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Critics Week: Smackdown!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - 02:57 PM

Our annual critics week on Soundcheck is always a popular series of shows. Critics weigh in on the best pop, hip hop, classical, jazz, and world music of the year, as well as the worst music of the year, and these always provoke a lot of comments from our listeners, as you might expect. After all, these days, the phrase “everyone is a critic” is almost literally true. Anyone with a blog can dispense opinions, and it’s arguably easier and quicker for them than for the professional critics who have to go through an editorial and publishing process.

The problem with all these people writing what passes for music criticism online is that you don’t know whose taste to trust. (And that’s before we even start talking about the writing, where “creativity” often means obscure, tortured metaphors and “fact-checking” means re-reading the press release. Editing, people – it really is an important part of the writing process.) So for me, the old standbys – the print writers – have become surprisingly important again. You read them over time and develop a sense of what they like or don’t like, and therefore how in line with your own tastes their tastes are. I am usually confident in checking out a recording that Jon Pareles in the Times or Alex Ross in the New Yorker have raved about. But a critical rave online often leaves me wondering what to make of the reviewer rather than the album, even at a place like Pitchfork where there is a large rotating cast of reviewers and therefore less chance to figure out whose taste might parallel your own.

There’s so much music out there now that it’s impossible to keep up without help. But there’s so much “help” out there now that it’s just as impossible to wade through it all. So where do you go for advice on what to hear? Do “professional” critics still matter, or do you need to dig a little deeper into the blogosphere to find reliable music criticism? Leave a comment.

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