all that great. I for example, listen to 80s pop/ new wave such as Duran Duran quite often just because I like it. But can an entire record collection made up of Motley Crue, KISS, Poison, Maiden, and a few Journey albums really be considered by anyone to be "good"? Would anyone who cares to read this website not take even a little snicker at at collection like that? I think not. The funny thing about tastes are that so many people DO listen to that sort of stuff. I mean, as much as most of us (including myself) would laugh hysterically at that stuff, there must be something to it that people enjoy or else it wouldn't have been so popular back then (or now, for that matter). The point is, it is so hard to argue this sort of stuff with an established listener of a certain genre. Crap, I think I had a point when I began writing this but I'm not sure what happened to it. I'm trying to say ultimatly that yeah, I do believe in good tastes and bad tastes when it comes to things like music, art, literature, ect, but when you start getting into that it becomes hard to rationalize your reasons with someone who does have so called "bad taste". Obviously, they won't think that you're right, and you won't think that they are, so what's the point of trying to tell someone they do in fact have crappy taste? I think the best thing to do would be to just listen to what YOU know is good and not try to indoctrinate people with it unless you feel like getting into a long, circular argument that, while it may get interestingly heated at times, probably won't do you much good.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 05:39:46 PM by vinegar:
 Yeah, pretty good article. Unlike last week's, it actually tries to address the issue at hand too :-) The point isn't terribly original though: popists have been taking crap for being simply rockists-with-a-different-agenda since day 1. And rightly so, I guess. If the only thing anti-rockism comes up with after all the battles is a *new* canon wit a *new* set of values to be defended, it has failed completely. Quoting Xopchipili: "I love Belle and Sebastian and the Decemberists as much as the next guy, but just because they use some major chords and upbeat rhythms doesn't make them pop acts." Well yes it does, actually. Or it should, anyway. All good, uplifting, enjoyable music with a hook that doesn't take itself too seriously should qualify as Pop, whether it is made by the lipsynching chart-storming producers' puppet so despised by rockists or the scruffy Art School graduates currently on a pub tour so derided by popists. Only *then* will the Anti-Rockist Revolution have meant anything.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 06:24:01 PM by whiteboysushi:
 Gavin's right; rockism is an inextricable part of the current music criticism paradigm. The whole "poppist" mindset discourages music criticism because it places the emphasis solely upon the music itself and the individual listener's reaction to it. Is that a bad thing? Obviously not; but the line between "catchy" and "irritating" is drawn subjectively by each individual, and even then, it's often a blurry one. Rockism at least provides us with some moderately quantifiable objective standards ("yeah authenticity! rock on DIY"!), even if their usefulness is dubious. But what's a pop critic supposed to do? List the influences? Describe the elements of the song itself? So much of pop music draws on the same box of musical Legos, it's impossible to draw conclusions just from the fact that a song has "disco elements" or "some crazy middle-eastern shit" or "sounds kinda like Madonna". The only way to evaluate music under the poppist system is to have already heard it; and once we've heard a song a couple times (or, more likely, every day on the way to work), do we really need some high-minded, benevolent and wise music critic to come along and tell us that it's okay if we want to shake our asses to it? The worst part is, poppists aren't even in tune with the mindset of pop music itself. To the extent that there even is a permanent pop music canon, it's self-policing; everyone alive in 1990 is going to remember how "Ice, Ice Baby" goes for the rest of their life, and what the critics say will make fuck-all difference in that fact. Even in the short term, people will never start or stop liking a song because critics tell them to; they will start liking it because they dig it, and stop because they get sick of it. Novelty is among the most crucial factors in the appeal of pop music, and unless every reviewer ends every review with "everything I just wrote will cease to matter in a month's time, when the first two notes from this song's riff will be enough to make you jam a screwdriver into your ears", you can't really fairly review pop music. Wow, uh... I got pretty far off-track from the original article, which I wanted to comment on just because of its sheer obnoxiousness. "Kneejerk reaction to narrowmindedness results in equal amounts of narrowmindedness; film at 11!" Really, you don't say. Also: way to undermine your whole point for a cheap dig at T-Mo, one of the most genuinely fun-loving musicians in the indie world.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 09:18:52 PM by IanMathers:
 Gavin, would you be okay with me quoting one of your posts here for my essay in September? Because you've perfectly summed up something I want to talk about.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 09:19:50 PM by IanMathers:
 Also, I'm with wmdavidson, bassman and others: Some of us like to talk/think/write about this stuff. If you don't, there is plenty of other content on Stylus and elsewhere for you.
