Everybody’s a critic. The words have never been truer than in today’s digital age. Every product at every online marketplace — be it Amazon, Zappos or Etsy — has a rating system. This feature is simple enough. Shoppers use the space to let others know that the shoes you’re about to buy don’t fare too well in water, or if the custom sweatshirt runs true to size. In these cases, the reviews remain very matter-of-fact. They answer questions such as, “Does this product serve its purpose?” and “Does this product work as advertised?” They break the product down into “Buy” or “Don’t buy.” But when reviews turn to something more ethereal and subjective, like music, user reviews can no longer be so pragmatic or consistent.
iTunes has seemingly been the dominant way in which people consume music for the better part of the millennium, and the service has also become a huge aggregate for consumer music reviews. It is telling of the fickleness of the public that within a single album, the reviews can fluctuate wildly. Take, for example, Grimes’ breakthrough 2012 record “Visions,” on which the consumer reviews ranged from one-star, calling it unlistenable, to five-star, claiming it’s a work of genius. The average iTunes consumer is probably in the middle of these poles, but will likely be swayed one way or the other by these two extremes.
This is where the power of the music blog circuit comes in to play. The reviews posted on sites such as Stereogum and Consequence of Sound have a real effect on the listening public, but these sites cannot come close to the reach and influence of Pitchfork. The blog has far and away the most pull of any music publication on the net, and has been known to make or break an artist’s career with a single post. As such, Condé Nast, the media giant that owns publications such as Wired, GQ and Vogue, acquired the site on Oct. 13 in an attempt to corner the millennial male market that is Pitchfork’s main demographic.
The opinions put forth by these sites are held up as doctrinal, but their reviews are as intrinsically as valuable as any kid’s with a WordPress account. Some critics have taken to YouTube as their soapbox and used the visual nature of the medium to create a new kind of relationship between the reviewer and the people watching. Anthony Fantano’s channel, TheNeedleDrop, is the most popular for this crop of YouTube critics, and his loyal fanbase follows his word as the final say on all things music.
The Internet has invariably changed the way we think about music and subjective art in general. The voices of a few have replaced our ability to think and form opinions for ourselves. The discourse surrounding music criticism online is cloaked in a veil of elitism and pretension so thick that reading or watching a review feels like stepping into a coffee shop too snobby for even gentrified Brooklynites. The diction used in these reviews is elevated so as to trick you into thinking the critics’ opinions are more relevant than your own, when in reality the review is completely worthless.
This is why I love YouTube music critic HereLiesMusic, whose most recent album review dropped on Tuesday. He is the antithesis of every stuck-up reviewer on the web. His brilliant video reviews are all less than 20 seconds long, punchy and funny as hell. They can be as succinct as his review of Toro y Moi’s “What For?” (“It’s boring”) or as elaborate as his “Intervention”-parodying review of Chvrches’ “Every Open Eye.”
HereLiesMusic does away with all the pomp and circumstance that comes with music criticism these days, such as numerical scores and word counts as high as some term papers. In fact, most of his reviews are so vague that you can’t tell if he liked the album in question or not, which leaves you to inject your own opinion into his. The HereLiesMusic Twitter page proudly proclaims, “I do music reviews for those who hate music reviews,” concisely summing up his approach as only someone who has honed brevity to a fine point can do. In a time when all content is getting smaller and shorter, it’s a wonder someone like HereLiesMusic hasn’t come around sooner to save us from the abysmal way music is discussed online.