THOUGHT BUBBLE: The Problem with Online Music Criticism (and a Doris Album Review Drinking Game!)


The online music criticism universe is becoming an increasingly self-referential place. We — and I say “we” because I’m including my own stuffy self here — seem eager to stumble all over each other in a mad dash to be the first to say some shit about an album. Shit that will inevitably be repeated ad nauseum in numerous other reviews on various other sites that are all virtual clones of “that one” site we increasingly love to hate, but can’t help but click on during our first round of morning coffee.

To wit: In my Doris review I used the words “absentia” and “preternatural” inside the first two paragraphs of the piece. Why? Because I’m really fucking clever and I like to use precious vocabulary like this in order to prove my worth to the handful of uptight dicks who love geeking out over sickly turgid music criticism such as the kind I feel compelled to steal time at work to write (#runonsentence). So imagine my chagrin as I read Son Raw’s (excellent) take on Doris over at Passion of the Weiss and finding, you guessed it, exactly the same two words within the first two paragraphs of his review.

Earl(At this point in my #rant I find it important to note that I’ve made it my strict policy to never read the other reviews of albums prior to completing my own. This to avoid the dreaded sway of other writers’ opinions that I value, and the subconscious — and, let’s be honest, not-so-subconscious — lure of straight-up plagiarism. So, Son Raw, if you’re reading: I didn’t bite your steez, hand to God.)

(And also: I count myself lucky that David Reyneke, Andrew Martin, et al, have allowed me to be a regular contributor to their labor of music love, Potholes In My Blog, and I think that the stable of writers they’re putting on over there holds up in talent and knowledge base to any of the fools Metacritic feels worthy of co-signing.)

All this to say: the act of tapping out intelligent, well-considered album reviews these days feels like an exercise in expositional diminishing returns. And reading said criticism by other writers feels like the limpest circle jerk in the history of circle jerks. (And I say “circle jerks” specifically because, WE’RE ALL DUDES HERE, a whole other problem in itself that definitely deserves its own column/#rant.)

I’m not really here to offer solutions to the dilemma because I’m still trying to figure out what an adequate solution might look like. (Maybe it’s hopeless, like the Yelp Corollary [my term], which says that everything rated online and en masse inevitably trends toward the status quo.) Maybe I’ll start writing reviews that can only be read with a magic decoder ring. Maybe I’ll learn the alphabet of my native language and paint my reviews by hand on the sides of buildings in Flushing, Queens. Who knows what appropriately subversive tact I’ll take in order to exact my cold revenge? What I am here to do is #rant about it (obviously), and collate all of the standard tropes found in Doris reviews the web over into a comical and therapeutic game for drinking, aimed especially at folks like me who turn to the internet on the dawn of every major album release hoping for intelligent discourse.

Yes, it took me that many paragraphs to get here.

Mugs of beer

So, with that, take a drink every time…

  • A well-listened hip hop critic compares Earl Sweatshirt to MF Doom.
  • A self-important critic complains about how most of Earl’s verses “don’t make any sense.”
  • A warm and fuzzy critic praises Earl for his “autobiographical” and “confessional” lyrics.
  • An unimpressed critic is displeased with Doris’ understated production values.
  • A fussy critic reasons that there were too many guest features.
  • A concerned critic references Earl’s time spent in a Samoan rehabilitation center.
  • A highbrow critic notes that Earl’s father is a South African poet laureate.
  • A lowbrow critic refers to the lack of rape fantasies on Doris.
  • An impassioned critic declares Earl as the best rapper in Odd Future.
  • An armchair psychiatrist critic calls Doris a “therapeutic” exercise for Earl.
  • An estranged critic mentions Earl’s “absent father.”
  • A hyperbolic critic deems Doris a “classic.”

And finally, take a shot for me if…

  • You believe my review of Doris to be bloated overkill and an example of the exact problem about which I’m #ranting.
Op-Ed Potholes In My Blog Cross-Post Rants