Posted 07/27/2005 - 10:54:45 PM by Travis_Parker:
 I can't be as serious as you kids because my sn is Travis Parker (if you know who he is) but I guess it's also an indicator of my love for fun. I love music reviews. I read TMT, Pitchfork and Stylus daily. I would still be stuck listening to the same Green Album Weezer, Our Lady Peace and Jimmy Eat World if I hadn't been awakened to staple bands like Interpol, Modest Mouse and Sigur Ros. Well, I consider those staples. Radiohead has been my favorite band since I was nine, but along the way I fell in love with crap like Dashboard Confessional, and now I've arrived at 17 and I'm a proud indie kid. Except that I'm open to some stuff that isn't indie, because Radiohead is ridiculously far from indie, and we should all know that. Then there's some other stuff, but at my high school I get mocked because I'm "too cool for the radio," which just makes me glow with happiness. I don't like to be exactly the same as the masses, but I also don't want to be a goth kid that tries to be different and ends up exactly the same. So, yes, I am too cool, because I think payola blows and so does Clearchannel. Sorry. And I'm up for fun music too, but I never liked the Aquabats or any ska fun to begin with. Ska has always seemed fun to me, and I've never liked it. But The Shins are fun, Fiery Furnaces are unlistenable to many but still childish fun, Head of Femur are fun, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! is a fun name. Of course, names mean nothing. I guess I'm just talking for fun. I'll get to my point. I live in Utah, where exposure to music is left to the radio, where we get like, popular music all the time. Rock-pop, indie-pop if I'm lucky (where I heard "Take Me Out" for the first time and fell in love with Franz Ferdinand) and rap-pop. Oh, and then there's straight pop. People take fun music too seriously. If it is fun, it has no meaning. I just downloaded a song from youaintnopicasso.com (the only blog I read) about love and samurai ninjas. "Love conquers all. Except for samurai ninjas..." which is great fun. And there'll be the popists that will hate it because it's unheard of and the indie kids that will hate it because it doesn't mean anything. It drives me up the wall. Without review sites, I never would have seen The Shins, I wouldn't be seeing Sufjan Stevens tomorrow ($10! Ha ha!) or listened to Pink Floyd or Zeppelin. I was too close-minded, and I needed somebody to tell me that there's something else outside of the radio. The Shins are amazing live, in case anybody was curious. So is Radiohead, but anybody should know that. My main issue with indie is the indie hipsters versus the indie kids. Indie hipsters walk into a Virgin and look at the Modest Mouse or something on the wall with all the CD's you can sample. Then the issue: Is Modest Mouse stylish enough to add to my catalog? What about The Mars Volta? Is nightmare latino prog cool enough? This is the problem. It's the fans that do it for the style and not for the music. I remember standing in line for the The Shins concert and wanting all of the "New Slang" fans to get out of the line and move to the back, because while the Garden State soundtrack was good, it's the only reason you think it's okay to spend $18 on a The Shins ticket, because Garden State was okay with the indie hipsters. But actually buying a The Shins record? Chutes Too Narrow looks like a children's book! No way! I'd better go buy Interpol's Antics instead, because it's a very serious, starkly contrasted album about broken relationships and such. Gosh, I hate those people. Go stick your head in a hole and come out in twenty years when you're 50 and it won't matter anymore. Long post. I know The Shins hardly counts, but these indie hipsters are like, the worst. I'd rather hang out with Britney Spears fans.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 12:53:07 AM by GavinM:
 Whoa, that was long. Ian, feel free to quote me, but I've been almost willfully ungrammatical and vulgar on this, so I don't know what exactly is worth quoting. Whiteboysushi said a lot of what I did more coherently. Although I do think people listen to critics, maybe not always to their specific words, but bands with a general critical favor often garner more attention (hello NME!). Plenty of people take Nick Hornby for gospel and listen to bands just so they can be up on what's talked about. These are horrible music fans, obviously, but it's how a lot of people experience music (and unfortunately, these are often people who profess to be "huge music fans"). Don't tell me you've never talked about music with someone who's entire worldview of a record is based on PF reviews or ILM hype or Rolling Stone review or something. It's not that criticism doesn't matter; it's almost inherently pernicious or irrelevant from a "popist" standpoint. Like, do I really need to open the New York Times so Kelefa can tell me about the sweet new Kanye video? That's what I have friends for.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 01:16:55 AM by Travis_Parker:
