Thursday, December 9, 2021

Saying Stuff About Things

I've been a fan of reviews, reviewing and reviewers since I was, oh, what, twelve? Thirteen? Around there. 

Some of the first things I ever had "published", in my school magazine, when I must have been that age, were reviews of singles. Singles I'd only heard on the radio, whose titles I'd misheard, something no-one ever noticed except me, later, to my own embarassment, after I saw them in print.

But you go on. You learn. You fact check and edit and make some damn effort instead of just winging it. Not that just winging it doesn't work, too. If it was good enough for Hunter Thompson and Allan Jones, it's probably good enough for the rest of us.

I was so hot on reviews I once went through every back issue of Sounds I owned to find every review and interview and op-ed Jane Suck ever wrote, so I could copy and collate and collage them all into a zine. I wish I knew what I did with it. It's somewhere.

These days you can search a lot of this stuff on the internet but it vanishes even so. Reviews can be ephemeral. Some of the best stuff, or the best known stuff, gets collected and published in actual books but most of the rest lasts about as long as it takes for the clock to go round. A bit like blog posts.

If you thought about it you'd never do it.

A good reason to point to quality reviewing when you happen upon it, something I don't do often enough. It's been a long, long time since I bought magazines or papers but I still read reviews every day of my life, on this website or that. Some of them are good. Some of them aren't. Most of them are neither.

It's only recently I've added Stereogum to my feed and generally I don't much take to the style. I used to read it years ago, before I had a feed to add anything to, back when if I wanted to visit a website I used to type the name into a search engine or at most click on something I'd saved, a favorite perhaps, and navigate back. The house style annoyed me then and it often annoys me now.

I prefer Pitchfork's much more staid, almost academic approach. Fewer opinions, more facts. Only it can be hard to review music with facts. What are you going to do? List the instruments? The studio hardware? How many hours it took to record? The street address of the manufacturing plant where they made the limited edition vinyl?

Still, I've learned a lot reading the retrospective review every Sunday, where someone explains why some old album they never mentioned before turned out to be significant or important or just good. Those are long reads, sometimes, but worth it and the way the modern world works, I can often navigate to a stream of the record in question and have it play as I read. 

That's an odd thing when you think about it. Everything folds until it touches everything else.

It was Stereogum who published the review that got me writing this, all the same. A piece without the trademark raised eyebrow, just honest, from the heart feeling, melded with insight and thought. 

Ten years ago this month Floral Shoppe, the album that birthed the vaporwave boom, appeared on Bandcamp. I knew nothing about that. It was 2011 and I was playing mmorpgs, not listening to music. I didn't find out about it for many years, not until the furore it created had long settled into a maze of memes and irony. I think I wrote about it here, once, but thanks to my own arcane titling, if I did, I can't find what I said. 

Probably just as well. Miles Bowe's review says plenty, almost all of which I either didn't know, hadn't felt or never understood. I think I only listened to the album once or twice. I like the idea of vaporwave a lot but there's too much music to dig deep into every new crevice, more's the pity.

I listened to some of it again today, having read the review, and it sounded different. It sounded, I don't know, more? That's one reason I value reviews. A good one can add. Can a bad one take away? I don't think so but opinions vary. Worth the risk, anyway.


Mostly, though, I like reviews for themselves. I like them the way I like short stories or novels or movies or songs. I like them if they move me or amuse me or entertain me. I don't need them to be true. I just need them to be good.

I don't do as much reviewing here as I'd like. Reviews are quite hard to write. You have to think. Or feel. Or work. Or all of them together. I'd rather chop out snippy little comments, fragments cut from reviews never written, nothing left but one-liners and smart remarks. Then I paste in a clip and move on. It's fun to do. It's a style of its own. 

It is lazy, though. I know it.

Reviews like the one I linked are notes to self to do better. I don't suppose I will but at least by talking about it in public I put myself on some kind of notice. 

Not that I ever listen to my own advice. Why should I be the one?

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