As promised, I am trying very hard not to hide my light under the proverbial bushel. So I'm directing you to my latest piece for Souciant, in which I made an effort to articulate the underlying principles that motivated me to start the publication. It's a review of the debut album by Brooklyn's much-lauded -- excessively so, I'll warrant -- duo Cults. Or, rather, as my subject header suggests, it's a review of my struggle to write a review.
That degree of self-reflexivity, a specialty of mine, can be awfully tedious. I know, after all, since I have to live with myself. In this case, however, it was justified, because I needed to explain my frustration with the dominant mode of cultural criticism -- if you can even call it that -- that prevails in the age of Twitter and Facebook:
As I explained to a friend shortly after beginning my first draft, it’s not hard to regard the album as an example of what’s wrong with alternative music under the sign of Pitchfork. Cults’ all-too-rapid rise from making a few tracks available for free online to being the latest “it” musicians in the international music press hurts artists who have been working hard for years to get their music out. And the fact that Cults aren’t even on an indie label, having signed to Columbia’s latest attempt to rival Merge, Sub Pop and Matador, just reinforces the impression that they are taking shortcuts without having paid their dues.In the end, though I had good reasons for being negatively disposed towards the album, I had to admit that it was winning me over.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that dissing Cults in a review would make me guilty of the same offense. After all, the whole point of naming this publication Souciant was to take a stand against the recklessness that prevails on the internet. I know as well as the next underpaid, overeducated intellectual trying to scrape out a living online that insouciance is the shortest path to success.
It’s a lot simpler to write reviews when you don’t let yourself think too hard about what you’re reviewing, when you can focus all your energy on coming up with memorable turns of phrases or button-pushing conclusions. But I’m even more tired of that sort of faux cultural analysis than I am of Brooklyn. I want to read the work of critics who take their time, who force themselves to test their initial reactions to a book, film or record, who aren’t afraid to admit that they are confused. In short, I want to read the work of critics who care too much about the state of contemporary culture to settle for the easy way out. And that’s also the work I want to write.
The rest of the piece concerns my own idiosyncratic response to Cults, which reminded me somehow of both David Lynch films and the music of Born To Run-era Bruce Springsteen. In explaining what I heard, I go out of my way to emphasize that there's nothing to indicate that my perception is the correct one. Rather, the album seems to function like a musical Rohschach test: we hear in it what we need to hear in it. Of course, there's an extent to which all all music -- all culture, really -- works that way. But in the case of Cults, that quality seems to be foregrounded to an unusual degree.