Critical criticism


There was a time , not so long ago, where music reviews were serious business. They could make or break an artist/album. In the 90’s, a 5 mic rating from the Source was basically anointing you king. As magazines phased out, websites like pitchfork giving you a 9.2 pretty much meant you were selling out shows for the next two years. But, in the last 5 years or so , something happened. Well, to be fair, it had been happening but it started to mold how public critics were formed and how they were viewed. What happened was, obviously, the internet. Prior to the internet, the phrase “everyone’s a critic” certainly existed but it wasn’t until we were able to see every single persons every waking thought on every known topic that that phrase became a palpable reality. The playing field was evened to the point where a person who had dedicated their life to studying music/film/art and gleaned a deep knowledge in the thing they were obsessed with was all of a sudden seen as just as important a voice as some guy on youtube. Or some kid in a comment section. Just…anybody.

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Now, as a musician, i’ve always had a weird relationship with critics. It goes both ways. No one wants to hear their hard work get shit on but everyone enjoys an old critical jerk off sesh in their favor. In reality, they both share the same negative space. Good and bad reviews , on their own, are just one persons opinion and that doesn’t amount to much. They really only matter (and by “matter” i mean effect the project in discussion) when
A)a large consensus of opinion happens
B)someone of notoriety and validity gives their educated take

One thing that always mattered to me, regarding the person reviewing my music, was that they were informed. They knew what they were talking about. Not just about me but about the music that came before me and the music that came before that because it’s all connected. When I listen to music, I am filtering it through years and years of references , personal quirks, ideas and all sorts of back of the brain type shit that I’m probably not even aware of, in order for me to come to a conclusion about how i feel about it. I’m not a “critic” but , like everyone else, I am critical. About everything. As we should be. We can’t just sit back and happily ingest everything that’s thrown at us. But if your job is a critic, you better have a wealth of knowledge and massive perspective before you can start telling people your opinion on art. Otherwise, you’re just…some fucking guy. And it’s okay to be some fucking guy. But it’s also okay to not feel compelled to film a 15 minute youtube video reviewing music you have absolutely no clue about.

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Now, why am i writing this, you may ask? Well, I recently put out a new album. I’m not a big deal so my albums don’t get reviewed that often. In the past, i have gotten good and bad reviews of all types. Regardless of the reviewers reaction, if i feel they are coming from a knowledgeable place, I respect their opinion. This time around, the majority of reviews I’ve been getting have been from people who have literally never heard of me prior to this album and I just think that’s weird. The funny thing is, for the most part, the reviews have been great. Now, new fans are kinda what keep this ship going so I would never complain about someone discovering my music and enjoying it. I’m not insane. But this is about being a public critic. I realize “not trying” is a big thing now in music and it bleeds over into the other parts that surround music. Music reviews are no different. Now, if I was a guy who was trying to make a name for himself reviewing albums, I would , at the very least, do a tiny bit of research about the artist I was reviewing. perhaps check out his older work. Look into his influences. Hell, even just reading a wikipedia page. You know, do the due diligence that is required of someone who is trying to have an opinion that holds weight. But, these days, it seems like it’s much easier to just put the album on once, let it run and be like “Hey, i have no idea who this guy is (is he a band or a dj?) but this song sounds cool…” and then post it on youtube. That isn’t being a critic. That’s just a random person listening to music and reacting to it. In it’s essence, it’s a reaction video and there are very few things more lazy and pointless than reaction videos. Reacting is something we all do but also something that 100% doesn’t need to filmed and publicly shared as some sort of valid opinion piece. Not everyone with a youtube channel is Anthony Fantano. And , regardless of what you think about him, the dude is a well read fan of music. He knows his shit. You may disagree with his opinions but his opinions are, at the very least, well informed and have a genuine perspective. Now, i realize this sounds ungrateful towards people who have reviewed my new album and , really, it’s not. i appreciate any and all support. But this is more about setting a standard. Just cause you like music, doesn’t mean you’re qualified to review it. It would be like a person who watched law & order all the time thinking they could be a lawyer.

Listen, everyone has opinions. In fact, for some, opinions are all you got. Your balls and your word, as scarface put it. But there comes a time when we must do some self evaluation and deeply consider if the thoughts and opinions we have are worth sharing. And trust me, the irony of me writing all this and saying that is not lost on me. But, hey, you’re here and you’re reading it so….GOTCHA!

Everyone’s a critic (myself included)

3bc44b4f9de552eed27fb35ea3069739 The internet is an abyss of opinions. Well formed opinions. Shitty half baked opinions. Opinions that are often so poorly considered that I don’t now if they even count as opinions at all. But one thing is for certain, everyone has to have an opinion on everything.

Now, it would be ridiculous for me to sit here and try and point out how the opinions of others are wrong while mine are right cause, after all, that’s just my opinion and I’m full of shitty opinions. What I wanna focus on here is more “how to have an opinion”. Especially when judging art. As I see it, critical thinking towards art has two ends of the spectrum. People who judge with their head and people who judge with their heart. The people who judge with their heart tend to be the ones who react to their own feelings. They’re visceral people. Maybe they’ll see a movie where something unsavory happens (a rape, killing of a dog, gruesome murder, a strained father/daughter relationship) and the fact that happened alone will immediately make them dislike the movie. Even though that thing happening isn’t exactly a reason to base an opinion on the art itself, they cannot remove themselves enough from it and it ruins everything for them. Sure, the film where that is happening may be a brilliantly crafted movie. Doesn’t matter. It hit some nerves and , to these types of people, can no longer be judged on it’s merit.

