Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Maybe this is the thing about Pitchfork:

In reading their Top 200 albums of the 2000s list (half of which is now out), I'm annoyed at the way some of the reviews are purposefully written with important pieces of information left out. For instance, this line from the summary of Ryan Adam's Heartbreaker (#122): "Emmylou Harris' harmony on the soul-draining "Oh My Sweet Carolina" recalls her chemistry with Adams' icon". It would be easy enough for the writer to include the words "Graham Parsons" in this sentence, so that the uninitiated could look this Parsons fellow up and see what the fuss was about...but he keeps it purposefully oblique, purposefully keeping YOU in the dark, if you aren't already cool enough to know who "Adam's icon" is. (Besides which, one could argue that Adam's icon at that point in his career could just as easily have been Jeff Tweedy as anybody else).

Or in perennial favorite Pitchfork writer Tom Breihan's review of Mastodon's Leviathon (#126), where he says that it's "a concept album about a Herman Melville novel". Why doesn't he just come out and say Moby Dick? Is he just bored with that straightforward style of writing? Is he hedging his bets because it's equally plausible that this album was about Billy Budd? Or is he just concerned with trying to sound a little bit cooler than you?

I just feel like reviews or criticism should help guide you, and open you up to more possibilities, not hold it above your head that the reviewer knows more than you. Of course they do, they're supposed to, but they're also supposed to help educate you about areas in which you'd like to know more. Maybe these reviews are even doing that, in their own way. Maybe after reading the Heartbreaker review some kid is doing google searches trying to figure out who Adam's icon is...but I'm still annoyed by the fact that such a person would have to put in the effort.


texplush said...

i think you've hit the nail on the head...they're not interested in telling us whether WE'D like an album or a song - they're interested in being sophisticated writers. They probably should be spending more time on their novel.

drischord said...

They're also dilettantes. Their writers continually wade into subjects of which they have only the most cursory knowledge.

For instance, nearly every reference to jazz on that website has made me cringe. Not that I'm an expert on jazz, mind you. But if even a part-time jazz fan like me can instantly spot gross inaccuracies (or more accurately, over-generalizations) in their references to that genre, then why are they including it? It makes them look foolish. I think the same is often true when they wax eloquent on literature, hip hop, or cultural trends that didn't occur within the past 10 years.

When you're putting your work out there for the world to absorb (and perhaps critique), it's best to present what you really do well rather than something for which you have only the most faint of abilities.

Pitchfork's writers don't get this, in my opinion. They are experts on a certain topic (21st century hipster music), but so often they willfully choose to wade into territory they don't understand, thus pushing their published work toward the puerile. They're so absorbed by the prospect of wowing their readers with references to everything from Baudelaire to Kurosawa to Ornette Coleman to Grandmaster Flash that they wind up getting every one of those wrong.

The problem, of course, is that a viable alternative has yet to emerge.

jayguevara said...

This is kind of a digression, but Q, you mentioned Mastodon's album "Leviathan". I love that album! Herman Melville could not have imagined heavy metal music, but it perfectly captures the ominous and frightening tones of the book...the song "Blood and Thunder" in particular:

"Split your lungs with blood and thunder
When you see the white whale
Break your backs and crack your oars men
If you wish to prevail

This ivory leg is what propels me
Harpoons thrust in the sky
Aim directly for his crooked brow
And look him straight in the eye"

...Also, I'd just like to point out that if indeed Mastodon decided to do a concept album based around Billy Budd, they probably could. Heck, they could even do an interpretation of "Bartelby the Scrivener" if they felt like it. "I WOULD PREFER NOT TO!"

Eric said...

I'll take time out from my dedicated work at obsessively comparing mono and stereo mixes of all Beatles albums to guess the top 20. I feel like they'll need to throw in a few curveballs to maintain their rep, but based on what's missing from the 200-21, I'd say we can expect the following:

Kid A
Merriweather Post Pavilion
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Late Registration
Sujfan - Illinois
Spoon - Kill the Moonlight
Panda Bear
Speakerboxx/The Love Below
Tha Carter III (though I think this album was egregiously overrated)
LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Sigur Ros's first album (though that may have been released in the 90s-- I can't remember)

Possibly the Strokes, and possibly another White Stripes album. And I just realized that Modest Mouse - The Moon and Antarctica was released in 2000, so that will be on there for sure too. I just scanned through the list quickly, so I can't remember which of the bands that Pitchfork likes (or liked) but no one else does have already appeared (The Knife, The Rapture, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, etc).

