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 Everett True

Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend and the pernicious influence of Pitchfork

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If there’s a better argument for demanding the immediate shutdown of Pitchfork than the rise and rise of Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire, I’m not sure I want to hear it.

Think. What music has Pitchfork championed to the detriment of virtually all else?

Think. How much influence does Pitchfork have?

Think. David Lee Roth’s famous quote about how most music critics like Elvis Costello because most music critics look like Elvis Costello really comes into play here.

Think. Most ‘new music’ publications in the UK, including the NME and the metal titles, now have a ratio of about 60:40/male: female writers (it’s far more skewed at magazines like Mojo and Uncut, which is what you’d expect). Pitchfork wields far more power and influence than any of those. Pitchfork also – pretty much alone among all ‘new music’ sites/magazines – has a male: female split of about 95: 5.

And you wonder why I still bang on about negative discrimination in music journalism, when all that these male white indie American middle-class Pitchfork writers do is, in the main, write about people identical to them. Sure, it’s not Pitchfork’s fault that everyone else follows suit. But in an age when the Top 10 of the Village Voice‘s traditionally far-ranging Annual Pazz and Jop Critics’ Poll is almost identical to the Top 10 of the Pitchfork critics’ poll, you have to start wondering: is this for the good?

Look also at the shortlist for this year’s ‘prestigious’ Australian Music Prize: white male indie citysville.

That the Internet has made music critics lazier and less likely to search out new sounds for themselves is near undeniable – but the way Pitchfork causes all other forms of music critical writing to focus on indie (and a very narrow strata of indie at that) is near criminal.

So you don’t like Vampire Weekend. And now Arcade Fire have followed in their footsteps as the latest bland catch-all ‘indie’ band to reach the top of the Billboard (and UK) album charts. And you might be wondering who’s to blame…?

I won’t bother reprinting Pitchfork’s words. I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves…

VAMPIRE WEEKEND
Vampire Weekend, 2008 – 8.8/10.0
Contra , 2010 – 8.6/10.0
The iTunes Session EP, 2010 – 8.0/10.0

ARCADE FIRE
Arcade Fire EP, 2003/2005 – 6.8/10.0 (presumably it didn’t sell enough copies to merit a higher rating)
Funeral, 2004 – 9.7/10.0
Neon Bible, 2007 – 8.4/10.0
The Suburbs, 2010 – 8.6/10.0

DISCLAIMER (before anyone else points this out):
Plan B Magazine was the first UK magazine to put Arcade Fire on the cover (back in 2005). It was while they were borrowing heavily from Frog Eyes and Destroyer, and we had a fine writer on the case. I saw them live around this time in Seattle, thought the first song was incredible, the second song was good… and left five songs in. Quite a prescient marker for their career, really.

36 Responses to Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend and the pernicious influence of Pitchfork

  1. david b February 11, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    the exclusive & privileged lexicon of indie rock is so pervasive – an extension of the institutionalized racism of universities+colleges (at least in the US). it is exhausting. And with the mainstream music industry half-dead, so many extra bodies are throwing themselves into the pool, trying to learn the language in not just the way that will make them ‘cool’, but alsom $$$.
    50 years of college rock:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/drbarclay/5007742508

  2. Everett True February 11, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    (from Twitter)

    cmetz
    you forgot to mention The National and their inexplicable sales figures (200,000 +, as I recall)

  3. Everett True February 11, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    (from Facebook)

    Everett True
    what time is it when a new Arcade Fire song appears? Time to get off the fucking fence. ARCADE FIRE ARE BORING SHITE

    Fred Paquet, Peter David Connelly, Jamie Young and 20 others like this.

    Blue Straggler
    There’s never been a new Arcade Fire song – only old Bran van 3000 ones recycled 🙂 (seriously, “Speed” from Bran van 3000’s second album, contains all of Arcade Fire’s ideas in a single 5 minute song)

    Everett True
    Bran van what now?

    Blue Straggler
    You know. They advertise beer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fHZ1cYjaYc

    Everett True
    I can’t listen, too late at night. Are they gonna kill that butterfly or what?