 Sorry, most lost comment of all time. What's ILM, anyone? Inside Lacrosse Magazine? That's what I read. And to anybody else that cares what gilligan thinks: Stop. He wouldn't say a word if people didn't care.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 01:51:22 AM by bassman08:
 Travis, I agree with you about Pitchfork. One of my high school buddies told me about it like 2 years ago and it is pretty much how I got into indie music. For all it's shortcomings, like favoring certain bands (Interpol comes to mind, even though I like them sometimes I think that Pitchfork is on their nuts way too much) and totally dismissing others (like everything that ever involved Billy Corgan...sometimes this is correct but I think they undeservedly panned Mellon Collie), I think that Pitchfork does a pretty damn good job of getting kids into decent music. They're how I found out about Franz Ferdinand (a pretty "fun" band, I'm sure most would agree), among other artists. I am very greatful to both Stylus and Pitchfork because without them I would never have found some great stuff (I can thank Stylus for getting me into the Manics' Holy Bible and, through some of Ian's "Seconds" features, Wire). And, to prevent this from sounding woefully sappy, Garden State sucked anyway, I don't care if everyone else thinks it was amazing, it just wasn't that great. The soundtrack was just 'meh' anyway.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 02:27:46 AM by IanMathers:
 Hey thanks bassman, that's really flattering. It's a cliche, but it really does feel good to know you introduced somebody to a band like Wire. Gavin, I think your 04:29:57 PM post was just about perfect; no disrespect to whiteboysushi who was also very on point, but that post specifically brings up something I wanted to talk about so I think I'll use that.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 07:31:51 AM by vinegar:
 I agree that Gavin's point is in itself valid, but the problem is the "objective" standard, not the anti-rockism. The whole problem with the rockist agenda dominating music discourse is not the set of values per se - that is as valid as any other - it's the fact that reviews written in the rockist framework pretend to be objective. Projecting the rockist value set on music criticism as an objective standard is nonsense, of course. It's as subjective as it gets. Nothing wrong with subjectivism - take a 101 course in sociology and you'll quickly learn that there is no such thing as objective criticism (or even objective journalism). What is wrong is the pretense of being objective. So where do we go with music reviews? The only way forward is a fully subjectivist agenda. Luckily, many reviews on Stylus (and latter-day Pitchfork) already are. The writer makes very clear where s/he is coming from; any review is clearly an opinion, not a statement of facts; the review is a mini-essay about how this record affects the writer *personally*. If the reviewer of an Annie record normally listens to nothing but alt.country, that's fine. Might make for an interesting review. Fine, as long as the reader knows that this is a writer who will judge Annie according to the aesthetics of Wilco (or who will make a concerted effort *not* to do this). *Not* fine if the writer pretends the alt.country-aesthetics are the One and Only objective set of standards for popular music, and dismisses Anniemal because it lacks 'twang' or messy guitar solos. Reviews, then, under a popist agenda, should not become blander (because "everyone has their opinion") or more democratic (because "hey you don't want to impose your views on anyone") - if anything, they become *more* personal, individual and sharper. precisely *because* it is understood that it is "only" your own opinion. You are still some kind of "arbiter of taste", but only in your own world. and you let the reader share that bit of your world. If they share a lot of your background/past favourites/likes and dislikes, they will likely value your opinion. If they don't, they may still enjoy a well-written piece of writing. It's all you can hope for as a writer, isn't it?
