Who Watches The Critics? An Editorial by Andy B

When I started Biff Bam Pop a few months ago part of plan was to have reviews up, whether it be about films or comics or video games or music. But rather than have reviews the way a magazine or newspaper or any other more established site use them, I wanted all of us to inject ourselves into our work. I don’t know if I ever articulated that to the host of writers who send in their pieces, but I think it’s coming through. If you read my stuff on horror flicks, you’re bound to figure out pretty quickly what I look for when watching the genre. I think the same can be said about Japer’s comic talk, Ogmios’ book reviews, and Geflon Don’s video game columns. By injecting ourselves into our writing, it gives our pieces that much more credibility and lets you, the reader, establish some faith in what we have to say.

Of course, that’s not the way it’s done in a lot of other “media”. Critics write the quick blurbs about whatever they’re assigned to write about and often times they leave me scratching my head if I find that there’s a lack of consistency with regards to what they like or dislike. Case in point – I’ve been following a trio our of New York called Secret Machines since their 2004 debut “Now Here Is Nowhere”, which was a mix of space rock and prog rock with an amazing thundering Zepplinesque backbeat courtesy of drummer Josh Garza. It was a sound I hadn’t heard before. The album got great notices, including raves from U2’s The Edge. Their 2006 follow-up, “Ten Silver Drops”, was a more slickly produced affair, and lost the huge drum sound, which to my ears was what made Secret Machines’ sound so distinctive. Among those that felt the same was All Music Guide critic Tim Sendra, who after admiring their debut, gave “Ten Silver Drops” a middling 2 ½ stars while commenting “The band has pulled off the not so neat trick of combining a lack of inspiration with an excess of ambition”. Fair enough. While the album has its moments, it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to the first offering.

This past weekend when I was in Los Angeles I stopped off at Amoeba Music, which in my estimation is the greatest record store in the world. Among the goodies I picked up was the third studio album proper from Secret Machines, a self-titled affair that finds them going the indie route after parting ways with Warner/Reprise earlier this year. It will be a tough go for a band that was already under the radar to begin with. The album hit store shelves without any real notice in October, which is unfortunate considering in many ways it is a return to the distinct sound of their debut. There are hooks a plenty, including the lead-off track “Atomic Heels” which, if there was any justice in the world, would be added to every alternative rock playlist in North America. The final track, the 11-minute long “The Fire Is Waiting”, may be too much for some, but I personally love the fact that the band is pushing their envelope. Having formed my opinion that this was a return to form, I ventured over to All Music to see if the Secret Machines latest had warranted a review. It had, once again courtesy of Tim Sendra, who’d reviewed all their previous albums, and who seems to have utterly dismissed the band with their new one, straddling it with a two star rating. The problem is, I don’t think that Sendra went back to see his previous review. He calls the new albuma carbon copy” of the previous album, “from the thundering Zep-inspired drums and sludgy guitars to the choruses that aim for “hands in the air” and end up with shrugged shoulders instead“.

The thing is, the drum sound he cites was nowhere to be found on “Ten Silver Drops”. In fact, in Sendra’s review of that album he specifically states “For some reason they also cut back on the rhythmic power of the band, recording the drums very slickly and blandly.

This sort of inconsistency boggles my mind, and it’s something we strive to avoid at Biff Bam Bop. I don’t have anything against Tim Sendra, and I don’t really mean to pick on him. He’s going to like what he’s going to like, and I’m going to dig what I’m going to dig. No problemo. But having read his reviews and noticed his inconsistencies, I feel as though the bar I’d already set for myself and Biff Bam Pop is as important as ever. For us to be credible and worth reading, we need to be consistent. In our praise and condemnations. We can’t be aloof or elusive, or there’s no point in you reading. Especially if we’re writing about things we love, or hate for that matter. Hopefully our credibility and our craft will keep you coming back.

Now go track down some Secret Machines, would ya? I like them; maybe you will too.

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