    Carmen Aad
    I totally agree!

    Mark Headley
    Every song goes “thrum/thrum/thrum” like a Woodentops B-side (but not as good). And the pompous singer bloke sings like the one from Police Academy that looked like Bono…they are completely vacuous bluster, like the Kings of Leon…

    Speccy Oxen
    Plan B was their first UK magazine cover

    Sophie Blackhall-Cain
    Their first record is a masterpiece? Sorry, but it is. All else is awful.

    Brett Martini
    What isn’t ?

    Lilia Rezai
    Why do they get to headline coachella?? Theyre not THAT good

    Wallace Wylie
    I always took Arcade Fire to be a cleaned up, more commercially palatable version of less well-known Canadian band Frog Eyes. I find it depressing that the word “ambition”, when used in a music criticism context, is now synonymous with how the word is used in the business world, i.e. the band in question want to become more well known, wants more fans, wants to “reach” more people, wants to play bigger stadiums. Apparently a person cannot be artistically ambitious anymore. All I read about Arcade Fire is how ambitious their big sound is. How their early releases were filled with ambition due to their stadium filling sound. The reverse of this is that anyone who shies away from fame or doesn’t want to play the game lacks ambition, is happy to be a big fish in a small pond, etc, etc. Yet another victory for business-think.

    Anyway, this Frog Eyes song came out two years before the first Arcade Fire album. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSax8E4g2Bw

    Paul Buxton
    Agreed.

    Jesse Hiram Boggs
    If i was seven feet tall and hit the bass drum with every beat as a bunch of my dronies danced about banging pots and pans i could be considered a great live band as well.

    Chris Tamas
    Regardless – (though I agree with what you’re saying), but partly because of my Canadian biased opinon – We can’t deny that “Wake Up” is one of the most powerful songs to emerge in the public eye in the past 10 years+

    Jesse Hiram Boggs
    Allow the backlash to begin!

    Chris Tamas
    I’m actually not familiar with Frog Eyes – but knew Arcade Fire just as they were releasing Funeral. It’s funny (and a bit tiring) when people start dissecting a band that has gone somewhat mainstream, and go on to research more unknown bands that were possibly influential in their success. For all we know, Frog Eyes and Arcade Fire came from the same musical place, possibly friends, and perhaps played with each other…?Can anyone confirm this or prove me wrong… I’d appreciate it. A bit presumptuous to assume one band became successful because they ripped off someone else. And yes, Arcade Fire are boring now 🙂

    Marcus Jay Woody
    I think they are super and that you are boring.

    Jesse Hiram Boggs
    Take off the mask Marcus..

    Wallace Wylie
    Well, I’ve liked Frog Eyes for a long time, via their association with Destroyer. I didn’t research into it, I just heard a similarity.

  4. Chris Familton February 11, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    I don’t think AF are any more ‘commercial’ or have sold out since their first record. They write great surging safe rock songs that tug at certain people’s heartstrings. No whiff of danger or great art involved but they do what they do well and with a modicum of style.
    Vampire Fire on the other hand are shit.
    Obviously your rant is directed more at the journos championing these bands, I think the likes of Uncut, Mojo, Pitchfork do a pretty good job of trying to cover most forms of music to differing levels and I don’t see a huger gender bias in their content, who cares if it is a male or female critic, does it matter in film or literature criticism?

  5. simon February 12, 2011 at 12:01 am

    i think that the influence of pitchfork media is overstated here. i do not especially care for the website or the genre “indie rock”, but they have some good writers who write about hip-hop, dance and pop music, such david drake and brandon soderberg.

    for a slightly worrying but also fascinating, hilarious and sometimes insightful view into the mind of a mega pitchfork fan i recommend the website “pitchfork reviews reviews” – a young man who started off reviewing pitchfork articles and criticism, but soon veered off course into rambling, unpunctuated blackberry(tm) journals about life as a hipster, a gen y-er, and a music lover.

