Apr 092009

Townsman Mwall‘s recent cautionary comment about another Townsman’s use of a cliche in his comment reminded of another of our objectives, beyond those of science and healing, on Rock Town Hall: the improvement of rock criticism.

Although we could boast of our daily examples of leadership by example, it may be helpful, every few months, to concentrate a thread on a specific area of rock criticism that is in need of improvement. Today, let’s examine rock-crit cliches and see if there are alternatives to phrases like It’s [artist’s] best album since [last actually great album]…

The rock-crit community thanks us in advance for our efforts.


  50 Responses to “Rock Town Hall Strives to Improve Rock Criticism Through Avoidance of Rock-Crit Cliches”

  1. hrrundivbakshi

    Not sure this applies, but I *am* glad we seem to have seen the last of the “punkish urgency” descriptor. This phrase was so ubiquitous in the 80s that even as idiotic 20-somethings we made fun of it.

    We could do with fewer allusions to “gutbucket” music.

  2. Mr. Moderator

    Recently guilty as charged! Thanks.

  3. Thunderous drums.

  4. Cascades of sound.

  5. Blistering guitar solo.

  6. Mr. Moderator

    These are good ones. While we attempt to sweep out the old, feel free to suggest new, alternate phrases that rock critics may want to pick up and, eventually, drive into the ground.

  7. A fiercely-honed attack.

  8. An army of guitars.

  9. Mr. Moderator


    Why not replace it with the simple “great” whatever (eg, great songwriter) and all that word has come to convey?

  10. Whiskey- soaked/drenched vocals.

    I’m not ready to move beyond cliches just yet–still grading here.

  11. BigSteve

    Machine-gun guitar licks. also sledge-hammer guitar licks.

  12. Can we include Lou Reed style cliches in this thread? Or is critic cliches only?

  13. BigSteve

    An alternative to “It’s [artist’s] best album since [last actually great album]” would be “I’m going to pretend [artist] has stopped sucking.”

  14. A gravelly voice.

  15. BigSteve

    This isn’t exactly a critical cliche, though it’s getting hard to distinguish critics from publicists, but I am so tired of reading about a date when a new album is scheduled to “drop.”

  16. Introspective lyrics.

  17. Soaring harmonies.

  18. mockcarr

    I don’t care what a band sounds like as long as they give 110 percent.

  19. mockcarr

    This is the best thread I’ve read of the several threads reposted in the last day.

  20. mockcarr

    Also, I believe this thread has struggled to recapture the elements that made the last thread so good, but is more mature and focused and bodes well for the growth of future threads.

  21. mockcarr

    Alright, I’ll play.

    Eclectic as an advective used when the critic can’t think anyone they sound like.

  22. mockcarr

    Or adjective, I didn’t mean to stream my comments

  23. Licks in general, whether machine-gun or sledgehammer.


    Guitar work!

    (Work in general, although it seems to only be used to describe guitar.)



    Personally, I die inside a little every time (and it ain’t often) I use a term I know someone has used before. I once made up my own cliche (describing fast playing as “lickety-split”) and used it for about a year before I forced myself off it. It helps that I’m blessed with editors who will let me make up words if I need to and don’t go crazy with it.

  24. A heady mix.

  25. Incendiary guitar.

  26. “Sexually aware guitar style”–this phrase was actually used by Patti Smith when she was a rock critic in reference to Richard Lloyd-wtf does that even mean?

  27. “Sexually aware guitar style”–this phrase was actually used by Patti Smith when she was a rock critic in reference to Richard Lloyd-wtf does that even mean?

    I have no idea, but for what it’s worth it’s not a cliche.

  28. BigSteve

    This thread was supposed to be about suggesting alternatives to critical cliches, so let’s all agree to start saying “sexually aware” guitar riffs instead of “sledge-hammer” or “machine-gun” riffs.

  29. anyword-esque.
    and the ever evolving-emo

  30. that is, the ever evolving definition of emo

  31. oh, and as substitutions, I offer:

  32. Ear/bone/whatever shredding guitar.

  33. format of pitchfork reviews:

    First, steal your nephews math homework and pick the first single digit number you find. use it as the score for the record.