Posted 07/28/2005 - 09:24:44 AM by whiteboysushi:
 "Like, do I really need to open the New York Times so Kelefa can tell me about the sweet new Kanye video? That's what I have friends for." God, yes, this is so true. I was just talking with a friend yesterday and we came to pretty much the same conclusion: music criticism is just an elaborate, artificial construct that attempts to supplant the very natural and organic experience of music being shared between friends. Sure, it's gotten better at this in recent years, as critics have finally realized that (as vinegar pointed out) making your personal preferences makes reviews MORE useful, rather than less, and MP3 blogs allow you to actually hear the songs that have folks so excited. But still, no music critic will ever be able to walk up to you with a huge grin on their face, thrust a pair of headphones at you and say "Dude. You HAVE to hear this!" BUT (and this is a big "but"; hence, capital letters). Sometimes, it's the best we've got. When I was 14, I heard The Dismemberment Plan on a local college radio station and loved them; when I happened to see Emergency & I at Best Buy, I snatched it up on a whim, despite not having heard a single song off of it. It rocked my emo-centered universe, but I didn't have any context for it; none of my Saves the Day-loving friends could tell me about other, similar bands I might want to check out. When I stumbled across Pitchfork and saw that they had given it album of the year, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. As others have already pointed out, this is just how the indie world "works" in the modern age: in the absence of a cool big brother or extremely hip dad (mine bought Yankee Hotel Foxtrot before me, so I guess that counts for something...), the internet is the oracle we flock to for guidance. Not so for pop music. While many aren't lucky enough to have "indie friends", everone has at least one "pop friend" -- and, more likely, several dozen of them. Even if you don't, Rick Dees has made a career out of telling people about music they already know they like, and the entire concept of the Billboard charts is to tell people exactly what's "hot" at the moment now. I'm not going to go all Jon Stewart on you guys and tell that you're not "doing your duty", but I really think that, at least on the interweb, indie music criticism has the potential to have much more of an impact on people's lives than pop music criticism. I know this is going to sound melodramatic, but if the first thing I had seen on Pitchfork's frontpage back in '01 was a review of a new Missy Elliot single, I probably would've closed the page as soon as my eyes finished rolling.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 09:41:02 AM by J_R_K_:
 i love pop music and i'm glad stylus covers it. i don't know if i consider myself a rockist or a popist. i think it's more rooted in the creation of music. if a record is made organically (live band), they should be able to play it live. if a record is recorded in a more 'produced' environment, then of course it will sound exactly the same live. i don't think that is a rockist/popist thing, but go ahead and use labels if it helps. i think of it as an organic/electronic thing. most of my favorite bands (live and in the studio) are playing live instruments over pre-programmed productions. i'm thinking of kasabian and m83. furthermore, if anyone really wants to take music criticism to the next level, maybe understanding technology used to create music beyond pro tools and kontact. as the manual pointed out, technology is the biggest unknown in pop music. and if you haven't read the manual, you are missing out. just google "the manual the easy way"
Posted 07/28/2005 - 10:26:29 AM by Travis_Parker:
 I think the electronic element to music is vital. Where the devil would Radiohead be at this moment? Kid A would have been a completely different album. M83 wouldn't have shown us the power of cheezy synthesizers. I'll take M83 over any emo/screamo band for raw power and emotion. And I'm just starting to get into RJD2 and DJ Shadow, and from there I guess I'll enter the hip-hop realm. I still think reviews are important. I don't want to go out and buy a crap album and waste 12-18 dollars. And Pitchfork has done something for music because of how well known it is. Search for just about any band that's still alive and reviewed on Pitchfork on google, and Pitchfork will be up in the top 5 links most of the time. They're huge and help the indie community, even TMT talks about it. I'm thinking specifically of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!, and even though I read the review here first on Stylus because of the band name, it was Pitchfork that really vaulted them up. And I don't really think Pitchfork is better than Stylus. I like Stylus reviews/other stuff better, even when I disagree because it's very well written. And a vocabulary lesson sometimes, too. So, my point is, before we start dissing on Pitchfork for its pretentiousness and other things, remember what it's done for some of our favorite indie bands.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 11:37:47 AM by wmdavidson:
 whiteboy, right on, right on. I love your posts. I find the pop coverage on Stylus enlightening and interesting (if sometimes frustrating as well to this crusty old rockist). Yet... if I needed info on Missy Elliot or 50 Cent I could just turn on MTV or the radio. No such alternative exists for, say, Bloc Party or the Sound of Young Scotland bands covered in a recent feature. So that kind of coverage, while not necessarily more entertaining, is a lot more *useful*.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 12:20:15 PM by Xopchipili:
