When Maisonneuve began asking critics for contributions to “The Music We Hate,” we established only one rule: no Nickelback. It’s boring to slag a band that everybody loathes. It’s thrilling to take on indie darlings and contemporary untouchables, the acts protected by a firewall of peer pressure and period-sanctioned sentiments. And so we wound up with a list that reads like the Hype Machine’s year-end best-of: Animal Collective, Broken Social Scene, Joanna Newsom, Neon Indian, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Sufjan Stevens. These acts range from blink-and-you’ll-miss-them to respectable titans, but they are all objects of tastemaker adulation. It is this common thread that makes them worthy of hatred.
“Hate” may seem a strong word, but is there another that captures the feeling you get when that band, the one everyone loves and you can’t stand, screams out of the speakers? Other arts inspire visceral reactions, certainly. When you spot someone reading an unfortunate author or catch sight of a godawful painting, you cringe and avert your gaze. When the guy next to you deafens himself and everyone else on the bus with whatever crap is pouring from his white earbuds, however, you wish evil things upon him. You think thoughts generally reserved for serial killers and génocidaires. That is hate, and it needs a constructive outlet.
There are those who will term our little exercise petty and mean-spirited, to which we reply: exactly. Then there are those who will claim this represents the ugliest face of music journalism, to which we reply: not quite. Music criticism is largely anemic not simply because it criticizes but because it is unthinking—because it relies on the same twelve or so breathless adjectives (in praise) and a roughly equivalent number of interchangeable cheap shots (in disapproval). The best music criticism is artfully written and locates its displeasure in something larger, as when Carl Wilson torches Radiohead as icons of received taste or when Michael Barclay lays the blame for Animal Collective at the feet of the millennial generation. We have encouraged our writers to be cruel, but thoughtfully so.
“The Music We Hate” is a defense of criticism. We don’t aim to preserve criticism in the style of white-haired reviewers gawking balefully at their new online competitors. (A great many mp3 blogs—like Said the Gramophone, whose Sean Michaels tackles Sufjan Stevens—are far more relevant than any music magazine.) We back the enterprise of critique, in whatever medium, because it educates and reveals. We only ask that it not ape the zeitgeist—that it love and hate of its own accord. It doesn’t matter how you feel about these artists. It does matter that you recognize a few things: that no band is above reproach; that the extremes music inspires in us make the whole form worthwhile; and that fair play is no fun.
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