    Reference the bands history, with emphasis on the time when no one had heard of them.

    ex. If you called Zach Moran, lead singer of the Apricrot Construct, he might just beat you up, citing the band’s early history of performing before skanking audiances of aging ska-fanatics as he ripped out your thyroid.

    Then, refer to previous releases, describing them using SAT words.

    ex. However, on 2007’s sophmore effort the band fit both the twee classification, and the sweetness implied in their name with the ambrosial “Concrete Sunrise.”

    Then, describe the overall sound of the album, with added emphasis on vocals, cuz, hey, that’s what indie is all about. Also, cite random lyrics. insert convoluted metaphor when possible. and name drop as well.

    ex. As their new self-titled album begins, we are greeted by Zach’s strained, earnest, phlegmy vocalizations declaring that “my elephant’s gone missing. oh dear, oh dear, what has become of my beloved elephant?” over Keith Albert’s softly syncopated drum rhythm, in a manner somewhat remeniscant of Vaseline’s solo work directly following the dissolution of the seminal porn-punk band, Vaseline and the Jiggily Buttfuckers. the sweetness is swept away in a matter of moments, as guitarist Melinda Malcomson’s searing blasts of guitar feedback overwelhm Zach’s voice in an all-consuming fire that seems to destory all traces of all Zach’s innocence in moments; not unlike the blowing of seeds from a daffodil.

    after repeating this for a while, offer concluding facts, with some vauge attempts to connect the record review to some bigger picture.

    ex. It would be foolhardy, and perhaps even slightly audacius to hail the Apricot Construct as the first band to properly articulate the sound of the post-post-rock landscape in the midst of the greatest economic crisis the united states has seen since the great depression, but it is quite possible, and perhaps even probable, that Zach and his bands will shake off their remaining ska and queercore influences to lead the indie rock seen into the second decade of the 21st century.

  34. sammymaudlin

    I still sometimes see “angst” and I suggest that be changed to “Weltschmerz.”

    Also I would like to “slab” replaced by “lump”.

  35. BigSteve

    The use of ‘core’ as a suffix, as in slowcore or queercore, has got to stop. I suggest as an alternative that anyone who is tempted to use that suffix should simply stop writing about music forever.

  36. saturnismine

    hissing fauna’s pitchfork synopsis kicks ASS!

    BigSteve, regarding your distaste of the ‘core’ suffix, I hear ya.

    i think the late 80s and early 90s are when rock criticism grew into an entire branch of discourse that resembles what we’re picking at now. it has something to do with the emergence of “college radio” as some sort of “alternative” to the mainstream.

    the phrase that used to bug me the most from that era: “chiming guitars”. also frequently abused during this period, was the term “dulcet” as in “the dulcet tones of peter buck’s chiming guitars”.

  37. hrrundivbakshi

    sandpaper vocals

  38. hrrundivbakshi

    banshee wail

    (That one makes me laugh just typing it. I mean, come ON. Who ever says “banshee wail” — other than comic book writers — outside of the context of the rock criticism?)

  39. mockcarr

    Big Steve, that “core” crap is as bad as putting “-gate” on some political scandal.

  40. My best friend wrote an article about Stephin Merritt a few years back making fun of rock journalism. This was his answer to all the junk he was reading. I’m sure most of you will appreciate it:




  41. Mr. Moderator

    Tremendous stuff, so far! A friend of ours is scheduled to interview a certain Friend of the Hall this coming week. I’ll make sure he sees the “sexually aware guitar style” quote and considers working it into his interview!

  42. 2000 Man

    I’d like to suggest that the next time any of you critics wants to use the word “haunting,” you just use “boring” instead. Thanks!

  43. mikeydread

    I have a bit of a problem with radio announcers who over-use, or only use, the word *track* when describing a piece of music. This seems to me the equivalent of describing every bound collection of paper as a *book* and neglecting that there are many different kinds of book. (Are you still with me?)

    Track often seems a pretty empty or lazy way to describe a piece of music. Do artists write tracks? I think not. How about a little effort on the part of announcers to state what the piece of music is? A song, a ballad, a sketch, an anthem, god I don’t know. A little more attention rather than the generic word *track* might even make us better listeners.

  44. Eponymous release

  45. hrrundivbakshi

    Good one, 13!

  46. Sturm und Drang.

  47. Mr. Moderator

    Good one, beray! Welcome aboard. Don’t be a stranger.

Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube