Re: The dream life of me

1

Reminds me of why I hate music criticism and sportswriting. Pumping up the ingenious metaphors and cute phrases week after week has to fry those guys' minds.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 10:38 AM
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I can attest to the truth of 1. Fortunately, the readership of my reviews is generally too old to care about the youthful sass required for criticism of young people's music.

Incidentally, I heard Simone Dinnerstein last night. A+++++ WOULD HEAR AGAIN.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 10:47 AM
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What is her real name?

I expected a theatre cabaret parody.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 10:54 AM
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"dinner theatre cabaret parody".


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 10:54 AM
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Reminds me of why I hate music criticism and sportswriting. Pumping up the ingenious metaphors and cute phrases week after week has to fry those guys' minds.

Me too. I can't even stand to read the stuff.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:06 AM
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There is decent music criticism in the world, you know, even for young person's music, that doesn't rely on cutesy look-at-meisms.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:09 AM
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3: Incredibly enough, it's her real name, though she pronounces her first name with three syllables (like with a schwa at the end). I think her father's name is Simon. I should add that I loved her playing despite her disturbing resemblance to one of my craziest exes.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:10 AM
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' playing.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:16 AM
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"Despite". Lets try to look behind your use of that word in that particular context, Mr. Jesus. Do you often find things happening "despite" one of your many psycho exes?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:27 AM
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Simone's father is in fact named Simon -- he's a fairly well-known artist. She's a childhood friend of my sister's, and I can testify that she's played pretty much just like that since she was twelve. It's very strange having someone you knew as a kid become famous (even in a limited setting)!


Posted by: JWP | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:29 AM
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In my defense, I first got to know her playing via a recording, so before I saw her in person. She too may be crazy as a shithouse rat, for all I know, but at least she has an outlet other than chipping away at my will to live.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:35 AM
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10: So cool! I loved this detail from a profile of her in the NYT:

Her musical personality was also striking early on, said Robert Sirota, now the head of the Manhattan School of Music. He first heard Ms. Dinnerstein at 13, when she auditioned for the high school program he administered at Tanglewood. Hearing her, he said, he and his wife burst into tears.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:38 AM
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A post-doc where I worked was the son of Sus/anne Sha/piro the harpsichordist. He had not totally good memories of the way her music dominated her life.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:39 AM
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I asked after her phone number, and was matter-of-factly denied it.

This is better than being given a fake number. Or, and this has happened to Molly and I, having someone repeatedly look you in the eye and say they will give you their number, and then never do it.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:39 AM
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Is J/ody R/osen a good music critic? Does anyone know?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:40 AM
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It's probably also worth noting that she's an incredibly nice person. Speaking of reviews, there was a balls-to-the wall rave about her on Slate a while ago.


Posted by: JWP | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:41 AM
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14: yeah, sure, but you'd think I could do better in my dreams, as the proverb has it.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:43 AM
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Any opinions on Nellie McKay? I enjoyed her YouTube video as seen on Feministe, but can't decide (even after viewing several others) whether it's enough to purchase a CD.


Posted by: BooBoo | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:47 AM
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Have you ever dreamt about two women discussing something other than you, Ben? Huh, huh?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:51 AM
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19 is funny and made me wonder where eb's gone
hope he found a good job


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 11:56 AM
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There is decent music criticism in the world, you know

But bad music critics are like the poor, they will be with you always. After our local newspaper music critic described a band--it was Dragons 1976, I think--as "emo freak jazz," I started to suspect that he was unfamiliar with the meaning of any of those three words.


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 12:09 PM
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Yeah, I have two Dragons 1976 albums, and I saw them perform once or twice at the Empty Bottle, I think, and while they are a jazz band, neither of the former two words belongs anywhere near a description of them.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 12:11 PM
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Walter Meego are quite good, though I don't like the newer stuff they have on Voyager as much as their previous EP stuff (oh shit, that sounded far too stereotypical).

