Joshua Tillman

A Recap of the Time a Music Publication Mocked Me With My Own Writing

Insecurity can spur people to commit reckless deeds, including going above and beyond to lash out at perceived threats.  I can understand the desire to protect one’s reputation and integrity, but I will never comprehend the extent to which it motivates some to create mountains out of molehills.  As you may expect, the stupidity began where you would expect it most these days: Twitter.

Two weeks ago, a few folks I know in Twitter ended up getting into an argument with an online music publication, and upon witnessing their treatment by this supposedly professional organization I inevitably waded into the muck to defend their honor.  Their unforgivable sin was to share a link of a particularly bad review and to comment on its alleged quality; the publication saw their interaction, and proceeded to insult them for their opinions.  What made this a particularly bizarre interaction was that neither party had included the publication’s Twitter handle in their discussion, yet the company decided to interject anyway and express their displeasure.

It is one thing to defend your honor, but it is another to go out of your way to impugn someone else for providing their opinion.  The publication then doubled down on their rude behavior by browsing through the profiles and timelines of these folks to use as fodder for insults.  I was appalled at this trollish behavior, and specifically called out the company for engaging in such petty tactics.  I want to stress that it was not the author of the review that was officially engaging in this behavior at this point, but the person who ran the Twitter account for the entire publication, a person who felt that it was a good idea to drag the name of the entire company through the mood to harass others.  At a certain point, this person then directed some insults in my direction, and condescendingly attempted to explain how internet searches and Twitter works, as they apparently took offense to my acknowledgment of their shady behavior.  Their final reaction was the coup de grâce, as they proceeded to look up this site (which is linked in my personal Twitter bio, for the record), and then spit back to me the first line of the review that was at the top of the page.

Let us review: Company engages in shady behavior, gets called out on it, proceeds to mock person for calling out said behavior, then engages in the very same behavior in order to taunt the critic.  Excellent work all around.

So, what sparked this entire nonsense that took up several people’s afternoons?  A terrible album review.  Rest assured, it was an absolutely awful piece of writing, and as a service, we will provide some constructive criticism.

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– Roughly half of the review centers around “cum” and its use in the very first line of the album, and the term is mentioned in all four paragraphs of the review, as if its presence is emblematic of the whole.  Despite the paragraphs dissecting its particular usage, the case is never made why the reader should care that Father John Misty mentions it or how its use represents the album.  In other words, the author assumes the argument has been made merely by bringing it up, but does not make any relevant connections himself.

– Xiu Xiu should never be used as a positive example.  If you are unfamiliar with Xiu Xiu, they are the embodiment of every negative connotation that one has when he/she hears the term “performance art”; creating worthwhile music is definitely not their goal.  Back when I worked in radio, I played one of their songs for our new music show, which deviates from the usual playlists and allows us to temporarily indulge in numerous offbeat tastes, and it was the one time I had a listener call in and say terrible things about what we were playing.  And that guy was totally right.

– If we are to indulge in the comparison of the use of “cum” by each act and look at the reviewer’s argument on its face, it is unclear what kind of distinction is being made.  In both cases it is an attempt to juxtapose the sacred and the profane, and in both songs it is used literally to convey a particular image.  It seems to be merely the author’s opinion that Xiu Xiu did a better job of this, which is fine, but there is no objective distinction in the two cases.

– The reviewer attempts to mock Father John Misty by claiming that the use of the term “Rorschach” was a pretentious attempt to display intellectual superiority says more about his impression of basic psychological concepts than FJM’s.  The reviewer gets this completely backwards, since it is much more likely that “Rorschach” was used not to impress the listener, but as a descriptor that is universally known.  Who is unfamiliar with Rorschach ink blots?

– It is hilarious that the reviewer attempts to call out FJM for his “PSYC101” analysis, when the fact that so much of this review is devoted to “cum” indicates that the author has some sort of obsessive fixation.  Or do they not cover Freud in PSYC101?

– The use of “Bro?” as a complete thought says way more about the review and the reviewer than anything else he has written.

– Hidden in the third paragraph is a legit criticism about irony and the nature of the “Father John Misty” character.  Many can find the different levels exhausting, as it can seem to be an attempt by the artist to always be able to escape criticism.  Tillman walks a fine line, and the fact that some say he crosses it is fine.  Personally, I think he comes close several times, but I am ultimately swayed by the record’s charms.

– The reviewer spends half of the final paragraph completely botching the analysis of a particular song because he spent no time doing any actual research on the record and neglected to include a key lyric in his assessment.  I Love You, Honeybear is a concept album of sorts loosely based on Tillman’s recent marriage, so the fact that he is undercutting himself in the lyrics to “The Ideal Husband” carries more weight than for which the reviewer gives credit.  The author does acknowledge the fact that Tillman is purposefully undercutting himself, but he is clumsy in his criticism by calling out “a dumb lyric about ‘putting a baby in the oven'”, since in the song itself Tillman sings, “said something dumb like ‘I’m tired of running.  Let’s put a baby in the oven.'”  I can see the point the author is trying to make, but when you call out a lyric for being dumb when the singer himself says it is dumb, it makes you look like an idiot.

– As you may expect, seeing “a hodgepodge of Suburbs (2010)-era Arcade Fire strumming” makes me want to scream.  FOR FUCK’S SAKE, ARCADE FIRE DID NOT INVENT GUITAR STRUMMING!  IF THEY HAD A DISTINCTIVE SOUND, THE WAY THAT THEY STRUM THEIR FUCKING GUITARS WOULD NOT BE A PART OF IT!

