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The worst music criticism: A review

I recently critiqued an article by Steve Almond that I felt unfairly and naively  lambasted music criticism. Almond wrote music criticism is pointless: I disagreed.

And then I stumbled upon something that support Almond’s point 100 percent. I still don’t agree with what Almond wrote, but this piece of “music criticism” by Impose’s Jason Diamond meets Almond’s criteria for pointlessness.

Impose is a fantastic music site that covers an array of artists that normally don’t receive the slightest bit of attention on many a blog, all with a nice bit of insight and a sharp voice. Diamond’s piece on Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come, a mind-numbing rant loosely related to Epitaph’s reissuing of the album, is the opposite of insightfulness.

I appreciate unusual methods of reviewing an album, strong voices and critical opinions that are different than mine. Yet, Diamond managed to mess up that entire pretense with his utter load he tried to pass as something resembling a takedown.

Just how does he do it? Let’s take a look:

First, Diamond introduces an article bashing Refused with the pretense that he’s a “fan” of hardcore punk:

I’m not ashamed to admit that I liked mid to late 90s hardcore in high school during the mid to late 90s.  Despair, early Integrity, Unbroken, etc. That’s good shit I won’t hate on for a second.

This is meant to show the reader that Diamond knows what he is talking about, that he’s thought about this review long and hard. Eventually, it just reads like a pitiful excuse for his lack of providing anything resembling actual criticism.

Then Diamond makes the first big error. Breaking down music fans into easily-manageable categories as to hyper-generalize their reaction to hardcore music. Or, “lumping” as he calls it:

1. You never had any cool hardcore friends. You probably were under the (correct) assumption that most hardcore was fucking terrible and by default, so were the people that listened to the music.

2. You’re a total pussy. Sorry.

3. You’re a liar and you sold all your hardcore records on eBay as soon as you started art school.

Here, Diamond is showing the reader his “voice,” which appears to be nothing more than an “irreverent” and “ironic” sense of humor that runs deep through so many hipster blogs. Oops. Was that too much of a generalization? Perhaps. But, as Diamond didn’t give anyone a choice of, say, taste when it comes to their thoughts on hardcore, cramming his writing style into a stereotype is the least I can do. Actually, it’s not all that hard to cram in.

Diamond reveals his hipsterai-borne sense of the need to be cool through the next sentence where he states that, basically, his cohorts cannot speak honestly about their music taste, presumably because of a fear of losing cool points (“Aside from a few friends who are brave enough to admit that they were Phishheads in their past life…”) Anyway, he uses this as an introduction to the article, Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come, otherwise known as Diamond’s method of “outing” former hardcore fans:

One way to get somebody to fess up is to bring up The Shape of Punk to Come by Refused. Nine times out of ten the person you are talking to will end up pissing themselves all over that album, possibly using terms like “game changing”, “revolutionary”, or even better: “Second coming of Nation of Ulysses”.

Great. finally we’re getting somewhere. Diamond explains the importance of the record, and somewhat makes up for all that idiotic posturing that began his dreadful piece. Don’t get too comfortable. It’s all downhill from here:

I’m here to tell you that if they say any of those things, please feel free to tell them to shut the fuck up.

Oh, finally, thank you! Jason Diamond, the authority on all things hardcore because he can name drop Unbroken! Thank you, good sir, from freeing me from the tyranny of people who love Refused. I’ve been trapped for years, unable to form my own opinion and try to express it well, but finally, someone to do all the work for me! Let’s see what he says:

The Shape of Punk to Come (T.S.o.P.t.C. henceforth) is the single most overrated album to come out in the late 90s.

Ok, why?

You know what T.S.o.P.t.C. really is?

An album… right? Awww, come on, tell me already!

It’s a bad attempt at combining Born Against and N.o.U with a bunch of techno music thrown in — …

Hmm… OK, that’s an opinion. But why is that? Give me a reason you think it’s a “bad attempt,” Mr. Diamond!

that upon any listen today, seems incredibly dated — …

Actually, I happened to be listening to T.S.o.P.t.C. on a consistent basis the past two weeks and happened to be enthralled and found it refreshing. But that’s just my opinion. We all can’t agree on everything, but at least we can give some solid reasoning behind why we like or dislike a record and/or band, right Mr. Diamond?

…and it’s perpetrated by a bunch of Swedes with government art grants and books on Situationist International.

