Artist: Mo Troper
Critic: Sam Sodomsky
Publication: Pitchfork, 2016
Writing Disorders: Jargon Palsy, Ambiguity Sickness
Sam, I didn’t like your review, but I’ll get to that in a minute. I want to start with the bigger picture. Audrey Karrasch, a singer and recent RipFork admirer, asked a question on Twitter that I think will kick things off nicely:
Do music critics have sex and do they enjoy it?
— A L K E (@AudreyKarrasch) May 7, 2016
Oh, lordy…I’ve often wondered that myself. If I had to guess, I’d say a few music critics probably do sometimes. But Audrey raises a broader question worth exploring in the context of this dull, lifeless review you wrote, Sam. I think what she’s really asking is this: If people choose to write about music like constipated hermit crabs, how do they approach other ostensibly “fun,” emotionally invested experiences in their lives, and how would they write about them?
“And while these reference points might account for some of the album’s initial thrill, Beloved seeks to do more than just impress you with its immaculate Works Cited page.”
Honestly, can you blame someone for wondering if the guy who wrote that takes any pleasure in bedroom gymnastics?
Just for kicks, Sam, let’s say that you’ve recently had “relations” with Barbara. To be sure, Barbara didn’t reinvent the wheel, but she did a decent enough job of making you grunt and eventually climax. So using nothing but your review of Mo Troper’s album as a guide, here’s how I reckon you might describe some of the evening’s festivities:
Barbara employs an autoerotic seduction not unlike Patty’s circular stimulation before breaking into a similarly arousing disappearing finger, ensuring the act engorges your penis with blood.
It’s hard to say just how long Barbara’s keen erotic sensibility can counterbalance her hand’s occasionally worrisome Amazonian grip; it will be interesting to see whether or not she will be able to pass the ultimate test for repeat sexual partners — the dreaded second date.
Maybe you’re insulted by the notion that you’d write about your sex life in such a ridiculous way, even though I just lifted those quotes from your own writing and filled in the sex stuff like Mad Libs. Or maybe you’d argue that you shouldn’t feel obligated to describe a “spotty,” 6.0-level pump in the sack with a more laid-back tone, because it’s Barbara’s fault she didn’t blow your socks off with an 8.9-level effort.
Or maybe you’re thinking, “I’m not even attracted to women, you idiot. Barbara and I are just friends.”
Look, Sam, I get it. You probably didn’t enjoy writing this review of Mo Troper’s album any more than you enjoyed listening to it. You were asked to review something that didn’t thrill you, but you still had to crank out four paragraphs to get the 30 bucks or whatever scraps the new corporate overlords toss over the wall to Pitchfork’s freelancers.
And that brings me to my main complaint about your review, Sam. Why write an obviously phoned-in, tepid appraisal of this obscure album’s place in the history of “power-pop” when chances are you’ll never listen to it again in your life? Why tick off boxes on the Pitchfork Template instead of giving some personal insight into how Mo Troper’s album stacks up against similar records that you — Sam Sodomsky, music writer — loved or hated? Do you even LIKE power-pop? I didn’t get the impression from your review that it means anything to you other than as a descriptor like “male” or “musician.”
“So many have aimed for simple and landed on trite; aimed for timeless and landed on toothless; aimed for sweet and landed on creepy.”
Right…and who are they exactly? Examples? Since when did writing “so many” count for throwing shade? If you’re going to prattle on about trite, toothless, creepy bands, try painting a sharper picture for your audience, Sam, because I like to form pictures in my mind. When you do mention other bands, they’re qualified by vague descriptions like “blushing-schoolboy narratives” and “denim-clad rock bravado” without anything to suggest that they’ve actually enriched your own listening experience.
So let’s dig deeper into what you actually did write. Disclaimer: There are few things that annoy me about Pitchfork these days more than the album reviews with 6.0 ratings. They make me yearn for those truly awful years when the old guard’s clique of puckered buttholes treated bands like garbage and acted like they were God’s gift to writing, because at least they took a stand.
Now there’s this stuff:
“In fact, it’s almost impressive.”
“it’s nice for once to hear him slightly implicate himself”
Sam, “almost impressive” is the most passive-aggressive diss I’ve seen in a long time. But even setting aside the flaccid phrasing, you pumped this review full of predictable and boring commentary that’s already been layered onto dozens of musicians who play power chords and shout about things that young people seem interested in doing, which is an odd choice when this is basically your central thesis:
“This is precisely why most power-pop albums are not necessarily graded for breaking new ground, but rather, for how competently they fit within the genre’s pre-established formula.”
Whether it’s complaining about the album’s long songs, describing the singer as “snot-nosed,” or using empty space-gobbling phrases like “melodic sensibility” or “plants his material firmly in the present,” I’d say your review fits competently within Pitchfork’s pre-established formula of dolling-up cloudy prose to look like piercing insight.
But some of the dull doesn’t even make sense. Take the aforementioned “precisely why/not necessarily” tandem, for example, or the fact that you wrote “in fact” to introduce your opinion of how much Mo Troper was able to “wring” out of his “genre’s limitations.” Even your very first sentence is suspect:
“Like drawing a perfect circle, making a good power-pop record is a task that seems easy but becomes nearly impossible when put into practice.”
Okay, first things first. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s confusing. I think you meant to write that making a good power-pop record becomes nearly impossible TO put into practice or that it’s nearly impossible when TRIED, because otherwise it seems like the accomplishment becomes nearly impossible when it’s already been accomplished.
Second, how would you know it’s nearly impossible, Sam? Do you mean it SEEMS like it’s an easy task from the point of view of someone who’s never tried to make a good power-pop record because he most likely doesn’t sing or play an instrument? You might have been better off writing that “impressing Pitchfork writers with a power-pop record” is hard to do, because lord knows Pitchfork writers love them some power-pop these days.
And finally, wouldn’t the act of making a good power-pop record be more like drawing a…good circle? Call me crazy, but I’d say that drawing a perfect circle is more like drawing a perfect square, and that both tasks are far from “nearly impossible” if you use a stencil, so I don’t know that your comparison holds water. You might as well write that making a good power-pop record is like catching a fish with your bare hands when you have a rod and reel next to you in the boat. Just use the rod and reel, kids. It’s right there.
I’m getting winded, Sam, so I’ll spare you the long version of my preachy conclusion and just leave you with the short version. You’re a young fellow and just starting out, so ask yourself this. Does the world need more dull, formulaic music writers any more than it needs “so many” musicians to be graded like they’re trying to be the next best thing? I don’t think so. I don’t think Barbara does either, Sam. And if you think her “gifts are undeniable,” then maybe you should make that your thesis and write like you mean it.