Here’s the thing about trying to write about music.
It’s a secondary art form. It’s a reaction. Sure it’s creation, but music criticism is the sauce to the steak (or hamburger) that is the music itself. The steak can go on even without the sauce, but you can’t feed yourselves spoonfuls of A1 and call it dinner.
That brings me to the story that I want to tell, instead of writing a gloriously meta-post about the state of music criticism (btw, how come I feel like I can predict how Pitchfork media is going to rate an album before I even load the review? I’m just sayin), or how critics really don’t mean shit, because music is subjective and blah blah blah.
Music is about experience, right? That’s why we cling to the tunes that defined our formative years so tightly, when we had both the time and emotions to form an emotional attachment to certain songs, albums and artists. As an adult, I just don’t have that time, but I realize that music criticism is personal (of course) but also contextual. And I don’t mean the context of the place where the album is being heard (though that’s part of it), but the context of the writer’s life itself. That refers me to my earlier point about Pitchfork. I know how they’re going to rate certain shit, because they have an organizational culture that attracts certain types of writers, and promotes certain types of thinking.
Years ago, there was a skateboard magazine called Strength. And dear God, I loved that magazine more than life itself (not true), not only for its skate content but for the music section. For a while, I felt like the writers and I shared a musical interest, so I could ride with their recommendations without thinking too hard on it. If they liked an album, chances were high that I was going to be into it as well. It was completely cultural.
Now, I’m old. I don’t have the resources of youth, nor the safe cultural home of a place like Strength magazine to safely guide me through the minefield of the musical landscape. (Some internet guys should do something about that BTW). And think that’s part of the reason why I shut down to a lot of new music. Fuck man, I don’t have the time to objectively process this album. I’m not able to sit in my room, stoned, think about the universe and fall asleep to the gentle rhythms of your fifteen minute long hidden track. Nor am I falling in and out of love with a different girl every week to that album, and associating (strongly) the emotions of that time to the love song that serves as the album’s centerpiece.
What I’m saying is… past a certain age, you have to put faith in the writers who get paid to suss out what you can’t afford to do to yourself. Without a strong feeling of what that writer’s personal preferences are, I think it’s easy to get led down the wrong path and still wind up wasting your time (and money). Maybe someday that will be fixed. Or, at least I’ll find a site where I seem to share the tastes of the writing staff.