Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

ACL Explains it All: Dave Matthews Band

June 8, 2009

I don’t like Dave Matthews Band. There is no animosity between me and Dave, nor are there any old feuds (like John Sellers’ qualms with Bob Dylan that sprout from his difficult relationship with his father, in Perfect From Now On). Their music just doesn’t connect to me in a meaningful way. I hear it, and I am not impacted.

Yet, I can tell you right now that Dave Matthews Band is very good. They have an astonishingly large fanbase, they put on great live shows, their instrumental talent is solid, and they write songs that people like. There are hundreds of thousands of Dave fans. I’m just not one of them. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good music; it means I don’t like it.

That’s one of the things I dislike about most music criticism; there’s so much allowance for personal preference that sometimes good music gets bashed because the reviewer woke up in a bad mood and had the CD on the stack. Wrong place, wrong time. If I had just gotten broken up with, you could bet that I would trash an Architecture in Helsinki album as:

“Overly optimistic and giddy to the point of nonsensical. Even then, they don’t accomplish their nonsense with the same instrumentally-intensive glee as the Polyphonic Spree, nor with a pensive bent a la Sufjan Stevens, or even with a goofy demeanor (Of Montreal, represent!). In fact, it just seems contrived and pandering, like pink popcorn covered in sugar and marketed to eight-year-old girls during Hannah Montana commercial breaks.”

Which really is code for:

“This stuff is happy, and I’m not, but I still have to review it. So I’m going to take my vengeance out on them, because I’d rather be hearing Damien Jurado or Bon Iver.”

But the reader reads it as gospel truth, because he reads it without the context of seeing the bedhead, red-eyes, drunken drool and dissheveled clothes of a “I just got dumped” hangover that it was composed in. Truth is, that critic might actually like Architecture in Helsinki on a good day. But the day of the review was not a good day, and because so much of reviewing is left up to personal preference, you’ll never know the difference.

Which is why I feel comfortable telling you that I dislike Dave Matthews, but I still think he’s pretty talented. Me not liking him doesn’t make him untalented or make his albums less good. And I’d rather not be pegged as a Dave-hater, so I just stay out of the conversation, mostly. Perhaps this happens more often in music criticism than I know. I fear it does not, and we end up with a lot of crappy reviews of good bands from guys who just don’t like that particular band.

Because it’s impossible to like everything, even with extreme dedication. It’s just not possible. But to pull out what is actually meritless and what is purely self-dislike is a hard task. I doubt it is taken up very often. I would exhort all of you to ponder this.

That said, I liked the clips I heard off Dave’s new one. Maybe I will like this one…

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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