From Iceland — Sour grapes and stuff

Sour grapes and stuff

Published May 6, 2011

Sour grapes and stuff

Dear Grapevine Music Staff
Thank you for covering the Reykjavik Music Mess. I have followed your paper’s musical coverage with interest for a while now and I hope I am not out of line making a few suggestions on things to keep in mind. I don’t mean to moan about styles of individual writers on your staff but to make my point there are a few quotes. They are complete arbitrary and aimed at demonstrating how your writing can be of more use to readers and musicians.
Your articles tend lack focus, direction and are often full of patronizing generalization…
“Beds are, by default, more comfortable that concert venues”
…and pointless hipster prose.
“Music enthusiast and frequent concertgoer Daví Roach Gunnarsson says, “They are a rockier version of Beach House. Good, but not great.” I think they were something like gooreat!”
Good critique evaluates the artists success/failure in realizing his goals, ability to have impact on his surroundings and many many other things…. not how the artist lived up to the critics personal expectations nor preconceptions of behavioral patterns of musicians or how music should look like.
“These guys came all the way from the United States and looked so not excited to be here! Damn, they looked so fucking bored and aloof!”
Compare yourself to Neytendasamtökin: When writing an article about the price of fuel don’t tell us why you tanked up in the first place, where you are headed or how the smell of gasoline in the morning makes you feel.
“At points, I yearned for him to jump out of his matching baby blue shoes and hat and give his voice some substance and power.”
A good critic educates his readers. The musicians want to and probably will read your article. A well written critique is useful to musicians. It may point out qualities the musician was unaware of. It enhances the listeners joy of music, often by pointing out subtleties or interesting facts.
“There is something inherently impressive about a horn section. Yes, it’s true, human eyes widen with wonder at the sight anything shiny”
This requires a bit of effort but has the potential to improve the music scene. It may even spark a new trend or raise the standard of excellence! This should be your aim at all times.
“Mind you though, perhaps they should undergo what can be the ultimate Eastern party band test by performing with four large bottles of vodka on stage while someone shoots live ammunition over their heads. Now THAT is something I wouldn’t mind paying to see.”
A critic as an essential part of the music scene and should conduct his work accordingly. Part your job is knowing if something sucks and when to write about it. When that day comes you want to be sure you have kept standard and maintained credibility. Else nobody will listen to you and quality of life on Earth will diminish.
May your writings be inspired and inspiring
Róbert Reynisson
Dear Róbert,
We have for long enjoyed your work with such bands as Borko, Benni Hemm Hemm and the like. And it is heartening to receive such a letter from a musician that we truly admire (we really do). It’s nice to know we’re being read, and it’s doubly nice to learn that people are putting serious effort into engaging in a dialogue with what we write. Certainly our various music criticisms are not beyond criticism (that was a really fun sentence to write).
However, comparing music writing to consumer reporting (“reporting the price of gas”—THE NEW BUBBI ALBUM IS PRICED AT 3.499 ISK BUT IT IS ACTUALLY ONLY WORTH 2.499 ISK BECAUSE UH REPETETIVENESS AND CRAP LYRICS) is odd (the fact is: we are indeed writing about where we are headed and how the smell of music makes us feel in the morning). You furthermore seem to foster teleological ideas on music (entailing that it can somehow be ‘perfected’ and that it is the musician’s and music critic’s job to collaborate so that such a plateau may one day be reached).
Such a mode of thinking seems fairly absurd; why can’t writing about music (or anything, really) be considered just as creative an act as performing it (that also means that music writing can and should be critiqued and discussed—WAIT, THAT’S WHAT WE’RE DOING RIGHT NOW). Why shouldn’t the artist be critiqued in light of the writer’s (or anyone’s) expectations? Concerts usually consist of nothing but people and their expectations (and the band’s parents sometimes).
It is not our job to tell you how to make better music. It is our job to tell you how your music resonates with us as human beings. Right?
Anyway. This has been a fun exchange. And you will get your prize, this is a promise. But! There’s more! Grapevine music writer (and music lover, and music thinker, and music feeler, and music smeller) Bob Cluness wished to respond, too. Read our next reader letter for more! 

Dear Robert
Thanks for the letter. We actually do like it when we get bits of mail about music writing, even when they are of the “you suck/ don’t know what you’re talking about/ hate Icelandic music, etc” kind. So when we get a response like yours, we always welcome it.
Some of the points you made about music criticism are certainly valid ones, such as the ability to convey to readers what is happening and the musician’s impact on his or her surroundings, about how we should avoid lazy generalisations and how we should try to maintain some form of credibility. Having said that, there are a few points that i very much (but politely) disagree with you on
– Your letter talks about the idea that there we should attain to a “standard of excellence”. The fact is that music journalism is probably one of the most subjective forms of writing there is, mostly due to the fact that music means many different things to many different people. There is no real “standard of excellence” of which you speak of, just tips and pointers for those who first start out. Most people who write about music (even the famous ones) often develop very idiosyncratic styles and tastes in music that probably would not fit an agreed standard, and attracts fans as well as detractors. Also, because people’s tastes and methods of critiquing are different, knowing what is good and bad in music wildly changes with each person. If the majority of music writers in Iceland award 4 or 5 stars for an album (which they usually do), but I only think that it’s worth two at best, does this mean that I don’t know what is a good or bad album? Or does this mean that i am the only voice of reason? As long as I try to convey clearly my reasons, it’s up to the reader to decide.
– When you compare music criticism to Neytendasamtökin (Petrol Prices), you’re completely missing the point. That sort of writing is set to convey basic facts that people need on the subject, and that is all. This would be good for reviewing stuff like stereo equipment (that have a lot of technical features), but music works on people in many ways that be can’t just described with facts alone. We also need to remind ourselves that we also have to entertain the reader, and how we say something is just as important as what we’re say.
– It’s not the music critic’s job to represent or change the music scene; just to report on what is happening as it relates to him or herself and try to determine whether he thinks it’s any good or not. We should also really keep musicians at an arm’s length to keep an objective distance (except for those exclusive interviews of course!). Admittedly due to the close, almost incestuous, nature of the Icelandic music scene this is a near impossibility, but still, we need to try.
In the end no matter what you write, people will be divided on whether it’s any good or not. For every person who says you’re full of crap, you get another saying how brilliant it was. We will always try to do the best we can in an honest way Robert, and I hope that you will find stuff in this newspaper that you agree with and like in the future.
Bob Cluness
PS – I loved your second to last sentence. Ow, bitchy! Have you ever considered writing about music for the Grapevine? The pay is terrible, but free coffee at the office though!
Dear Bob Cluness,
Who said that coffee was free?
The Reykjavík Grapevine

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