My dear friend Alex, who did his honors thesis in mathematics on knot theory, and now works as a research assistant for a large and powerful think tank in DC, has generously submitted a review-review that is sure to delight you. Enjoy.
Did you know the Mountain Goats is just one guy? Of course you did. If you read any review of any of their (his) records, you’ll know it by the end of the first sentence. People writing about the (one man) band talk a lot more about John Darnielle than they do about The Mountain Goats (about three times as often). I’m not sure this is important, but I find it a little interesting.
Interesting enough that I decided to do a little too much counting, which gives us this table. I thought of as many one man band-y artists things that I could which gave us a sample of: The Mountain Goats, St. Vincent, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Cat Power, Panda Bear, and Fever Ray. I decided to add MIA, sensing that she was different. I probably should have thrown in some sort of multiple person band as a control, but this is plenty of data for something that nobody could possibly care about.
For each of said artists’ most recent release, I have gone to four of websites that I sometimes read reviews on and counted the the number of times that the band name appeared in each review, as well as the number of times that the name of the sole member of the band is mentioned. I’ve recorded the percentage of real name use from the total use of both names.
The big loser in all this is Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, who is completely overshadowed by Will Oldham (the starkest display of this is Pitchfork’s review of Beware, which says “Oldham” 25 times and doesn’t even mention the Bonnie), but the practice of ignoring artists’ made up names is pretty widespread (unless your real last name is Arulpragasam and your stage name is three letters; or it could be a genre thing: nobody is referring to Ghostface as Dennis Coles in reviews).
I don’t have a lot of strong conclusions to draw from this, but I have some ideas about what explains the bits of variation that exist:
- I think the reason Panda Bear gets called “Panda Bear” relatively often (but still less than half the time) is because people think of “Panda Bear” as the person, rather than a one man band. For instance “Panda Bear’s Noah Lennox” gets a small fraction of the google hits of “Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox)”. The same is partially true for Fever Ray, I think (and completely true for MIA). Conversely, “The Mountain Goats” really sounds like a band name. If I saw John Darnielle on the street, I’d probably wouldn’t go “hey, it’s the mountain goats.”
- I don’t think last name length and band name length are insignificant (although I should use a different word, because we’re not talking about any statistics here). On the flipside of MIA, “Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy” is just a lot to write.
- Related to the second point, and moving into reviewer variation, I think A.V. Club posts lower rates because of their lower word count. I didn’t keep track of word count, but A.V. Club’s reviews are way shorter. And what happens, is that (just about) every review mentions the band name at least once. So, if you assume that all usages after the first are a function of word length (it takes a few hundred words to say “Oldham” 25 times), then it would hold that the shortest reviews would have the highest ratio of band names.
- Is the new Mountain Goats album any good? All four of these reviews have been pretty favorable, but the clips I listened to make it sound a little boring.