Leaders Of The Free World

Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2005-09-12

Posted 09/12/2005 - 07:56:48 PM by swordsman:
 Absolutely spot on. This is an absolutely superb album, their best yet, which is saying something. Just the sheer number of superb lyrics is breathtaking.
Posted 09/13/2005 - 10:28:33 AM by pabanks46:
 It is pretty good, but album of the week? You know Banhart and Sigur Ros are releasing stuff, right? Heard those? I mean, the prior week there was a comment insinuating that the AOW is somewhat contrived, and I think this pick is another example of that. Maybe Devendra or SR are obvious picks, but shouldn't the best album of the weeks get that honor, no matter how obvious it would be?
Posted 09/13/2005 - 10:37:51 AM by IanMathers:
 No, it shouldn't. Both because the idea of the "best album of the week" is incoherent and because as it's been said multiple times in the comments to these, that's not how this works. Also, Sigur Ros are boring and Devandra Banheart kind of sucks.
Posted 09/13/2005 - 01:39:50 PM by dubidet:
 Devendra not only "kind of sucks," Ian: Devendra "completely fucking sucks."
Posted 09/13/2005 - 01:44:45 PM by pabanks46:
 If Sigur Ros is boring and Devendra sucks, pray tell how Trick Daddy, Archer Prewitt, Bright Eyes, Patrick Wolf, Beck (newest is lame), Fannypack, Kelly Fuckign Osbourne, The Juan Maclean (just declared a huge dissapointment here), Herbert, and Cyne have gotten any serious consideration, much less the honor. Doesn't really make sense. All of those are either waaaay more boring or suck waaaay more than the two I mentioned.
Posted 09/13/2005 - 02:02:10 PM by DomPassantino:
 Well, none of those artist produce deathless coffee shop dirge augmented by vocals reminiscent of schoolchildren mocking the mentally disabled, so they have that up over Devandra "You may know my song from that cheese advert" Banheart.
Posted 09/13/2005 - 02:07:54 PM by pabanks46:
 Have your own opinion, but overstating it makes it seem silly. If it were so obvious that Banhart sucks, why do 4 Stylus writers out of 4 seem to see it differently? Do they like to chill to children mocking retards and tastelessly not know it? http://www.stylusmagazine.com/review.php?ID=1897 http://www.stylusmagazine.com/review.php?ID=2396 http://www.stylusmagazine.com/review.php?ID=130 http://www.stylusmagazine.com/review.php?ID=2183
Posted 09/13/2005 - 03:05:50 PM by dubidet:
 hey, pabanks, I am a stylus writer, and i think banhart "completely fucking sucks."
Posted 09/14/2005 - 02:45:33 AM by IanMathers:
 Oddly enough (a) all Stylus writers were _not_ grown in vats, hence we sometimes like different things and (b) I don't think any less of Gentry, Kyle, Ed and Rachel for liking someone I don't. It's almost as if liking or disliking certain kinds of music didn't make you a good/bad person, eh? And you can't use something like the Juan MacLean review vs. the Juan McLean PG piece against the site. I mean, you can try, but it doesn't accomplish anything. I don't want to read a site where all the writers are forced to agree with each other, and I never have.
Posted 09/14/2005 - 10:40:09 AM by pabanks46:
 Ian, Unlike Dom's super dismissive post, you simply made it clear you don't like Devendra. And I am sure this "debate," if you can call it that, falls into the "agree to disagree" pile by virtue of its unimportance, but I have a question. How can you reconcile your respect of another person's tastes, etc., with the fact that they like something you despise (or at least dislike)? I certainly like sites with different opinions, some house enthusiasts, some hip-hop connesieurs, but usually the way it works is that, despite wide ranging tastes, each writer likes different things because they look for different things in music, and the different genres offer up the qualities they're looking for in different measure. Now, that leads to who is looking for the right qualities in music, hence the rockism debate. But what about writers essentially listening to the same albums while coming from the same backgrounds? Is it truly possible, in that situation, to be ok with someone liking something that, to you, is obviously bad, or is it just an act of diplomacy on your part?
Posted 09/14/2005 - 04:39:41 PM by IanMathers:
 I don't think it's just an act of diplomacy. I think it mostly stems from my total rejection of an idea like "the right qualities in music". Basically put, I think anyone's taste is just as valid is mine - I think the idea that someone's taste can be "right" is just incoherent. I can deal with people I like enjoying music I think is peurile partly because I probably like something they think is idiotic, and nothing I've ever read, heard or otherwise experienced makes me think that there are any good grounds for claiming one of us is right and the other wrong. It's pretty tricky to refer to writers with the "same backgrounds", because as I've said before I think we often like or dislike art for wildly idiosyncratic, personal reasons (so even people who grow up listening to generally the same thing can vary widely).
