Artist: The 1975
Album: I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It
Critic: Laura Snapes
Publication: Pitchfork, 2016
Writing Disorders: Jargon Palsy, Idea Fever, Infectious Punctuation
Welcome back, Laura. What’s this, your third time? Lovely.
So here’s the thing. Your review is full of annoying stuff that I’ve already beaten to death in other posts. So instead of sleepwalking through my usual shtick, I’m going to shake things up for the sake of what you might call “enormous fun.” How? I’m going to write my review of your Pitchfork review…like a Pitchfork review.
Why would I do such a terrible thing? Well, first I want to see if I’m capable. Some people seem to think that I started this blog out of self-loathing vengeance against Pitchfork for not taking me on as a writer years ago. Well, at least they were half-right. Even though I’d never audition to write for Condé’s magnet for enthusiastic laddy males, I’m still willing to give doubters the pleasure of judging whether I’m Pitchfork material. It’s a win-win.
But I’m also doing this for your sake, Laura, still clinging to hope that I can bring you back from the dark side. And if speaking your native language is the only way to communicate how badly your writing smells like too many lenient professors, I have to try.
I know you’re probably concerned for my safety, but rest assured that I’ve studied the literature and understand the risks that come from someone with thin-rimmed glasses trying to write like someone with thick-rimmed glasses. Don’t worry, a medical team is standing by just in case I pass out and hit my head on a bookcase. But know this — if I should fall into a coma, I’m holding you responsible. I can’t imagine how many band bios you’d have to write to keep my life support running, but it’s not like I could foot the bill myself over here in Trumpistan.
Okay…here goes. I can do this. One with the universe…I’m one with the universe…nothing matters…
“Seeming imperviousness to ridicule makes you want to kiss them,” writes scribbler-cum-tastemaker Laura Snapes in her Pitchfork review of The 1975’s latest effort. If only it were so. There’s an almost Custer-esque cocksureness in this, what’s undoubtedly intended as a battle cry to remind the world that languid detachment in music writing is still alive and well, not dead as recently asserted by nu-bait rival Noisey. But even in a crowded field of depressingly hollow writers — Seth Colter Walls, Ian Cohen, and Jia Tolentino come to mind, among others — Snapes at best makes the reader pine for a simpler, more straightforward time when the then-20-year-old London one-piece wrote hatchet jobs on up-and-coming artists’ “total lack of cultural awareness.”
To be fair, Snapes is a font of musical knowledge, but she continues with a slavish — though commendable, to be sure — devotion to covering her body of text with thick, wet ropes of musical tangents, excessive comparisons, and jargon. Her almost embarrassing dearth of self-awareness borders on the absurd here, and criticisms like “lyrics dip perilously from inspiring to embarrassing” and “it’s a trite line” hew uncomfortably close to self-parody. Given her clear but decidedly fulsome evolution from early-20s peddler of purple prose to mid-20s Tumblr-as-lecturn missionary of imperious gender theory, it’s hard to interpret her latest review as anything but a step backwards, a jagged bone that the reader can neither cough up nor swallow.
While the excesses here may have been a foregone conclusion for a writer so recklessly profligate when name-dropping other musicians, one can’t help but cry uncle. Snapes references at least 27 other artists and bands, not to mention three indirect nods to hyperlinked collectives like “milquetoast electro-baladeers” and “provocative Manchester forebears.” Thirty-six links smear the review like blue stains on the leading brand of adult nappy soiled by an insistent smurf with bad enuresis. And all this is too much to bear when Snapes chastises the album for being “far too much,” a flaw that could be “mostly solved by trimming the four lengthy ambient tracks,” as if the irony of her own profusion should be given a pass from the same “requisite huge teen girl fanbase” that holds such a decidedly un-ironic appreciation of The 1975.