They also could throw a few old people curveballs, like Brian Wilson for Smile, or one of the Bob Dylan records.

That's all I got.
Now back to the Beatles, 24/7.

drischord said...

Good list of predictions, Eric. I think Love and Theft will make that list.

Via Chicago said...

That is indeed a good list. For sure add White Blood Cells in there - and MAYBE A Ghost is Born, though I forget what their response to that was/is.

My prediction? Merriweather is #1.

Eric said...

Gawd that would be such a travesty. MPP is fine, but it's not the best album of the decade. It's funny though-- the hipster blogs are a constant battleground over who is best-- Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear or Dirty Projectors. It's pretty clear which horse P4K has picked though.
And if they do pick Ghost Is Born, it will be pretty left field-- they gave it a 6.something. For some reason I have a distinct memory (which drischord may share) of checking the Pitchfork grade for that album in the home of the woman who let us crash with her in Johannesburg the first night we got to South Africa in the summer of 2004. Ever since then, they've been giving Wilco thoroughly medicore grades, but they gave YHF a 10.0.

texplush said...

My predictions for top 5:

5. Sound of Silver
4. Sung Tongs
3. Stankonia
2. Funeral
1. Kid A

Quinapalus said...

Sung Tongs is actually already in there at #27...

I think these are all pretty reasonable guesses, though I'll say that Love Below suffered such a backlash from Tom Breihan and some of his ilk that I could see it getting (undeservedly) left off.

Props to them for putting Cannibal Ox's "The Cold Vein" on there (up in the 100s somewhere). That album kicks fucking ass...I'm just sorry that besides Madvillainy, it's looking like it may well be on there to represent for all sorts of indie rap they'll be dutifully overlooking in favor of Cam'ron, The Clipse and so forth.

Also, an amusingly audacious placing of "In Rainbows" in such a high slot, coupled with the assertion that history will prove it to be the best Radiohead album because "our tireless and self-conscious canonization of OKC and Kid A have undone some of their magic; when I listen to those records now, I hear our own projections and cultural ghosts just as loudly as I hear the music."
Is he making the case that Pitchfork's praise of Radiohead has become more important than the music itself????

Quinapalus said...

Also Jay: I think you are actually right. For some reason, a heavy metal take on Bartleby the Scrivener sounds incredibly awesome. Somebody should write to the boys over at Mastodon and let them know.


texplush said...

This made me laugh out loud - the opening line of Pitchfork's blurb on the #1 album of the decade: "Nine years ago this month, Brent DiCrescenzo reviewed Radiohead's Kid A for this website."

Eric said...

I know. Seriously, yawn. It's interesting how, while at one point, Pitchfork was almost willfully perverse, it has now become so dominant in the indie critical marketplace that the whole list (and especially the top 20) feel utterly middle of the road. This commenter from brooklyn vegan picked 19 of the top 20!:

drischord said...

Pitchfork was also barely relevant in 2000, when Kid A came out. Their attempt to integrate themselves into the history of that record is pathetic.

Eric said...

Am I the only one just totally underwhelmed by this list? I'm not sure if it's the rote predictability of Pitchfork's list or the fact that the music on it is just not of an overall high quality or something (even though it contains many records that I love), but I'm just not excited to reflect back on the music of this decade at all. Maybe it's because I'm still obsessively listening to Beatles only, but I just can't work up any passion about Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Wilco, let alone fucking Animal Collective. I've listened to and discussed all of it so much that there's nothing interesting to say about them at this point. I wonder if it's the fact that this decade took place entirely during the age of the internet, so all of this stuff was so thoroughly chronicled as we went along that there's no spark or surprise in reflecting back at the end of things. But basically, I used to live for this kind of shit, and right now it's just 'meh.'

drischord said...

I haven't cared about Pitchfork for about 3 years now. I only read it to:

a) participate in these conversations
b) deliberately get myself angry and worked up, a la what Quinapalus used to do when he watched Fox News in college.