Artist: Devendra Banhart
Album: What Will We Be
Critic: Michael Miller
Publication: Tiny Mix Tapes, 2009
Writing Disorders: Detachment Syndrome, Jargon Palsy
Densest Jargon: “combining the pretentious grandeur of psychedelia with an understated, traditional aesthetic. “
Best WTF Moment: “feels like a kind of musical dick-waving”
Michael, I want to start by saying that you’re the most timid music critic I’ve read thus far. Sure, you use curse words here and there, but you’re so afraid to form a solid opinion that you jump on the fence in every third sentence. Observe:
“The opening song, “Can’t Help,” might be the best moment here.”
“The song seems to drift away in its own serenity”
“is a little too blissed out for its own good”
“The stadium rock of “16th & Valencia” is almost unspeakably bad”
“the genre change is nearly impossible to make sense of in its suddenness”
Might be? Seems to? A little too? Almost unspeakable? Nearly impossible? Michael, when you pair a superlative like “best” or “impossible” with an auxiliary verb like “seem” or “might,” then you sound like a coward blurting his second thoughts after a challenge to fight. Here’s a fictitious example to illustrate:
Michael: Sir, you seem to be going a little too far with my girlfriend. If you almost touch her one more time, I swear to God I might punch your teeth nearly down your throat.
I’ll leave it at that.
But I’ve got another beef with your writing, Michael, and it has to do with your opinions. It’s not about the substance. I’ve never listened to this Banhart guy, and it’s not high on my agenda. So as far as I know, I could just as easily dislike his songwriting or musicianship. My bone to pick with your opinions has to do with the way you write them as if they’re foregone conclusions:
“At just two and a half minutes, there’s not enough time for Banhart to fuck it up”
“of course he can sing Spanish beautifully. But why use the skill so pointlessly?”
“The lyrics feel like they could’ve been written in the stupor of waking, too”
Now, I know that there’s an unspoken rule in stuffy music criticism that using the pronoun “I” is forbidden except when chronicling unnecessary personal anecdotes in reviews. And I’m sure that you’d rather wear South Pole jeans than use the phrases “I think,” “I believe,” or “I figure.” But writing venomous opinions about someone else’s work like they’re scientific facts verified by electron snark-o-scope is a dick move.
Let’s hear you sing in Spanish, Michael. Sing it with more purpose than this guy. Put it up on MySpace. We’ll have our circles and half-circles right by, waiting to rate you.