Modern Rock Criticism Explained

Perhaps you’re not aware, but long before I rose to the ranks of Matablog editor / label co-owner, I dabbled a bit in the wild world of music press. Back in the go-go 1980’s, I wrote for publications including (but not limited to) High Wire, The Wayland Town Crier, and of course, Smegma Journal. During that period, I had the good fortune of covering such emerging, pioneering acts as the Little River Band, Nantucket and The Sickness.

So it’s with that body of work (probably part of an Experience Music Project exhibit, if not an entirely new wing someday) in mind, that I’d like to help you, the mystified, befuddled rock fans of today, make some sense of what modern music journalists are banging on about. For instance, when Uncut’s Louis Pattison writes of Kurt Vile’s ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’, “the real heart of this record seems to lie in the moments of stillness and rest, where strung-out slackerdom attains an almost sacred quality”, what the layperson might not understand is that Mr. Pattison is really trying to say,“THIS IS THE GREATEST RECORD OF 2011 SO FAR AND IF YOU DISAGREE, I’M GOING TO HIT YOU WITH A SHOVEL”.

Likewise, when Mojo’s Stevie Chick might cause some casual readers to scratch their heads with his thoughts regarding ‘Smoke Ring’ (“while the melodies and vibe seem to be channeling lost AM radio transmissions from the ’70’s, Vile’s no relic-treasuring throwback, finding a unique, laconic voice of his own amongst the tangle”), the Rock-Criticism-To-English-Translator ™ generates the following ; “it is a work of total genius, to only purchase one copy would be a crime against art, beauty and the human spirit.”

Of course, our good friends from the British monthlies aren’t the only ones prone to bouts of understatement, and that’s why you’re so very lucky I’m here to make sense of yet another Kurt Vile rave, this one coming from Pitchfork’s Jayson Greene, who argues ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo”‘s “Ghost Town”, “churns along in a similar weightless middle space as Wilco’s ‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart’ but instead of Jeff Tweedy’s earnest napkin poetry Vile gives us muttered, inscrutable darts, a series of private jokes for an audience of one.” What Mr. Greene wanted to testify was actually, “Kurt Vile’s prose has molested my mind. And I was asking for it.”

It’s been my pleasure to walk you through the intellectual mine field that passes for record reviews, and who knows? The next time one of these analysts is beating around the bush, I’ll not hesitate to assist, particularly if it can put the work of Kurt Vile in a deserved, wider context.

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