Posted 09/14/2005 - 04:51:34 PM by IanMathers:
 To put it another, possibly clearer way: I have no problems with all of us violently disagreeing with each other. Just because I think your taste is as valid as mine doesn't mean I have to avoid calling what I think is crap, crap. I do have a problem when people start saying "this is crap, you are not allowed to like it" rather than "this is crap, why do you like it".
Posted 09/15/2005 - 10:44:46 AM by pabanks46:
 I agree with very much of that, especially the personal differences in experience and approach that makes it very difficult to find "the right qualities" if we agree such thing exists, which you seem to deny. But I think that, at least with people that pay attention to music at all, an obvious classic like, say 'Revolver' would be undoubtedly better than X crappy record (throw in Limp Bizkit here or whatever). I am never going to say "you can't listen" to this, and I would ask "why" to anyone that likes the Biz over whatever landmark album we could come up with. But I also happen to believe that no rational, informed person can argue that Limp's latest has more value than Revolver, and so what I'm saying is that something that seems near impossible in the middle (who is to say Tortoise is better than Mogwai, or vice versa) is readily apparant on the extremes. The A Teens simply suck, objectively speaking. So, while the extremes are easy, the relatively similar albums are very hard, but, if we spent enough time and really sharpened our critical tools and had at it, we could sort it out, or at least explain it better than, essentially, people are different. And to that extent, I am not simply allowing others to like stuff I think is crap because I want them to lend me the same leeway, but I am averring from me (hypothetical)role as critic because I am unwilling to attach any importance to my view of the music beyond an acknowledged subjective one. If all music only truly can be assesed by the reviewer to himself (a series of determinations of what I like or not), what use does it have to other informed listeners? Maybe some kid who has 15 discs needs you (us, etc.), but what about someone who is going 2000 albums strong? Wouldn't the only value criticism would have for this person be a concerted effort to create a coherant canon, alternate basis of values and a canon that develops from this alternate accordingly, and so on? Truly create a communicable value for music beyond the subjective? I dunno, rambling. Thanks for the thoughtful replies.
Posted 09/15/2005 - 11:11:48 AM by NickSouthall:
 There is an awful, awful lot of assumption going on here.
Posted 09/15/2005 - 11:12:33 AM by DomPassantino:
 Pab, I would much rather listen to The A*Teens than Tortoise or Mogwai. And "Revolver", seven times out of ten.
Posted 09/15/2005 - 12:54:03 PM by IanMathers:
 pa: No no no no no no no no no no no. There are people (as Dom has just shown) who absolutely prefer the A Teens, or whatever you want to use as an example of crap, over Revolver, or whatever you want to use as an example of quality. The former do not "simply suck, objectively speaking" because (deep breath) when it comes to music there is NO "objectively speaking". It's a myth, a phantom. Music criticism is NOT the process of slowly sorting everything into a huge, "objective" canon. Acknowledging this does not take away from your "role" as a critic. I mean, there is NO "communicable value for music beyond the subjective"; we've been looking for it for centuries, and it's not there. We have to find something else to do instead.
Posted 09/15/2005 - 01:16:31 PM by pabanks46:
 Even if the love for A*Teens was not facetious, that says nothing to what I'm saying besides that persons with presumably sophisticated knowledge of recorded music can make mistakes. Also, you said what the role (in quotes for you) of critics was NOT, but did not offer an alternative. What purpose beyond (simplified) do critics serve besides "I like this/dislike this, (sometimes offering reasons), maybe you will"? If there is no objective nature to music, and the critic is tied to only communicating either the elements (this has piano, synths, break-beats, etc.) or subjective emotions (this made me feel sad), how can criticism be anything but a public study of self? On the other hand, assuming arguendo that ultimately there are no objective traits to discuss and rank, etc. in music, isn't it better to act in that way rather than the current mode of "anything goes, anything can be good to somebody"? Despite our (so-far) inability to find a universal quality shared by all good music, or to backtrack, a loose definition of a "good music," what has lead to such uniformity of potential candidates, such as honesty, creativity, dedication to craft, etc.? I dunno... I feel its a sign that we, while not yet there, have a loose, shared conception of what makes music "good" and that this, by necessity, would exclude certain music as "bad."