– “Did you know Joe Strummer got his name when he heard an Arcade Fire song?  He actually came to the future, heard one of their songs, asked ‘what is this?’ and when told it was ‘strumming’, he went back in his time machine and recorded The Clash’s debut album.”  I imagine this is the exact belief of this idiot.

– To sum up, the entire review consists of an analysis of a single line whose significance is never established, and the one reference to the actual music involves a band to which there is no actual resemblance and involves a comparison that sheds no light whatsoever.  It is not as if it is impossible to compare Father John Misty’s music to anyone, but it may involve looking back further than 2010.

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I hope that the professional music publication which created this entire mess is now satisfied that it now has constructive criticism as to why its review was completely awful.  I also hope that someone somewhere within that company learned that it is probably unwise to act like a complete dick on Twitter.  But I am also a rational person, and I doubt that either of those hopes will come to pass.

Catching Up On The Week (Feb. 20 Edition)

Some #longreads as you finalize your Oscar predictions…

Fans of Joy Division are probably well-aware that the famous illustration that graced the cover of their landmark album Unknown Pleasures was a graphic of radio waves from a pulsar taken from an old encyclopedia.  However, they are probably not familiar with the origins of the graphic itself.  Scientific American takes a look at the fascinating backstory behind the creation of what would eventually become one of the most famous images in music.

Earlier this week we published our review of I Love You, Honeybear, the brilliant new album from Father John Misty, and for those of you are interested now more than ever about the exploits of the man known as Joshua Tillman, check out the profiles on him by Rolling Stone and Consequence of Sound.

Consequence of Sound also takes a look at the trio BADBADNOTGOOD and how they ended up working with the likes of Ghostface Killah, and while you read it you can take a listen to their album Sour Soul, which is now available for streaming on SoundCloud.  The site also catches up with Elvis Perkins and fills us in on what he’s been doing in the years since 2009’s Elvis Perkins in Dearland as he prepares to release I Aubade next week.  Elsewhere, Pitchfork has an extensive interview with Sufjan Stevens available for your perusal this weekend.

If there’s a band that knows their way around cheap beer, it’s Red Fang, and Portland’s favorite heavy metal band recently persevered through a challenge from Denver’s Westword to rate some of the cheapest beer they could find.  Be sure to use that as inspiration for this weekend.

Ratter provides a great explanation of the copyright lawsuit over “Blurred Lines” between Marvin Gaye’s estate and Pharrell/Robin Thicke that is still making its way through the courts, including discussing exactly what parts of a song are copyrightable and how that can potentially affect the music industry.  You can even hear the musical excerpts from each side’s submissions to the court.

And finally, before watching the Oscars this weekend, be sure to read this New Yorker profile on the career and legacy of Glen Campbell, whose haunting “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is up for Best Song.  We’re pulling for him to take home the statue, but we think it may be a longshot.

Review: Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Father John Misty’s debut album Fear Fun was a delightful surprise–few expected that a solo album from the former drummer of Fleet Foxes would be such a musical revelation.  The best case scenario was that Fear Fun would be a pleasant diversion, but Joshua Tillman’s adopted persona of a modern-day hipster-shaman created folk rock tunes that have held up remarkably well over the years.  Fast-forward three years, and while we are still waiting to hear anything new from Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty has returned with a stellar new album that will force people to stop name-dropping his former outfit.

I Love You, Honeybear is a stunningly gorgeous album, one that expands the scope of its predecessor with lush strings and intricate arrangements, but also one that delights in intimate personal details.  Father John Misty has always had a deft touch with his lyrics, often evoking a wry smile or two, but lines like “She says, ‘Like, literally music is the air [she] breathe[s],’ and the malaprops make me wanna fucking scream…I wonder if she even knows what that word means; well it’s ‘literally’ not that” from “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.” elicit an actual laugh every time its played.  Tillman’s recent marriage is a defining influence on the album, but Tillman is careful to balance any sweetness with just the right amount of cynicism; a great example comes from the closing lines of “Holy Shit”: “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity–but what I fail to see is what that’s got to do with you and me.”

At times, it seems that the music could veer dangerously close to the emptiness of late 70’s AM Radio/yacht-rock (or perhaps worse, playing up the conventions of the genre with too much irony), but Father John Misty employs a nimble hand throughout the album, and simply writes melodies that are too good to be associated with such vapidness.  Honeybear‘s laid-back ballads are enhanced by extravagant string arrangements that add both depth and ornamentation, and songs like the relaxed swing of “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” and the achingly beautiful “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins)” are enhanced by the expert addition of wind and horn melodies.  It is difficult to select any standout songs from this consistently great album, but the euphoric triumph of “Chateau Lobby #4” is one that will be easily remembered.

The album is mainly made up of mid-tempo numbers, but the good news is that I Love You, Honeybear never really drags.   The one real rocker (and a soon-to-be favorite of the live set), “The Ideal Husband”, appears two-thirds of the way through and gives the musicians a chance to really thrash about on a fun blues stomp, but otherwise things are generally calm.  A trio of ballads follows, beginning with the sarcastic ode “Bored in the USA” that perfectly sums up the sentiment of a generation coping with the readjusted education/benefits equation, and ending with the sweet lullaby “I Went to the Store One Day” which recounts the circumstances that led to the romance that inspired the album.  If only all great outcomes could result from a simple line like “I’ve seen you around–what’s your name?”

Note: The CD version of the album comes with a booklet entitled Exercises for Listening.  I highly recommend that you read these directions; obey them at your peril.