Artist: Jon Hopkins
Album: Late Night Tales
Critic: Mark Pytlik
Publication: Pitchfork, 2015
Writing Disorders: Jargon Palsy, Ambiguity Sickness
Stuffiest phrase: “A default setting that tends towards the lugubrious”
Mark, why do men write album reviews? What drives them to action? An idealist might say it stems from noble intent, that inspiration stirs when a man declares: I love music, respect musicians, and write with a steadfast hope that I might also enrich the lives of others through a craft. That’s admirable.
But who are we kidding? This is Pitchfork we’re talking about. If I read your review believing that sunny fantasy, I’d only be setting myself up for a grim shock, like watching someone kick a swan into a septic tank.
So as a rule I read reviews like yours with a mind of metal and wheels, because that’s what they demand. There’s no sense in dwelling on a writer’s deepest motivation if it only makes the foul reality of reading even more depressing.
With that in mind, let’s skip to the part where I badmouth your writing in the blind hope that you change a habit or two.
Mark, I only just finished spanking your colleague for using the four-paragraph essay to needless effect, and here you go abusing it for an even sillier purpose: to review a mix album. Let’s take a moment to break down what a mix album is: Someone collects pre-recorded songs on an album so that listeners can experience them in a new way. That’s about it.
I figured something like that would be good for a paragraph or two tops. But apparently after weighing the terrible choice between highlighting the perks of your own experience OR gene-sequencing the tracklist in the densest language still technically English, you chose — well, I think my readers know which one you chose.
Mark, your introduction is so hard to read that it makes Stuart Berman’s stuff look like a page from The Shy Little Kitten. It’s got things I thought any sane writer would want to AVOID in his first paragraph: a sentence-length aside, confusing parentheticals, vague inside jokes, no mention of the man behind the mix, and then whatever the F this stuff is:
“centrally located in the indie-dance continuum”
“an acceptable venue for their post-whatever tracklists”
If you think those ugly nuggets need full context to make sense…I think I did you a favor by leaving it out. It’s like you chose nude interpretive dance to describe a bird instead of just using the words “beak,” “feathers” or “wings.” I’d rather not quote any more of your hairy-ass intro than I have to, but lest my readers think I’m exaggerating, let’s just take the last sentence:
“By reframing these mixes so they’re more about a non-specific 3 A.M. state of mind as opposed to corny aspirational moods (lest we forget “chillout”) or Balearic Valhallan ideals (the café, the beach house), the series has widened its brief to allow for more forms of early morning contemplation, in turn becoming a sort of Rorschach test for its contributing artists.”
I don’t understand how something like that passed inspection unless there was no inspection to begin with. Personally I like to tinker with phrasing, word choice, and punctuation. Why? So that sentences flow and points become clearer. If I want people to read far enough to suggest that I go teabag a wood lathe, then I have to overpower their urge to leave midway through the first sentence. And I’m confident a hefty chunk of clickers moved on to something else before you could say “Jon Hopkins.”
Mark, I know this is going to sound like crazy talk, but humor me for a second. Let’s say you wrote something like this for an introduction instead:
“Jon Hopkins’ contribution to the Late Night Tales mix series is (fill in the blank).”
Seriously, what’s wrong with mentioning the guy responsible for this mix in the first sentence? If you couldn’t bear the embarrassment of writing clearly about anything else, you could have at least tossed that dry bone to readers. But since I’m already asking loony questions, here’s another: Why all the needless filler words? You could have easily trimmed some fat AND kept all your bloated points intact. Look at the following phrases, and take note of the red words:
“becoming a sort of Rorschach test”
“appearances from the likes of Air, Royksopp…”
“coming off the back of his breakthrough”
Why do you need that red stuff? What convinced you that you needed EXTRA words to clog up an article that barely makes any sense to begin with? Were you afraid that people in the nonexistent comment section might protest that “the series” isn’t a real Rorschach test but a metaphor?
But again, who am I kidding? I don’t think editing is high on a guy’s radar who writes stuff like this:
“A composerly sensibility informs the rest of the mix”
Is that a compliment? Is it a vague statement with a made-up word? Is it a — oh wait, that was it. Mark, imagine if a sports writer wrote this about Russell Westbrook’s latest triple-double streak:
“A ballhandlerly sensibility informs his game.”
That sounds really goofy, right? Seems like there’s probably thousands of better descriptions out there. But maybe you just don’t know that. Of course sports sites allow comments so that people can make authors aware of their own excesses. But since Pitchfork has always sheltered its snowflakes from community feedback, it means crazy people like me have to find inventive ways of getting the point across.
Why do men write album reviews, Mark? Well, with yours as a guide, I’d say they do it to sound smart. That’s a depressing reason to write about art, but at least it dulls disappointment with the bad results. And that’s…great?