Earlier this year, a website called The Talkhouse made its debut. Its pedigree is impressive: the editor-in-chief is Michael Azzerad, who’s about as unfuckwithable as one can get in terms of music writers covering punk and its aftermath. And the concept, at least on the surface, is simple: it’s a collection of musicians writing about other musicians’ albums. It’s been around for over a month now; with that in mind, it seemed time to get a sense of where The Talkhouse is right now — and where it might be headed.
The site’s first review opened things on a modest scale, with Screaming Females’ Jarrett Dougherty talking about Swearin’. Both terrific bands, but neither one is exactly a household name — which, looking at the musicians cited so far, suggests that the site is blending the two. It also set up a slight shift away from existing critic-musician dynamics. In some cases, like Doughtery’s piece, you had friends or peers writing about one another — see also Dean Spunt on Milk Music. In other cases, the essays are fairly straightforward reviews: Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg on the latest from David Bowie, which reveals that Meiburg knows his way around the Tin Machine catalog, could easily have run in SPIN or Pitchfork. And sometimes the lines are blurred. Mish Way of White Lung, who wrote about Waxahatchee, is both a notable musician and someone who writes regularly about culture.
Some of the most interesting contributions have the least to do with the music nominally discussed. Ceremony’s Anthony Anzaldo, Jr. doesn’t so much write about The XX as he does use them as a jumping-off point for his experiences signing to Matador Records, and remembering his father’s work as a record promoter in the 1990s. At times, the initial review paves the way for a response, or a dialogue, such as Jana Hunter and Bobby Matador conversing about the former’s thoughts on Oneida’s A List of the Burning Mountains, and Sean Ragon adds his commentary to Geoff Rickly’s notes on Cult of Youth’s Love Will Prevail.
Certain reviews have brought out bigger names — Laurie Anderson and Roseanne Cash chief among them. That blend of scales, if Azzerad & company can sustain it, seems very promising. As the site progresses, one hopes to see more examinations of music outside of the more familiar confines of rock and pop. There is precedent for this: Dessa contributed an early essay about Fiona Apple, and Kip Berman’s ode to the Korean folksinger Kim Jung Mi was also memorable. And Vijay Iye’s musings on Flying Lotus yielded one of the site’s most blurb-ready tags: “music for time-travelers on a bender.” And there seems to be room for tweaks to the house style, as with a comic-strip review of the Skyfall soundtrack.
Still, The Talkhouse seems to be a welcome addition to the existing dialogue about music, and if they can keep it up, they should have an impressive archive of work on hand. Also, at one point, Andrew WK declares, “Robert Pollard is a cum engine.” So there’s that, too.