The state of music criticism in 2021

Don’t care much about their reviews of new releases anymore but like that pitchfork have been revisiting old albums, lots of r&b stuff that wouldn’t have got the acclaim it deserved from white publications at the time

I like reading Wire for new releases, just pick it up every few months and spend a while reading it and listening to stuff I’ve not heard of

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In the age of the ‘so-called-expert’ it seems impossible for music critism to have a place beyond mere opinion-sharing. When people widely reject the notion of expertise as a threat to their new found right to equal opinion validity, courtesy of Twitter etc, it is hard to see how a ‘serious’ music critic fits in, outside niche, genre publications.

If we’re talking about needing to know about the taste of a critic, then we’ve surely already given up?

I think (for me) this is also very much linked to the conversation about whether or not pop/rock is (in general/on balance) a ‘serious’ art form. It seems to constantly be undermined by ‘artists’ working in the medium.

If it isn’t a ‘serious’ art form, then serious critism is a bit pointless imo.

I actually considered shifting DiS to doing coverage 3 months after a record is out, rather than the 3 month crawl from announcement to release.

We got crap for waiting a week to review one of those surprise release Radiohead albums and the traffic was pretty small when we finally ran something so probably isn’t the interest of that sort of delay.

If I hard deep enough pockets I’d definitely try to relaunch DiS with a small pool of writers reviewing one record they’re still obsessed with a few months on - like we did with our “Friday Fangasm” pieces where we’d randomly revisit a record we wanted more people to hear / reconsider.

I had planned to do a weekly email like this on Substack but I really struggled during second lockdown and with switching jobs. Still considering doing it now I have a bit more bandwidth https://drownedinsound.substack.com/

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For some it is, for others it is more about marketing and celebrity. Commonly there is a mix of both in there.

To what degree do you need to care about this, though? For any genre?

Not trying to be combative or anything. But this is something I’ve always struggled with (I’m not from an arty background, when I studied it ended up being a social science) and as I’ve gotten older I’ve found my passion for new music hasn’t diminished, but my interest in where it “fits”, if it is “relevant”, has basically evaporated.

I don’t think it helps I’m now much more aware of the extent to which journalism - even with the slight democratisation the internet had in the mid 00s - is a self serving and elitist clique that isn’t representative of either my life experience or society at large.

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I guess a lot of the reflection on albums tends to come up in mid and end year lists but those are limited in scope and reflection dependent on time since release.

I’m sure in theory your idea is a good one - at least for people who are passionate and engaged with music.

I think rushed reviews on day of release or after a few plays took away a sense of expertise expectation. The rushed assessment and yes/no 0/10 binary of “is it any good? / Is it terrible?” has removed a lot of credibility and need for writing about music. It’s one of the reasons - aside from financially not being able to sustain a reviews editor salary - we pulled the cord on DiS.

I always found it odd that the bulk of the NME staff were under 25 and still discovering music scenes for the first time. It allows for an expertise and total absorption in “the now” and fishing out brilliant things, but little sense of the historical context of whether the new thing is blatantly ripping off an older thing.

I say this as someone who started a fanzine at 16 and ran DiS from the age of 18. I was clueless but people were paying attention to our opinions but more so our recommendations - often jumping from writing about an act to putting our money where our gobs were and releasing their records.

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that I’m far more of an expert now, but less of an expert of The Now, and not as easily excited (apart from listening to Olivia Rodrigo on repeat like she’s the second coming of Rival Schools and Phoebe Bridgers or something)

I disagree with this, it holds if you assume that the sole purpose of music criticism is to tell you what’s worth listening to.
I like reading what someone’s written about an album while I listen to it, it helps me focus on the little things that I might miss

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There’s something adorably middle aged about your attempt to immitate how people talk on Stan Twitter :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

I think the ‘artist isn’t that bothered’ isn’t really true though. Lots artists (or their labels/management/whomstsoever) incentivise obsessive loyalty because it’s lucrative for them when they have shit to sell, and you get your very online fans to do a lot of your marketing for you. The more toxic elements (stan wars, harassment of people who don’t like their artist) are partly a side effect of engendering that obsessive loyalty.

Probably the largest part of it though is that a lot of these obsessive fans feel marginalised irl. They’re often queer people, nerds,and teenage girls who get looked down upon and their interests seen as frivolous trash in offline life, and I’m pretty sure the age demographic is very very young. Online they have a group of other fans to give them a sense of belonging and identity, and they collectively and anonymously have power to give shit back to other people online when they perceive their interests as disrespected.

If you’re get getting called a faggot for listening to trashy Britney Spears at school every day, or everybody at work is calling you a stinky mass shooter waiting to happen for liking Korn, it feels good to log online and talk to a load of people like you, and gang up on the people who talk shit about the stuff you like, make their life miserable and see how they like it.