  6. Darragh February 12, 2011 at 12:32 am

    I really really hate pitchfork reviews reviews. Moreso than pitchfork.

  7. simon February 12, 2011 at 12:40 am

    i find him really enjoyable, but can definitely understand why he might be annoying. his style is a little cloying (not sure if that is quite the right word), and he loves pitchfork a little too much. but he is really enthusiastic about music and he can be genuinely insightful about the way how music and peoples lives connect. i do think he got better when he basically dropped the pitchfork reviewing gimmick and mostly wrote about his life (even if alot of the stories are about hipster parties).

    ps. also i like his thoughts on lil wayne

  8. Princess Stomper February 12, 2011 at 12:43 am

    “I find it depressing that the word “ambition”, when used in a music criticism context, is now synonymous with how the word is used in the business world, i.e. the band in question want to become more well known”

    Wow, is it? I admit, I don’t read Pitchfork, but that’s not what I think of when I think of “ambitious” music. The ambitious records I heard in the past 12 months: Foetus’s HIDE (which sounds like someone playing the entire stock of an HMV warehouse at the same time); Sufjan Stevens’s The Age of Adz (which was described in the Guardian as sounding like music written under the influence of Brass Eye’s made up drug Cake); and Janelle Monae’s Metropolis: The Chase Suite (which sounds like Outkast playing 60s R&B with an orchestra directed by Charlie Mingus).

    I usually describe music as “ambitious” that almost anyone else describes as “a bit much”.

  9. Cali Snow February 12, 2011 at 5:28 am

    Spectacularly naive post. Great music surfaces, and great music finds a way to be heard. Pitchfork is not responsible for Vampire Weekend or Arcade Fire; those bands are fantastic in their own right and enjoy near-universal critical acclaim.

  10. Cali Snow February 12, 2011 at 5:31 am

    Also hilarious to see this article carrying on about “white males,” when Arcade Fire is a unisex band, and Vampire Weekend is fronted by a Jewish singer and a gay Persian. It’s not like these bands just stepped off the Mayflower, exactly… lol

  11. Lucy Cage February 12, 2011 at 10:11 am

    I like The Suburbs a lot (something to do with a combination of its big stompy tunes and my sweet-tooth for confused miserabilist nostalgia) but even so the fact that it “enjoys near-universal acclaim” is not going to send me scurrying for the remote to give it another spin.
    Nor, by the way, is the suggestion that Arcade Fire is a “unisex band”.
    Plus, for good measure, I wish that it was as simple as “great music surfaces”: sometimes it just doesn’t – plenty of extraordinary bands have been born and died in pitiful obscurity – and sometimes it’s the scum that rises. The white males of Pitchfork have their agenda, same as we all do; they just have the oomph to see it through.

  12. mmc February 12, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Thank you for your eternal willingness to try and figure out Whatever Happened, even if some (many) don’t agree with it or get it or appreciate it. I really totally do.

    I spent all day chipping away at a really long comment about Arcade Fire, because I have lots of thoughts and feelings about them, being from their larger peer group and half relating to/approving of what they do and half bored/alienated/opposed. I’m not sure if I’ll post all that.

    What I will do is quote Julie Cafritz from her 2008 interview with the Village Voice, referring to the post-9/11 cultural vibe in NYC:

    “It’s a run for comfort. It’s the proliferation of cupcake shops.”

    http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/2008/09/interview_julia_1.php

    The site’s new tagline is perfect, by the way. Brilliant.

  13. penny pincher February 12, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    “Arcade Fire EP, 2003/2005 – 6.8/10.0 (presumably it didn’t sell enough copies to merit a higher rating)”

    Wow, that’s just clutching at straws in an attempt to prove a point. The ratings are given before these things go on sale, yes?

    Also, The Suburbs was no. 11 in Pitchfork’s albums of the year poll, which suggests it wasn’t exactly universally loved there.

    And: “I won’t bother reprinting Pitchfork’s words. I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves…”

    Huh. Everett, how many times have we seen you rallying against number ratings as a shorthand way to grasp someone’s opinion of a record? And yet here you are doing it yourself.

