Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Profiles in Courage: Ethan Milner


All too often the music reviews around here are done by people who know the band, knows someone who knows the band, or expects to some day know the band. The reviewer doesn’t want to upset their friends, or the wider circle of friends, so the review ends up reading like a press release.

That’s not to say that reviews of local music done by locals have no value. There are a few well informed and talented reviewers around here. Take Jeff Milo and his Deep Cutz blog. His very brief write-up of “Don’t Hang That (On Me)” by the Bad Indians serves as a perfect example of his, shall we say, florid writing style:

“Echo fuzz eruptions - surf-punched drum beats - an effervescent cresting over of reverb - rhythms you could shimmy to, crescendos you could tumble to, and swimming just below the surface, sunburst melodies - ripe with tambourine clatters, harmonica wheezings and organ hums.”

Milo’s review of “Takotsubo” by Darling Imperial contains about what we’ve come to expect from one of his reviews:

Takosubo (sic) retains the chemistry and tightness of their compositions - arresting rhythms and snaring riffs continue to set a steady punch of jangly all-shook-up-ness ("100xSpun"). This time around, working with Jon Weier, they flesh out some more bluesy material (the shimmying march and fiery guitar howls of "You Told Me") that reveals a sensibility for delegating atmospheric sparseness and shambolic, riff-roar-the-walls-down crescendos. Sutured throughout the EP are those striking displays of dueling guitars and soulful vocals, the former coming off like a raucous waltz between psyche-shredded space rock and growling, blues garage, the latter balancing a more delicate, indie-rock air with a stop-you-in-your-tracks belt that stands and struts right alongside all this hard rock rousing.”

He focuses so much on trying to describe the sound, he never explicitly tells us whether or not he really likes the album. I would say that his reviews tend to be value neutral. If nothing sounds bad, how are we to know if anything truly sounds good?

In contrast, over at Motor City Rocks, new contributor Ethan Milner has recently posted his own review of Takotsubo. It’s miles away from being value neutral. Here are some excerpts:

“there isn’t a single thing that is memorable besides the profound similarity some of these songs have to the cannon of pop music”

“The guitar tones don’t help a bit to overcome the Everclear-level blandness”

“But the fact is that after so many listens, all I can vividly recall about takotsubo is my unexcited familiarity with what it has to offer.”

“Ultimately what this record has to offer is a grab-bag of different sounding songs, a survey of 90’s college radio rock and production ideas – all of which you’ve heard before”

“It’s an album that doesn’t take a single risk, and in any day or age that makes for a mediocre listening experience.”

Ethan concludes his review by giving the album a 2.5 out of 5 rating. I think every music reviewer should conclude a review with a straight forward rating. The reader will know when the writer is impressed, and not have to wonder if they're just a review-mill


I suppose it’s possible that Ethan has no presence in the scene, and therefore doesn’t have any fear of attaining a social stigma, leaving him to write with complete objectivity. I choose to believe that Ethan contains a quality that’s rare amongst local music reviewers; courage.

19 comments:

  1. So glad someone is telling like it is about how the "reviews" work in Detroit.

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  2. Hey cunt. You're collection of thoughts, they lack. Hey cunt. Your brain makes women weep. Hey cunt. Your limp witness saddens. Keep cunting and get fists (unless your in millions of brazilians, your Hell should be apparent).

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  3. Yeah, I don't make sense at 3:46 AM either

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  4. It's hard to write an objective review of an album when you're worried about being friends with all the folks you review. Milo's reviews are like free press for bands. I have to assume he doesn't like or sort of like EVERYTHING. You nailed it.

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  5. he describes what he hears. who gives a fuck what one writer rates an album using an imaginary numbered scale? I know it's the nature of the review to basically give people a preconceived notion of how good the music is, but I'd rather read "floral" description of a record than a justification for a quantitative value one human being assigns to its quality.

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  6. "I know it's the nature of the review to basically give people a preconceived notion of how good the music is"

    Perhaps for national publications, but reviews of local music by locals seem to mostly be concerned with keeping the peace within a social scene.

    Keep in mind, I said this about Milo, "There are a few well informed and talented reviewers around here. Take Jeff Milo and his Deep Cutz blog."

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  7. I see the value in leaving judgments up to the audience and simply providing descriptions instead of cutting down local music. What does one person's opinion matter anyway? There's only a few writers on this planet who's suggestions I'd take just from reading their reviews. Detroit's "scene" is just as good as it is bad. For every person who likes some crappy band just for the party, there's also a lot of support going on. Music is art here, more so than most places. Everyone is doing it - some of them quite well. Most musicians in this town don't make a dime, even the really good ones. It's partly because nobody gives a shit what's happening in Detroit's music scene outside of the Detroit area. So, let the douchetards have their little circle jerk. Sometimes it's fun to join in.

