Band: Zero 7
Album: Yeah Ghost
Critic: Alan Ranta
Publication: PopMatters, 2009
Writing Disorders: Detachment Syndrome, Scorn Disease, Idea Fever
Stuffy Phrase: “subtly introspective lyricism”
Stuffier Phrase: “space-case organic breakbeat instrumental”
Stuffiest Phrase: “indecipherably warped vocals and a few swirling, grainy digital manifestations”
Alan, just the other day I got an email from a reader asking me to dig into reviews by the A.V. Club. Before that, a critic I’d blasted complained that I don’t pick on the big guys like SPIN and Rolling Stone. Why do I avoid those? Well, there’s a very simple reason. They feature very short reviews, often only a paragraph long. With the exception of Raoul Hernandez’s stuff, there’s a natural law at work here: a 1,000-word review has more stuff to pick apart than one that’s much shorter. There’s usually a limit to my patience, though. Over 1,200 words and I get bored fast.
You pushed the limit with a tubby 1,100 words here, Alan, but there was so much poop in the stall that it held my focus long enough to finish. Besides, you sold me on your first sentence:
“For some reason, trip-hop and lyrical chill music is typically grounded by prominent female vocals.”
Alan, I’m going to use this as a teachable moment. Why is it that so many music critics can’t help but write “female vocals” to describe sounds coming out of a woman’s mouth? Have you ever heard a woman say she’s going to Marshalls for a sale on female clothes? How about someone in a bar asking where the female bathroom is? Can’t say that I’ve ever attended a rally for female rights or gawked at an issue of “Female’s World” in the checkout line. In a woman’s world, why do certain men in their 20s describe one of the sexiest, most expressive acts a woman can do like they’d identify a bull shark’s gender? On top of that, what’s with the paragraph devoted to talking about women like Arnold talks about men?
“overly girly “yoo-hoo” and “yeah, yeah” overdubs”
“Ann-Margret would struggle to be this over-the-top girly”
While you’re sorting out your feelings on the fairer sex, I want to dive into something else that ruffled my feathers here:
“the backward-sounding guitar—a sound that is a lot more disjointed here than the similarly distorted six-string on the righteous “This Fine Social Scene” from The Garden—but it is not enough to save the song.”
Save it from what exactly, Alan? If anyone’s wondering why I get so incensed when critics use the third person to molest someone’s music, this is another teachable moment. Far as I can tell, the only thing this song wasn’t saved from was your own picky eating. No matter how thick you bloat your review, how many tangential references you make for gravitas, or how many artists you mention in obtuse parallels, a music review isn’t a communication of facts. It’s subjective. Whether you gently fondle the art you chained to a rock or violate it with a “few obvious boners,” whatever you choose to write about someone’s heart and soul is your own opinion. Dressing your opinion as fact by obscuring your own responsibility makes absolute statements even stinkier, Alan. And boy, do you roll out the absolutes in this review:
“The only Eska submission that brings anything worthwhile to the table”
“The only interesting part of the track”
“the only track on Yeah Ghost that has the same kind of gravity”
“the only track that hints at the kind of sweeping cinematic soundscapes”
Oh, and about those obtuse parallels —
“Henry Binns doing his best Peter Gabriel come Huey Lewis impression”
“That number would sound exactly like a Badly Drawn Boy producing a Cat Power song”
“starting off like an unreleased b-side to the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” and ending up like a Nelly Furtado cover of “Closer” (Nine Inch Nails).”
Alan, what the hell is the point of describing tracks like that? Explaining a song to a curious reader by saying it sounds like another artist doing an impression of another artist with a touch of another artist isn’t the best way to enhance understanding or pique interest. It just burns space, which brings me to another question: If the third-person version of Alan Ranta thought this album was mediocre at best, why did he write a three-page lab report on it?
There’s more to pry into here Alan, but before the hypocrite police cuff me for writing an 800-word review of a review I didn’t like, I’m going to end on something lighter, just a bit of a little redundancy:
“That is a captivating, soulful lullaby of a tune”
Thanks for that, Alan. I thought for a minute you meant it was a soulful lullaby of a basketball game or broom closet. Ciao.