  14. TIMMY February 12, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    I’m continually disappointed by your rattling at the gates concerning all things ‘Indie’. Personally, I would despise Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire if it weren’t for the fact that they are so insipid and inconsequential as to never enter my consciousness unless people such as yourself are complaining about them. This article is the music criticism equivalent of saying “Obama is a corporate puppet!”. If your plan is to build an audience of people too stupid to see the obvious, and who need someone such as yourself to point out the big scary world of intrigue that is the Indie Music Industry in 2011, this entire site is an exercise in irrelevance.

    You’ve condescendingly told us to ‘think’ four times in this post and now I want you to think: what makes you think these observations you’ve made about two of the biggest bands in the world and the media empire that helped them get there aren’t self-evident?

    You are slowly devolving into a kind of punk Glenn Beck. Providing false ‘observations’ about things that sound comforting enough to gain traction with people who are scared of the way the world is changing.

    The worst thing is that I fear that when you take potshots at these huge names you get more hits than when you post something supportive or constructive about an unknown band. I hope that it doesn’t encourage you to post more of this ill-thought-out stuff, because Bangs help us if it does.

  15. Everett True February 12, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Fact of the matter is Timmy, no one gives a fuck about the hundreds of posts I do featuring – and praising – unknown bands. If you can tell me a way to change this, that would be fucking awesome. Personally, I blame Pitchfork for this: for closing people’s minds to all bar a very narrow strata of music.

  16. mike turner February 12, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    pitchfork has lots of sway in the world, but in arcade fire’s rise it has a lot to do with their manager scott roger (bjork, black kids) that knows how to hype with the best of them. vampire weekend are managed by ian montone who also manages the white stripes, mia, and the shins. bands really don’t rise on their own these days it not only takes a pitchfork, but if a band has a high power manager then they get a booking agent as well, and the right publicist and it all falls into place.

  17. Steve February 12, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    In the past you’ve made great claim to never having listened to U2 so the AF comparison is a bit strange.

  18. Everett True February 12, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    i might have claimed never to have (willingly) listened to U2, but I’ve seen AND reviewed their fucking live show three times – twice more than AF.

  19. Princess Stomper February 12, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    There’s various elements at work:

    1. A lot of the music that is almost universally liked is genuinely really good – Radiohead, Faith No More, Manics, Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Not every song, of course, but enough to justify wanting to hear about the next record.

    2. A lot of the music that is almost universally liked is bland, derivative, insipid, unengaging, and lacking in either good structure or clever arrangement/production. People get into the habit of accepting someone’s word for it that one band is good because another band recommended by the same person is good. For me, The White Stripes were my big WTF moment: seriously, why were people listening to them? If you want an example of style over substance, that’s it! Oasis? Do me a fucking favour! But because the NME liked the Manics, who were good, and the NME championed Oasis, who were on a respected indie label, then people assumed they must also be good. Wrong!

    3. Not everybody likes the same music as you. I click on pretty much every link you post. I only like about 40% of it, and really don’t see the intrinsic appeal of “femme punk pop” at all (though I like the odd individual song). I’ve played Foetus tracks to half a dozen people and have yet to find a single convert, so I just have to accept that *everybody else is wrong* and has shitty taste in music. 😀

  20. mmc February 13, 2011 at 4:12 am

    Timmy–training our powers of attention must go hand-in-hand with addressing the forces at work in our environments that vy for our attention.

    For instance, as I sit in a corporate cafe/train station in a major Canadian city, reading these comments and thinking things over, Arcade Fire entered my consciousness, and that of everyone else around me, by way of the pre-programmed, corporate-crafted music feed on the stereo. This is perhaps not the kind of forced exposure–bombardment–of which mass media was once capable, but it’s still notable. Perhaps payola gave way to Pitchfork?

  21. Paul February 13, 2011 at 8:09 am

    Forget Pitchfork, forget NME, forget Mojo. If you want to discover new, exciting music from beyond the mainstream read Everett, read my blog The Devil Has The Best Tuna, read blogs like Pigeon Post and MP3Hugger. Don’t forget that to appeal to a mainstream audience to sell millions bands will naturally bland up. It’s the ultimate triumph of commerce over art.

