Wow the week had barely begun before the Music Discourse Machine came to life and started making loud mechanical chugging noises. All across the web, people have been sharing their opinions about two American bands: The Grateful Dead and Big Thief. Big Thief discourse arrived via Julian Towers's review of their Pitchfork Fest set in Stereogum; Grateful Dead's came via Jack Wagner's tweet:
Well I (editor in chief of I Enjoy Music) love music discourse almost as much as I love my ma and pa, so I decided to put my journalism cap on and ask people on Twitter to formalize their thoughts about both of these bands of the moment, soliciting opinions in a fairly binary way (GOOD OR BAD) and asking people to quantify the unquantifiable (what is a "best" band anyway?):
Below are the tabulated and lightly analyzed responses. I made graphs to chart the general sentiments of the folks in my mentions (and then I immediately felt bad about doing so, because while I don't really care about the emotional health of the members of the Grateful Dead, it would be kind of sad to be the band Big Thief and somehow see a graph where you have been marked as "Bad" in a statistical way, right? Am I being too sensitive? Regardless, this is all in the name of Discourse so let's soldier on) and also curated a selection of more detailed opinions other than "good" "bad" "fine" etc. If you tweeted to me, your opinion is represented here, don't you worry. The "conflicted / neutral / idk" column comprises opinions such as "X is good, Y is bad"; "I have never listened to them"; "They're fine; "[positive opinion] BUT [negative opinion]". It's called ambivalence, look it up.
My findings: people seem pretty bullish on Big Thief, and the Dead are much more divisive. Weirdly I realized when preparing to share my own thoughts about Big Thief and the Grateful Dead that these informal polls have inspired me to try to break out of my lukewarmish feelings toward both groups. You've blinded me with science! I can smell the chemicals! I like just fine what I've heard of each band, but the passionate responses to both bands make me think I could do better than fine, and listen to enough tunes to get closer to a diagnosis of SUCKS or RULES...and this is what music discourse is all about. Strong feelings.
Best American Band is getting its own blog post by the way — that's what we call getting the most out of our content, slash I don't have time to make a good infographic for this yet because I'm trying to finish this blog post before my scheduled haircut. See you LATER or possibly TOMORROW for Best American Band.
"They’re called Big Thief cause that’s 45 minutes im never getting back"
"for kids (none of my business)"
"Big thief should just become a grateful dead cover band and play at Winstons in OB every monday"
"extremely good and even better in person"
"possibly one of the best ever to be big indie"
"great[est American band?]"
"quite good, although they should rock out about 30% more often."
"good, a free Palestine just as good"
"better than a lot of bands that get their level of critical attention and worse than a lot of bands that don’t"
"Went to one of their shows with my gf, my back really hurt the whole time, they're ok, I think I like Lenker's solo stuff more."
"bad because the fans are annoying"
"I have only heard the new song and it was solid. Good?"
"try Buck Meek's solo stuff if you need an entry point"
"One of the best of today. Early albums and solo efforts are underrated"
"earlier records better, fun live"
"The constant breathing and shifting of their music from live settings to studio recordings is PART of what makes them so good!"
"didn't ever click with them until their folky turn last year. incredible songwriting talent and a solid band behind it"
"Good but makes me feel bad for being heterosexual."
"grey paint- do they have any studied influences outside of General Success"
"great and we need more bands where the members have been mysteriously married and separated"
"Good (music) bad (vibes, personalities)"
"Mostly okay, sometimes REALLY good, every now & then awful."
"one of the current best groups in music"
"as a Radiohead fan I support the Big Thief fans going nuclear over a song turning out different to the demo version."
"they’re fine, not my thing, but as a 29yo withering crone, I can appreciate that they’re trying to make 2012 happen again"
"Seen them 6 times so I’m hardly impartial, but they’re the real deal."
"good but when they get weird and not just oingo boingo"
"Love Big Thief. They just keep getting better imo."
"Sometimes transcends being a snoozy hippie band."
"started to rapidly decline in quality post-UFOF, which is an insane artistic triumph from start to finish"
"Not a bad record in their discography, immense talents."
"one of the best active bands right now. Adrienne Lenker is possibly the best millennial songwriter."
"Good, cool, fun, I see the vision"
"I moved to NYC in 2009. Pandora was still a thing, roommates and I used to religiously listen to Orange Juice radio despite not liking the band Orange Juice. That’s how I feel about Big Thief."
"very good but i wish they would tame some of their twangiest impulses and incorporate some more cool electronic stuff like in Heavy Bend/Blurred View/half of UFOF"
"great, and fine if it's not someone's thing but I sincerely don't get the online vitriol. Is it her voice? It's so emotive!"
"cannot make a value judgement here because i did not have an acid trip at a show of theirs at an impressionable age. and im giving them the good faith thats a necessary component to understanding them"
"possibly the most overrated of any band but you could not call them bad by any stretch. it can't be done"
"very bad and I will never change my opinion."
"not to sound like a baby but I literally know zero grateful dead songs"
"Grateful Dead were a pysop or cia backed or something but that’s not a judgement on their music some of the songs are good I just think a lot of annoying people like them"
"I’m so far outside the target demo for the Grateful Dead that it feels unfair to pass value judgement on it. Not my thing, kinda reminds me of twee but in a rustic hippie way."
"pretty good, have to give them credit for creating a nationally touring adult carnival"
"bad because the fans are annoying"
"Good. I like Touch of Grey."
"ok to good. I had my phase when I was 15."
"a good band with mostly bad music"
"One of the best of the 60s-90s. Dead and co just kept getting better"
"bad (Live Dead & selling acid excellent, every studio lp dire)"
"If I say bad, my father will cry, but I do think they're a legendary act."
"average band that appeal to most people since music literacy isn’t taught"
"one of the best bands of all time"
"I think I would like them if I found good songs to start with"
"growing up in a world of rock dads and their rock dad rock bands, the grateful dead were a band i always avoided simply because i knew that any conversation i started about them would be interminable"
"before I heard a note, based on name/skull/cult I assumed something b/w Hendrix & Sabbath…imagine my face when I finally heard ‘em."
"people (hippies?) followed them on tour (which went on for a while??). could not name a single song album or band member & am unsure of how culturally illiterate this makes me"
"I do like Grateful Dead but I also find their fandom pretty annoying"
"they’re legitimately good if you let yourself like them. it’s a vibe"
"good, definitely Not Cool. Hard to deny the 10% of their catalog that’s good plus building an audience on Touring Forever To Score Drugs rocks"
"I’ve never intentionally listened to Grateful Dead but they seem to be on a Steely Dan-esque upward cultural trajectory"
"good especially if you’re a musician/guitarist yourself but beyond that not *superb*"
"definitely good because they have several high caliber songs that rise above the whatever stuff"
"The Dead were probably good but I don’t like them. To me they sound like they can’t hear what each other are playing."
"Sometimes transcends being a snoozy hippie band"
"Some good tunes but meandering guitar wheedling is the worst."
"great. American Beauty is an essential listen and songs like "Tennessee Jed" kick ass."
"Grateful Dead are good but only if you see them live"
"people who say “Grateful Dead bad” are the same people who would say “jazz bad”. They don’t know shit about music and don’t know how to actually listen to music and appreciate it for its complexities."
"BAD (except for American Beauty)"
"“Grateful Dead's Wall of sound is the live music equivalent of George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic.”"
Thanks for your tweets, I will update this post with a "credits" section imminently, peace love and guitars