I can truthfully that say I never thought I’d be doing this. Starting a “blog,” I mean. I’m not sure whether it’s out of some regrettable machismo or just my usual misanthropic cynicism, but even the word “blog” gives me pause. I cringe, and I struggle to say it aloud. What a vapid thing to do, I thought, to start a blog. To be so deliriously self-possessed as to actually think that other humans will not only care enough about what you have to say to look at your blog, but care so much that they read entire posts, and, god-forbid, actually engage with you. It’s not that I considered myself above the format; on the contrary, I considered the format to be below everyone, and that anyone indulging in it was merely masturbating and should be ashamed of such a public display of narcissism. Clearly, I was not a fan.
Those that I surround myself with are well aware that there is nothing I enjoy doing more than eating my own words. I know that seems “bullshitty,” but it’s true. If I realize that I am wrong about something, I revel in admitting it. Why? Because most times, it means there is a whole new world for me to enjoy that I had previously, foolishly closed myself off from. The first instance of this I can really remember is when I finally admitted that I did, indeed, really dig that first The Academy Is… record, despite my public diatribes to the contrary. I know that seems trivial and silly, but looking back on my friends and I raucously singing along to that record in our basements brings me joy, and reminds me how extraordinarily important open-mindedness really is. Over the past year, I have allowed myself a similar shift in my attitude toward blogs.
My aversion to blogs was rooted in a deep trust that I had in what I considered to be “real” music news sites that were seemingly unbiased and honest. “This band put up this song, listen to it here,” or, “This band is going on tour with these bands, here are the dates.” Simple and easy. In my mind, bloggers were subverting and polluting this sacred formula with their opinions. If a band put up a new song, I didn’t care if the poster thought the song was good – it only mattered if I did. While I still hold this stance, a marked decrease in the quality of the material being posted to the sites I once followed and trusted has caused me to reappraise the value of the blogger. Don’t get me wrong – I still don’t care what the poster thinks, but I DO care that she/he DOES think. With no deadlines and no one to answer to, independent bloggers are bringing passion back into music journalism. No tight-rope walking. No advertising. No dependence on labels for exclusive content or press releases.
Most music articles are painful to read. There’s no research. There’s no honesty. Every band’s upcoming album is penned as their “Best Album Yet!” ROLLING STONE ACTUALLY CALLED THE BLACK KEYS’ TURN BLUE THEIR BEST ALBUM YET. Why? Because doing otherwise would be professionally dangerous. Because major record labels are powerful and, in this day and age, desperate (not a good combination). Because putting THE BLACK KEYS RELEASE AVERAGE ALBUM on your cover doesn’t sell magazines. And yes, I understand that I am painting with broad strokes here. My goal with this post is not to completely disparage these people, but to explain why I hope (with YOUR help) to add my voice to the dialogue. I zealously believe in the need to get stricter before we’re drowning in below-average “art.” As Patrick Costello of Dillinger Four has tattooed in bold letters across his chest – “How much art can we take?”
The smaller, alternative “scene” I am, by default, a part of isn’t doing much better. While an appreciable amount of truly great music is being produced, label rosters are growing over-saturated with unoriginal, mediocre bands that are still able to move records because they’re pressed on “pretty colors.” Now, I fully support the resurgence of vinyl as the dominant physical music format, and if I said I didn’t take my collection seriously, I’d be lying. But I am also realistic enough to admit that at least 10% of my collection is comprised of pretty pieces of vinyl by bands I hadn’t heard of prior to the album’s announcement. I’d stream the attached song, convince myself I liked it (or would at least learn to), and clicked “Add to cart.” The overwhelming majority of collectors/reviewers I follow on various forms of social media would never admit this. Instead, they’d rather convince themselves, “It’s a decent album, shows potential, I’ll go back to it, I definitely didn’t compulsively waste $15.” This is stupid. And perpetuates the mistake. And, even worse, convinces mediocre, and therefore extraneous bands that they’re actually doing something worthwhile. These are bands that would otherwise have been filtered out if labels were sparser with signings.
A big part of this issue involves reviews. While I take no issue with grading systems (i.e. letter grades, the 5-star system, or my personal choice, a percentage grading), I take supreme issue with how lax these systems have become. One reviewer I shall leave nameless has given THREE records a 100% rating, when the notion of a perfect record shouldn’t even be considered attainable. Could you be any more subjective than giving a record a perfect score? These delusions and justifications need to finally be found lacking. If a better system doesn’t exist, than we can at least try to inject the current ones with some pragmatism. The reviews I write and post to this blog will reflect this strictness. For example, earlier this year, a young band called Somos released a record called Temple of Plenty, which I adore. I spin it often, even months later, and I genuinely enjoy singing along to it. The band brings a mature sound and direction to pop-punk that most of their peers are lacking. I saw them live. Who knows, maybe the record could even end up on my Top Ten of 2014. And yet, here, Somos’ Temple of Plenty wouldn’t receive higher than a 60%. Why? Just because I love this record doesn’t mean it’s a truly great one. It’s nothing revolutionary or overly clever, and lyrically, it’s pretty average. Just because it scratched a certain catchy itch of mine doesn’t mean I can, in good conscience, give it a 90%. Such pervasive subjectivity is the problem. While pure objectivity is obviously unattainable, we can certainly do better. And I vow to. I will treat every review, both music and film, as seriously as I would a thesis, with research, resources, links, and at least an honest attempt at a sound and developed argument. My goal is for these reviews to be worthy of you. And for you to trust that what I endorse to be worthwhile actually is.
Because of this, some of these reviews may not exactly be timely. My apologies. What I offer in place of timeliness is sincerity. It has always been my greatest to joy in life to pique another’s interest in something, be it a band, a book, or a film. It’s what my three older brothers did for me – presented me with a myriad of options counter to the mainstream and let me discern for myself. Honestly, I can’t tell you what this page will look like a year from now, even content-wise. This is uncharted for me, and far outside my comfort zone. But I can tell you that I know I have something to offer. Hopefully, to you.
“All the tastemakers drinking from the same glass. Is there anyone thinking what I am? Are you restless like me?”
Laura Jane Grace // Against Me!