    The Devil

  22. Everett True February 13, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Penny Pincher: With reference to your assertion, The ratings are given before these things go on sale, yes?

    Actually, this rating was given more than two years after the EP went on sale.

  23. Everett True February 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    What Shaun says.

  24. luke February 14, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Slightly off topic here but doesn’t the whole Pitchfork rating system seem a touch ridiculous? How do they differentiate between awarding an 8.6 or an 8.7? I guess I’ll never know…what a loss.

    Anyhow, as neither an Arcade Fire fan or hater I can (somewhat) objectively say they have written some pretty good songs, obviously nothing new or groundbreaking – so what? I can’t see how you can condemn Pitchfork or whoever for giving a certain band/artist their stamp of approval. why shouldn’t they? How is a Pitchfork reviewer’s opinion somehow less important than someone elses? (female or not). It seems mightily unfair to generalise in the way you have above. You may as well perpetuate the old well-documented assertion that all black people are criminals…

    I understand the temptation to rubbish Pitchfork and please go ahead but I can’t agree with your reasoning, it seems pretty flimsy. Occasionally I’ll have a glance at the website for something to do and as well as the indie shite I’ve noticed plenty of hyped up reviews of rap, hip-hop, and soul artists. Personally I don’t give a crap about most of that stuff but that’s just me. That’s me on my own, not me filtered through the opinions and views of a hundred white male Elvis Costello look-alikes..

    I don’t know who you think deserved a go in the AMP? Not much point chucking different artists or genres in there just for the sake of it. Having not heard a bunch of the records in line for the award as well as many that are not I don’t really have an opinion.
    (Hell, I haven’t even heard the much-loved Vampire Weekend).
    Maybe next year James Blundell might be in the mix.

    Lastly and most importantly, though his chest hair is very impressive, since when have the words of David Lee Roth been the certified truth?

  25. Darragh February 14, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Hey Shaun, I felt similar in my own review of Ariel Pink……people, they just don’t get it….

  26. Omnom February 16, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Oh for fucks sake it’s people like you lot (white middle class mostly men) complaining about a white middle class mostly male band being too white/middle class/mostly male that drove me to give up on indie and rock music in the late 90s. Now I consist soley on a diet of gansta rap, gay disco and classical Indian ragas. Reel in your self-importance. Try having a good time for once.

  27. bryce wilson February 17, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Dear Everett

    If there was a Nobel Prize for bullshit detection, you would be my nomination. Well done.

    It never ceases to amaze me – the galling, “Emporer Has No Clothes” fraud that passes off an “indie”.

    Arcade Fire’s appearance on the Grammys summed it all up nicely. Whitey white, whiny, hookless, grooveless rubbish.

    The only reason why it appeals to music critics and hipsters alike is that it doesnt threaten them. Indie boys are so tribal that they wont dare admit to liking anything that doesnt sound suitably amateurish or annoying.

    These are kind of poeople who pretend they dont watch TV – “except for the occassional foreign movie”. The kind of people who leave hip novels around the apartment.

    Sure, the genre might have meant something for a few moments in the early 80s when your choice was Phil Collins v the Smiths, but “indie” has long since become code for “lazy white musician who cant sing, cant play and cant write a hook”.

    It is so satanically calculating – so predictable – so formulaic. Lots of down strokes on the rhythm guitar – lots of floor tom. Lots of shit singing.

    Its even more calculating than Christian Rock.

    And as you (and a well known electronic musician friend of mine have identified)there is actually something crypto racist about the whole indie charade.

    It is music for men who do their level best to eliminate any semblance of black influence from their music. No guitar hook, no killer melody, no infectious bass groove.

    At best its a pale, pale photograph of much more groundbreaking music – mainly from the UK – in the early 80s.

    But thats 30 years ago now kids. And Punk was 35 years ago. You arent the cutting edge, indie boys – you arent fooling anyone.