Also there’s a sense of needing to defend artists when bad shit does happen to them. Brendan Urie gets knocked out on stage at Glastonbury by throwing a bottle at him, Taylor Swift gets shunted off the stage by Kanye West, Britney Spears’ entire fucking life happens to her. These kids are feeling a kinship with their faves and see the same homophobic assault or talking down to teenage girls or stripping away women’s agency happening to the artist like it does to them, so going on these big seemingly mindless mass attacks does in some way feel to them like they’re fighting directly against the shit that happens to them in their own lives.

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Ref NME et al; completely agree. Knew a lovely chap who was editor (Reviews editor? I forget) at NME and went on to be reviews editor at a posh newspaper. I had been interviewed by him, and he’d a done a feature about one of my old bands. I vividly remember him proudly stating over a beer that he knew almost nothing about music, and owned virtually no records.

I had been an obsessive reader of Sounds/Lime Lizard/etc from a young teen (in the sticks, with no exposure to bands beyond those publications and Peel) and I was genuinely shocked and not a little furious to discover that this was all a lie! These people were not aspiring MUSIC journalists. They were aspiring JOURNALISTS. I had wrongly assumed that they lived for music, just like me. Betrayal doesn’t cover it!

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I care about it fairly deeply, but I think it has slipped away so far as to be almost out of reach now.

I think Spice Girls were sort of a turning point for me; prior to that there had been (it seems to me at least) almost no overlap in the Venn diagram of serious/pap. Spice Girls came on the scene and (maybe because weird brand of commercial feminism? Who knows?) suddenly people were embracing what was clearly low-hanging pap as equal to…I dunno…anything else. Can. Faust. JAMC.

Prior to that, it seemed (to me) that it was widely accepted that there was McDonalds, and there was The Ivy. No point having a serious debate or writing a serious critique of McDonalds. We know what that is. They know what that is.

Post Spice Girls, and (IMO) definitely now, everything is equally ‘art’. Look on the boards here for evidence. Manufactured pop sits next to cutting edge…whatever.

Which is what it is, but if Steps is the same thing as Jaga Jazzist, then how can you criticise it? How can you be an expert in something while simultaneously rejecting rules/history/context/evolution?

99% of the time, this sort of view is greeted with ‘shut up, you miserable arse! It’s just pop music’ which sort of is my point.

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This was also true for a long time - well past the point at which The Beatles became critically acclaimed - in terms of classical music = serious and worthy of analysis and pop/rock = disposable and worthless.

I’m sure there are people out there who insist Beethoven is the only composer worthy of note but thank goodness they are pretty rare to come across now. I’m glad if the classic rock bores who replaced classical music bores are seeming increasingly silly tbh.

I get what you mean about The Spice Girls etc though - it’s frustrating to think that some horrible corporate marketing is presented as ‘empowering’ - but kids find their own way. Better just to enjoy the music you enjoy and ignore the hype machine. I listen to a load of droney bleepy nonsense most of the time, I’m really not going to criticise someone for liking an artist I find excruciating.

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I don’t really follow your line of thought here - taking steps to be the same thing as jaga jazzist would be exactly why it would be worth criticising (if jaga jazzist were worth criticising in the first place!).

and i don’t see why you can’t say all sorts of serious things about ‘non-serious’ music, and apparently non-serious music can be serious in lots of ways (bigger challenge is not to be boring when trying to be serious)

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It feels absurd to think of certain sounds as having more value and sophistication. The idea that the violin is more sophisticated than the guitar that is more sophisticated than the drum machine makes no sense, it’s like saying that the colour red is more sophisticated than the colour blue.

For a long time purple was rare and expensive because the dye was rare I believe, so I guess in a sense purple was more sophisticated and meaningful. Everything is context

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there should be no art only culture, get rid of imposed meaning from authority and allow people to participate in the process of meaning.

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I read absolutely loads of music writing. I think there’s a lot of merit to a traditional news → interview → album review → live review cycle. It can be really fun as a reader to follow and read along with an artist’s development in real time, especially if there’s hot takes to be had e.g. the new Lorde album. It’s all part of the fun I think. Retrospective stuff can be really good if it’s in the form of an interview with the artist revealing new stuff, but tbh I’m not arsed at all about reading someone waxing lyrical about how great this or that album is after the fact, that’s just me tho.

The other type of music writing I really like is stuff that takes an incisive look at the intersection of music, wider culture and politics, like the occasional Black Sky Thinking collum over on the Quietus

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I’m equally as incapable of making music with a drum machine or computer as I am with a violin or guitar so it’s all on a level playing field for me!

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Modern art vs children’s scrawl, innit.

You COULD criticise both as equals, but by doing so you imply something that changes inherent value and meaning in terms of how we currently look at art

I mean, there are obviously people who see a toddler’s poo as being just as viable as an artist’s unmade bed, just as there are people who see Robbie Williams as an artistic equal to Scott Walker…

Are you saying that no music is more sophisticated than any other music?

Steps and Ornette Coleman have made music of identical sophistication? That seems like a statement that flies in the face of all music theory, not to mention matters of tonality…

^ at it

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