By Scott Creney
If you’re at all interested in the current state of music criticism — or indie rock for that matter — and how the two have evolved, then you need to check out this article from n+1, one of the better literary/culture magazines around, while it’s still online.
It’s a pretty thorough analysis/history of Pitchfork, how it transformed from an irreverent music review site into the overly-serious, conservative, revisionist, revenue-driven place it is today. He gives the website a 5.4.
The article isn’t perfect. It makes no mention of Pitchfork’s annual festival, and how it (I’m assuming) brings shitloads of cash into Pitchfork’s bank account and entwines their financial fate with those of the bands they cover — in my high school journalism class what they would have called a “conflict of interest”. It also postulates that Sebadoh’s use of lo-fi recording techniques was a direct reaction to the success of Nirvana. There’s a case to be made about the lack of ambition — both creative and commercially — among indie rockers in the wake of alt-rock mania and Cobain’s subsequent suicide, but it’s hard to make that case when one remembers that Sebadoh released their third album the same week as Nevermind.
But anyone who can write a series of sentences as illuminating as this:
In Sufjan Stevens, indie adopted precious, pastoral nationalism at the Bush Administration’s exact midpoint. In M.I.A., indie rock celebrated a musician whose greatest accomplishment has been to turn the world’s various catastrophes into remixed pop songs. This is a kind of music, in other words, that’s very good at avoiding uncomfortable conversations. Pitchfork has imitated, inspired, and encouraged indie rock in this respect. It has incorporated a perfect awareness of cultural capital into its basic architecture. A Pitchfork review may ignore history, aesthetics, or the basic technical aspects of tonal music, but it will almost never fail to include a detailed taxonomy of the current hype cycle and media environment. This is a small, petty way of thinking about a large art, and as indie bands have both absorbed and refined the culture’s obsession with who is over- and underhyped, their musical ambitions have been winnowed down to almost nothing at all.
or a sentence as hilarious damning as this:
While Pitchfork may be invaluable as an archive, it is worse than useless as a forum for insight and argument.
is worth checking out.
Here at Collapse Board, criticizing Pitchfork brings up all kinds of issues concerning sour grapes, jealousy and that type of thing. But it’s hard not to feel disappointed when you see a place that once ran a Tool review written in the voice of one of the band’s teenage fans, “I feel this record was made just for me by super-smart aliens or something”, turn into something so dull and pedantic. A few of us at CB have considered spending a day just making fun of Pitchfork’s content for that day — rewriting the album reviews, interviews, etc. (Sleevie Nicks was even going to revive the old Melody Maker character Mr. Abusing and take a shot at their news page) [We can track down the original Mr. Abusing, if you want — Ed] — but most of it was just too boring to make fun of. It’d be like doing a sitcom set in an insurance agency populated solely by corpses, a great idea at first, but pretty tedious after the first 10 minutes or so.
I recognize that money makes people more conservative, afraid to take risks and end up losing everything. And it’s easy to take shots at Pitchfork from a site where there is nothing at stake. It’s interesting to note that, after one year, Collapse Board gets the same number of readers on an average day that Pitchfork was getting after six. That’s probably due in part to our celebrity editor, but we’d like to think it’s because people like to be entertained by the writing, and want to participate in an interesting conversation about music. Sadly, Pitchfork does a lot of things these days, but entertaining their readers isn’t one of them. And due to their stance against comments, there isn’t much of a conversation to be had either.
Apparently, none of that is an accident. The article asserts that the site deliberately keeps its writers as blank as possible, not allowing any name to become bigger than the overall brand, like they’re goddamned Microsoft code writers or something, and not actual creative beings. Anyway, if you’ve made it through this article, then you’re exactly the kind of person who will enjoy the other one. Go read it. It’s well worth your time.
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