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  8. "I see the value in leaving judgments up to the audience and simply providing descriptions instead of cutting down local music."

    I'm not praising Ethan just for cutting someone down. Mostly I get the feeling that he's being more honest by not being the "I like everything" guy. Perhaps something between him and Milo's style would give us the best of both worlds.

    As for the insular nature of the "scene", if some of the bands prefer it that way, or accept it like that, then so be it. It's the people who go out of their way to make the "scene" so insular, and then complain about the region not supporting the arts that deserve my vitriol. Maybe not everyone I've taken a shot at falls into that category, but what do you expect from an internet creepster like me?

    (I use quotation marks far too often. Perhaps I should use parenthesis more.)

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  9. I agree with you that Milner's reviews are honest and objective, and it is refreshing to read about a local record as would be written by a national scribe; as someone with no prior vested interest in the scene. And while motorcityrocks.com is probably viewed mostly by people already familiar with the local music community, I'm assuming that folks behind the website would like to reach a broader audience (the writers typically write the pieces as if they are introducing you to the subject). Now, supposing that they reach this goal and become a sort of window into the local music scene, if I were to read, say, Milner's review of the Darling Imperial record without having any prior knowledge of them, I would have zero interest in ever checking that band out, live or on record. That can really hurt a band.

    In no way am I saying that Ethan Milner has any hidden agenda or personal vendetta at all. On the contrary I think he is being, like you said, much more forthright than nearly anyone who has a presence here would have the balls to be (JCM don't count). I just wonder if there's a better way.

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  10. To be fair, this is the same logic that leads me to enjoy the writing of Brett Callwood.

    http://www2.metrotimes.com/music/review.asp?rid=25184

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  11. I didn't think the metrotimes had the balls to publish a review like that.

    (I am neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Callwood's review)

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  12. If you’re going to trash Jeff Milo (not your friend?) and praise Ethan Milner (your friend?) that’s fine with me. I like Jeff because he has his own style and the reviews are kind of fun to read. Ethan has his own style too – but big deal – he is not the first to opinionate nor is he really that extraordinary with his insight or point of view.

    But I think the bigger “Scenester Douchetard” on this subject is your buddy jr. I mean first, he links the reviews to his site from MCB. They are poorly written with terrible grammar, punctuation and spelling. He was so embarrassed that he stopped linking them to his site.

    He also reviewed a record he never listened to. Are you getting this? He reviewed a recorded he never listened to. Can there be a bigger douchetard? His reviews on MCB usually include one sentence which “describes the sound in 3 buzz words” not unlike what Jeff does.

    Jr is the worst kind of reviewer – can’t spell, can’t write, borrows from everyone else and he’s a fucking liar. Why don’t you pick on him?

    jr sucks

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  13. I think I made it pretty clear I wasn't trashing Milo.

    "Opinionate" isn't a word. Perhaps you meant to say "Opine".

    It wasn't necessary to reference JR's reviews (which I had forgotten about) in order to illustrate my point.

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  14. It's a word and you are poking at Jeff no matter what you say.

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  15. Not a word:

    http://dictionaries.cambridge.org/results.asp?searchword=opinionate
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/opinionate

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  16. Ethan Milner is a drunk male prostitute. And his sunglasses are missing a lens.

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  17. I give Ethan Milner 2 our of 5 Stars of David.

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  18. I think the problem with the way MCR opened up its album reviews was kind of curious. Milner came out of nowhere, at least to me, and slagged a record. At least, that's how it seemed, right? Honest! Truthful! Not Milo! Fuck jerking off!

    But what the fuck does Ethan like? You didn’t know at the time of that post.

    After reading his reviews now for some time, he's just as guilty as jerking off friends as most reviewers can be. At this point, I know he likes listening to very different things than I do (e.g., after his favorable review of Kelly Jean Caldwell, I checked her out and suffered one of the most boring, uninspiring, boring performances I've seen locally, to say nothing of the songs. I'd seen Darling plenty and though I have not heard the album, I'm pretty sure I'd like it more just based on the shows.)

    Point being: He likes different things than what one band did. He likes his own fair share of shit. He can be a fanboy just like the others. This honor came too quick.

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  19. It's possible that he's shilling for bands that are his friends. We'd have to know exactly who he hangs out with in order to know that, and I doubt either of us care enough to research that.

    He's not another "I like everything and everybody" guy, and that's an improvement over the status quo.

    Had I caught a Brett Callwood review like the one that Tiger Shark posted above, I would have been just as quick to write a post about it. My non-existent editor has been on my case for years about my non-existent journalism ethics.

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