They basically turned very blatently 80s pop, a little too bubblegumish, whereas their earlier stuff had more of a solid beat, was more dancepop. Probably worth seeing if only for their song "Romantic", but I don't know if they'll turn out a good crowd in SF.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 1:04 PM
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Since I didn't go to the show, which was in May, I couldn't say.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 1:05 PM
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And... yet more oh shit.

I realized that Ben's probably already seen them. Plus, I looked back at the listing and saw "with The Presets" and went "wait, wasn't that tour a while ago?". Sure enough, listings from the end of May, so I've given utterly irrelevant information. In my defence, I'm barely recovering from Becks-style last night and a still trying to track down my wallet.

But yes, longish digressions to fill up space are one of the great annoyances of music and movie criticism. Necessary column sizes can suck it on the internet.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 1:08 PM
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Nellie McKay is very good.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 2:02 PM
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But yes, longish digressions to fill up space are one of the great annoyances of music and movie criticism.

Unless you write for a newspaper, in which case the greatest annoyance is not enough space. A mere 12 column inches to sing the praises of Simone Dinnerstein? I was just getting started!


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 2:16 PM
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"Forget my psycho ex-girlfriend. Simone Dinnerstein (her real name)....."


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 2:18 PM
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Jesus has "issues," methinks.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 3:04 PM
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30

Uh, are you new here?


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 3:05 PM
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I just wanted to be able to say that Jesus has issues. Because it's a funny thing to say. TO ME it's funny.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 3:06 PM
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32

I don't see why you need to parade your vulgar Catholicism around us, though.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 3:08 PM
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Jesus most problematic issue was bratty twins, if you ask me.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 3:09 PM
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32: You *wish* I'd prade my vulgar Catholicism around you.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 3:11 PM
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I'm off to brunch, sans twins. Toodle pip!, as the courtesan (pbuh) used to say.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 3:16 PM
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So what actually makes good music criticism? Set aside people who use music criticism as an excuse for other forms of good fun, like Lester Bangs. Can you write good criticism of popular music that would be accessible to someone who doesn't know the names of a bunch of fancy chords?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 5:18 PM
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Yes.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 5:19 PM
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No.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 5:19 PM
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39

Perhaps the desired reader actually has a knowledge of production terms. That way the critic can say things like "The artist relies on double tracked vocals and heavy reverb to disguise the fact that his voice is as thin as a pencil."


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 5:26 PM
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I don't think that would be necessary for good criticism. I'd be more interested in knowing how the thing sounds than what technology got it there, except in some cases.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 5:29 PM
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This is a decent review, I thought, but I also already knew how that band sounds. This too. But then again, there you've got a sample.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 5:30 PM
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Don't listen to him, Rob! It's impossible to write good music reviews! He's leading you down a fatal path!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 5:39 PM
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Can you write good criticism of popular music that would be accessible to someone who doesn't know the names of a bunch of fancy chords?

I don't know much about music theory, and my experience is that it's really hard to write anything helpful but it can be done.

But I'm trying. I'm relatively happy with this attempt, for example, and that one actually has some useful discussion in comments.

I think this is a good example of the way in which a short, well written liner note can provide quite a bit of introduction.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 5:41 PM
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I actually think it would be awesome if someone wrote music criticism that invoked specific details (such as music theory). I have a spectator's interest in actually how musical effects are achieved, as opposed to the usual music critic's idea that talent is just slathered on top. I saw that documentary about Brian Wilson, and almost the most interesting scene in it was David Crosby's reaction when he first heard "Burnt By the Sun" and its tritone progression in the chorus.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 6:47 PM
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Pontificating further on reviewing.

I'm inclined to think that the use for which any review will be least reliable is to try to tell in advance if you will like something. A review can be helpful in making a guess, but I don't think a review should aspire to telling people whether or not they will like something. I think a review that tries to either explain what the reviewer did or didn't like, or to situate the music in some broader context is more likely to be helpful.

