Artist: Mates of State
Album: You’re Going to Make It
Critic: Stephen Deusner
Publication: Pitchfork, 2015
Writing Disorders: Scorn Disease
Steve, this isn’t the first time you’ve annoyed me hard enough to feature you on the site, so you don’t get to be Stephen anymore. You’re Steve now. Let’s talk about the first sentence of your third paragraph, Steve:
“The tone of this review might sound like an obituary”
Well, at least you took a shot at self-awareness, but I think you missed by a decent margin. I definitely smelled a tone wafting off your first two paragraphs, but I wouldn’t compare it to an obituary. See, obituaries usually have some modicum of respect. Otherwise it’s just speaking ill of the dead. No, to me it sounds like pomposity. It sounds like a man taking a break from reviewing jazz reissues to sport-niggle an easy target.
Let’s summarize the meat on those first two paragraphs. You say Mates of State are “out of time at best, irrelevant at worst,” one of a group of coed duos without hooks who competed to make “cold cash” off TV soundtracks, on the fringe of a “loosely known” subgenre of music, and that their influence is a legacy that’s “not the most enviable.”
If that’s your idea of an obituary, God help the guy who draws your lot to pen his.
I’ve got a few questions, but I’ll start with this. Why even write a two-paragraph history of a band if you’re going to be such a backhanded dick about it? Personally I think you did it just to name 10 other bands in the process, like Kraft Foods cramming surplus corn into sliced cheese because…why the hell not, right? You’re certainly not the only Pitchfork writer with that annoying fetish, but really, what’s the point of it here? To illustrate that not two but four bands “competed” with Mates of State and that sometime in the last 15 years the duo made this band and that band sound like another two bands?
“But Mates of State made Architecture in Helsinki and the Go! Team sound like the Fall and Wire by comparison.”
Tee-hee. How droll. Har-dee-har-har. Anyway, moving on. Beating at the core of your dumb review is something rife in music writing: randomly deciding whether to bash a band for being too consistent or not consistent enough…on a five-song EP no less:
“The best thing about the song is that they don’t sound like they’re lamenting their mutual domestication, but celebrating it.”
“On the very next song, however, they sound too tame — old and curmudgeonly even.”
“You’re Going to Make It makes life sound like one big bouncy castle of fun.”
“By the time Gardner bares her soul on closer “Sides of Boxes,” the gravity of the situation — her realization that her daughters will grow up and eventually leave — sounds incongruous and disjointed.”
I don’t understand what you’re driving at. You spent the first two paragraphs talking about this band’s style of music like it was some laughable children’s fad, and then you knock them for…not doing a good enough job of it? For some reason it’s more laudable to be consistently “irrelevant” than to mix it up a bit? Wow, that’s…confusing.
Speaking of that, here’s this:
“They build a bridge out of dial tones and cash registers: “you go click click click…” It’s one of the most embarrassing musical passages of the year.”
How is that embarrassing? Didn’t M.I.A. have a song where she built a chorus out of guns and cash registers that Pitchfork named the third-best song of the 2000s? Paired with guns it’s cool, but once you substitute a dial tone…embarrassing? To me an embarrassing musical passage might be a drummer trying to drop his knob on a snare drum fast enough to tap out a 120 beat. But I have a weird imagination. I’m sure there was a very good reason to turn “I didn’t like this” into “it’s one of the most embarrassing musical passages.” Again, I have a weird imagination.
Then comes your conclusion, where the stink took on a tangy, suspicious quality:
“Domesticity is one of the great undersung subjects in pop music.”
“But there are far fewer songs about love that endure and flourish from one comfortable day to the next, through anniversaries and birthdays, through kids and mortgages, through all the hard work that makes a marriage work.”
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’re not really clamoring for that kind of music. I think you’re just trying to mask your condescension in the prior four paragraphs by pretending you’re a champion of the subject, just not the way this band delivered it. But I’ll humor you. Let’s pretend you’re a sucker for songs about doing the dishes and family vacations and reading together in bed. If it’s got a well-respected music critic yearning for more, why doesn’t “domesticity” crop up more often in pop music?
Well, I’ve got a two-part theory. First, all that stuff — kids, mortgages, the “hard work that makes a marriage work” — it’s time-consuming. So most people locked into the responsibilities of family life don’t have a ton of extra hours to spend writing and recording songs about it. It’s not the single life, the college life, the bohemian life. But here we have a husband and wife, two people who raise a family and still find the time and inspiration to write songs, rehearse songs, record songs, and go on tour to perform them.
And that brings me to the second reason why I don’t think there’s a lot of “domesticity” in pop music. I think it’s because people like you would complain that those songs “risk little” or that the people who actually do write on the subject are somehow translating their lives into art the wrong way. Why write songs in your 30s and 40s about the challenges and rewards of a family when some random dude you’ve never met (who apparently craves these songs) is going to sneer at you for not being up to snuff?
Steve, if anything good came out of your review, then I’d say it’s this. Mates of State had this to say shortly after your review was posted:
— Mates of State (@matesofstate) June 16, 2015
Glorious. A band you ridiculed and belittled actually invited you to see them perform live, free of charge, no strings attached. I don’t think that’s just a witty comeback or killing with kindness. I think it’s a reminder that music doesn’t just spring into being, something to be cataloged and graded before it’s consigned to people who don’t know any better but to enjoy it. And if you’re more concerned with writing about how this band has out-limped others in a dying category of some musical appendix, then maybe you need firsthand experience to truly understand who they are and what they create.
Or you can just give the tickets to me and I’ll tell you what you’re missing.