6 February 2013

The Stool Pigeon Guide to Music Journalist Bullshit

Join us on a magical journey through clichés as we look at the drivel that's dearest to music writers' hearts

Words Alex Denney

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Achingly beautiful — So lovely it hurts. See our Twitter page

ADD/ADHD — Behavioural disorder co-opted by critics looking to describe an increasingly endemic strain of music, i.e. “ADHD-indie pop”, whose incoherent attempts at shoehorning myriad genres into its songs resemble Jabba The Hutt trying to pour himself into a Size 8 wetsuit. Miserably, this flim-flamming approach is often passed off as an aesthetic of some sort, along with muttered theories about “the internet” and “downloading culture” from the band.

Angular riffing — Phrase in popular usage circa the post-punk revival of the early/mid-noughties. Precisely what angle we’re dealing with here is frustratingly unclear, though given some of the names once associated with the term (The Young Knives, The Rakes), we’d suggest it’s likely to be a pointy one.

“Anticipation is running high for the show tonight” — Filler phrase, trans. “Time is running low for copy deadline tonight.”


Bastard lovechild — Is sex out of wedlock still considered edgy? So why would anyone still be writing that albums ‘sound like the bastard lovechild of X and Y musicians’? I mean, there’s a good chance your parents hadn’t got round to tying the knot by the time you were conceived. But so what? It doesn’t make you a latter-day Edmund from King Lear. Hell, it doesn’t even make you Jon Snow off Game Of Thrones. And he’s fucking boring.

Blissed-out — Grossly overused during the short-lived chillwave fad of 2008/9, this spectacularly unevocative phrase often turned up in reviews as “blessed-out”, thanks to the joys of Microsoft Word’s autocorrect function.

BNM’dPitchfork recommendation conferred on tracks deemed worthy of approval; because only Pitchfork can an acronym be used as a verb without massive, twatty alarm bells going off. Not to be confused with the low cost retailer of similar name; B&M Bargains.

Breathtaking sweep — Does your record need a dash of epic derring-do that’ll have your band underwhelming pissed-up O2 Academy crowds across the nation come September? You need to get yourself some “breathtaking sweep”: they sell them in Argos, presumably.


Cafés — Along with the hotel lobby, the most popular of settings for some serious “facetime” action with musicians. Mostly, writers have the good sense to edit out the temporary digs from their actual features — but annoyingly, cafés tend to stay put. A Stool Pigeon reader was moved to write on the very same topic: “In your last issue, a noticeable amount of your interviews started off by stating that the musician in question was sitting in a café. Of course they’re sitting in a café. They’re indie cunts. Reminding me of that fills me with contempt for what would otherwise be perfectly listenable music.”

Caught up with — Why are so many musicians running away from journalists? Possibly, because we’re forever “catching up” with them so they can endure yet another 20-odd minutes of questions about 50 shades of fuck-all.

Childlike wonder — sounds like Animal Collective.

Cod-reggae — The only cod genre that’s allowed, as favoured by W. Axl Rose in the inexplicable middle section of ‘Live And Let Die’.

Conscious decision — As an interviewer, two words that tell you you’ve run out of interesting things to say, e.g. “Was it a conscious decision to make a more boring-sounding record this time around, or did it evolve that way naturally?” Let me guess: it evolved that way naturally. Also: please kill me now.


Deconstructionist pop — sounds like Animal Collective.


Effort — This pseudonymous irritant can usually be found lurking in its natural habitat, trailing after the word ‘sophomore’. A ‘sophomore effort’! There isn’t a street in the land you wouldn’t get punched on for saying that out loud.

Electro-fuelled stomper — Lazy pairing; sounds like tabloid-speak for a robot sex offender.

Elegantly wasted — Let’s be real: if you saw the pallid human blancmange that is Pete Doherty slinking down the street towards you in jeans and T-shirt, you’d give him the widest of possible berths. But give the man a trilby hat and a blood-spattered volume of symbolist poetry, and lo, he becomes “elegantly wasted”. It’s OK, we don’t get it either.


“Fast-forward X amount of years”— Clumsy framing device; the journalistic equivalent of a scene in a film where a character recalls a dream and the picture goes all wavy to signal that HERE BEGINNETH THE DREAM SEQUENCE.

