Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Ethan's interview with Stanley Crouch, David R. Adler's review of Crouch's compilation Considering Genius, and various other bits and pieces spurred this line of thought.

Much has been made of the Internet bestowing the privileges of mass media to anyone who has the mere seconds it takes to register an account, especially in the wake of Idolator's rogue Jackin' Pop extravaganza. Much of it has been a pity party from mainstream media, decrying the fact that indeed everyone now has the power to be a critic, or gatekeeper, or kingmaker, or whatever self-inflating pundit term may be coined the future. But when many mainstream critics have ossified in their tastes, is it really such a bad thing to have a burst of new voices?

Reviews should take the music (or film/production/play/etc) on its own merit, and the ideal critic is one who is as transparent and as catholic as possible. Much of music has a goal, whether it be programmatic music or a concept album (or both), and the best reviews should aptly demonstrate whether it succeeds or fails at achieving said goal. Nate Dorward's rules of reviews are ones I attempt to follow. In my small portfolio of published reviews, I think I've only ever panned a couple of artists here, and I view those as neophyte and immature mistakes. (I still stand by some of the opinions though - you can't call twenty minutes of the same damn thing two different tunes, unless they're parts I and II. Sorry.)

But it's scathing diatribes that bring the audiences and sell the magazines, which is why IAJE will intentionally pit Bob Blumenthal against Christian McBride; it's why people still talk about Pitchfork's over-the-top reaction to a mundane album; and it seems to be the only reason Down Beat still has the Hot Box. Anyone who's read DB for any length of time will know that John McDonough usually doesn't want to have anything to do with free improvisation or electronics (heaven forbid it should be free improvisation WITH electronics); and that John Corbett will praise anything with hefty amounts of "crazy experimental freedom." Jim Macnie and Paul de Barros are the more moderate voices in the box. But as a reader, I don't even look at McDonough's and Corbett's reviews for substance anymore: I know their tastes and I can tell just by the artist and/or label whether they'll like the record or not. Arthur Kaptainis of the Montreal Gazette makes it abundantly clear, in nearly every new music review he's forced to pen, that he feels it's a chore to attend concerts made up of music post-Schoenberg. Again, as an educated reader, I know exactly what to expect if it's a new music review with his byline. And I feel sorry for the readers whose only exposure to this music is through superficial tripe.

Writers like Crouch, whose biases precede them, get in their own way and in the way of their subjects. Crouch's reputation for "driving the thresher," and his acute ability to entirely miss the point, overshadows the majority of his contribution to the critical canon. And I welcome the opportunity blogging has given the unexpert critics, in the form of passionate listeners and musicians, to level the playing field, so that if major critic X didn't like this weekend's new music premiere, there's just as much of a chance via one's search engine of choice to find a review that maybe, for once, addresses the music. Blogs (for the most part) don't have to answer to editorial mandates or advertising dollars, and that's truly liberating for honest and respectable criticism.

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