Band: Diet Cig
Album: Over Easy EP
Critic: Jamieson Cox
Publication: Pitchfork, 2015
Writing Disorders: At-risk only
Jamie, I’m going to use your first name and shorten it to ease the flow here, because as a non-critic I’m allowed to do that. Calling you “Jamieson” or “Cox” over and over again would make for an awkward read, kind of like how…I don’t know…calling a woman “Luciano” over and over again might stiffen up a music review. But I get it. You’re bound by Pitchfork law. Rules are rules, and critics can’t risk first-name anarchy even if it means a more human tone or letting Gordon from Sonic Youth identify as a woman.
Anyway Jamie, I want to start by saying that I think you’re a decent writer with bad tendencies. And I can’t blame youngsters for trying to emulate their idols, even if their idols are bad writers with inexplicable influence. Instead I blame those bad writers for corrupting children.
As for your own bad tendencies, let’s start with the fact that you wrote a four-paragraph review of a band’s debut EP. In the realm of needlessly long music articles, long-winded reviews of debut EPs rank pretty high on the stupid scale. They’re just as contrived as Pitchfork’s factory-farmed LP reviews, only in a grande cup instead of a venti. Just like most academic abstracts end with the phrase “more research is needed,” these reviews usually stumble through hollow observations toward some rendition of “this band is just starting out, and only in the leap from the lion’s head will they prove their worth.” Ahem:
“There’s promise here, but Over Easy barely scrapes the 10-minute mark, and the duo’s next release will be the one that really proves their worth.”
I think “their worth” really means “how lucky they are when Pitchfork gropes them again,” but I digress. Let’s start with the obvious question: Why write over 500 words about 10 minutes of music? Or…let’s go one step further — why write so much about so little if the price is hollow writing? After all, if you scratch hard enough at something thin, you usually end up with a shallow pit. And you scratched pretty hard here, Jamie.
“It’s a time (extended adolescence) that’s served as fodder for more than its share of music”
“It’s not hard to get to the core of the songs on Over Easy. Built mostly out of Bowman’s frenzied drumming and Luciano’s distorted guitar and vocals…”
That’s the kind of hollow stuff I mean. So…the core of the songs by the duo you introduced as “singer Alex Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman” are built mostly out of drumming and vocals? That’s helpful. Thank you. Oh, and there’s more:
“it’s also obvious that Diet Cig are still in their infancy”
Ohhhh, you mean even more obvious than this being their debut EP released after meeting last year and then “bursting out” this January. Gotcha.
Jamie, when you write a term paper on an EP that’s over in half the time it takes to bake some Tater Tots, you’re bound to end up with filler. Now, common sense says you could just write a shorter article, but apparently that’s never an option for Pitchfork writers, not even after years of these thin reviews. I remember Mark Richardson himself — one of your avowed inspirations — shot a huge watery load of words a few years back about an Animal Collective EP. Tasted…saccharine.
Speaking of that, I did have beef with your actual criticism, Jamie, so let’s skip to the obligatory third/fourth Pitchfork paragraph where the writer takes a break from his wobbly descriptions and starts complaining:
“There are moments on Over Easy where Diet Cig crosses the line from relatable young adult angst into petulant, immature whining.”
First off, I think it’s funny you wrote that about a song that contains the line “I don’t want to hear about who you think I am.” I could drone on about the dubious expectation for artists to stay on certain sides of invented lines AND also break new ground, but let’s just focus on who you’re accusing of the line-stepping. The first Diet Cig link on Google leads to their Bandcamp page, where it says, quote:
“The five charming songs on the debut Over Easy EP, written by Alex in the comforts of her bedroom, capture the innocence of adolescence and infatuation.”
Unless you’re telling me drumsticks can whine, it’s clear that the “petulant, immature whining” is the sole product of Alex, the singer. So don’t tiptoe around your trash talk and say that Diet Cig crosses your angst line when you know exactly whom you’re addressing.
Jamie, the actual griping in that paragraph is so tepid that instead of quoting it, I’m just going to rewrite it so I can show you how dumb it might be if you actually spoke it to a musician in person:
JAMIE COX: Hi, singer Alex Luciano. I listened to Diet Cig’s EP, and I just wanted to say that your vocals on “Scene Sick” are saccharine…like, painfully so. And what you base them around — you know, the oppressiveness of the titular scene — is, like, SO remarkably insular. Let me put it this way. Without the context of people who’ve spent a lot of time embedded in the music industry, it hews a LITTLE closer to straightforward whining. You totally did a better job of conveying your annoyance with “Harvard,” where you focused on a snobby, jerky ex — so, like, stick to girl stuff, K?
Yeah, I embellished that a little bit, but not too much. And answer me this, Jamie — WTF is “painfully saccharine”? Adverb-ing superlatives is dumb enough, but the vocals on a song lasting 1:46 were so sweet that they physically or emotionally hurt you? Jesus, stay away from “It’s My Party.” It might give you a hemorrhage.
Jamie, there’s a quote from an interview you did a couple years back that I think can be helpful here:
“How do we engage casual listeners without sacrificing the intelligence and intensity that makes music criticism great?”
Granted I would never put the words “music,” “criticism,” “great,” “intelligence” or “intensity” in the same sentence, but I’ll humor you. Here’s what I think. People don’t need the four-paragraph analog version of Pandora anymore, and I don’t think too many even wanted it in the first place. Technology and social media are slowly siphoning off what little remains of the purpose that music critics once served, and that’s a GOOD thing. It means that writers who live and love music don’t have to write like the most predictable chapped buttholes on planet earth.
Jamieson Cox, you can write like a living, breathing person, a fan, a fellow human being, someone with his own life stories and warmth; someone who abandons objectivity because he realizes it’s an impossible goal in the world of an art form so varied and personal; someone who takes the sterile review format and turns it on its head because it leads to dense, soulless writing.
I don’t think music criticism will ever be great, but there’s no reason why music writing can’t. Take that step into the void.