Generally, the times when I most appreciate music writing are when they provide vocabulary or direction for understanding a piece of music that I have already heard.

Consider a comment like this from George Starostin on The Band's debut album:

It's a grand album, in short (and while we're on that, let me point out the general, and blatant, hypocrisy in the traditional American critical school of thought which casually dismisses ninety percent of progressive rock as "pretentious" and yet has the nerve to worship these guys, whose pretensions on their own level easily match the pretensions of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman on theirs. Suckers. It's not the "pretention" that really bothers them, it's the fact that somebody dares to put too much classical influence into rock music. Ah, never mind). A grand album with enormous ambitions, and the very fact that The Band are able to pull it off and not make complete assholes of themselves is enough to demand at least some respect for the stuff.

That tells you almost nothing if you haven't heard the album but it has significantly influenced how I listen to and think about the Band. It's helpful to think about their music as grandly ambitious pop music rather than "singer/songwriter" material (not that singer/songwriters can't be ambitious, but it's a different sort of ambition).

On preview: I actually think it would be awesome if someone wrote music criticism that invoked specific details (such as music theory).

I think that is awesome, but no easier to write than any other sort of music criticism.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 7:04 PM
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46

I actually think it would be awesome if someone wrote music criticism that invoked specific details (such as music theory).

Following up on this, last week I had someone try to explain Enharmonic modulation to me, in the context of a Jazz standard. It was very interesting, but over my head. It would take a while, and a great deal of training my ear, before I could hear that in a piece of music.

So, part of what makes it difficult to discuss music in specifics rather than generalities is finding the correct level at which the reading can hear and respond to those specifics.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 7:10 PM
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I don't have much of an ear, but I'm guessing it would sound like a cheat, like the music stepped sideways at the last minute (at least to someone who listens to a lot of classical music). Dominant-seventh to tonic is the usual end progression to a passage of classical music, so this is a way of stymieing that. I bet the prelude to Tristan and Isolde uses it. (Though I'm totally talking out of my ass here, as I'm sure will be demonstrated when the other commenters quit fornicating and get back to procrastinating where they belong.)


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 7:57 PM
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48

People always disappoint you, Walt. You should just resign yourself. It gets worse.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:02 PM
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I believe such harmonic device as described in 46 is used by Radiohead on a plausibly regular basis; one finds said device very useful for swelling, "meaningful" pieces.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:08 PM
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Emerson, I left a link for you in the Borderline thread.

My perspective on music criticism is pretty much how I feel about restaurant criticism and book criticism: Any good reviewer is writing "for myself and for strangers," as Gertrude Stein said, and the sure sign of a reviewer who is writing to show off or curry favor is pretentious padding.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:13 PM
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I believe such harmonic device as described in 46 is used by Radiohead on a plausibly regular basis

I wouldn't be surprised. My point is that for me, saying that, doesn't really give me anything new to listen for in a Radiohead song. It's still abstract for me.

Obviously, for someone else, that information would be more helpful.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:23 PM
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Even if one has no pro ear, if one composes any said enharmonic dealie becomes a clever and possibly useful work-around.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:29 PM
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t t t t t t t t t t t !


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:33 PM
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Also such chord progressions are precisely signifying of (aaah I can' do i anymore no a he speed of commens i's jus oo hard. I mean I need o say "romanic composers" or "nineeenh cenury romanic works"; here's jus no work around!) you-know-who's famous works.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:34 PM
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Cut and paste. I gave you a shitload of ts.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:37 PM
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Say it! Wagner! Wagner! Wagner! We all love Wagner! We swoon for his Teutonic majesty! We yearn to firebomb Vietnamese villages while the valkyries swoop overhead!


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:37 PM
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I had a dream last night that my own father picked me up in a sports car and drove really fast while yelling at me about all the things that make me unlovable, and then dropped me off at a gas station in the middle of nowhere because he disliked me so much.