Posted 09/15/2005 - 01:38:58 PM by J_R_K_:
 here's my thoughts on why music reviews matter. hypothetical example, try to stay with me here: lets say you work in a music studio after quiting your real job since you really love music. in the studio you don't sit around on the internet reading articles and arguing with others about "-isms" or whatever. you don't hear new music besides what comes in the studio since you are broke, generally to tired/broke to go to shows cuz you are working 12-14 hour days, 6 days a week or so. you'd be considered lucky to have the oppurtunity to work that much in a good studio- even though you are still an 'intern' and not getting paid well, but you are doing the full-time work. pretend you are still with me. it's basically what most behind the scenes people do for a good number of years. here's why music reviews or keeping up on the bands would help out. lets say there's two bands coming in to record in the next month and you are rewarded the oppurtunity to assist on one of the sessions. you've never heard of either band, neither has anyone in the studio. band number one, is like lovedrug. band number two is kasabian. these studio people will not have any clue about where to go for info either. when you say NME they think it is 'enemy'. so if they just google lovedrug or kasabian, the first articles they see will probably be what they would decide upon, if they were even interested enough. most of the time they end up working on sessions unaware of the band's status, which is actually probably a good thing. but just showing that there is a real-life non "oh this record is better than this record" use for reviews.
Posted 09/15/2005 - 05:31:49 PM by wmdavidson:
 I think for criticism to be valuable, there has to be at least some consensus and shared knowledge to serve as the starting point of the dialogue. One such consensus could be that the Beatles' contribution to music is more valuable and important than Limp Bizkit's, or whatever. An individual can disagree, and they are not wrong, but it also doesn't invalidate the consensus or make it less useful. The alternative is every individual having their own personal truth but no shared language with which to relate to and dialogue with the truths of others. And isn't that what we're all here for?
Posted 09/15/2005 - 07:03:25 PM by iainrf:
 I absolutely hate the idea that someone's taste is a 'mistake' because it goes against convential wisdom, or indeed because it doesn't. And a lack of objective good or bad music doesn't render critics irrelevant as pa suggests. First, have you never enjoyed a review despite disagreeing with it? Great writing can be enjoyable to read for its own sake, perhaps in being so it may be a 'public study of self' but what's wrong with that? Descriptions of the music and what someone feels about it are a lot more useful than supposedly objective claims for how it fits into the canon anyway, and the best way of finding useful reviews if you wish to use them for recommendations is to find a reviewer who agrees with you over time on most records (John Earls on Planet Sound for me who I can rely on almost without fail to love albums I do and vice versa!). I guess that you would think the same but claim that such a reviewer was closer than anyone else to being objectively right, but it seems somewhat arrogant to effectively say therefore that you are above mistakes. Getting from this argument back to the review, I really love it because it does a great job of summing up what makes Elbow so special to me.
Posted 09/16/2005 - 01:12:22 AM by IanMathers:
 "What purpose beyond (simplified) do critics serve besides "I like this/dislike this, (sometimes offering reasons), maybe you will"?" Absolutely none at all. Criticism, fandom, whatever is a discussion - critics are just one more voice. I have an essay coming up for Stylus this month where I talk more about this, so I'll leave it for now. J_R_K_: As soon as the critic starts writing for someone else, even the poor bastard in the recording studio, they might as well stop. Like every other writer. iainrf is pretty much right, and I'm not just saying that because he said something nice about my writing (although thanks!). We place too high a premium on being able to agree with our critics. One of my problems with pa's view (not trying to villify you, pa, but you've been a vigorous and eloquent opposition so you get to be the example) is that it treats criticism as a means to an end rather than an end in itself, as all art is.
Posted 09/16/2005 - 01:13:28 AM by IanMathers:
 And to respond more directly to one of wm's questions: I see no reason why we can't have personal truths, or at the very least personal canons, and yet share a language.