 Maybe I spend too much time buried in indie journalism, but I've got to disagree, especially on the two examples you've picked out. If I hear one more website or mag going on about Bloc Party this year I think I'm going to gag; it feels like their presence has been absolutely ubiquitous. First the raves, then the backlash, but seriously, don't we have something new to talk about yet? (Personally I suspect the truth lies somewhere between, but that's neither here nor there). And as for sound of young Scotland, I've seen reviews for the new Orange Juice comp everywhere from here to Big Takeover to this month's Spin. (Another pet peeve, in a stunning turn of indie revisionism, Edwyn Collins' schmaltzy-yet-creepy "Girl Like You" is suddenly a "forgotten masterpiece" everywhere I turn.) The last thing I need to read is another review of either of these; in the humongous world of music, the indie canon has become as restrictive, if not more so, than the pop canon. I don't love Stylus because they're gonna tell me about M.I.A. -- every other mag and website in the world is already doing that, to the point of saturation. I love Stylus because they'll do a big feature on CCM referencing 20 bands I'd never even hear of otherwise.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 12:55:29 PM by cwperry:
 Vinegar, I take your point, but to me reviews that are based entirely on the way the record makes the person feel, instead of talking about the music's historical scope, etc., is just wanking. If I want to learn about Annie and Anniemal, I do NOT want to do it via some Wilco fanatic whose frame of reference is limited to one genre. What good is that? What does it tell me about Annie and her album? I, for one, am SICK of reading reviews on Pitchfork that claim to be "career overviews" of seminal bands' careers, which actually are a bulleted list of what emotion the reviewer remembers when the album came out. Recently there was a feature on R.E.M.'s catalog, and it went something like this: "Murmur - great album. Because I kissed my first girl that summer." That is lunacy.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 01:00:08 PM by wmdavidson:
 Xop, I'm not saying there's not a glut of information out there about Orange Juice or whatever, just that if you want it you have to go *looking* for it, and a resource like Stylus is really helpful. On the other hand, I know more than I even want to know about 50 Cent's music and life story-- just from being alive and awake in the USA.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 03:27:32 PM by dubidet:
 cwperry: thank fucking god. and i thought i was the only one.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 04:02:25 PM by vinegar:
 cwperry: also, point taken. The problem is, if you get a career overview of REM that goes: Murmur - great album. Because of the mysterious atmosphere evoked by the mumbled vocals, the beautiful melody of "Perfect Circle", the Byrdsian guitars defiantly ringing out among a basic backbeat, etc you *also* just get one bloke's *opinion*, based on how he experienced the album - heavily coloured by his kissing experience that summer, only he doesn't tell you about it and pretends that it is all about the music. Whereas someone who listened to the album in a foul mood, a day after having heard Power,Corruption and Lies for the first time (and thus having heard The Future) says: dreadful album, bloke mumbles about nothing in particulr, stupid retro sixties guitars jangling on and not helping the mediocre songs one bit. At least let us know where you're coming from. (It also helps to know if you were hungry for a burger at the time.)
Posted 07/28/2005 - 04:25:45 PM by cdwill:
 ILM = I Love Music www.ilxor.com
Posted 07/28/2005 - 04:35:22 PM by cwperry:
 Vinegar: saying that early R.E.M. had mumbled vocals and Byrdsian guitar is NOT opinion. It is fact. Your example of a "bad mood" review is an example of what I'm complaining about: a lack of historical scope, replaced instead with moody opinion.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 04:40:50 PM by cwperry:
 To continue my thought from directly above, historical scope PLUS moody opinion can make for a great review. See Lester Bangs. Without some historical/musical frame of reference, to me a review is useless. I really don't give a toss about what someone's summer was like. I want to hear about the music, the band, and how it fits in musical history and the canon of its particular genre. Add those things together and you bridge the gap between criticism and literature, which is fine. But a record review that is literature without criticsm is, in my book, a complete waste of time. That's why Scott Pernice's "Meat Is Murder" book does NOT fit in well with the rest of the 33 1/3 criticism book series - it's a fiction piece, while the rest of the volumes in the series are hard-biting analysis. The stomach butterflies I get when I hear something from the summer I came of age has ZERO relevance to a reader who's ostensibly reading my review to learn what the album is like.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 05:13:25 PM by wmdavidson:
 cw, are most of the 33 1/3 books pretty objective? I have the volume on "The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society" (author's name escapes me... Andrew something) and it struck me as a pretty even-handed mix of objective/factual analysis and subjective value judgments. Though there are times when the author's personal whims are palpably felt and definitely influence the analysis (i.e., he doesn't bother to musically analyze one particular song that gets on his nerves, he just states that it sucks and leaves it at that, even though it was a semi-prominent single from the period).
Posted 07/28/2005 - 05:46:13 PM by DomPassantino:
 Indie fans are the new Tori Amos fans!

