Last year my dad quit chemo and told us that was it. At the time he was in remission and I was enthusiastic about his decision because the last round was pure misery. I don’t know what I was thinking, maybe that he could keep having surgery to remove the tumors or that he’d have an even longer second remission and they’d develop a new treatment in the interim. But it didn’t last and at the end of February he told me the cancer was back but what he really meant was that he was dying. Even this didn’t sink in quickly because he looked the same and he was still running his same errands and still driving the the airport to pick up my sister and eating McDonalds breakfast burritos. It was impossible to reconcile my dad and dying so I didn’t for a couple months. But by June they started fitting together better. His laughter changed and his bones stiffened and the rest of him started wasting away. He gave my sisters and I ukeleles for Christmas in July. Guiltily, I haven’t touched mine and it’s tucked in a corner of my apartment where I’m shoving all the sadness. No one tells you how soon you will lose this person you love but how long they will still be here. I visit every other weekend and make my parents a new sandwich. I made chicken caprese with sundried tomato pesto, chorizo cemitas with a fried egg, ham and pimiento grilled cheese, and pork schnitzel. This weekend I’m making falafel. My dad eats about half his sandwich and saves the rest for Monday. I’ve been crying a lot lately. This is why.
the next Radiohead
To me, Alt-J do sound a lot like Radiohead, or at least like In Rainbows, which is a more unusual specifc, but always seeing them through the prism of being ‘the next Radiohead’ is not quite the same thing and is a bit tiresome.
The phrase “next Radiohead” or “the new Radiohead” has appeared in the following Pitchfork album reviews:
- Alt-J - This is All Yours
- Alt-J - An Awesome Wave
- Elbow - Build a Rocket Boys!
- Elbow - Asleep in the Back [Deluxe edition]
- Girls Against Boys - You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See
- Idlewild - The Remote Part
- Travis - Ode to J. Smith
- White Lies - Ritual
Plus there was a whole feature earlier this year on bands who were the next Radiohead. Like 5/8 of the above reviews, it was written by Ian Cohen. They all attribute the words in question to other people. All of them are about British bands apart from the reference in the Girls Against Boys review, which is about Abra Moore rather than Girls About Boys and could read as ridiculing the idea that a press release could call a Californian woman the next Radiohead.
Cohen isn’t responsible for the most objectionable use, that being the Idlewild review with the following section:
Never mind the fact that the Scottish quartet doesn’t sound like anything Radiohead has produced since the anthemic days of The Bends; they’re from the UK (Scotland, to be precise), and that’s all that it takes to be thrown into a compare-and-contrast table by my limey colleagues
I was a fan of several Idlewild albums and read plenty of British music press at the time and I call bullshit, because do not remember anyone ever calling them the next Radiohead, due indeed to sounding nothing like Radiohead. Sure enough, google’s first results for “Idlewild” “next Radiohead” are from Slate, NYT and Pitchfork. Even switching it for the more British “the new Radiohead” construction, I can’t find an article from a British publication I’ve heard of.
Searching for “the new Radiohead” or “next Radiohead” in reviews from Pitchfork’s closest British equivalent Drowned in Sound (which started in… 2000, I think) turns up only three results: a demo review mentioning bands claiming to be ‘the next Radiohead/Joy Division/Muse’, a review of Everything Everything’s Arc saying ‘probably not the new Radiohead’, and a review with a reference to the NME calling Hope of the States ‘the new Radiohead’. A more general search doesn’t turn up much outside of the Telegraph and a load of minor publications repeating back consensus out of nowhere.
Admittedly, some of the lack of results is likely to be because NME review archives aren’t online. However, it makes sense that it is less likely to occur to music writers for British publications to immediately compare any new British band to one particular British band without further reason. They review a lot more British bands, and are unlikely to think of them as British bands first and foremost. If you normally presented me with the list Alt-J, Elbow, Idlewild, Travis, White Lies and asked me what they had in common, being British is not the first thing that would come into my head. I listen to and read about enough British music that being British is, if not the default, at least something near it.
In other words, American publications talking about the British being obsessed with labelling British groups as ‘the next Radiohead’ strikes me as a massive case of projection.
