Diet Cig – Swear I’m Good at This

– this review was first published here at This Is Not a Drill – 

Before that terrible Pitchfork review, which I am about to discuss, I didn’t know Diet Cig had a new album out. I vaguely remember having heard the single ‘Tummy Ache’, but it must not have left a lasting impression. Still, I was curious about this new album because I liked their EP, Over Easy. It contains the track ‘Harvard’, which is basically Best Coast’s ‘Boyfriend’ – they’re both about being dumped for a college girl – but louder and meaner (“I bet she’s not as loud!” cries Alex Luciano). It’s something I can hardly identify with (I’m attending Oxford, after all), but understanding ‘the other’ is the purpose of art, and Diet Cig did that well.

Hence my curiosity for Swear I’m Good at This. Curious what Pitchfork says about it. Here’s what they wrote:

The origin story of Diet Cig centers around an interaction in which guitarist Alex Luciano interrupted drummer Noah Bowman during a show to ask for a lighter. This anecdote is an odd way to introduce your band. It suggests a double standard that it’s okay for women to interrupt men while they’re playing but you know if the tables were turned Twitter would be all up in arms. Nevertheless, the pair hit it off and began making music together in their then-hometown of New Paltz, NY. This led to 2015’s Over Easy EP, five jangly tracks about young adult anxieties and scene politics. It was an inoffensive introduction that spawned relentless touring, a bubbly social media presence, and Luciano’s trademark high kick off the bass drum.

Now I’ve contributed to a volume of entirely negative music criticism, so I’m basically an expert on the putdown. And let me tell you: this is bad. Remember, at this point I hadn’t heard a note of the album in question, so this is not about a matter of difference of opinion. This is about clear writing.

For starters, it’s entirely unclear who Quinn Moreland is criticising here: Diet Cig, for putting that anecdote in their introduction? Alex Luciano, for rudely interrupting Noah Bowman? The angry feminist Twitter mob, who (apparently) enforce double standards instead of tearing them down? This is a duel, not a Hollywood fight in which the hero combats five ninjas and a sniper all at once; pick one target and one target only. (Look at what I’m doing: I’m criticising this one specific paragraph). Secondly, what is the exact criticism? Is Moreland genuinely concerned over the double standard Diet Cig are promoting, i.e. that women are (apparently) allowed to interrupt men but not vice versa? Given that women in music are a great deal more likely to get interrupted this shouldn’t be that concerning. Or is she simply worried that this might not be the best way to introduce the band, in which case, is that really the best you can do? If the worst thing about Diet Cig is their unfortunate bio, well, then you haven’t really got a strong argument against them. Again, pick your targets.

I don’t like the rest of the review that much either (the critique on Diet Cig’s feminist credentials is a bit contrived, and in any case I think it’s unfair that it’s always the artists who at least are outspokenly feminist who get criticised for it the most; why not spend that energy on actual sexism?), but let’s not dwell on things too much. The opening paragraph absolutely stood out. And anyway, there’s a plot twist…

I’ve listened to Swear I’m Good at That, and it’s not great. The thing is, there are plenty noisy-angry bands of this ilk, many of whom have formed over the past two years, and Diet Cig just doesn’t cut it. They’re not as convincing as Makthaverskan; not as catchy as Martha; not as witty as Chastity Belt. And with so much competition of such high quality, Diet Cig simply doesn’t stand out. It’s like that classic college rejection: “we’ve had many applications of high standard”.

Moreland points all this out too, of course, but I wonder why she needed to sling mud at the peripherals too. In a way, then, she commits the same mistake as Diet Cig, namely being unfocused. Ironic, but it’s the responsibility of music critics to be focused – especially in their putdowns. We owe it to the music.

-- Caspar Jacobs, April 11, 2017