“Doing traditional PR for independent artists is really difficult, and handling PR on a national level is the most challenging and one of the most discouraging tasks I have ever undertaken,” writes Ariel Hyatt of Ariel Publicity, and based on a long post at Music Think Tank where she lays out the obstacles to getting an album covered, you can see where she’s coming from. 40,000 CDs are released every year, which means that in an average week, there are almost 800 albums vying for the 3-10 review slots in any publication. Hyatt rightly points out that music critics keep demanding physical copies when many of them just turn around and sell them to record stores, and when digital copies would do just as well, this seems ridiculous. But from the critics’ perspective, they’re being asked to sort through 800 CDs a week to find the ones worthy of coverage, and that’s more or less physically impossible for one person to do.
Peter Suderman scans the sidebar of Metacritic’s music section and points out that “Nearly all of the review averages are positive or very positive, and almost none of them are straightforward pans,” a state that stands in stark contrast to the film section and its panoply of bad reviews. Why is that? Well, there are many more albums released than movies, and since a publication can only run so many reviews, critics naturally tend to pick albums they like. But there’s also the fact that music critics–who as a group can be said to be of the indie mindset–can always seem to find a way to like things. In a reaction to Friday’s post about the nature of lists, Marc Hogan noted that “the perspective generally afforded under the ‘indie rock’ audience umbrella is wider than for other genres.” But is that really a good thing?
“It’s weird to me that the glorification of ignorance is finally (maybe) about to fail in U.S. politics, but it’s still a good look in blue-state coastal elitist music journalism,” Marc Hogan writes, referring to Ann Powers’ article about what she calls “flyover rock,” and what others have called “red-state rock.” Powers argues that the genre–which includes bands like Nickelback, Hinder, and Daughtry–is unfairly dismissed by what is variously called “the coasts,” “the media,” and “elitists.” Her musical analysis highlights the sound’s eclecticism and tries to relate their lyrical focus to a particular way of life–hedonism as a release, multi-generational entertainment, and “openly emotional,” which probably sounds more convincing when the example at hand isn’t Hinder’s “Lips of an Angel.” Powers wasn’t trying to be condescending, but Hogan’s case is helped by her assertion that Sarah Palin gave her baby the middle name Van as a Van Halen tribute–something even a Van Halen fansite recognizes as a joke. So is it ultimately more condescending to dismiss Nickelback because they don’t sound like the music you like, or to try to appreciate them because that’s what “real people” listen to?
Usually, we use The Last Word to round up the all-important, all-summarizing last sentences of the biggest new-music reviews, but this week we’d like to focus attention on responses to Ann Powers’ recent L.A. Times think piece on “poptimism,” a.k.a. critics paying serious attention to mainstream pop music, a.k.a. critics doing (one of) their jobs. In particular, Powers’ discussion of covering American Idol as a music-news story has become something of a bloggers’ chew toy. Below the jump, a bit from Powers’ original piece and some choice blog responses.
Lil Wayne will release The Carter III on May 13. Maybe. After all, the guy has spent the last two and a half years doing everything but making actual studio albums: seven or eight mixtapes, dozens of guest appearances, several arrests, and more hype than the“Loungin'” video*. Some of this attention has been warranted. The Carter II, his previous studio effort, is a good but not great record, with “Tha Mobb” ranking as one of the decade’s finest rap songs and “Shooter” impressively meshing hardcore raps with a crossover sensibility (though Alan Thicke will forever out-class his son). Moreover, Wayne’s ascendence benefited heavily from 2005’s ignominious distinction as one of the worst years in rap history, with critics so strapped for music to ride for that they actually tried to convince themselves that Paul Wall and Mike Jones were good.