(Tori Amos fans being the new Eminem fans, obviously)

Posted 07/28/2005 - 05:51:26 PM by cwperry:
 wmdavidson: good question. some of the ones I've read have been a mixture of analysis and opinion, which I think is just fine. A book-length analysis will inevitably reveal the author's personal viewpoints, but my point is that unlike the Pernice volume the others focus more on analytical criticism. Some of them go even further, into music theory (OK Computer); the one on Love's Forever Changes is an excellent combination of criticism and the effect the album had on the author, but the analysis is what wins you over in the end (and actually helped me learn to love the record); others, like the one on Prince's Sign 'o' the Times, focuses really heavily on personal feelings. So, I was a bit off-base to call them all "hard-biting analysis"; what I meant was that all of them aside from the Meat Is Murder volume are at least *rooted* in analysis.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 05:53:48 PM by cwperry:
 P. S. Again, the Meat Is Murder volume of 33 1/3 fails for me because it is fiction. And record reviews that focus on things such as "I like this album because I kissed a girl to it" might as well be fiction, because they tell us nothing about the album. In fact, reviews like that are WORSE than fiction, in my book; at least fiction could discuss the music in question.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 06:12:13 PM by AlfredSoto:
 but if the first thing I had seen on Pitchfork's frontpage back in '01 was a review of a new Missy Elliot single, I probably would've closed the page as soon as my eyes finished rolling." Gimme a break! No offense, but comments like this are exactly what Josh Love addresses in his essay. The purpose of criticism is to elucicate, describe, put in context, analyze. It doesn't matter if the band's on Clear Channel radio or if you read about'em first on Pitchfork. Missy Elliott is as worthy of discussion as Surfjan Stevens and the Shins.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 06:13:30 PM by AlfredSoto:
 "others, like the one on Prince's Sign 'o' the Times, focuses really heavily on personal feelings. So, I was a bit off-base to call them all "hard-biting analysis"" What are you talkign about? Only the first and last chapters rely on "personal feelings." Matos actually does a song-by-song analysis, nuts and bolts, even listing alternative track listings!
Posted 07/28/2005 - 06:44:46 PM by bassman08:
 Xop - maybe a bunch of other publications out there have talked about Orange Juice, but they are still far enough under the radar that when you go around and ask your averege American college kid (believe me, I've tried...that may be bacause my school, Hillsdale, is sort of a musical wasteland, but still...) who Orange Juice is you'll probably just get a blank stare and some sort of smartassed, too cool comment like "Uhh, I drank it for breakfast at the cafeteria this morning..." And yesterday when I bought the album (from iTunes, the only place to get anything by them in the US thus far) was the first time I had even heard any of their music. And I really enjoy Stylus' features, BECAUSE of the fact that they tell you about stuff you've never heard of, like CCM, The Sound Of Young Scotland, and Tiger Bear Wolf. Not to mention the Top Ten (which are always fucking awesome) and the playing God, ect. (One of the best things I think I remember reading on here was the huge-assed Fugazi piece, "A MIssion To Never Agree" - awesome stuff, more about Fugazi than I thought was possible). In general I would say I look to Stylus over Pitchfork for everything except news (where, I must say, Pitchfork has the big upper hand). Reviews for both are hit and miss. Either way, I think that both are important for those who are actually looking for certain music that you would never see anywhere else.
Posted 07/28/2005 - 09:21:52 PM by whiteboysushi:
 AlfredSoto: Just for the record, that example I gave has exactly *nothing* to do with my current attitude towards music, so don't assume I'm some sort of EVIL, UNREPENTANT ROCKIST. All I'm saying is, indie webpages trying to jump on the pop-music-reviewing bandwagon accomplish nothing except to dull the unique voice that they bring to the table and end up lost in a sea of bland pop music criticism that is relevant to no one except the authors. That's why I used the example of myself 4 years ago, when I was first starting to get into 'indie' music: if all the review sites I had found then had been like Pitchfork and Stylus are now becoming (which is to say, obsessed with maintaining their pop cred) (and, yes, I think I just fell in love with the phrase "pop cred"), I wouldn't have embraced them as thoroughly. This is because, quite frankly, I would've been more than a little bored. "Oooooh, look, a music reviewer with an opinion on Eminem! Now THERE'S something you don't see everyday..."
