Matthew Schnipper’s review of “Liberman” by Vanessa Carlton

Vanessa Carlton

Artist: Vanessa Carlton

Album: Liberman

Critic: Matthew Schnipper

Publication: Pitchfork, 2015

Writing Disorders: Infectious Punctuation, Ambiguity Sickness

Truth: “That’s as good a place as any to reset”




Matt, I’m having a hard time understanding the contents of your LinkedIn. All four of your listed occupations for the past eight years contain the word “editor”: managing editor, senior editor, deputy managing editor, editor-in-chief. And it’s not like you held these positions at the Bullitt County Drumbeat or the Picher Town Chat Pile. We’re talking about The FADER, GQ, The Verge, and now Pitchfork — hardly lightweights.


It’s baffling because if this review you wrote is any indication, you must have spent those years doing something other than leading by example.


Before the Internet told me otherwise, I thought you were in the 18-to-22 age range because that’s how you write: like a really boring college student with rickety fundamentals. Yet several employers have hired you to oversee people’s writing on subjects meant to stir the loins, and now you’re apparently calling plays AND running routes over at Pitchfork. I don’t get it. Is it the glasses? Do I just need a pair of thick, unflattering glasses to get a job as an editor with Pitchfork or The FADER? Do editors in the music press do what’s implied by the name, or do they just “in-chief” or “senior” things around the office?


At least there’s a silver lining, Matt. Even if you’ve proven that being a strong writer isn’t a prerequisite for managing the stuff, it’s never too late to start training. I don’t know if you have any interest in doing that, but here are a couple steps you might consider taking if you do.


First, reread. Either you didn’t do it here or you’ve got a weird fetish for the word “refreshingly”:


“… which she does with the refreshingly raw Liberman.”


“…touches on each in a way that feels refreshingly old school”


If you think that’s nitpicking, bear in mind that you also mentioned “mild real talk” and “mild indulgences,” and you wrote “in a way” three times in the span of 90 words. Topping it off, you used “comprised of” twice, that cardinal sin of AP style. Do me a favor and bill Condé Nast for a copy of the stylebook before things get any worse. Those fudgy streaks aren’t the best insignia for your rank.


Second suggestion: rewrite. If your music review is the result of any amount of rewriting, then I’d say you’re bad at that too. Let’s take a closer look at one of your sentences:


“Like the bulk of her recordings, it’s still comprised of her honeysuckle voice and piano licks, but Liberman (so named after Carlton’s grandfather, one of whose paintings of nudes hangs in her home and served, she says, as a sort of inspiration) either lets those components stand alone or accentuates them with mild indulgences, like blunted brass or hand claps.”


Matt, I’ll save you the trouble of reading that sentence from the point of view of an interested party instead of a forensic examiner. Don’t worry — I can be both. By the time I stumbled through that clutzy raft of words you crammed inside parentheses, I had no recollection of what the hell “lets those components stand alone.” I don’t think I stood alone in my confusion:



I could rewrite it any number of ways, but here’s one example:


“Vanessa’s latest album is named after her grandfather, a painter whose artwork hangs in her home and gave her material inspiration. With Liberman she continues to center the music on her honeysuckle voice and piano licks, but here she lets those components stand alone or accentuated with mild indulgences like blunted brass or hand claps.”


I’m not going to pretend that I’m the best writer on the planet, but at least I cut out “comprised of” and deleted “one of whose paintings of nudes.” At least I made it seem like the artist is the one doing the letting, not the album she recorded. At least I wrote a cogent description without resorting to a confusing sentence within a sentence. And yes, I took out the “nudes” because you didn’t make it clear with your crummy wording if her grandfather did one nude per painting or a big ol’ group of nudies. I don’t have the press release to verify.


Matt, I saw a flicker of personality in your writing here and there, like “This is the person I want to hear” and “don’t mind if I do.” But it was sopped up by thick sentences or even suspiciously placed advertisements for three “Best New Music” artists of the past year on Pitchfork:


“The flipside is that it’s also harder to imagine fans of punkier singer-songwriters like Angel Olsen or Tobias Jesso Jr. embracing her. She should share a stage with Perfume Genius. They both have beautiful voices and something to say.”


First off, the Angel Olsen link is dead, so if you’re going to do the Pitchfork routine with all the distracting red ink, you could at least check that the distractions lead somewhere. But WTF kind of an airy declaration is “they both have beautiful voices and something to say”? Are you implying that Angel Olsen or Tobias Jesso Jr. don’t have something to say, regardless of the perceived quality of their voices? I don’t think that’s actually what you meant, Matt, but it’s still needlessly confusing wording that’s easily solved by…you guessed it…editing.


Matt, I won’t blame you for thinking I’m a jealous nobody who doesn’t even have his own LinkedIn profile. And by all means, feel free to critique my writing or get someone with a better understanding to do it for you. Unlike most people who belong to your Cult of Music Neurotics, I’m open to criticism and won’t immediately block you on Twitter for voicing it. I’m sure people will complain that I used a colon before “like” or took liberties in expanding “a painter” as an appositive of “grandfather.” Those are stylistic choices, things I’m not going to argue against writers using according to their own discretion.


But I also think that stylistic choices should enhance writing, not bog it down. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that editors in the music world should labor under that basic assumption too.