Brooklyn Vegan has kindly noted Composer to the Indie Stars Nico Muhly’s spirited and pretty much instantaneous riposte to the New York Times‘ “weirdly mean-spirited” review of late May’s Grizzly Bear show. (Ben Ratliff’s closing thought: “I left Town Hall grinding my teeth.”) Nico, a major player on GB’s new Veckatimest, ignores that one but takes umbrage at several other lines/phrases, mostly acknowledging the usefulness of “fussy” (“…the opposite being a Hot Mess, I suppose?”) but coming down hard on the pejorative use of “precious.” Preach it:
Now, I have major objections to the word “precious.” It tends to be borderline homophobic in its coded usage, first of all, but second of all, it’s a derogatory adjective with no alternative. It’s reviewspeak. What I mean is: if you say, “that’s ugly” somebody else can say, “no, it’s beautiful.” If you say, “it’s over-stuffed” somebody can say, “really, I thought it was pretty thin.” So the problem with a word like precious is that the scale of adjectives with “precious” on it belongs solely to the reviewer and is just a way of being mean. Case in point: this whole nonsense about Sufjan Stevens’s’s BQE Thing. Words like fey, twee, and precious have become these little nuggets of coded disdain, but they are really just useless self-congratulatory gestures on the part of the reviewer. What is the opposite of twee? Muscular? It all reminds me of the insane misogynist critiques of Jane Austen’s novels. I guess the place for a word like that would be in a larger piece about the music world — there was an enormous brouhaha in Iceland about the so-called Krútt scene. Krútt is probably the closest approximation in Icelandic of “precious” — it refers to Múm, kind of Sigur Rós, and a lot of imitators: it denotes little bells, reversed glockenspiels, fairytale vocals, cutely-outfitted brass bands. Now, all of that is just a description and not derogatory; my iPod overflows with this shit. Anyway, to go to a concert of that kind of music and be like, “it’s precious,” all you’re doing is going to a Chinese restaurant and being like, “wow, they were serving mad chinese food up in there!”
When I saw he’d attached a link to the “Sufjan Stevens nonsense” bit I thought, “I wonder who’s he’s talking ab- ohhhhhhhhh.” Me, it turns out. The guy who called Sufjan “The Fey Highwayman.”
Let me give “fey” some thought — I can see the point. “Precious,” though, I’m less willing to concede: The Sufjan performance in question features him wearing a bird costume, accompanied by hula-hoopers, as he conducts his symphonic ode to the BQE. (This is after his whole cheerleader-outfit phase.) And Grizzly Bear’s music is pretty much objectively fussy, ordered, refined — not joyless, but very buttoned-up, very reserved, very delicate. If you ask me, drummer Christopher Bear very pleasingly smashes that facade quite a bit: “Muscular,” you’d almost call him. But even if you wouldn’t, “precious” is not exactly the ultimate insult. Nico, meet Chuck Eddy.