While one can’t fault her for trying, the results fall flat when Snapes takes a stab at evolving her plodding style. Persistent refusal to reword ridiculously hyphenated modifiers is startlingly evident in this most recent effort (“Everything Ecstatic-era,” “Lily Allen-style,” “Michael Jackson-indebted,” “Autre Ne Veut-style”) and recalls late-period Andrew Gaerig (shudder). But even when she only “slightly resembles” his ugly re-imagining of stereotyped music writing, she falls back into tired tropes like — and this is where I tell you something caustic and matter-of-fact — employing confusing dashed-off asides and exaggerated attempts to overcome a hopelessly stiff tone with smatterings of youthful energy like parenthetical exclamation points and out-of-place colloquialisms like “fucked up” that occupy the same space as “ecclesiastical synth washes” (!!!) —
GAHHHHH — ACCKKCKKCKKKKKK!!!!!!!!
Holy Christ, I’ve got to stop. Breathe…breathe…breeaaaathe…
That’s better. My God, how do you people write this stuff without jumping off a roof? If you’re that depressed, get help. Death by pretentiousness is no way to go.
Laura, I don’t get it. I don’t understand why you’d cram your stuff with so many references and comparisons unless you’re deeply insecure about how people would perceive you if you didn’t. I think you could probably convey your thoughts on an album you listened to for a week without mentioning Justin Bieber, Phoenix, the Strokes, Jimmy Eat World, Radiohead, Hurts, PC Music, One Direction, David Bowie, Scritti Politti, INXS, the Police, Hall and Oates, Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, Sigur Ros, M83, Bon Iver, Four Tet, Brian Eno, Baths, Bibio, Lily Allen, Neil Tennant, Sting, Michael Jackson…AND Autre Ne Veut.
Really, you don’t have to try this hard to prove to the world that you know more about music than the average man, woman, or in-between. I believe you. You know a lot about music and you’re passionate about it. But the way you write just doesn’t look right. And when half your comparisons are backhanded, it looks worse.
“It’s like something Neil Tennant might have written if he had embraced the ludicrousness of mid-‘80s pop instead of subverting it, and thank God he did.”
I’m not suggesting there’s no place for what you do, Laura. It’s the kind of thing that might be well suited for a retrospective or extended feature on a band, but not the write-up of your prior eight days’ experience with listening to their music. And as I mentioned earlier, it looks really dumb to knock a band for recording a mediocre album you thought was too long by writing 1,200 words about it.*
While we’re on the subject, allow me a teachable moment here. I think harping on an album for being too long is a flimsy argument because you’re suggesting that there’s only one right and true way to experience it: start to finish in one sitting. Apart from albums with clearly intended linear progressions, who even listens to music that way all the time? It’s like complaining that a 25-mile hiking loop is too long, even when you have the option of starting at 17 different points and can come back however many times you want over the course of a week-long vacation. I’m assuming you’ll still understand that analogy even if you don’t get outside much, Laura, which I’m guessing you don’t.
Besides, what’s an album too long or too much FOR? What lifestyle? Which activity? Is it grabbing some time alone with a book, driving to work, cooking dinner, having sex? If I complained that an album wasn’t tight enough to soundtrack my errand to the transfer station, people would think I was being a niggling idiot. But arguing that albums can just “do without” certain tracks because they’re “ambient” with no reason other than the absence of vocals is somehow considered incisive criticism? That’s dumb.
Laura, I mentioned that Noisey article earlier because I think you and your peers are missing an important piece of the so-called death of the album review. It’s not just that people prefer bypassing long reviews in favor of musical catering services like Spotify because of time constraints, ease of use, or short attention spans. It’s that most people don’t want to wade through farty, claustrophobic writing…because they don’t ENJOY farty, claustrophobic writing. So rather than bemoan the plight of the old regime, I think you and others would be better served by seriously considering who you are and why you write the way you do. Is it for love of music…or is it to give Pitchfork a few extra clicks deeper into the site? Give it some thought.
*Yep, I wrote more.