This is really interesting to me, and I agree completely with the closing assertion, even as someone who (ugh) used Radiohead for shorthand when discussing “Every Other Freckle.” I’m not immune to drawing these sorts of comparisons (and I don’t think any music writer is) but they’re almost always alienating to fans of the artist under discussion, even when they’re not applied dismissively. My reasoning for drawing Radiohead into my thoughts on Alt-J was to briskly suggest that the critical line on the band (in America) reeks of fear of the upcoming generation. In the same way that Rolling Stone keeps finding new ways to deify Led Zeppelin, Pitchfork will protect Radiohead’s canonization at all costs. Panning Alt-J is deliberate, though maybe unconscious. It swats away the idea that we’re all getting older and our heroes are getting older and astute listeners who have no inborn respect for our cultural junk are finding new bands to love. No one has to love Alt-J, but offering them up as “the next Radiohead” only to knock them down for not measuring up to the title doesn’t account for the way they’ve connected to a massive audience and doesn’t explore the writer’s own biases and fears. Huge releases like This Is All Yours are a rare opportunity to dig into the culture at large, so it’s super disappointing when a major review whiffs like this one did.
Anonymous said: I love listening to music with other people, especially when I'm introducing new music to them, but a pet peeve of mine is when people talk over music, which I recognize is a really ridiculous pet peeve to have since this is a social activity I'm describing, but it frustrates me nonetheless. It doesn't bother me as much now, but I was wondering if you or anyone else you know feel the same way?
be honest are you a man
the motherfucking princess and it’s only THURSDAY
5 Lessons Learned from 10 Episodes of #SWOONSTEP:
- Women love to qualify. Honestly, this is a trait we don’t value enough because perceptions of “confidence” or whatever, but it’s so thoughtful to lay out your reasoning. Sometimes, women love to qualify their opinions with a degree of uncertainty: “I’m not an expert on the topic, but…” I edit this out sometimes because 1) men rarely ever do this, sometimes even about topics they have no fucking clue about and 2) okay fine you’re not an expert but you have spent literally hours googling this topic and that is APPARENT 3) I am trying to keep these episodes at a reasonable length sorry. I also frequently undercut myself, but I’m getting better about just going for it. This also means that women have become used to men mansplaining that they’re scared of being wrong. In June, a man explained to me that Pharrell was a producer. Uh huh, very interesting; I did not know that.
- Talking about your crushes is crazy cathartic for women. There are plenty of dudes who write Real Serious Music Criticism who feel the need to comment on the attractiveness and appearance of female musicians. Meanwile, being a fangirl is seen as girlish; grown ass women are not supposed to have crushes! What women see as important in music is connected to fantasy and desire. This is somewhat vital to the explaining why Swoonstep has basically become WeHeartDrake Podcast. We love Drake because of a plethora of reasons that stem from what he talks about in his music (also abs, I guess). Why do women love Matthew Dear? Because his music gives us our own little worlds on the dance floor (also hair, I guess). Anyway, related: you should read Hazel (piratemoggy) on teenage girls and fandom. It’s like the best thing ever, swear to god.
- Women and women of color are around. Diversity is not just a fucking statistic to me; it means contrasting, differentiating, important opinions and unique, interesting voices. Interesting, unique, diverse groups of people may not be in the traditional places though because they’ve been shut down in those same places. You gotta dig a little. Some of the most best music criticism is happening on Black Girls Talking even if it’s not explicitly a music thing. No one we’ve ever asked to do Swoonstep has ever said no. In fact, most women are really super psyched to be asked about their opinions. This helps when you create an open and inviting environment for everyone. Set that tone and expectation early.
- Hosting is both hard and easy: the easy part is how easy it is to listen. Our guests are always great. Megan is consistently hilarious. I’m often okay with not needing to chime in and have the last word. There is something rewarding about learning not to “I agree, and also…” The hard part is being the boner killer and having to structure and guide the conversation within a reasonable timeframe.
- I think Megan and I are the only ones doing a ladies music podcast. There are other awesome podcasts that focus on a lot of other stuff, but we do music. That is cool!
