Recently I’ve been doing some thinking about the role and importance of authenticity in music.  The impetus for these thoughts have been a couple of album reviews over at the indier-than-thou music authority that everyone loves to hate, Pitchfork.  The reviews (for Mumford & Sons’ “Sigh No More” and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros’ “Up From Below”) are remarkably scathing, but not for typical reasons.  Rather than faulting the melodies, songwriting, or vocals on these two albums, the reviewers primary disenchantment appears to be disgust at lack of authenticity in the music.

From the Mumford & Sons review (2.1 of 10):

That band name derives from singer/guitarist Marcus Mumford, but the band members aren’t actually his sons. Rather, it’s a play at quaint family businesses run by real people in real small towns, trades passed down through generations: both independent (yes, as in indie) and commercial. It’s a shallow cry of authenticity, but this West London quartet really does sound more like a business than a band, supplying value-added products at discount prices.

And from the Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros review: (4.1 of 10)

Just as you’d feel a little funny if some hippie ideals were being espoused to sell you fancy Kool-Aid, you’d feel a little funny if a jerk-punker– and I hesitate to say failed, but, yeah, failed jerk-punker– reemerged a couple of years on as some kind of robe-donning, beard-rocking guru sort, wouldn’t you? Well, get ready: Ima Robot lead singer Alex Ebert has reeimagined himself in the image of messiah-type Edward Sharpe.

Other reviews for these two albums also espouse similar concerns, albeit not nearly to the same degree.  Album ratings from other reviewers in the music media reflect this, with average ratings on Metacritic of 6.6 and 6.7 out of 10.0.  However, even more interesting is that listener reviews for these two albums are actually quite positive (7.7 and 8.5 out of 10.0).

One of two things appear to come out of this (or both):

1) Your average listener doesn’t seem to be particularly concerned about authenticity, which perhaps isn’t surprising given the popularity of some blatantly manufactured pop groups (although I like to hope that those listening to Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros are a bit more discerning?)
2) Pitchfork reviewers will take any difference in opinion between music industry reviewers and your average listener and blow it completely out of proportion in order to continue to lay claim to the fringe of popular opinion and endear themselves to readers who take pride in being as far away from popular thought as possible.  Note that in this case, the Pitchfork reviews look to have been written a few months after other reviews, which lends a bit of support to this view.

Anyways, this all leads us back to the original question.  How important is authenticity in music?  To say the least, it is an interesting question, and one where popular opinion looks to be squarely at odds with the music press.

To judge for yourself:
[mp3] Mumford & Sons – Little Lion Man
[mp3]
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Home

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