I guess this is sort of what I will expect to happen if my parents ever divorced.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:38 PM
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55: cheaer.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:39 PM
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58 enhanced: you make a mockery of my challenge, John.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:44 PM
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I guess this is sort of what I will expect to happen if my parents ever divorced.

It's nice that your mom keeps your dad from doing this sort of thing.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:45 PM
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My favorite music review was of a Dylan concert I had attended in Salt Lake City. The reviewer noted that Dylan managed a credible cover of The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man."


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:47 PM
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60: You might be kidding, but I think she actually does. He comes close, and then she reminds him how nice it is to have at least one out of two offspring still speaking to him.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:49 PM
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We did that to my sister when she was about six (drove off and left her at a gas station). She's been perfectly nice ever since.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:53 PM
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62: Sigh.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 8:54 PM
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The finest piece of pop music criticism ever writ was Robert Christgau's review of Blondie's The Curse of Blondie: "Believes in reincarnation, wishes the pope had a bigger dick."


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 9:15 PM
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The reviewer noted that Dylan managed a credible cover of The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man."

I've heard he also does that Hendrix song, "All Along the Watchtower".


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 07-20-08 9:32 PM
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40: But timbre is an important part of music, and it's even more important in popular music since the invention of rock and roll than other genres. The easiest way to describe a lot of timbre is to identify the way it is produced, naming the effects applied, talking about glottal singers, etc. If you don't do that, you are stuck with vague, wine-connoisseur like language: "The guitar tone was punchy" and warm"


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 07-21-08 8:23 AM
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67: well, except that the way things are produced is so opaque to the listener that you're actually using vague, wine conoisseur-like language anyhow.

"The droning textures are replete with echoing bells and plangent strings emerging quietly from a base of rich, basso chanting" has as much relevance to "it was made with a bunch of samples and effects pedals" as "it contains notes of currants and cardamom musk" does to "you make it from grapes".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-21-08 8:31 AM
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I know J/ody R/osen and SFJ come in for abuse in these parts, but I consistently like them. Generally, in music criticism, anyone who goes to the trouble to write a two-page article about an artist or a trend has thought about the subject enough to create an argument, and that's bound to be more interesting than the couple of paragraphs you can do based on your wine-like impressions and your encyclopedic references. I never got into Pitchfork -- are there particular reviewers there who stand out as intelligent more than intelligent-sounding?


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 07-21-08 9:20 AM
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"it was made with a bunch of samples and effects pedals"

I think this line would encompass roughly 50% of my music collection. I agree that descriptions of the sound, the composition style (verse-chorus-verse? variations on a theme? just loads of ideas thrown into a single song one after the other?), and the general feel of the work is probably the most helpful. One still tends to need to know the reviewer's taste in order to get a lot out of their reviews, or else the imprecision of the music descriptors can lead to some annoying misinterpretation of reviews.

Otherwise, comparisons to particular aspects of better-known artists or genres on the whole can also be quite useful.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 07-21-08 9:30 AM
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Also, Lipstick Traces blew my mind. With age comes the creeping suspicion that it was 2/3rds bullshit, but that won't overcome the love until the suspicion creeps to 3/4ths.

The hours I spent gazing at the picture of Emmy Hennings I will always treasure.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 07-21-08 9:33 AM
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Since I like Alex Ross, I'm better than all of you.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-21-08 9:34 AM
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Alex Ross's book was good. I haven't actually listened to any music discussed in the book, but the the book was well written.

I generally stop reading pitchfork reviews after the numeric grade. The numeric grade is real helpful in pointing to new music to try though.


Posted by: Lemmy Caution | Link to this comment | 07-21-08 11:51 AM
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45: You know I don't even know what that means.

What does it mean to say an album has "enormous ambitions"? And don't pretentious and ambitious have different meanings? For example if I filled this comment with Latin and references to Seneca and Cicero that would be pretentious. Contrastingly, if I decided not to post this comment at all and instead concentrate on doing my job and going for a promotion that would be ambitious.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 07-21-08 12:03 PM
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