Posted 07/29/2005 - 04:51:06 AM by acid_puppy:
 I dunno about all that whiteboysushi. Granted, you can find coverage on 50 Cent just about anywhere, but for the most part, mainstream coverage (Rolling Stone, MTV etc.) is going to be brown-nosy simply because the writer doesn't want to rock the boat/lose his job. And there are plenty of stories out there of critics being fired from Rolling Stone (for example) because they didn't "respect the artist" in a review. On the other hand, you have websites like Stylus and Pitchfork are restricted by any corporate/populist agendas, and can review/discuss the popular artist/song more honestly. I really appreciate that and greatly enjoy reading what someone who enjoys the same underground bands as i do thinks about Missy Elliott or 50 cent.
Posted 07/29/2005 - 04:53:20 AM by acid_puppy:
 "On the other hand, you have websites like Stylus and Pitchfork are restricted by any corporate/populist agendas." err, that should read 'Pitchfork, who are not restricted by". You guys really need an 'edit post' option on this site
Posted 07/29/2005 - 07:03:34 AM by vinegar:
 There are NO facts when it comes to critical analysis. Everything is subjective. Reviews always and only reflect the thoroughly subjective opninions of the reviewer. Reviews only make sense as literature (i.e., wanking). If you want to know what the *general* opninion is about an album, read several reviews. If you want to know if it's any good, listen to it yourself. Reviews are not consumer info, like test results of a new kitchen utensil. They cannot be, by their very nature. They can however *pretend* to be, and that's where it all goes wrong.
Posted 07/29/2005 - 09:29:22 AM by wmdavidson:
 vinegar, are you saying all scholarship in music history/theory is bogus? There are plenty of factual, objective things that can be said about a piece of music.
Posted 07/29/2005 - 10:08:51 AM by bassman08:
 I hate realitivists. Extetentailism too. Just thought I would throw that out there as pertains to this discussion.
Posted 07/29/2005 - 10:45:47 AM by j-bags:
 vinegar, I think you're right to point out that a reviewer's subjective viewpoint will always color any review written, but there's always an objective factor, in any review: the music itself. cwperry pointed this out earlier; R.E.M.'s sound is not subjective opinion, it's an objective fact. The description will certainly always be more or less subjective, but the bottom line is, everyone's listening to the same music. The subjectivity of any review is a given, and should be acknowledged, but that's no excuse not to try to give an objective description of what the music sounds like. Isn't that what reviews are for, most basically? To give the reader an idea of whether they might like a given piece of music, based on how it SOUNDS? Maybe mp3 blogs do this more effectively than conventional reviews, but the purpose is really the same. This post (and the whole thread, really) has strayed pretty far from the point of the original article, but I think the two are pretty closely related. The problem with indie and the problem with criticism both stem from some people forgetting that we listen to music to enjoy it. Historical context and meaning plays into that enjoyment for a lot of people (especially those who read Stylus etc.), but the bottom line is, everyone listens to some particular music because they like the way it sounds, and reviews are meant to be a guidepost to that sound.
Posted 07/30/2005 - 08:40:06 AM by DomPassantino:
 6 more comments to beat your Eminem record Josh!
Posted 08/02/2005 - 12:07:17 PM by bendsinister:
 In a magazine a read recently, there was not one, but two reviews of Beck's newest album. One reviewer gave it a respectable review and the other disliked it for precisely the same reason that it was appreciated. "What a delightful way to show a reader the ins and outs of such a hyped record! I wish it were a mainstay; having two reviewers give seperate reviews (and NOT debate, mind you), disagreeing yet being honest about the objective content on the record" I thought. I have never been disappointed when a reviewer gives their opinion, despite whether or not I agree. The difficulty with reviews is the mire, the dregs you often have to slop through. The first two paragraphs of almost every review I've read online are verbose allusions to absurd, vague and often inneffective characteristics of the artist or album at hand. Why! Why do I have to glean an opinion from a reviewer! Why do I have to read airy metaphors about how a sound reminds one of the air above Kubla Khan's stately pleasure dome! What does that mean! Give me an opinion and the facts, from there I can make MY review, which is far more important to me than any reviewer's. Josh Love seems to think is job a bit more important than it is.
Posted 08/02/2005 - 03:49:39 PM by cwperry:
 bendsinister: when Dylan's Blood on the Tracks came out in '75, Rolling Stone ran two side-by-side reviews of it. I like that idea, too.
