Ethereal-ity check: 10 words that music writers need to stop using in 2014

By , Jan 8 2014

Just as modern music is flooded with copycats, acts looking to jump on the latest trend for a quick bit of hype, and people who talk a lot more than they actually do, music writing has seen more ambitious days.

There’s rarely sinister intentions behind them, but far too many pieces on music now read like algorithms – predictable equations of buzzwords and those established music journo phrases which, frankly, nobody ever needs to hear again. FACT’s guilty of it too: rushed write-ups that end up reading like an alphabet soup of “noisenik”s and “ethereal”s when a step back could lead to some more imaginative and memorable phrasing.

To emphasise, none of these are evil words, and there are certainly occasions where they’re appropriate (doubtless this won’t be the last article on FACT you read that features them). But they are words that, even when used with good intentions, rarely fail to raise more than a sigh. So next time you – and I – think of reaching for “ethereal” just because a record’s intro sounds a little like Julia Holter, let’s take a step back and think of an alternative that won’t make both the artist and audience groan.


‘ethereal’ 
Recent offenders: FACT on Visionist

IRL, “ethereal” describes something that’s delicate to the point where it barely seems of our world, like a fairy or Melba toast. In music writing, if you’re male it means you sound a bit like Burial, and if you’re female it means you sound a bit like Enya. In other words: you use a lot of reverb, just like everyone else.

‘experimentalist’
Recent offenders: FACT on Autre ne Veut

If someone’s musical experiments are interesting enough for you to write about them, then they’re presumably interesting enough for you to come up with an evocative or enlightening description of them. “Experimentalist” is neither.

‘beatsmith’
Recent offenders: FACT on Baths

Likewise, if somebody’s beats are interesting enough for you to write about, then you can come up with something less flaccid and throwaway than beatsmith. This one belongs in the same hip-hop time capsule as scratch contests and Run MPC t-shirts.

‘elusive’
Recent offenders: FACT on Braiden

That hyped blog-dubstep producer you just interviewed with absolutely zero problems? Just because he doesn’t have a press shot or a proper Soundcloud bio, that doesn’t make him “elusive” – he’s just a polite boy who hasn’t got around to that shit yet. And no, living in Hadley Wood doesn’t make him “enigmatic”.

‘noisenik’
Recent offenders: FACT on Sun Hammer

Yes, “noisenik”‘s usually used correctly: it means a musician playing loud music, and that’s how people deploy it. But seriously, somebody who changed the game as dramatically as Earth, a group with the mindbending live potential of SunnO))), or an act with Boris’s shapeshifting ability, and the best you can come up with is “they’re loud”? We can all do better.

grime / crime wordplay
Recent offenders: Any broadsheet article on a UK MC

We’ve all seen them: “Dizzee Rascal proves that grime does pay!” and its countless variations. These were lame in 2003, and they’re lame now. The only exception is Vice‘s Grimewatch (R.I.P.).

‘maverick’
Recent offenders: FACT on Archie Pelago

When used to describe a genuine maverick – an unpredictable artist who can’t be tamed – then knock yourself out. But Archie Pelago [above]? See also: “pioneer” as shorthand for anybody who happened to make music before 1990.

‘songstress’
Recent offenders: FACT on Charli XCX

Firstly, a songster or songstress is a wandering singer – it’s a tradition that dates back to blues and slavery, and even though words change definition over time, you still sound silly using it to describe Jessie Ware. Secondly, you’d never call a male musician a “songster” in 2014, so let’s cut this one out.

‘comeback’
Recent offenders: FACT on Bat for Lashes

When applied to an artist who merely hasn’t released an album in a year and a half – and thus is enjoying the exact same release cycle that’s been the industry standard for decades. Unless they’ve been sent to war, their new album does not, and never will justify the use of “comeback”.

‘hipster’
Recent offenders: This guy on FACT

A nonsense slur, usually aimed at somebody having way more fun than you (and they’re even more of a Fucking Hipster if they’re earning a crust in the process). This one, more than any others, needs to go – not just from music writing but from life in general.

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