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?
“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.