Posted 09/16/2005 - 02:22:44 AM by pabanks46:
 I will reply at length when I am in a better state, but I feel obligated to make note that the trouble I have with your (Ian's) view is that I agree with it. In other words, I agree that music criticism, at its best, is actually an art in and of itself. The greatest critics of music indeed to create vistas, emotions, colors, VISUALS for the rest of us that are both communicative of musics' power in general as well as musics' personal impact. I agree with all of that. My trouble, however, is that, beyond my love of music and criticism of it, is that criticism, in its role of proselytizer to the unititiated, DOES NOT serve music but exists on its own level. My trouble with criticism is, thus, what does criticism do to FURTHER MUSIC? I truly feel we can communicate to one another by expressing the impact and effect that a particular piece of music has had on us. However, the basis for all this posting has been my inability to see how we can DIRECTLY serve music by writing our own critiques of it. That is, unless, we are doing it to organize and categorize it so that future generations, and the less intiatiated of us, may be able to more efficiently get to the core of music. If THAT was our goal, perhaps we can expedite listeners' journey towards enlightenment/self discovery, etc., (simple joy) that music ultimately represents. To not be so confusing: I want criticism, because I so greatly enjoy it alongside music, to serve an objective tangible purpose: the preaching of the joy of great music. To do this, in my humble opinion, very well could lead to designating some music as expendable, and other music as crucial. I don't know. I've continually said I don't know. For me, however, it is disconcerting to think that it is possible, no matter the extent to which I've provided context or meaning to a work, that a listener cannot be fundamentally changed upon listening to OK Computer, Loveless, or more obscure albums like Downward is Heavenward of Fantastic Planet. Whatever, thanks for the great discussion. I'm excited to see what you think.
Posted 09/16/2005 - 10:49:19 AM by wmdavidson:
 Ian, the reason I disagree with you is summed up nicely in pabanks' most recent post: the substance and utility (as opposed to the pure entertainment value of the prose) of criticism is derived from value judgments. Value judgments that are widely agreed upon become the basis for further judgments, and the canon is built and passed on to new listeners. Yeah, toes will get stepped on at times. But without those judgments criticism loses its utility as the arbiter of another art form, which is what sets it apart from poetry or prose fiction or whatever else. Critics have to be unafraid to say "A is more valuable than B, and here's why," and not dilute that with the qualifier "but it's just my opinion alone, and therefore meaningless to you" for their writing to be useful as an arbiter.
Posted 09/17/2005 - 08:05:54 PM by ieatseeds:
 As I tumbled through this extremely postmodern discussion, I realized the absolute most frustrating aspect of music and music criticism, like Ian said, basically there are no answers. It's entirely subjective as everything in this world is and the fact that we can have these sort of discussions about previous discussions of albums that forty thousand people already had is just a glorious thing ... and something to truly appreciate. I also have to highlight my favorite quote from this hear discussion -- because it was extremely touching and eloquent and I just might away message it: "I see no reason why we can't have personal truths, or at the very least personal canons, and yet share a language."-Ian Mathers. I love you!
Posted 09/18/2005 - 06:58:37 PM by srkenney:
 Awww... when I see 25 comments for a band I absolutely fucking LOVE, I hope to see 25 comments of tongue in Guy Garvey's ass. Discussing Devandra Bern-whatever? Disappointing. Shame on you all for sullying what should be a celebration of a great new album.
Posted 09/19/2005 - 04:20:49 AM by IanMathers:
 Critics have to be unafraid to say "A is more valuable than B, and here's why," and not dilute that with the qualifier "but it's just my opinion alone, and therefore meaningless to you". Full stop. _Not_ because their writing needs to be useful as an arbiter (I know you don't mean that in a bad way, wm, but the idea makes me feel queasy). I absolutely reject the idea of criticism as "the arbiter of another art form", mostly because I feel that sort of arbitration is impossible. I do think I'm probably closer to you guys than you'd assume, though. This review is about to leave the main page, but I've really enjoyed this and (1) I'd certainly love to hear more from you guys via email if you think there's much to say and (2) I think we might pick back up with my music criticism essay. And ieatseeds, that really does mean a lot to me. I do think there are areas of life, knowledge, what have you that are absolutely not subjective, but art will never be one of them.
Posted 09/19/2005 - 01:44:43 PM by J_R_K_:
 ian - i think you mis-interpreted my comment about why music reviews matter. who cares what is being written for the person in the studio- that wasn't the point at all. i'm not saying music reviewers should be conscious of their audience, much in the same way that musicians should not be conscious of what reviewers would think when they create music. i'm just saying there are concrete examples of where music reviewing has purpose, and not just "oh maybe i'll buy that".
Posted 10/28/2005 - 09:57:12 PM by RAJtafari:
 The only person I agree with here is srkenney, well done mate for getting to the point. Look, look, look, THIS IS ABOUT ELBOW, ok? Now go and post your comments on some forum somewhere and give this band the credit they deserve. From a personal point of view, I too saw 28 comments about this great, great, I love it, album, and what did I find? Yeah you guys arguing the toss about who's right or wrong and not getting any. Now get real, talk about the album. Elbow deserve, much, much more praise than they get, and they just get used and abused, used as conduits for slagging and bragging. Don't do it. Anyway, does anyone has any positive comments about 'Leaders of the Free World'? Class 'A'.