Posts Tagged ‘ Journalism ’

Why we hate Pitchfork

Let’s start with defining the “we” in that title above. We are the people who listen to the sort of music labeled independent or alternative. We gravitate towards the stuff that doesn’t get radio airplay outside of your local college station, but we occasionally over-intellectualize pop music and write long blog posts justifying our affection for someone like Lady GaGa. We discover and talk about music on the internet. We also acquire it using the internet, via torrents and other methods of piracy. We might talk about supporting local record stores, and many of us buy vinyl, but the majority of the music on our omnipresent MP3 players wasn’t paid for. We go to general admission shows at our local rock clubs where we see the bands that we read and talk about on blogs and forums.

We hate Pitchfork because they are tastemakers. We hate their influence. We don’t like the idea of a casual music fan turning to Pitchfork for all their indie rock needs. We have nightmares about kids in skinny jeans and monochrome American Apparel t-shirts permanently plugged into iPods that exclusively contain albums given the honor of Best New Music. We hate their decimal points and how almost every album they review gets something between a 6 and 8 on the 10 point scale. We don’t like the bitch slap reviews, either. We hate the snarkiness and arrogance of that Black Kids review, even though we also hate Black Kids.

These are all pretty good reasons to hate. Pitchfork bashing is similar to Starbucks bashing in the sense that both sets of haters are rejecting the pre-fab identity that both entities offer (not that these are distinct groups of haters by any means – surely lots of overlap). Getting your new music from Pitchfork is like stopping at Starbucks daily for your morning coffee. It’s convenient, but not very creative and maybe a bit lazy. The choices have mostly been made for you.

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Music Reviews, Week of 5/12/2010 (part 2)

As promised, here’s part 2 for this week.  Below are reviews for the new album I chose that was outside of my traditional comfort zone (Circa Survive’s Blue Sky Noise) and an older album (Swans’ Children of God).

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My new project

I’m (obviously) not a professional music critic or journalist. When I was in high school, I probably would have answered “critic” as my dream job if someone had asked me, though. Film would have been my first choice, but music wouldn’t have been far behind. I think it’s a natural pipe dream of the fanboy, to want to write professionally about the stuff you love. The thing is, if you’re a professional critic, you’ve got to wade through some crap, too. Manohla Dargis gets to write about great movies for the New York Times, but she also has to sit through Valentine’s Day and G.I. Joe. When viewed as a downside to an otherwise great job, it’s pretty minor. But, honestly, I’m not even sure it’s really a downside. I think there’s something to be said for the forced exposure to stuff that falls outside of your zone of interest.

I made a list recently of all the 2010 albums I had heard. In order to count, I needed to have listened listened to it from start to finish at least once, and I needed to have paid enough attention to it to form some sort of opinion. I was surprised to find out that I legitimately liked all but 3 of the albums that made the list, and even those 3 had something to recommend. This was unexpected – I’m really not that easy to please. In hindsight, though, it makes perfect sense. I limit my exposure to bands and genres I already like, and I filter out the stuff that I don’t think will appeal to me. There’s nothing really wrong with this, and I imagine it’s how most people decide what to listen to, but if I’m going to commit to writing about music on this blog, I feel like need my exposure to be as broad as possible.

Christopher Weingarten talks a bit about this in his recent 140 Characters Conference speech, and you should listen to him because he played the hell out of the drums on a couple of really awesome Parts & Labor albums*. The speech has been linked to death, but if you haven’t already seen it, go here. The ending is what’s most relevant to this post and my new project if you’re really pressed for time.

So, here’s the new blog gimmick: I will listen to at least 4 new releases each week, plus one older album that I haven’t heard. At least one of the new releases is going to be something I would ordinarily pass on. That’s subjective, I know, and since I’m selecting them there’s no real control mechanism, but I’ll try to stay honest. If you’re reading this and you have suggestions, please share them. I’ll gladly put my listening fate in your hands.

I’ll write something about each album I hear each week, and I’ll keep track of what I listen to in this new page right here. There will be a new tab for it at the top of the home page eventually, too.