Found sounds — Go out early onto the streets of Dalston one morning, and you’ll find wandering herds of hipsters out recording ‘found sounds’ on their iPhones, which they will then use as the basis for an experimental EP in the mistaken belief that they are John Cage.


Game-changer — OK, so you’ve seen Seasons 1-5 of The Wire, and have understood first-hand the failures of contemporary inner-city American life. You’ve said “sheeeeeeit” a lot to your smug friends who all appreciated the reference, and you’ve even written a blog for The Guardian comparing the series favourably to the novels of Charles Dickens. Now it’s time to “drop” some lame, hip hop-inspired slang into your review copy! E.g. “A$AP Rocky’s debut is a sizzurp-swilling, crunk-blazing game-changer of a record.” Shit is tight, yo.

Garnered — Bullshit word, as in “Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy garnered widespread acclaim for his 786th full-length proper, Wenches & Pheasants.”

Good question — We’ve got news for you, pal: if your interview features the words ‘good question’ as spoken by a musician in response to one of your queries, it doesn’t mean you’re their best mate all of a sudden. It means your questions are too nice! Fawning, even. You might as well write [offers paw, receives biscuit] after everything that comes out of your sycophantic, secretly muso-envying mouth.


“He/she says, before pausing” — Can’t think of an ending for your crappy band feature? Try investing a quote with unmerited meaning by adding a (totally fictitious) pause in the closing paragraph, e.g.: “At the end of the day, we just want to make music,” says Indie Wanker a little wistfully, before pausing. “And if anyone else likes it, that’s just a bonus.” Wow! Makes you think tough, doesn’t it?

Ho hum — One of those music hack phrases popular in the nineties, indicating a lacklustre event of some kind, that makes you want to hurt things. See also: “Ho, and indeed, hum”

Hotly anticipated — Nicked the leaked version off The Pirate Bay, never going to listen to it.


Impossibly catchy — Paradoxical phrase used to connote infectious qualities, e.g. “Spurred on by the increased mobility afforded by modern transportation, the impossibly catchy Spanish flu pandemic claimed the lives of 20-50 million people between 1918 and 1920. Ho, and indeed, hum.”

Infectiously upbeat — Another stock pairing; possibly revealing in that it implies that ‘music reviewers’ think of happiness as some sort of idiot germ to be transmitted in moments of low critical resistance. Presumably, critics would think sex is ‘infectiously upbeat’ as well, if they ever had any.


Jaunty handclaps — As opposed to what? Sombre handclaps? “As the credits rolled on the three-hour documentary exhaustively detailing the horrors of the Russian pogroms, songwriters Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn were inspired to add the jaunty handclaps that provided bubblegum pop smash ‘Mickey’ with the magic needed to make it a number one smash.”

Jazz-inflected — Knee-jerk phrase employed whenever a pop/rock musician plays a major seventh chord and the writer panics.



[laughs] — Want readers to know what a brilliant conversationalist you are, even in the high-pressure scenario of a Skype interview with the bassist from Everything Everything? Scatter a few “[laughs]” into the transcript, and let the good times roll!

Long-player — Mildly pretentious stand-in for ‘album’. See also: moniker

Lynchian — OK, so you’ve established that the record you’re reviewing is ‘cinematic’. But, much as comparing an album to an entire artistic medium can be instructive, you’re hankering after something else, something a little less… entry-level. So why not take a punt on ‘Lynchian’? It’s what we were all thinking.


Meteoric rise — Don’t meteors generally fall? Perhaps “bread-like rise” would be more appropriate.

Moniker — Synonym employed to avoid overuse of the word ‘name’, as in “what’s my MONIKER, bitch?” See also: long-player

“More X than you can shake a stick at” — Stock phrase used to describe a piece of music/performer that possesses a certain quality in abundance. Advanced music crit practitioners have been known to go one step further, as in “Klaxons’ second album has more weak songs than you can shake a nu-rave glowstick at.”


Number one in an alternative universe — see: pop for a perfect world


Overwriting — Does your writing look like an explosion in an adjective factory? Congratulations, you’re probably a music journalist.


Pop for a perfect world — Trust us, you don’t want to know what a music critic’s perfect world looks like. But you can bet your ass it features Shins B-sides at numbers one to forty in the charts. And still they’d have the temerity to try and make a living from their self-important whingeing.

