We were SO READY to give this review a 47/100.

As a matter of fact, this rating was typed in before we even sat down to peruse the review. There’s just something about people over 22 getting all screw-faced over little kids with face tats and skittles hair that rubs us the wrong way. I mean, let the kids do their thing and make their beanie-rocking Soundcloud cults happy, right? But it was apparent right from the jump that Meaghan Garvey was tossing three tricky little wrenches into our plans to savage her 4.9 rating Lil Xan review:

1) The writing is brisk and really, really funny.

2) Garvey is decidedly not worked up over little kids with face tats and skittles hair.

3) Garvey is incredibly insightful about the whole Soundcloud rap phenomenon while in no way buying into it.

Sigh.

So it looks like we’re going to have to take a serious look at this thing. There goes our morning.

Garvey dodges the easiest pitfall right up front, refraining from getting all old head woked-up over some kid who was nowhere near alive when Tupac was killed not quite understanding the visceral power of “Hit Em’ Up”. Instead of going “Lil Xan banned from the culture” on Yung Xanarchy, she instead drops some banger punchlines that kick off the festivities in fine style and set a suitably irreverent tone for the remainder of the piece. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of a better opening line in any review this year than:

“In the annals of the Least Hip-Hop Shit Ever Documented, the headline “Lil Xan Flees Angry Tupac Fans… Cop Keeps Him Safe” is up there.”

Although Garvey doesn’t go so far as to defend Lil Xan for his Saint Pac blaspheming, she does take a brave step that nobody else did when covering the controversy and related fallout: She puts the whole thing into context. I know, I know, context isn’t what gets the clicks these days, but if other music scribblers were looking for a way to sleep easier at night perhaps they should take careful note of the below from the pen of Meaghan Garvey:

“The video called for the rapper to rank subjects specifically in terms of “clout” on a scale from one to nine, a proposition that strikes me as far more idiotic than Xan’s answers themselves.”

And there you have it. The whole “LIL XAN SEZ TUPAC IS BORING!!! OMGZ IT’S A CULTURE WAR!!” controversy was just a poorly premised publicity appearance, and the offensive quote in question taken entirely out of context. But make no mistake, Meaghan Garvey is wisely not taking any of this nonsense at all seriously:

“To all of which I say: Who cares?”

Well, apparently a whole hell of a lot of people, Meaghan, but should they care? Absolutely not. Which is absolutely her point here.

Paragraph two goes right in on the Soundcloud scene, but does so in an innovative fashion that sidesteps the now-tired clichés old folks cycle around and around when dissing on the genre. There’s no mention of facial ink beyond pointing out the admittedly amazing fact that Xan has a posse member with an Anne Frank face tat. Instead there’s an observation that cuts right to the heart of the main issue at hand: Even though the visuals are colorful, the majority of Soundcloud rap is, well, kind of boring. Like Tupac never was. And when Garvey puts it out there about “the listener’s false hopes as to what this stuff is supposed to be, and for whom, than what it actually is” she nails it better than a thousands-strong army of Timberland-rocking oldschoolers dissing on skinny jeans ever have or could.

We would also like to award Meaghan Garvey a huge swath of points for cutting right past the usual several paragraphs critics covering this scene reserve for descriptions of rainbow grills and future-gainful-employment-killing ink, distilling it all down to one poetic and evocative descriptive sentence:

“He looks like a streetwear-swaddled cherub fallen out of heaven and directly upon hard times.”

So what of the music? This part is tricky since the Xanarchy Nation phenomenon  is only very partially about this aspect. This isn’t a new Beach House record we’re dealing with here. Yet where Anthony Fantano took the very unfortunate route of focusing specifically on the music, coming off as a senior varsity starter dunking hard on a runty 6th grader, Garvey expertly zeroes in on the kinks in the very all-important image the music is attempting to convey. A young rapper named Lil Xan chanting ‘Xans don’t make me what I am, Xans gon’ mess up all my friends’? In pointing out that this “complicates things” when it comes to the image and message of the Xanarchy project, Garvey accomplishes the tricky critical maneuver of pointing out the obvious without going all Anthony Fantano on it, biting at it like a sore tongue just to savor the taste of blood. Garvey also doesn’t shy away from the overall positive message at the heart of this main paradox. “Art-wise, maybe it’s not the kind of thing that outlasts the fall of empires. But when he dispassionately chants “Xans gon’ betray you,” someone needed to hear that.” With a generation still smarting from the death-at-21 punch delivered from Lil Peep’s tragic tour bus earlier in the year, Garvey deserves major props for focusing on the positive when base killer instinct most likely told her to hammer away at the obvious message-related inconsistencies like nearly all the critics before and after her.

Like any expert and professional music critic should, Meaghan Garvey combs through the surface distortion surrounding any high-profile project to find further chinks in The Message. “Most of Total Xanarchy does not feel “sad,” exactly; in fact, it’s hard to detect any particular emotion at all.” Xan, and by proxy the rest of his allegedly depressed Soundcloud minions, have been called out for their zombified delivery by dozens of critics, but never in such concise and hard-hitting form. Still, Garvey never loses sight of the type of humor needed to paint this review in the light shades it needs in order to be best effective. “”I fuh dat bih, yea,” (Lil Xan) reminds us on “The Man,” in case the nuances of his Twitter handle (@lilxanfuhyobih) did not fully sink in.” Lolz.

For lesser critics, a review falls into a number of distinct categories. Light takes. Heavy topical takes. Philosophical takes. Reverent takes. Early Ian Cohen massacre takes. With her Xanarchy review, Meaghan Garvey deftly blends the light and the philosophical, which turn out to be the perfect angles needed to take on the Xanarchy Nation. While she may spend several sentences making fun of Xan’s deadened delivery, Garvey counters this with deep insight that betrays a philosophical bent missing from the present critical Xan pile-on:

“I find myself struck by the idea of a character who is profoundly conflicted by the identity that made him famous, living in a world in which the thing people want from you is precisely what you hate about yourself.”

MGMT and Lil Xan seem to have a lot more than you would think in common, and Garvey deserves accolades for being The One out of many to point this out.

Really, our only sticking point with the review is the score. A 4.7? Does a project like this even get a score? Has Pitchfork ever not scored a review? This would have been the one if The Fork Empire were going to branch into the realm of the scoreless. After all, how do you put a score on an organic phenomenon that’s about so much more than mere music, a realm where the music means next-to-nothing in the face of seismic cultural shifts and generational battle lines?

Meaghan Garvey herself says it best in the midst of this dead-funny and deadly insightful review:

“If adult critics really loved this stuff, the Xanarchy team would no doubt feel they’d made a wrong turn somewhere.”

Amen and Xanarchy Now.

 

Rating: 85/100

Daniel Falatko