Pitchfork Sure Is Cutting Edge, and That's the Problem

Media Reviews for Media People: Dobrow Puzzles His Way Through

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This here internet place may have proved a boon for the distribution and "legal" sharing of songs, but it has been the worst thing imaginable for the art of music criticism. Let's face it: Everybody holds several indisputably stupid opinions about music -- like my contention that Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham is one of the three greatest guitar players who has ever lived -- and the internet allows us to proclaim them loudly, taste and common sense be damned. Sharing, in the public domain as in interpersonal relationships, is bad.

Anybody who doubts this hasn't passed a few hours with the turbo-snobs at Pitchfork, those deathly self-serious arbiters of all that is good and decent in the world of music. The site, which started up as an online indie-rock haven more than 10 years ago, has evolved into an influential beast, with the "approved by Pitchfork!" tag spurring sales and college-radio airplay. This is as revolting a development for music fans as the prospect of another Crosby, Stills & Nash record (oh, snap).

My problem with Pitchfork boils down to this: Its contributors don't seem to like music very much. Rather, they revel in the role of tastemaker, sternly lecturing the audience as to why Band X is cooler/more worthy of an opening slot on that super-awesome Band of Horses/Cass McCombs double bill than Band Y, and why anyone who only recently happened upon "Neon Bible" (raising hand) is a mainstream poser who totally doesn't get what Arcade Fire is all about, man.

The Comic Book Guy 'tude annoys the hell out of me. I don't see any point in playing along with Pitchfork's sucks-sucks-GOOD game, especially when there are 72,000 Ultragrrls and Ultraguys out there in the internet ether, writing about music in a way that makes me want to listen. Along those lines, check out the recently resuscitated Popdose and the pathologically enthusiastic I Am Fuel, You Are Friends. Snark is boring; give me the incredibly literate enthusiasm of these two sites over the trademark Pitchfork hoity-toityness any day.

Also, as an individual who makes a living arranging nouns and verbs in coherent working order, I'm put off by the quality of Pitchfork's writing, especially in its bread-and-butter reviews. There's bad writing everywhere on the web, and lord knows I'm a repeat offender, but it's tough to stomach the tortured analogies and unforgivable puns (the aforementioned Band of Horses have "saddled up for the long haul." Get it? Get it?). Forget merely siccing a few members of the Bad-Writing Police on them; Pitchfork demands the assembly of a Federal Bad-Writing Task Force, complete with subpoena power and automatic weaponry.

Don't buy it? Check out the following, and sadly representative, descriptive flourish: "The girl who put the 'grr' in Sugababe went solo with a snoozy album of measured soul-pop maturity. But this collaboration finds Mutya Buena playing with her grumpy fire, teetering toward an ex-created freak-out. Her counter-vocal plays nervous conscience --'Don't panic panic Mutya!' -- but the wrath is building. Luckily for her, and for us, she gets even, not mad, swapping tense electropop for a skylarking synth climax and freewheeling New Order bass."

What's this about who's what now? I get the XTC/"Skylarking" nod (at least I hope it's an XTC nod, as the dictionary definition of "skylark" is "to run up and down the rigging of a ship in sport"). But for the love of Andy Partridge, just tell us whether you like the damn song. I sure wish this review had run in a print publication, so that I could tear it out and burn it in my "grumpy fire" later tonight.

The site's features fare much better in this regard, with the "Found Sound" recaps of rediscovered old records offering moments both warm and witty. Pitchfork also deserves props for updating its news section early and often as well as for its intuitive design, from which any number of minimally navigable music sites could learn something.

Nonetheless, Pitchfork is a lost cause for advertisers. Music labels can't get anywhere near the site, lest that one of the bands it hypes winds up on the receiving end of one of Pitchfork's meanie-pants barbs. Gizmo makers aren't a good fit because the site's ahead-of-every-curve-ever-always-4-life influentials are already onto the next big thing by the time marketers get around to touting the previous one. Indie-ish movies or books, maybe? I dunno. It's a little sad, really, that the trickle of Google Ads on Pitchfork's "Reviews" page is the best the company can do.

As anyone who's ever met me in person knows, I am Mr. Rock and Roll. The feathered shoulder-length hair, the ballsy swagger, the low-lidded gaze -- I'm a mellower, slightly less goth James Taylor. I relish the discovery of new music and devote an inordinate amount of effort to the process. I'm happiest with a guitar on my lap or with an iPod on my hip.

That said, I'd no sooner spend any significant length of time with Pitchfork than with "No Jacket Required." (Yeah, I just went there.) If you can't find a better way to sate your music jones than by perusing Pitchfork, you're not trying very hard. (Note: I have written about music in the past for Blender.com and GuitarJamDaily.com.)
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