Album: The Album About Nothing
Critic: Claire Lobenfeld
Publication: Pitchfork, 2015
Writing Disorders: Scorn Disease, Ambiguity Sickness, Jargon Palsy
Hyphen Fouls: “my-cum-tastes-good commercial,” “incredulous-about-a-crush context”
Claire, do me a favor. Take a look at your first and second paragraph side by side. You don’t have to read anything, just look.
Notice anything? No? Okay, try the infrared:
Claire, your first paragraph has 11 hyperlinks. The second paragraph has one. Giving readers 11 chances to click away from your article in the introduction isn’t the best way to entice them to read further. And you’ve written for Pitchfork long enough to know that this is what happens to music reviews: Proper nouns become underlined red globs. If I knew an intern was going to make my intro look like the Wookiepedia entry for Darth Malak, I’d probably trim a few names to game the system.
But I’m not you. Why ease readers into musical commentary when you can just throat-bang them at “hello”? When you write for Pitchfork, nothing matters quite like the appearance of knowing everything about everyone in music and linking everywhere to prove it.
I don’t know why you even bothered to cite so much in the review of an album you thought was worth so little. But since I don’t know what motivates you any more than you know what motivates me, let’s just concentrate on some of the more discernible flaws in your writing.
First off, you were confident enough to rate an album to the tenth decimal space, but you still found room to vacillate:
“It works so well that it’s almost surprising no one has done it before.”
Claire, I know adverb addiction is endemic to farty music writers, but that’s just silly. Something can’t be almost surprising, kind of surprising, mostly surprising, nearly surprising. Surprise happens or it doesn’t. Example:
Claire’s Friends: SURPRISE!!!!
Jodie Friendo: Happy birthday, Claire! Were you surprised?
It’s okay to feel one way or the other. Really — people probably won’t judge you for sounding almost human. And I think it’s curious how you’re afraid to exaggerate your lowly praise but apparently not your lofty criticism:
“Nothing is a long album, with one cut coming in over the six-minute mark, and when it is sludgy, it is exhausting.”
“Exhausting”? Really? Claire, splitting a tree worth of wood and stacking it is exhausting. Trudging through two weeks of comprehensive exams is exhausting. Music isn’t exhausting. If you think it is, then you probably need to hit the gym or schedule an appointment with your GP. And before we move on, answer me something. You’ll write “cum” in an album review, but you’d rather keep “it is” twice in one sentence than stoop to using contractions? How does that happen?
While you’re thinking that over, let’s look at some more vague, needlessly confusing stuff:
“‘Balloon’ concludes with a pseudo-dancehall coda loosely riffing on Ini Komoze’s crossover “Here Comes the Hotstepper.”
So the end of one song is sort of like something that loosely resembles another song by someone else that straddles two or more genres you don’t name? Wow, thanks for including that. Oh, and this too:
“The Album About Nothing begins by holding a mirror to Wale’s past, which reflects some of the trappings of his more-famous present.”
Ugh. Claire, pretend I’m a moron and explain that to me. If the album holds a mirror with its album arms to the artist’s past…wouldn’t it fully reflect the artist’s past, not “some of the trappings” of his present? Or is this a special mirror that filters certain trappings and lets other trappings through? Or is this just you choosing yet another roundabout way to smudge someone’s art in the dirt?
That’s really what’s going on here, Claire, since most of your review is devoted to badmouthing this guy for going about his music a particular way. And that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with people not liking music. I do have a problem with people who write for certain publications talking trash like they’re authorities on taste without fact-checking their own trash talk.
“‘The Girls on Drugs’…isn’t packed with enough of Wale’s dour thoughts to sound like he’s doing anything more than cribbing Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late flow.”
Claire, the song “The Girls on Drugs” first appeared on Wale’s Festivus mixtape, released in December 2014. Drake’s aforementioned mixtape dropped in February 2015, two months later. Now I’m no genius, but I’m pretty sure that when you crib something, the thing being cribbed already exists. Unless you’re suggesting Wale is skulking around Drake’s studio and stealing trade secrets, you might want to check your smack before you print it next time.
There’s more I could complain about, but I want to go outside and play instead, so I’ll end with this. Claire, to me it seems easier and almost human to just flat-out write that you didn’t care for an album without trying to inflate your dislike up to weird levels of what you might call pseudo-profundity. When you do that, you run the risk of dopey inconsistencies and weak arguments to turn your own “sour disaffection” into something bigger. Believe me, I know. Enjoy the sunshine.