Banango Lit is looking for talented and interesting guest posters. Not like the kind you put on a wall. If you are talented and interesting and not a wall hanging, email us at banangolit (at) gmail (dot) com. One of our very first guest posts is provided by the inimitable Beach Sloth. At Banango, we’re all big fans of this sloth’s reviews of music and literature. Check out his post on Banango editor Justin Carter. We asked Beach Sloth to write about the craft of reviewing, and were none too surprised when he delivered a wonderful piece. Read on.
I began writing my reviews with no external influence. I was in a bubble. Writing with the feeling that no one is reading is one of the most thoroughly depressing experiences ever. How people can write books boggles my mind. Since the beginning of 2011 I have noticed more and more music review blogs, literary blogs, lit gossips, and other such additions to the wonderful mix. Music review blogs have always been a thing, literature review sites, less so. Literature takes considerably longer to understand, requiring a great deal of time to mull over a piece, wondering whether or not you ‘get it’. A lot of music review blogs are nothing more than ‘look a mediafire link and one sentence describing it’. Not that I hate those blogs, but that has never been a focus of mine. If people like the music enough, they can get it.
I write about my perception of a work, how it made me feel, and how I can relate to other things I already know. I try to think of who might enjoy it. Everything, music or literature, has a specific audience in mind. Clearly I have certain habits and interests (I don’t write about best-selling writers or about metal albums) so I am selective.
How I think about the relationship between different books or different kinds of music is a web: everything is ultimately connected. I rarely come into contact with something so positively bizarre I have a hard time describing it. That does occur, when it does I generally spend a huge amount of time trying to figure out what influences it has, or if it is one of those wonderful ‘rare breeds’. Now it is a bit unusual to be a rare breed, usually there are some influences.
I worry a lot about ‘spoilers’ when I write about music or literature. There are always a few moments, a few things that I am afraid to ruin for people. A review (for me at least) should try to figure out the mood, a rough idea of how to describe it, and a good way of listening to it. I believe in the ‘seasonal’ effects of certain books and music. Like I listen to more drone/classical during the winter months. A few bands come out of the woodwork for me in the summer or winter. I rarely listen to Low in the summer; I almost over-listen to it in the winter. The same is true for writers. There are certain writers I read in the summer, some I read in the autumn, spring, etc. People don’t understand this and I’m bad at explaining. I know when I review music or books I try to give an idea of what mood you should be in when you listen or read. A few times I’ve gone back to albums disappointed after a few listens, realizing there really wasn’t much there. On the other hand, I’ve had a few instances of ‘wow, now I get it’ moments where suddenly the whole thing makes sense to me.
Negative reviews are hard to write. I write negative reviews about music, not of literature (at least not yet). Being anonymous does help. Despite that, most of the drama on my blog has come from my negative reviews, people disagreeing, being upset, sending me nasty emails (which has happened). So when I write a negative review, I have to specifically spell out exactly what was wrong with it, going through it point by point to at least reduce the negative emails or comments. I have not given negative reviews of literature because there are plenty of them. There are plenty of people telling writers I like to ‘stop what they are doing’ calling them ‘idiots’ and ‘shallow’. I’ve gotten emails about my promotion of certain writers, criticizing me, but those emails generally miss (what I think) the point of the writer. My goal is to have a comment space that stresses simplicity, rather than flaming. Besides, I review books and pieces I enjoy.
There are a few review sites I enjoy. A particular favorite music review site is ‘TinyMixTapes’ which is curated by crate diggers. Since the site is less well known, they inject a lot more humor into their reviews and news. Many of the artists they feature are pretty obscure, with a healthy focus on experimental music. For me the best part is they write about the music, not about a particular genre. I enjoy the healthy balance and their willingness to judge off of quality, rather than what is currently hip.
Some review sites tend to get a little too into a particular genre or style and overrate bands in that style. Pitchfork is a notorious example of this problem. What I find particularly interesting about Pitchfork is how many of their ‘Top 50’ album were actually around the ‘8.2’ range, missing the ‘Best New Music’ score yet still good enough for a best of end of the year list. I speak with musicians on a regular basis and they tell me anything between 7.9 and 8.2 on Pitchfork is worth listening to, the rest generally (though there are exceptions) exist to pay homage to a various sound or artist that is currently popular. Pitchfork sacrifices credibility for hipness, hoping it will be cool enough to be taken seriously. I do not think that is working out for them.
Some literature review sites are great. I like this one (Banango), since there are actual writers reviewing on here, in a positive, non-troll-ish way. Other sites are good on occasion, such as HTMLGIANT. While I have mixed feelings about that site, when it is good, it is very good. A few writers have their own thing going on, where they write about other writers, show videos, or offer other non-writing art. Those people are fantastic and are my favorite reviewers.
Reviewing things makes me happy. When I come home and start writing I feel content. My blog serves as an electronic dog, convincing me that someone out there is paying attention to me, right when I feel completely and utterly alone. That is why I enjoy reviewing and also why I will never get a dog.