The people who judge from the head are more concerned with the mechanics of art. They’re the types who will see a movie and dismiss it due to poor lighting , unrealistic dialogue and tiny holes in a plot. They will often overlook the big picture just to pick apart the minutia of filmmaking. So, yeah, that movie may have been an impressive feat in film making and looked amazing but did you see how bad the transitional shots were? That movie is now tainted.

In both instances, you have someone judging something in a myopic fashion. In a way, they’re both missing the bigger picture in spite of themselves. Now, I’m not innocent of this. While I’ve never been one to dislike a movie cause of something horrific that happens in it, I certainly have watched a movie with terrible dialogue and been like “eh, I can’t do this…” but here’s the thing…As critical people, we must understand the difference between our feelings and the actual value of the art. For instance, I don’t listen to Kendrick Lamar. I don’t really enjoy his voice. That’s it. It’s very simple. That said, I’d be a total asshole if I were to sit here and tell you he was garbage. He’s not. In fact, he’s immensely talented. Dude is a fantastic rapper. I would never deny that. He’s simply not for me at this time in my life. Therefor, when it’s time to chime in on Kendrick Lamar on the internet, I simply stay out of it. It’s not my place to judge him on that level. I know how I feel but also recognize that’s just me. Talent, in most ways, isn’t something you can judge. If it’s clearly there, it’s there. In the case of Kendrick, it’s clearly there.

All this comes up cause a friend of mine made a post on Facebook the other day about not liking the new Mad max movie. Now, I loved this movie. It’s possibly the best action movie I’ve ever seen. Possibly. That said, it’s an action movie and nothing else. There is not a ton of depth to it (even though many have certainly tried to apply a whole feminist arc to it but, let’s be honest, it’s simply expertly executed and amazingly filmed balls to the wall action). But this is a movie that doesn’t need to be deep. It’s made for a specific kind of movie goer. A movie goer who likes excitement and fun. This is not a film made to make you think about life. In fact, it’s q distraction. An incredible distraction. Now, my friends take was that she was simply “Not into it”, which , to me, read as a person who doesn’t really care for action movies. Fair enough. I can’t sit through a movie where people with british accents wear powdered wigs. The best movie of that genre ever will not be enjoyable to me. So, I get it. More power to my friend. She 100% has the right to feel that way. It was when I delved into the comment section that I began to feel a brewing of injustice and shitty critical thought (yes, this is me criticizing critics).While a few people disagreed with her (I was one of them), there were just as many people who echoed her feelings but with an added heavy hand and pretentiousness. I saw people complaining about the dialogue, the gender roles, the lack of a real plot…Dude…it’s a mad max movie. What are you expecting? This is where I think people need to remove their head out of their asses when it comes to critical thinking. Know what you’re being critical of.

You can’t judge everything under the same merit. “City of god” and “Macgruber” do not live on the same critical plane. They just can’t. Now, granted, I’m assuming a few of the people in the comment section of this post were film students. So, it’s their job to pick apart everything and remove fun from watching films. I get it. Everything has to be serious. But, to me, there is a time and place for those things. “Mad Max:Fury Road” and “Precious” cannot be approached in the same way, critically.  It also kinda made me sad. I mean, these people are depriving themselves the most basic level of enjoyment cause they simply can’t sit back in a movie theater and go along for a ride.

It’s times like this that I feel a kinship to the simpletons of the world. The people who will see “Transformers 5:The rise of lowering of the standards” and can leave the theater totally satisfied. After all, movies are entertainment. If they entertain you, then they did their job. But, they are also art. So that’s where the balance must be found. To be entertaining and artistically fulfilling. If you’re leaving a movie like “Mad Max: Fury road” and complaining about gender roles or dialogue, you watched that movie wrong. The same way if I were to listen to a kendrick lamar album and complain about the kind of hi hats he used and “how come he didn’t rap about what it’s like being a white male!”. It’s just being critical for the sake of being critical and missing the point completely. Save those type of criticisms for things that are asking for them. Like an indie movie about a wacky sister and her slow brother who find a kinship when their dad dies. It’s sad and funny! That’s the movie to pick apart like it was your classmates final project. Not “Mad Max”. Not “The Naked Gun”. Not a sports documentary. I’m by no means saying these films are above judgement. I’m just saying, you must judge them for what they are and what they strived to be. I feel bad for both people who judge with just their heads or just their hearts cause they are really missing out. It’s a nice feeling to just let yourself go and enjoy something for what it is. Allow the low brow yokel inside all of us to peak it’s head out every now and then. But also, keep the snobbish film nerd on call as well cause, let’s be honest, there needs to be a filter of what we do and do not allow to seep into our eyes and ears. As always, striking a happy medium is crucial. Take it from me. I’m a libra and my life is totally medium.