Hopefully, I’ll be pushed outside my comfort zone, especially once I run out of familiar faces and have to turn more frequently to the stuff I normally wouldn’t encounter in order to fill out my quota. I know 5 albums per week isn’t exactly ambitious, but since I don’t do this full time, I can’t promise any more.

List of what I’ve already heard below, roughly in order of how much I like them.

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Free Energy and the problem of uncomplicated fun in indie rock

For a young band that hasn’t publicly stepped on any toes or gotten big enough to become a target, Free Energy have an awful lot of people already apologizing for them. It seems like hyperaware critics and bloggers can’t write about their music without getting defensive. Here are a few quotes from some heavy hitters:

“[Frontman Paul Sprangers] breezes through a few volumes’ worth of conversational, inspirational poesy that’s bound to send a few of you into fits of cringe. But, the fact that it’s all delivered so un self-consciously is very refreshing. Much the same way kids shoot hoops pretending to be Michael or Kobe or LeBron, these dudes are doing the same with classic rock. And the posing and pastiche sound great.” – Pitchfork’s 8.1 review of their debut album, Stuck on Nothing (they were also added to Pitchfork’s summer festival)

“I think they get a lot of flack for being too X and not enough Y (which are different things depending on who you talk to), I’ve heard from some that they sound like someone’s little brother’s band playing REO Speedwagon covers at a basement party in high school, and I’ve heard from others that they are the best live band to hit this year. And both are true. The best thing about Free Energy is their complete lack of pretension, their simple glam rock influenced hooks and just how infectiously happy they are to get up on stage and play.” – Brooklyn Vegan (live review by Gabi Porter, who I’ll admit isn’t a very regular contributor as far as I can tell)

“French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote that “existence precedes essence,” and Free Energy seem to be musing along the same philosophical lines. These songs are, without exception, engaged in a discussion about the nature of existence. Take “Bang Pop” as an example: although the obvious Def Leppard homage makes the primary impression, the oft-repeated lyric, “Bang bang, pop pop/ When will the searching stop?” evinces a subtextual reading of pop music tropes.” – Tiny Mix Tapes review (4/5)

And, finally, a voice of reason:

“It’s a sign of the cold times that a witty, sardonic, effortlessly hooky power-pop record such as this one needs so much help to attract the least notice.” – Dusted’s positive review (worth an 80 according to Metacritic)

Overall, the album has an 80 average on Metacritic, indicating a stronger reception than less obviously divisive albums from established indie artists like Ted Leo, Love Is All, and Liars. It’s also a better aggregated score than the ones earned by the Morning Benders and Dum Dum Girls, fellow buzzy upstarts from the Class of 2010. The two lowest (but still positive) scores are from Billboard and Rolling Stone, and nobody gives a shit about what they have to say anyway. So why all the defensiveness? It’s not like any of these reviewers is breaking with consensus and going out an a limb to defend a Nickelback album or something.

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No Apology: No One Read Mitt Romney’s Book

America is the greatest country in the history of the world.

-Mitt Romney

Yesterday, I saw Mitt Romney promoting his new book, No Apologies: The Case for American Greatness.

If you’re wondering what the book is actually about, like I was after hearing him speak, good luck finding someone who will tell you. I looked at four worthless reviews, and came to the conclusion that journalists don’t know how to gloss a book. Nothalffull thinks they are a bunch of lazy assholes who couldn’t be bothered.

Time’s review: Romney is running for president, and I wrote this review after reading the book jacket and the first and last chapter. I’m probably a youngish reporter who went to an elite liberal arts school, and is too cool for this shit. Fuck it, conservatives can’t read anyway.

The Author.

The Boston Globe’s Review.: Romney thinks populism is misguided. How? Doesn’t say. He’s trying to be an economics wonk. How? Doesn’t say. Romney doesn’t talk about social issues. Romney thinks Obama is weakening ‘Murica by apologizing. Romney thinks the gubmint can help people. How? Doesn’t say. The rest of the review is itinerary bullshit. Continue reading