Posted 08/05/2005 - 02:13:41 AM by Travis_Parker:
 I love the idea of side by side reviews, as long as they don't mirror eachother. Well, if it's two people reviewing Ok Computer or Kid A or some other universally outstanding album, then I guess it's tolerable. My big brother and I are starting up a site, and eventually we'll have a team of reviewers big enough that it won't be just me and him writing reviews, so we can have more than one review per album. That's the plan. I mean, you put up Wilco's "A Ghost is Born" with whoever reviewed it on Pitchfork's staff (6.6 grade) to the reviewer who reviewed it on Stylus and the exact same elements become attractions or detractions. I agree with Pitchfork, and I do enjoy the second half better, but the two against eachother provides better perspective on the album. I think it'd be sweet if everybody did that.
Posted 08/07/2005 - 11:27:07 AM by cleric:
 I've got to say that this is a good article about the popist/rockist issue. And i think Gavin, whiteboysushi and Travis Parker (among others) do have a strong point. First i want to address the problem of music reviews in general. Here i kinda take the popist point of view as i think that critics in general are always more or less just subjective opinions claiming to be objective. However this doesn't mean that music reviews are useless or that this insight will kill music journalism. I still like to read reviews for two reasons: First i like to read what other people think of records i love or dislike, just for the sake of entertainment and because it can induce an inward review of my opinion. Not that music critics dictate their taste on me, it's just that a good review can show you aspects of music that you hadn't noticed before and thereby influence your own opinion. Second i use reviews as a guidance to new music. When reading reviews of specific websites/magazines i can pretty much predict what to expect from an unknown piece of music and if i will probably like it. Yeah it's true that with p2p you can explore the music universe yourself, but aside from random downloading (which i also do) music reviews can lead you easily to highlights you would have probably missed by the random-method. In general good music journalism should be aware of its subjectivity and not trying to bring some universal divine truth across, but at the same time shouldn't be too personal and always be attached to the music. Now to the popist/rockist debate itself. To me, both are only the two sides of the same coin. But it seems limited to just pick one side and try to battle the other. For me it's no contradiction at all to enjoy some obscure noise rock band and something like s club seven. I value them both simply because i enjoy it, because it gives my pleasure. When i first read about that popist approach i thought it was really convincing. However the way it was "interpreted" just feels wrong. They reduced the importance of pleasure to the mere fact of chart success or lightheartedness instead of also accepting that it can be fun to enjoy something excatly for its auteurism. The way i'd love to see popism is that isn't just the other side of the coin (fun only because of catchiness on an exclusive basis) but more like the whole coin itself. Liking an artist that puts emphasis on his auteurism and artistic message and an artist (or act for that matter) which focuses "just" on the entertainment aspect at the same time is not paradox (as both paradigmatic popists and rockists suggest) but makes sense at least to me. It seems like popism became pretty much like rockism by opposing rockism in this very dogmatic way. But actually listening to rock and appreciating it for what it is, is just as much pleasure for me as enjoying (some of the better) Spears songs or Miles Davis. The problem is that popism associates pleasure with catchiness, but pleasure can also be situated in some complex bulky piece of music as long as you enjoy it. You can't measure all kind of music with such a narrowed single-minded approach like "catchy fun" not can you with "auteurism". The problem is that both sides think they represent the only objective truth and build up an artifical contradicition. So i do believe in the primacy of pleasure, but i don't believe that other music besides mainstream pop can't be pleasure. BTW: To contribute to the recent postings: I also know a magazine that does these double-reviews regularly, and they show pretty much how subjective reviews (and esp ratings) are, even though they always stay connected to the music itself. So even if you try to clinch to the objective facts, the impression of the reader can vary very widely from both reader to reader and critic to critic. So just as i stated above, claiming to be objective is just as wrong as the REM-career review on pitchfork, both because the fail to achieve a balance of subjective impressions caused by the music in the critic and the description of the music structure (or whatever you'll call it) itself. This pirchfork review in particular is very horrible because a sentence like "it's good cuz i kissed my girl" isn't even the impression of the music, it's just bullsh*t. This belongs in some online diary and not an a music review site.
Posted 08/11/2005 - 11:17:06 AM by jmaxwell:
 Cleric, excellent summation of the exact problem with popists and rockists: the failure to recognize the relative objectivity of musical tastes, and the fact that people listen to different things for different reasons, and that things can be enjoyed, and yes, "fun", for different reasons.
Posted 08/11/2005 - 11:18:22 AM by jmaxwell:
 or i should have said relative subjectivity? bah...
Posted 10/26/2005 - 06:07:35 PM by cwperry:
 If you want a perfect example of the jive type of solipsistic writing that I feel is simply poor "criticism" (not really criticism at all), see http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/g/gangoffour-return.shtml