#DIDYOUKNOW Crystal also does all our #Swoonstep art work? She is one of the most talented people I know. I have only a couple stray thoughts:
1) Black Girls Talking is probably the most important podcast anyone could listen to. If you only have time for one podcast, I wouldn’t even recommend my own over theirs. If you have time for two podcasts, add Girls in Hoodies to your rotation.
2) This podcast is the most effortless thing I’ve ever done. We email an amazing woman roughly every week and our guests are happy to participate. Crystal is very organized and focused as a host. We make a plan of what to talk to before recording and Crystal keeps us moving from subject to subject. Talking to these women is often the highlight of my week. We never struggle to find topics or to draw our guests out. Often these podcasts could be twice as long!
post-prufrock said: Regarding Crystal's answer to my question the other day, is there anything you would like to add?
I hope you don’t mind me posting this publicly instead of answering privately.
The only thing I’d add (and this comes from Crystal too, but it’s something I agree with completely) is that no one can never opt out of being part of the problem. We all have access to the same media and it’s up to you to seek out diversity in your consumption. I think it’s a mistake to assume that women have an easier time finding and supporting other women just because we share our gender. I have to wade through the same overwhelmingly male critical content that you do and it’s easier, even as a woman, to accept whatever is served up first. I recommend not feeling satisfied until you’ve found a woman’s take. This goes double for writers of color. I’m gleaning from your blog that your taste leans in the Pitchfork/Consequence of Sound/Drowned in Sound direction, which most people code as white. I echo Crystal’s site suggestions, but if you’re looking for a place to read album reviews and more traditional music writing but also want to encounter writers of color, I’d recommend Wondering Sound. Here are the profiles for several exceptional people of color writing about everything from pop to metal to rap to country to riot grrl.
Always, if I like something I’ve read, I follow the writer on Twitter in hopes of soaking up some of what they love and finding things I’m missing. Good luck.
post-prufrock said: Hi Crystal! I'm sure like many white male writers who hears your podcast, my initial reaction to your indictment of male-centrism in the music criticism sphere was along the lines of "man, these girls are so right, those stats are scary...but I'M not part of the problem rite!?!?", which I then realized COULD be true but PROBABLY not. Can you think of anything us male writers can do to stop promoting this gross imbalance? Thanks, keep writing forever.
A couple of caveats to what I’m about to say:
- I have a full-time job unrelated to writing about music. This means my opinion is very colored. I’m allowed to do and say a lot in this space without fear of losing my next paycheck or access to health care.
- As a result, I’m also fairly insulated from the day-to-day of music writing. I don’t actually know what it’s like to be a staff writer. I don’t like, have a lot of experience, a long-standing gig with a major publication or anything. I have no idea what the politics look like. I’m sure they’re not fun.
That being said, it always just comes down to being aware and being open. I’ve been very fortunate to write for The Singles Jukebox where my editors and staff actively listen (first step! prerequisite to everything!), work very hard to be aware, and take proactive steps to get better with women taking central roles in those initiatives. Our application process was giving us a lot of white dudes? Let’s rethink our strategy about it. The dudes on your website are crowding out the voices of women, speaking on behalf of women? Okay, let’s create an environment where your female writers don’t feel uncomfortable pointing out this is ridiculous. Our coverage was missing several gaps, especially around what is music that has been ignored by traditional music outlets? Okay, get women to pick artists and songs to cover.
For casual music writing and reading dudes, it’s important to look at your own biases, too:
- Is your group of music writing friends all dudes? Great, you’ve got a problem. Fix it.
- Are you primarily reading music writing done by white dudes? Okay, time to think of some new writers to follow. Read Rookie! Read The Toast! Read Hello Giggles! These should not be considered websites exclusively for girls or women. They should be required reading for everyone.
- Did a woman call something you wrote sexist? What’s her tone? Nope, trick question — it doesn’t matter; your initial instinct will to be defensive, but you should listen and take it to heart and be better next time.
It’s not the job of the woman to educate or inform. My friendships with women are very well documented online. Do the work and figure them out. And follow those women because they are brilliant, hilarious, thoughtful, fearless, and biting. You’ll find there are more of them than you think.