Prepping — Despite sounding like an arcane technique practised by debutantes to avoid their farts being detected by potential suitors, ‘prepping’ is what American music hacks insist you’re doing when you have a new album coming out. Horrifyingly, it seems to be catching on in the UK as well. See also: readying



Rule of three — As beloved of sub-editors with duff feature copy on their hands, the ‘rule of three’ is guaranteed to sell even the most unpolishable of turds to your readers, e.g. “King Creosote on his new album of B-sides, watching paint dry and why his fourth-favourite font is Arial Unicode MS.” Wait, three boring things for the price of one? Count me in!


Seminal — Uppity tag used to describe records whose dazzling originality the writer thinks will echo, Maximus from Gladiator­­­-style, through the learned cloisters of eternity. Then again, ‘seminal’ can also mean ‘pertaining to or consisting of semen’, so it could mean the record is a load of old wank.

“Set the blogosphere alight” — Well done! Your innovative blend of Fleetwood Mac, nineties R&B and Sade — a singer you’d never even heard of before The xx started banging on about her — has “set the blogosphere alight” with your brand new track, featuring artfully NSFW video. That Pitchfork BNM’d is surely in the post.

Sixth-form poetry — Snarky put-down reserved for artists whose literary aspirations are perceived to be shallow or juvenile. Which might almost be fair enough, if ‘music critic’ wasn’t a job that could only be considered cool by people under the age of about 15.

Songstress — As opposed to what, ‘songster’? Reading between the lines, this faintly kinky usage is a subliminal reflection of male music hacks’ rampant castration fear. See also: chanteuse

Sophomore — Ridiculous, US collegiate term used as a stand-in for “second” when describing albums, e.g. “The Stone Roses’ second album The Sophomore Coming was a let-down for many.”

Soundscape — Substitute for ‘song’ used to describe boring shoegaze, post rock and elecronica records whose alternatively ‘majestic’, ‘eerie’ or ‘glacial’ instrumentals are supposed to evoke grand vistas of some sort. Dimly, the writer perceives that this is all Brian Eno’s fault.

Speaker-shredding intensity — Journalistic shorthand, trans. “this part of the song was so speaker-shreddingly intense I literally couldn’t be bothered to write something original about it, possibly because I found it unlistenable.”

Squelchy synths — Because what, after all, are synths for if not to go ‘squelch’? Half-arsedly, we might suggest this half-arsed pairing dates back to electroclash, reflecting the genre’s carefully maintained air of transgressive — and therefore “squelchy” — sex.

Stratospheric — Post rock records are too dull to listen to, let alone write about, so why not peg them as ‘stratospheric’ so we can all get back to doing something more interesting instead? You could also try using ‘mesospheric’ or, for slightly below-par efforts, ‘tropospheric’. But readers will only look confused. Honestly! Your talent is wasted on these people.


“There’s nothing as outright catchy as X song on Y album, but…” — The sound of a critic in denial about Y’s howling lack of tunes. Avoid like the plague.

Tribal rhythms — sounds like Animal Collective.


Unleashed — Let’s face it, you didn’t “unleash” your record “on an unsuspecting public”. And you most certainly didn’t “drop” it, like it was some sort of unfettered-creativity bomb. No, what you did was you released your record, as a “limited” 500-copy run. Quite rightly, no-one cared.

“Unless you’ve been living in a cave / under a rock / on another planet for the past X months / years, you’ve heard…” — For the sake of argument, let’s suppose you had, in fact, been living for the past 20 years under a rock in a cave located on OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb, currently the most distant planet known to man. I can guarantee you would still have read some berk rattling off this phrase, and started checking Gumtree for another, more remote rock to crawl under.


Vernacular — Critics love nothing more than letting us know they’re at the forefront of popular culture by cramming their copy full of idiotic youthspeak — “natch”, “emosh”, “vajizzle my nizzle” and so on. It’s why you all hate us so much.


Whiskey-soaked vocals — English lit polytechnic graduate, now based in Warrington, seriously wishes he was Tom Waits.

X, Y, Z

“At the end of the day, we just want to make X,” says Y a little wistfully, before pausing. “And if anyone else likes Z, that’s just a bonus.”


With thanks to the following readers for their seminal contributions: Daniel Carney, Charlie Case, Leonard Nevarez, Michael Johnson, Alan Kindell, Aidan James Robinson, Niallist The Niallist, Omar Sheriff, Dario Citaddini, Camilla Taylor, Patrick Robins, Robert Sabat, John Power, Dave Clarke

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