Music journalism on rye
For a while, I contributed the occasional CD review to Australia’s worst music web site: The Dwarf.
Run by a couple of unambitious indie kids “normal people doing a job they enjoy who don’t appreciate psuedo-journalistic tosspots taking jibes at their livelihood” [ed: see comments below] out of a labyrinthine office upstairs from McDonald’s in the Melbourne CBD, The Dwarf relies on anonymous, unqualified hacks like me for its content. The hacks are paid only in kind, with a free CD or concert ticket for the review. It’s a recipe for some of the shittiest writing ever published, a high school compendium of half-arsed reviews of the school musical. I mean, here’s the opening paragraph of the first random Dwarf CD review I clicked just now:
Raised in South Florida and now a New York native, Roberto Carlos Lange under the moniker of Helado Negro has assembled an intimately sculpted debut album, Awe Owe is not hacked from quarry-fresh hard stone; but lovingly chiseled from handmade soap.
Soap! Also note the intimately sculpted, lovingly chiseled, affectionately carved use of Word thesaurus.
Having stuck my toe into the tepid, lukewarm bath of music “journalism”, I feel marginally qualified to comment on X-Press magazine, Perth’s ubiquitous street newspaper. X-Press claims to be Australia’s largest free weekly publication. Not sure if “largest” refers to circulation, physical size, or both. But whatevs. In my experience X-Press has the most categorical gig guide of any street newspaper in Australia, which is pretty convenient for Perth music-goers.
But everything else in X-Press, especially the music journalism, is polony.
Take Mike Wafer, who has dominated X-Press’ music journalism for at least 6 years. Here’s the first paragraph of his review of The Mars Volta’s latest album, from last Thursday’s X-Press:
The Mars Volta’s debut, De-Loused In The Comatorium, was a worldwide breakthrough – both fans and critics alike praising the band’s creative wingspan, adding the album to many ‘best of…’ lists. Follow-up albums were increasingly more technically intricate, but increasingly more fatiguing as a result. As a significant change in course, Octahedron sees The Mars Volta playing around with simplicity more than technicality, making it the most unique of their albums since the first one.
This isn’t like the writing you can find on The Dwarf (where you can read opening sentences like “In the niche genre of Christian-Metalcore, these guys are definitely up there with the best of them.”) but ugh. This is as dry and passive as a beached starfish. It’s a worry that after half a decade of music writing, Wafer still comes out with clunkers like “creative wingspan”. And what’s with the unfailing use of the present tense (“praising”, “adding”, “fatiguing”, “playing”, “making”) and the monotonous, tautological “increasingly more”? Both are there in the second paragraph, too:
In a world where post-rock has become utterly commonplace and derivative, it’s a smart move for The Mars Volta to distance themselves from the increasingly-more-boring style and its bands, and get back to surprising people.
At first I thought “increasingly-more-boring style” was meaningless, but actually, it sums it up Wafer’s writing. The more you read Wafer, the increasingly-more his style is boring.
Here’s the first paragraph translated into English:
The Mars Volta’s debut, De-Loused In The Comatorium, was a worldwide breakthrough. But follow-up albums were more technical and intricate, to the point of fatigue. By taking a simpler approach with Octahedron, The Mars Volta have changed direction and produced their most unique album since De-Loused.
Yep, still “increasingly more fatiguing”. But at least when you dump the scientist vernacular, you can see this for what it is: filler. Fair enough, I guess – you can’t fill 48 pages with gig guides. But I do worry about Wafer, who I’ve read intermittently since I was a teenager. Who is he, and why is he so sad?
I mean, the only thing sadder than writing a soporific review of The Mars Volta’s latest wank for an obscure, free street press is slinging mud at that review on the interweb.