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I Should Like This, But I Don't
When a sure thing isn't
I’m a bit behind in my podcast listening, so I’m just catching up on the episode of Indiecast that dropped when we were headed to Florida. In that episode, Steven Hyden and Ian Cohen (the hosts) spend a bunch of time raving about the new album by the band Wednesday, which Hyden also wrote a glowing review of on Uproxx.
I really like the show, and Hyden has been one of the more reliable music critics in terms of matching my tastes since the days when he wrote for The AV Club. (I followed him to Grantland, and now Uproxx, and have enjoyed a couple of his books.) He raved about last year’s album from MJ Lenderman (the guitarist for Wednesday), too, and I enjoyed that. So I was really hoping to like this record…
…And I don’t. The “alt-country with heavier guitars” thing seems like it ought to be a sure hit for me (Hyden compares it to a combination of “Southern Rock Opera, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, and Siamese Dream”, all albums I like, but it really doesn’t work for me.
It’s hard to say why that is. A lot of it is probably down to the second track, “Bull Believer,” which features a bunch of screaming-over-distorted-guitars that made me actually recoil. It played to me as some real Yoko Ono shit, and I couldn’t hit “skip” fast enough on the second listen. But even the songs that aren’t as actively grating don’t land for me. They just kind of slide by.
This is, of course, mostly a “me thing”— it doesn’t work for me, but art is subjective, and I wouldn’t want to claim that it’s objectively Bad just because I don’t care for it. (This is one of many reasons why I would be a dismal failure as a professional critic…) I do find it interesting, though, when something that has so many of the markers of a Thing I Ought to Like turns out to just fall flat.
This happens a fair amount with music— as noted above, I really like Steve and Ian’s show, but the hit rate for their strongly recommended albums is baseball-esque. I usually don’t actively dislike things that turn up in Recommendation Corner, but I find a lot of them pretty forgettable. And they do better than most.
This turns up in a lot of other media, too. There are no end of SF novels that smart people with otherwise good taste love that I just don’t— I hated The Three-Body Problem, and couldn’t make it past the first few chapters of Gideon the Ninth, to give two examples. The late and widely lamented Deadspin seems like it would be totally my kind of thing— irreverent sports commentary in blog form? Sign me up!— but I found their house style incredibly grating. And I’ve been sent review copies of quite a few pop-physics books that seem from the cover copy and blurbs like exactly my kind of thing, that I just don’t enjoy. (I’m not naming names there, out of professional solidarity…)
I don’t really know that there’s any kind of larger lesson to be drawn from this, beyond the observation that everything is subjective, a truism banal enough to be a Latin maxim. No matter how many times it happens, though, I’m always a little startled when something that so clearly ought to be My Kind of Thing just… isn’t.
This is kind of lightweight, I know, but it’s about the right speed for something I’m writing while proctoring an exam (which is one part of my job that I might hate more than grading…). Anyway, if you like this kind of thing, here’s a button:
And if you want to share examples of things you ought to like but don’t, or suggest things I should like but maybe won’t, the comments will be open: