As far as I can remember, my first exposure to “music criticism” took place in the sort of spot where a lot of strange firsts happen: the loading dock behind a high-school gym. It involved a passionate and protracted discussion of Morrissey and Nine Inch Nails, some argument over the TLC song someone was playing in the parking lot, and a punk kid in a Steel Pole Bath Tub T-shirt sneering and shaking his head at the whole thing. (This was in the nineties: He’d have preferred to talk about Fugazi.) Then years and years passed, during which I learned there were actual magazines and papers and zines where they printed this kind of passionate and protracted discussion, and websites and mailing lists and message boards, too. Then still more years and more discussions passed, as they tend to do, and now here I am at Vulture, introducing myself, because starting today I’ll be posting here to talk with you about music. Hopefully more on the “passionate” side than the “protracted” one. So hi: My name’s Nitsuh Abebe, new Vulture and New York Magazine music critic, and starting today you’ll get to hear what I think in my new column, Radio Vulture.
Maybe you wouldn’t count that behind-the-gym conversation as “criticism.” I do. There’s this idea that floats around — the one where critics are mostly just snobs and know-it-alls, the people who have heard everything and live to tell you why your taste is bad and what you should be listening to instead. But that isn’t really the goal, right? No one person can hear more than a tiny sliver of everything, and these days, you can listen just as easily for yourself. When it comes to writing about music, the things I love are still the same things I loved about those behind-the-gym arguments — the same happy, ongoing conversations that are happening when friends clash over what to listen to during a long drive, strangers chat at shows, or kids split earbuds and marvel at some new song. Conversations where there’s no right or wrong, just all the surprising ideas that crop up when we’re trying to work out why one person’s voice moves me but annoys you, or why some act strikes you as the greatest thing going but makes the next listener want to punch somebody. It’s always amazing how many big ideas are bouncing around a world as fun and colorful — and, sometimes, as frivolous and funny — as pop music.
That gym I mentioned was in southern Colorado. Since then, I’ve lived in Chicago (back when it felt like a good quarter of the city played vibraphone), and, for the past seven years or so, in New York City (where it feels like a good quarter of the city just owns a lot of really cool effects pedals). I’ve been writing and talking about music for a while now — on blogs and message boards, for publications like Pitchfork and the Guardian, and of course with friends, though now without the gym wall to lean on. Hopefully you’ll enjoy splitting some of those figurative earbuds with me here and wading through the flood of new music that arrives every week. I’ll be digging through a variety of genres, from the ones I know best to the ones that still feel like fresh territory. And I hope you’ll find time to dig along, talk back, and tell me where you’re coming from, too.