Album: You Can’t Kill Us
Critic: Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli
Publication: Tiny Mix Tapes, 2017
Writing Disorders: Jargon Palsy, Infectious Punctuation
Jeff, I had a hard time making heads or tails of what you wrote here. Granted I don’t listen to grindcore — never have and probably never will at this point in my life. I listened to Fuel’s “Something Like Human” on the way to the grocery store the other day, so I’m probably not the target audience anyway. But just for kicks, let’s pretend that I’m a nubile young misfit looking to pop his grindcore cherry. You didn’t exactly grease the wheels for a zesty trip through this style of music:
“Here, take velocity not simply as a descriptor of tempo — though, of course, it most certainly is, especially with HIRS — but in the abstract and dictionary sense of a trajectory conflated with a speed.”
Yeah…if this is how developments in grindcore’s “material specifics” are normally conveyed, then I think the process could use a makeover. It’s rarely a good sign when writers drop the word “dictionary” in a music review, but there were still plenty of red flags before that. Maybe I’m just too stupid and uncultured to appreciate the full force of your insight into this five-minute album, Jeff, but we did graduate from the same college. And like you, I thought my clunky prose was smoother than a lubed-up marble when I was fresh out of Wesleyan. You said it yourself on your LinkedIn profile, that the stuff you write for Tiny Mix Tapes is defined by an “emphasis on complex yet highly readable analysis.”
I don’t know what you consider plain-old readable, Jeff, but I wouldn’t call this review HIGHLY readable by any stretch of the imagination. Take this section of your intro:
“And yet, with HIRS’ latest release, almost certainly their most effective to date, it’s almost appropriate, given their utter conflation of form, politics, and identity — or, forget the word identity if you so desire, take positionality, idexicality, specificity, whatever — so long as you keep the materiality of transgender and transfemininity as starting points.”
I think “forget the word,” is a good way to describe the process of reading that sentence, Jeff. So let me make a couple of points. First off, when you write “almost” twice in the span of seven words, you should probably reexamine your “complex” analysis because it comes off as a dithering waste of space.
Second, what’s with all the instructions? This is music, right? Drums and guitars, notes and lyrics? Why the hell would I SO DESIRE to “take” any of those dopey academic dollar words you listed but didn’t bother to explain, much less feel the obligation to keep the “materiality” of — you know what, I’m not even going to indulge you. This is all so frigging ridiculous and soullessly “reductive” that I’m just going to move on. Jesus, people complain that I’M the boring one…
Next let’s talk punctuation. I’m going to quote a few snippets together as a group to show my readers why using commas like this makes music writing hopelessly stilted and hard on the eyes:
“…though, of course, it most certainly is…”
“It is, of course, crushing.”
“It is, to the appropriate audience, undeniable.”
“…toward a bitter, worsening nation, toward, fuck it, something resembling a metaphysical ideal…”
If you want a giggle, try reading that stuff in a Ben Stein voice. Then ask yourself if it’s the best way to structure and punctuate your appraisal of something from a genre you called “incredibly fast, limber, restless.” Of course I don’t know what you’d consider the “appropriate audience” for this kind of review any more than I do the appropriate audience for this style of music, so maybe they both have choppy comma fetishes.
Then there’s the members-only academic symposium on the “transfeminine experience” at the heart of your review. I want to touch on that too, Jeff, even though I’m a cis lord or dark knight of the cis or whatever else suits your fancy. There seems to be a tendency for music writers to treat anything with transgender fingerprints like a signal to throw a postmodern word orgy. The amount of jargon and detachment is mind-boggling. I don’t know of any other branch on the human tree more vulnerable to cloistered academic writing than trans musicians, which is odd considering current struggles for broader acceptance in society, or improved “positionality” as you might say. Lucky them.
Maybe it’s just my indoctrination into a “hateful macro-culture,” but I think there are more constructive ways of exposing the world to the “vicious, shivering aplomb” of trans music, Jeff. First you might consider NAMING a single member of this HIRS “collective,” because you gave the impression that the music was simply willed into existence, not created by people pressing strings, hitting drums, and howling really fast. And to me that’s bizarre because you started this review flummoxed by the notion that anyone would define the group by “the identities of its members over its sonics.” Well, what the hell is the point of praising the sonics if you don’t praise the efforts of anyone responsible for creating them? Call me crazy, but whatever the genre in question, it’s usually a good starting point to treat the musicians as human beings with human motivations, not departmental curiosities demanding words like “idexicality” to explain what they bring to the world. And by the way, Jeff, if you’re going to drop such egg-headed jargon, you might want to spell the jargon correctly. Why yes, Google, apparently I DID mean “indexicality,” that common slang word the kids use so often on inner-city street corners these days.
Jeff, regardless of the overall state of gender politics in this country, I think it says a lot that a “roughly five-minute release” can get this much written about it for a music publication, even if it’s the Island of Tiny Mix Toys. And regardless of whether this is a “subculture” within a “community” you’re writing about here, I don’t think you’re doing these people any favors by giving their album 4 1/2 out of 5 stars without so much as a glance into who they are, where they’re from, and where they’re going. And if the antidote to “a political moment of crypto-fascist corporatism” is a promising filmmaker writing like Foucault with a bad case of hemorrhoids, then I think the world could use a greener middle ground.