Artist: Slim Twig
Album: Thank You for Stickin’ with Twig
Critic: Laura Snapes
Publication: Pitchfork, 2015
Writing Disorders: Scorn Disease, Idea Fever, Ambiguity Sickness
Laura, take a look at this tweet you wrote about one of Hazel Cills’ music reviews:
this is really lovely, simple, astute writing https://t.co/kQDCiGWjNd
— Laura Snapes (@laurasnapes) August 6, 2015
Oh, I agree — compared to yours, it reads like a Calvin and Hobbes comic. But if you think concise writing is out of your reach, it really isn’t. It’s just a matter of DOING it. There are plenty of easy and obvious changes you can make. Like instead of naming 25 other artists, maybe name 10. Or instead of devoting two-thirds of your review to smothering a musician under a sour, narrow interpretation of feminism, maybe whittle it down to a paragraph. That way you could focus on things like vocal delivery, arrangement, technique, layering, effects, percussion, flow — things like that.
Laura, I don’t know what prompted the change, but nowadays I can wager off a coin flip that one of your reviews will read like it came out of a national lab for gender studies. Lately I just skim for buzzwords, but someone insisted that I give your Slim Twig review a closer look. You really went full-bore:
“That it sounds like Queens of the Stone Age covering T. Rex is surely meant to make some audacious point about a cock-rocking song concerning female pleasure.”
“Both FJM and Pink use bad taste and misogyny in an attempt to radicalize the traditional realms in which they work.”
“Thank You comes at a time when we greet any art that basically musters the Bechdel test with the enthusiasm of serfs receiving crumbs from the master’s table.”
Laura, I don’t think music exists in a vacuum, but I also don’t think it’s so entwined with things you learned in college to justify their constant application simply because some artists are men and others are women. And I have doubts about your sincere desire for equity or equalism or equilibrium or whatever you’d like music to resemble. Even if you didn’t greet those crumbs with the same enthusiasm as the rest of us “we,” I thought you might at least pump the brakes on the gender smackdown this time. Unlike others you’ve hammered under your iron heel, this is an album made by a musician whose stated intent was, by your own admission, to address sexism:
“With Thank You, Slim rejects FJM and Pink’s rejection of good taste, positioning himself as an ally on gender and wage equality, a woman’s pleasure, and an advocate for ‘dragging an appropriation of rock’n’roll kicking and screaming into a place free of cliché, sexism, and trod on association.'”
Of course you didn’t provide any examples of male musicians actually getting the highwire act of women’s issues right. That smells fishy to me, like there really isn’t a right way to satisfy Laura Snapes, so long as there’s a pipe in the pants.
It’s also funny that your indignation is coming “at a time” when Pitchfork just declared an album “Best New Music” that featured the lyrics: “I ain’t got no manners for no sluts/I’ma put my thumb in her butt” and “I dug all in that pussy, I got her/Once I pour in that Molly, I got her.” So if someone makes a point of being an “ally” through his music, he’ll get thrown under a microscope, but if another drops any pretense in order to hoot about penetrating bitches like they’re fleshy Chinese finger traps, he’ll get a pat on the back and a look the other way? By the way, a woman wrote that review.
Reading yours, I got the impression that Slim Twig didn’t create an album so much as rub your worldview the wrong way. For instance, you summed up four songs, about a quarter of the album’s run-time, in less space than you devoted to two quotes from NPR’s Ann Powers and Pitchfork’s Jes Skolnik, the former in reference to Josh Tillman and the latter about “[recoiling] from men who are extremely keen to tell me exactly how Feminist they are.”
Let’s break that down. You spent time quoting another critic’s appraisal of another artist, whose “rejection of good taste” is something that Slim Twig apparently “rejects” on this album. You might as well have quoted Marcus Aurelius. And as far as the Jes Skolnik quote, let’s look at what she went on to write in the same piece. I use “piece” loosely to describe someone’s Tumblr musings, but apparently you greet them with that same serf enthusiasm for crumbs so long as they support your views:
“in my experience, the men who yell the loudest about how much they care about my liberation are more likely in my experience to be abusive on a personal level.”
Does that experience include Max Turnbull, aka Slim Twig, aka the subject of the music review that Laura Snapes is writing? Has Jes Skonik ever had any human interaction with this man “on a personal level”? I doubt it, but maybe we can check someone else’s Tumblr to verify that “the men who yell the loudest” are alike enough to make a blanket comparison.
Laura, it’s odd that you’d quote two people who were either A), talking about another musician who apparently doesn’t apply here, or B), referencing personal experience with what I’m assuming is a small sampling of planet Earth’s men. That doesn’t exactly dispel the notion that you approached this album with prejudices that have less to do with the art and more with the artist’s gender. Besides, I think there’s a woman other than Ann Powers or Jes Skolnik who might be in a better position to evaluate Slim Twig’s sincerity about women’s issues: his WIFE.
“…issued the record on Calico Corp, the label he runs with his wife, U.S. Girls’ Meg Remy.”
I think it would be more illuminating if you called Meg Remy and asked her how she, a musician whose latest single is called “Women’s Work,” could possibly pledge her love to a man who’s so utterly misguided about translating “a woman’s pleasure” into his own creative work. I’m sure you could contact her — you’ve got the press credentials. And heck, you’re no stranger to talking to an artist’s familiar without permission. Should be a piece of cake.
And while we’re on the subject, it’s strangely convenient that two of the three songs you devote any real space to praising are the ones either co-written or co-vocalized by Meg Remy. I don’t know what to make of that. Is it an honest appraisal of quality, or is it just your way of saying it’s hard to speak ill of the one with a penis when there’s a vagina on the bill?
But in any case, that was only a small hiccup in your quest to demonstrate the wrongness of Slim Twig’s execution, especially compared to the entire paragraph spent on the song he wrote about the Rehtaeh Parsons tragedy, a song with lyrics that “don’t convey a complex handle on its gravity.” Well, what lyrics would, Laura? You mind sharing some of your own poetry or another band’s offering that make Slim’s “handle” look pathetically naive by comparison? Again, that seems like a matter of convenience. Concrete examples to support your own vision of rightness would open you up to criticism. And if there’s one thing that music critics can’t stomach, it’s criticism of their own lectures.
And that’s really what you’ve become, Laura, a lecturer. But I guess there’s a widening audience for that kind of writing these days. For people seeking the dreariest, most narrow-minded reading of how men and women should interact in art, I wouldn’t hesitate to point them to your classroom. Because as two people peddling the dreary and narrow-minded, I think we finally have something in common.