  28. luke February 17, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Why must music “threaten” to be called worthwhile?

    Why must a band of “white” people incorporate components of “black” music into their sound? In not doing so must they be somehow racist or ignorant?
    Is a band consisting of only males sexist?

    Do people honestly believe The Arcade Fire are genuinely dishing up shitty music just for the sake of it? Would Arcade Fire consider their music to be “groundbreaking”? I personally don’t think they would but how does that necessarily make it inferior? There are tons of good bands playing music that is largely derivative yet because they aren’t championed by Pitchfork are they are somehow more legit than Arcade Fire?

    Should Pitchfork writers’ be talking up music they don’t like because they fear being branded racist or sexist or “another white indie boy”? It seems to me they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    So much pointless quibbling about what fits into what category and what fits into what genre. A whole lot of talk about trying to break down stereotypes while at the same time reinforcing them. I have heard little Arcade Fire but what I have did include some guitar hooks, kiler melodies and infectious bass grooves 🙂

    Next year when Pitchfork start singing the praises of some dull hip-hop posse and everyone follows suit we can all sit back and have a whinge about how it’s a pale imitation of what came before; or how it degrades women or maybe about how the writers’ shouldn’t be writing about something they know nothing about.

  29. Lesmo February 19, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Well, yes I do. What I don’t get is the reason for it.

  30. fleapit February 20, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Kayne West was Pitchfork’s album of 2010.

  31. Robbo February 20, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    hating Pitchfork is *so* predictable and mainstream.

  32. Robbo February 20, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    Besides, it’s not just Pitchfork who lauded the AF album. It came out top in an end of year poll poll, gathered from 25 different sources.

    have a gander:

    http://www.albumoftheyear.org/list/summary/2010/

    I’m not a massive AF fan, or VW particularly, and it’s easy to dismiss them as middle-class and safe, just as easy as it is to slag Pitchfork off. People get butthurt when you hit them with the ‘Strokes met at Swiss finishing school’ whammy.

    man, one of the worst things to come out of the whole nineties scene was middle-class media types pretending to be working-class and holding it up to be a more valid class, with regards to creating art. We should have grown out of that by now, it’s ridiculous.

    PLUS

    Pitchfork usually reviews albums AFTER most other publications or websites, so who is following suit?

  33. Anders Limp Art February 21, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Not sure I see Pitchfork as being any worse than NME and Melody Maker were when I was a boy. I seem to remember Melody Maker trying to big-up some sort of ROMO New Romantic movement in the 90’s, which must have caused some impressionable teenagers to buy Orlando and Minty albums, the bounders. NME for their part had a frustrating tendency to champion bands like Cast and Ocean Colour Scene until their albums sold well and people realised they were rotten, only for dear old NME to lead the backlash. At least Pitchfork are predictably and consistently partisan.

    What I find sinister about Pitchfork is that there’s no comments function, so there is no shaking them from their perch. Which is a terrible pity because ripping apart their pretentious musings would be fine sport.

  34. Everett True February 21, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    The no comments function is why their gilded perch remains, I’m sure of it. Very astute and smart: immediately says “we’re critics and, NO, your opinions as readers are irrelevant”. (This kind of participation in outside commentary devalues my cultural capital, definitely.) Old school music journalism, for sure.

  35. Ken February 23, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Do we really have to live in a world of perpetual revolution? It’s exhausting and it never works anyway.

    Sure, I treat Pitchfork with suspicion. They live in a world where Will Oldham is a significant artist. But you know, when I listen to both Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend, I hear ebullience, melodicism, ideas and original syntheses. They’re clever and they’re generous, and would remain so even if they got raves in Hello! Bruce Springsteen likes them. David Bowie likes them. Shit, my wife likes them.

    I too am sick to death of meandering incoherence passing as “beauty” from guys who just need to be clubbed and dragged to the barbers, but everything that Pitchfork boosts is not automatically evil. Only some of it.

    I’m tired of ideological objections, I really am. It was depressing in the late 70s and it’s depressing now.

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