#2 Review Theory

I could lecture forever about the economics of music taste– indeed, I think there are people who subconsciously seal themselves into narrow musical cells just because they cannot afford being record collectors.  My best buddy from high school got me into metal.  Around the turn of the century he got into nu-metal, and it’s like his music tastes got flash-frozen at that moment.  I doubt it’s because of how great nu-metal is.  I was deep into death metal by then, and my man wouldn’t give it the time of day.  I swear he just didn’t want to buy new C.D.s.

Of course, after more reflection, I suspect that isn’t the real reason he rejected death metal.  He was raised by fairly strict, rural Protestant parents and I think some of DM’s lyricism and imagery may have rubbed him the wrong way.  It’s not that I subscribe to a Marxist perspective on music and religion that sees both as economic effects rather than causes, but the three things are very much linked.

My friend’s questionable music taste– oops, I mean the question of my friend’s music taste– doesn’t address the matter of how some expensive bodily experiences are all but mandatory for breaking through to more exclusive musical terrain.  Finding a gritty inner city warehouse party (or better yet, the Mother of Raves, seen below) and imbibing various magical elixirs (elixirs with a capital “E”) is virtually the only way an initiate will acquire a taste for the electrochymical experience of underground dance music.

Photo: Michael Troutman/www.dmtimaging.com

Photo: Michael Troutman/www.dmtimaging.com

But your socioeconomic status, and whether you stream or steal your music to inflate the amount you are exposed to, should be largely irrelevant to any considered approach to mining the rich veins of metal and rock.  See, the painful reality is that not much of it is actually good, but rather what miners would call “tailings”, the useless rock.  Most of us should be able to build a collection of canonical works even living paycheck-to-paycheck.  To me, this warrants the decades of painstaking research I described in my last post– and even then, I have admitted to occasionally getting lost on my way to the Mother Lode.  But you know what?  I bet every one of you reading this will at least agree that there is not that much great music, at least relative to the total amount of music created since the 50s.

Sometimes, sitting at work, feeling frustrated and impotent, I search for answers to questions that bug me, like–

 How did “clean singing” ever become an accepted vocal style in the 00s?

Why is the heavy metal music press so stupid?

Why do metalheads feel the need to only like one genre of music?

Why does rock suck so bad these days?

No, seriously, I have entered those things as google searches and found some thought-provoking essays and articles.  In relation to the question “why is there no good rock music anymore”, I encountered a gem from the Baltimore City Paper.  The writer paints a familiar scenario:

Where’d all the rock bands go?” your ding-dong of a friend’ll ask you as he pulls the ghost of Jimmy Page’s peen out of his mouth and climbs across the recliner to crank up the stereo and get the Led out a little louder. You’ll put down your vape and answer, patiently, “There’s … {list of bands}

The valiant scribe then touts some bands that recently played or were about to play in his area.  Just trust me when I say that Zep is not in danger of being knocked from their throne.  Nonetheless I loved the article, not least because I immediately recognized myself as the character with Page’s peen in his mouth (a peen is some kind of Page-branded smoking accessory, no?).  Sometimes, watching someone misunderstand a question is infinitely more interesting, from a sociological standpoint, than any answer could be.

If you have ever been young, and out in the country on a summer night, stars and fireflies twinkling, drinking wine and blasting Zep so loud that you rile up every dog in a two mile radius as you stand exalted in the middle of the best love affair of your life, you will understand why listening to Sleater-Kinney is not a satisfying substitute.  “Art” only occurs at that alchemical junction of subject and object. If either subject (you) or object is insufficiently enriched, the art can’t happen.

This brings me to my theory on music reviews.  If I’m not mistaken, most music critics and bloggers have exactly zero musical training, at least in terms of formal music education.  I’m not sure how many even know how to read music.  But you know what?  It’s okay (the critics who are budding musicians themselves are even worse, on account of the hater-aid).

On computer and gaming threads on-line it is customary to list your hardware “rig”  as part of your signature.  This information is helpful, because a lot of problems arise from mismatches between hardware and software.  By knowing what kind of graphics processor someone else is working with, it gives you a better idea of whether she can help you or even relate to your question.

On rock and metal reviews, wouldn’t it be useful to know whether the reviewer listened to the subject album on a real stereo, or if he listened to it on shitty ipod headphones?  How about a list of individual components and speakers as a preface to the review?

And where and when did he listen to the album?  Was he sitting in traffic on his way to work on a dreary December morning, or flying down the highway in June?

How about drugs?  Might it not be relevant to a discourse on the outer reaches of technical death metal to know what drugs the reviewer recommends?  I mean, this may be a no-brainer (weed is almost always going to be the answer anyway), but let me tell you, there are enhancers for the enhancers.  [DISCLAIMER.  KIDS:  stay in school and don’t do drugs, even weed.  Seriously.  You don’t know how good you have it.  Enjoy being a kid.  You literally have the rest of your life to do drugs, and you will have a much better first year of getting high if you wait until after you finish high school and move out.  Trust me, it’s worth the wait.]

Finally, I want to know a little about the reviewer himself.  I want context.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  How old is he?  Has he drunk deeply from the well of life, or is he a reclusive shut-in?  Does he live in the city or the country?  What other kinds of music does he listen to?  And if the reviewer is going to dismiss something without any real justification, let’s see what bands he thinks are good.  Let’s see him put his own favorites on the line.

If you look at metal magazines today, you almost never see the reviewers talking about guitar solos.  It’s like these guys are essentially nu-metal fans that traded their nu-metal for droning shoe-gaze black metal.  I don’t know how you talk about metal without talking about some cock-rocking guitar solos once in a while unless you really hate the genre’s rock & roll origins.  That kind of biographical information would be helpful for the reader.

The very idea of reviewing music is an absurd act (in a good way). Not because music taste is subjective, but because describing music in English is ultimately futile.  Let music criticism be fun and interesting.  Every album review should be an opportunity to discuss sex, drugs, rock & roll, and audiophile nerdery.  Let me see your raw intelligence and creativity shining through your sparkling or provocative writing style.

In fact, in amateur on-line music reviews, we may find a rare example of form truly trumping substance in a fruitful way. Lacking any authority by way of association with an accepted publication, and likely lacking formal education in music theory (and certainly lacking the ability to replicate the actual experience of hearing the music), the author has but one tool– her skill at weaving her own soulful experiences and passion into a belief that the reader can buy into.

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