Do reviewers need to know a damn thing?

Right on cue, a review of Stórsveit Nix Noltes‘ debut album Orkídeur Hawaí (which I bought at the show last night) appears in Dusted today. It’s a bit of a cop-out review, as the writer pleads ignorance as to the band’s influences and thus excuses himself from having to try to describe the music:

“Rather than pretend that I know enough about folk traditions to judge whether or not Storsveit Nix Noltes perform with any kind of authenticity, I’ll merely note that to a casual listener it sounds almost exactly like the kind of thing you could expect to pick up in the world music aisle at your local record store, perhaps with a little more electric guitar.”

Suffice it to say that this stuff is a lot more rocked-up than straight-up Balkan folk music. I don’t know that much about Balkan and Eastern European folk either, aside from what I hear in postmodernist mish-mash folk-rock groups like Charming Hostess or Alamaailman Vasarat, but it’s probably safe to say that noisy electric rave-ups and questionably tonal guitar freakouts aren’t usually part of the equation. (Although admittedly these more “out” elements aren’t a central part of Stórsveit Nix Noltes‘ sound, they’re still definitely there and play an important role.)

The review does raise an interesting question, though:

“Most people who run across [this album] probably will not know enough about the source material to really develop a strong opinion. A record this far outside the box works primarily as a change of pace, and most people who listen to it, myself included, will notice it more for its novelty than for its quality.

I suppose this is true to an extent; the point being that a fan listening to a kind of music totally outside his sphere of experience has no basis by which to judge said music. I remember my initial forays into new genres like jazz and hip-hop (after being pretty exclusively a rock fan), and I couldn’t really tell what was “good” and what was “bad.” But on the other hand, I could tell what I liked and what I didn’t like. By the same token, I don’t know anything about most of Charming Hostess‘ source material on albums like Eat or Punch, but I can very easily say that I love their music and they’re very good at what they do.

In my opinion, that’s really what the job of the reviewer comes down to — being able to tell the reader where an album lies in a greater context is nice, but expressing a simple opinion is still the most important thing.

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