20 June 2006


Pitchforkmedia.com is today's ostensible focus. They put up a pretty awesome-looking 100 Top Awesome Music Videos feature. They've redesigned their site again. (Tweaked is more like it.) And despite all the hate, it's still a pretty solid site.

I think there are two reasons for the hate. I think pitchforkmedia's influence is a little overstated. Look at this quote from a NY Times article from last year.
A high Pitchfork grade can focus attention on a relatively unknown indie band, which is what happened with Broken Social Scene. Its second album, "You Forgot It in People" (Arts & Crafts), earned a 9.2; Pitchfork's editor, Ryan Schreiber, called it "exactly the kind of pop record that stands the test of time," throwing in an "oh my God" for good measure. By the end of 2003 Broken Social Scene was an indie-rock brand name.

I'll be the first to admit that I love the Broken Social Scene; and I probably wouldn't have heard about them if it weren't for pitchforkmedia. I couldn't find album sales figures (does anyone know where to look?) but according to allmusic.com, Broken Social Scene's follow-up album, the one that didn't receive nearly as much critical praise--especially from pitchfork--made a few appearances on Billboard's charts (the band's You Forget It in People didn't chart at all): 105 on Billboard's Top 200 and 6 on Billboard's Top Independent in 2005 and 2006. Compare this result to Lil' John's album, Crunk Juice (which pitchfork calls "patchy"), which did much better: 3 on Billboard's Top 200, 1 on Billboard's Top Independent in 2004 and 2006. I'm pretty sure that Crunk Juice is the top-selling indie album; either that, or it's really close. (Maybe that one Offspring album is still number one.) What's my point?

When your Lebensform--i.e., natural surrounding world--is built around indie culture, then pitchforkmedia looks hegemonic and pretty fucking powerful. But in the larger scheme of things, it's less of a taste-maker than Fred Durst wearing some tshirt of band to whom he's never listened.

But that's all obvious. There's a second, more compelling reason to pile on the hate for pitchforkmedia. They're pretentious. They inspired a hilarious send-up from Somethingawful.com called richdorkmedia, in which the site gave every Radiohead album a perfect 10.0. (Including something like Thom Yorke farting into the recorder and the band doing Creed covers; just ridiculous, hilarious stuff.) Apparently, the parody has been taken down.

But I couldn't really find anything too pretentious on the pitchfork site in the last five minutes of frantic browsing. I do remember reading some pretentious, rock-crit billingsgate from other sites. Stylus Magazine's recent movie review of X-Men 3 has a nugget.
After allowing just enough time to witness each superhero trait in action, Brett Ratner decisively moves on. Where in the two previous films each mutant chose her team based on personal morality, a Kantian sense of community preservation, or plain bravado, Last Stand eschews rich character dynamics in favor of whichever two mutants would look coolest in combat.

You know, I saw the first two X-Men movies; and I liked them. I really like Kant, too. I never thought to apply Kant's moral philosophy to the films, though. I don't think anyone ever should, either. I have in mind another example of pretentious pop writing (don't get me started on Popmatters.com, a fine site of hyper-chic, detailed and thrillingly pretentious culture commentary. Is it a joke? Sometimes I think it is) that can be indirected attributed to pitchfork. Entertainment Weekly recently ran a feature with different websites picking their favorite websites. Pitchfork's picks are pretty all right, but who knows. Anyway, another site chose Dusted Magazine. Some of their article titles:
  • The Wigmaker in Eighteenth Century Williamsburg
  • The Resistant Language
  • The Logic of Sound - Excepter's KA
  • Heart of Sound and Light:
    La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela's The Well-Tuned Piano In The Magenta
  • Not Just For the Cognoscenti
  • Unsteady As She Goes - The false nostalgia of The Hold Steady's Separation Sunday
  • Non-Idiomatic Process Music and We're Twins Records
Anyway, the site has some good writing. But a lot of this skinny, white male (a precursor to the dead, white male) music/culture writing sounds like a subconscious pining to be in English 441 again. I'm still in school, so I get to write long, pretentious titles to my papers. Critics write record reviews--you're titles should not be as long as a capsule review in itself. If it is, then I'll just go read a capsule review, or sample the record myself.

In conclussion: If you think pitchfork has an unhealthy grip on the indie community, maybe you're right. But go listen to Top 40 radio. I'll be the first to admit that Lil' John's "Snap Yo Fingers" is pretty catchy, but... And second, if you're even in a position to bitch about pitchforkmedia, then you're already in a pretty in-bred circle of indie pretention. (I.e., music snobbishness; and poptimism is just a more acute form.)