I’m sorry, what? Did Diamond out himself as a xenophobic with a particular fear of Swedish people, all while decrying government grants for artists and people who read about European revolutionary theory?! I think he did! Well, that totally explains why this album is so terrible… right? It doesn’t? Riiiight…

And then Diamond falls down the rabbit hole of ranting, with his “strongest” “argument” against Refused routed in frontman Dennis Lyxzén’s post-Refused work:

And while it doesn’t have anything to do with the album in question per se, lead singer Dennis Lyxzén’s post-Refused project, The (International) Noise Conspiracy, exposed him as nothing but an Ian Svenonious wanna-be. All posturing and no product. If Refused was an attempt at being Nation of Ulysses, The (International) Noise Conspiracy was a pathetic attempt at pinching some magic from The Make Up.

Right. Because no one in pop music has ever made a career on basing their oeuvre on the work of other musicians and received acclaim for that. (Nobody tell Diamond that The White Stripes exist, otherwise he won’t know what to do with himself!) Diamond’s biggest argument for hating Refused seems to be based not on that band, but Lyxzén’s overall career, which, last time I checked, doesn’t quite synch up with Svenonious’ output. Lyxzén must form a Weird War rip-off group and Chain and The Gang rip-off group before Diamond can make that claim!

And then Diamond makes another fatal, and quite idiotic, move:

Where does the whole scam get uncovered? Unlike everything Svenonious has ever put out (in terms of music), all of Lyxzén’s “seminal” work was issued on what we might as well go ahead and call a major label, Epitaph.

This is a pointless and incorrect argument on many fronts. For one thing, what does the band’s label have anything to do with how an album sounds? A major label may have more creative control over a band than an independent label, but that doesn’t affect how the record sounds. And Epitaph isn’t a major label: It’s an independent record label that’s distributed through the Alternative Distribution Alliance, an organization created by Warner Music Group and Sub Pop strictly to help manufacture and distribute records produced by independent record labels. Would Diamond say the same thing about Big Black or The Jesus Lizard, who released records on Touch & Go, another independent label that has distributed records through the ADA?

To try and make up for his argument, Diamond pulls this:

I don’t want to pull the “what’s punk and what’s not card”,…

This is the weakest argument in the book. Diamond tries to have it both ways, trying to retain his “open-mindedness” while balancing his “punk cred.” It’s a cop-out, and it continues:

…but to me, this fact helps to further debunk the legacy ofT.S.o.P.t.C., and pretty much the entire Refused/Lyxzén catalog as a bunch of crap we’d already heard before, but by people who did it better and had more integrity.

And there’s the most idiotic argument against an album in a nutshell. It doesn’t prove anything about Diamond’s taste in music, aside from the fact that he probably prefers 8-track-based noise labels operating out of Greenpoint. Nor does it actually critique the content of the album.

What’s worse is Diamond makes the worst error, something that Almond spoke out against. He basically holds his opinion over the heads of others:

Sorry to burst your bubble. I know you thought you were really part of something special with this one.

I’m sorry I didn’t check in with you first, Mr. Diamond. I’ll never make that mistake again.

Except I will. If that’s a mistake, I’ll be happy being an error-prone music listener instead of short-sighting bands and people like this:

Maybe you can rest easy knowing that at their best, Refused were simply a thinking persons Rage Against the Machine, and that right now, somewhere in Ohio, a bunch of Juggalos are wigging out to this song and thinking “man, if only this band didn’t break up, they could totally play the Gathering next year.”

Here, Diamond hops on the “we-hate-Juggalos-bandwagon,” possibly the easiest hater-trick in lazy music criticism today. Real creative.

And then Diamond signs off without ever really providing any insight into why he dislikes the record. And he does it by shoving his foot in his mouth:

Yeh, sorry. Your favorite record that is going to be given the “deluxe reissue” treatment on Epitaph in June is at best nothing but a really good nu-metal album that you will defend to the death because you’re a sentimental bastard and you need to fight for what’s right.

What’s that? People who are “sentimental bastard[s]” and “need to fight for what’s right” are somehow, as Diamond insinuates, on the losing side of this argument? Well, that puts Diamond right there, as his sentimental fight for “hardcore with integrity” has resulted in this terrible, terrible piece of… well, who knows what.

This is an example of an exercise in pointlessness, and an example of Almond’s thoughts on the purported nature of music criticism. Diamond is welcome to his opinion, but he managed to hit all the worst points in all the wrong ways.

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*As an aside, I do not write this as an authority, but merely as an observer. I’ve certainly found myself sabotaged by some of the same mistakes that entrapped Diamond in his review. Yet I like to think I eventually explain myself, or attempt to in the least. I’m only human, I make mistakes just like everyone else. I just hope none are as erroneous as this example.

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