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Wednesday, June 11, 2003
A New York Press review of the Broken Social Scene album starts off normal, but then for some reason decides to take a totally random shot:
Over here in America, nobody had any idea. That changed in February, when online review site Pitchfork raved about the band, telling readers they simply had to hear this for themselves. The review prompted me to check out Broken Social Scene at Northsix a few weeks later, and given Pitchfork’s influence, it surely resulted in hundreds of Google searches about the band. No matter what anybody says, this one online review started the band’s momentum in the U.S.
Problem is, so many music-critic pretenders, who gather in places like the incorrectly named "I Love Music" message board, hate Pitchfork. These writers have wasted thousands of words railing against Pitchfork’s fakeness, shallowness, whatever. Of course, these are the same scribes who get aroused the most when the Village Voice publishes their impenetrable prose.
The worst you can say about Pitchfork, which truly cares about discovering new music and is often funny and smart, is that some of their conceits are the stuff of college English classes. But can you think of any time you cared more about music than when you were in college? Indie rock itself is a highly experimental, often embarrassing and amateurish genre, so why hate a site that takes similar chances and scores more often than it misses? Jealousy, of course, because it’s hard for some to fathom that some dude with a webzine has as much influence as paper that makes hands dirty.
Geez Louise, where to start? First, I guess, would be the straw man argument; most people who complain about Pitchfork think the Voice is a total joke at this point. They're way more likely to go with Simon Reynolds or Sasha whatsisface--you know, the kind of folks who went to the EMP criticism conference. So that's just not true. I will grant that jealousy doubtless plays a role in some folks' Pitchfork-bashing, but I think the rest of them have an honest complaint about the standards of the most widely-accepted music criticism right now. Of course, that complaint seems to be way different from mine, but more on that in a second.
The other big thing (I'm not even touching the "Indie rock itself is...highly experimental" bit) is that I think this particular bit of the Pitchfork brand is not at the forefront of most people's complaints. They are very good at finding and hyping certain overlooked bands; I definitely hit both the Books and Max Tundra because of them, and have enjoyed both quite a bit. (People who cite their Trail of Dead championing as groundbreaking apparently haven't read the NME in the last four years.) And this is good. Yay getting good new bands exposure.
A complaint I hear from a lot of people is that their snobbishness coupled with their ignorance produces some problems--notably the Jean-Michel Jarre "review," although this applies in many other regions. Certainly this can be annoying, but like the Press guy, I think it's reasonably charming, and it's hard to feel like they're being snobbish if you think of them as a bunch of college-kid nerds who aren't particularly hip, more or less like you; they just have different taste and get sent free records.
The problem I have, as I've stated before, is with their reactive record reviews; their desire to be the "anti-NME," doing with pans what that publication (the Voice of the UK?) does with hype. Certainly they will sometimes break away from the pack and unexpectedly praise a much-talked-up album (Interpol, for instance), but by and large they seem to assign writers to eagerly expected new release that everyone know they will hate. And it's very strange, and, quite frankly, it decreases listeners' pleasure in the albums, and I don't think that's cool.
Whatever, I've talked about this before. I just think this Press guy is taking some really random and ill-informed shots. The BSS record is OK, Pitchfork or no Pitchfork.
Oh, I found this via Pure Rock Fury, which looks to be quite a good site. I like any blog that features an Alice in Chains review prominently (although I truly and sincerely hate Alice in Chains).