Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In Which I Pose More Questions About Music Criticism

Latest Flame Dan clued me in to this LA Weekly article about the resurgent Buddyhead.com (which i totally wouldn't mind writing for and for whom this mention totally isn't an ass-kiss--Hi Travis!), in which head Buddy Travis Keller included some choice quotes about one of my favorite websites (to bitch about, lambaste, and otherwise gnash my teeth regarding), Pitchfork:

“I’ve met all those dudes [at Pitchfork]. Fuck them,” Keller says. “They’re doing well, or at least Ryan. He doesn’t write anything; he just grades all the records. When you review records for Pitchfork, you don’t get to grade them. I was talking to Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion, who got a good review but only a 3.0 rating. He called the reviewer and said, ‘Hey, thanks for giving my record a good review,’ and the kid said, ‘I got fired for it.’ ”

A cursory search of the Pitchfork site found two Bad Religion reviews that were given an 8.2 and a 5.1, but that remark about reviewers not assigning the scores to albums was an eyebrow-raiser, considering it echoed something written by Everett True at Collapse Board, my new favorite website to avoid reading, as its music writing is so fucking excellent that it makes me want to quit (note: bold emphasis is mine, italics are his):

Pitchfork’s failings in managing to make any worthwhile contribution to the discourse around music is not their main fault. Not at all. It’s not even in the way they deny women a voice even though women make up a very sizeable proportion of both their audience and the artists they write about. (Women just aren’t interested, don’t you get it Everett?) It’s not even the lack of individuality among their writers, the fact they’ve coagulated them all into one bigger, all-encompassing brand. Though that’s crap, obviously. It’s not even the way that Pitchfork have turned the alternative into the mainstream (that doesn’t matter: there’s always another alternative, another underground, to be found). Those are not their biggest betrayals. This is.


They have no fucking idea whatsoever about music. To paraphrase David Lee Roth, Pitchfork writers all like Bon Iver because Pitchfork writers all look like Bon Iver.

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Another note states that I should cite Scott’s email about how Pitchfork editors hold long editorial meetings to determine the precise grade of each review … something which apparently started off as a joke … but we’ve wasted enough time discussing that band of second class citizens here.

I find these accusations of editorial homogenizing interesting in light of a recent review my band garnered at a website called Subba-Cultcha. I really don't care that the reviewer gave us a 5 out of 10, although the review is abysmally written and sounds like something i wrote for my high school paper in 1991 (and not only says absolutely nothing about how we sound, but also compares us to the Ting Tings, which makes about as much sense as comparing Six Finger Satellite to that episode of Teletubbies where Laa-Laa plays guitar [everyone knows she's more informed by Deerhoof]). What intrigued me about the review, and about Subba-Cultcha in general, is that this reviewer was obviously listening to us for the first time and had never heard of us previously, despite the fact that Subba-Cultcha reviewed our 2008 CD, Fame By Proxy, and gave it an enthusiastic 7/10 that was in no way referenced in the Nada Surf review.

The writing in the Fame review is pretty dire as well (maybe don't get all your band history off our Wikipedia page, especially when it had just been pranked by some friends of ours?), but the two reviews together represented to me the direct opposite of Pitchfork's stifling hegemony: individual voices so far removed from each other as to be completely unaware.

Two review sites--one with a seemingly dictatorial editorial cohesion, one with more disparate voices than Prof. X's son Legion. Obviously the ideal, as with so many things, lies somewhere in the middle. I personally abhor overly cohesive editorial voices, and am a huge fan of sites that allow individual writers' personalities to shine. On the other hand, a good editor should probably make damn sure that his or her writers are keeping up with everything on the site, lest the staff come off as a right hand not knowing what the left is doing. Thoughts, y'all? I never went to journalism school, so i'm not privy to the discussions of editorial policy that i'm sure spring forth in the walls of UW-Milwaukee.

* * *

On a personal note, i turned 37 (gyah) on Monday after a tremendous birthday weekend. Saturday saw IfIHadAHiFi play a benefit show for our friend Elliott, who is recovering/has recovered from the severe electric shock i discussed a couple weeks ago. We were told we played a killer set; it was hard for me to tell as all i could hear was bass and i was already annoyed with having to play on a backline that wasn't ours. I hate to be that asshole who has to have "our sound, man," but goddamn, shared gear shows are a pain in the ass (except for the much-easier load-in). But we do 'em, because PRF events are generally worth it and why rock the boat when it's manned by a group of amazingly talented and kind-hearted friends? Anyway, Elliott gave us all reason to cheer when he took the stage to play guitar with Trophy Wives, who absolutely fucking DESTROYED on the same backline, so i should probably shut the fuck up about shared gear.

I have no idea how much we raised for Elliott's medical bills, as the organizer, Mat isn't talking, but based on the silent auction alone it had to be pretty formidable. I hope the $40 Liz and i jointly spent on a copy of the Dope, Guns & Fucking in the Streets Vol. 10 purple seven-inch (har har) with Brainiac's "Cookie Doesn't Sing" on it comes in handy. I know i'm pretty psyched that Police Teeth's own Richy Boyer donated that record to the pile. Birthday!

Sunday and Monday were all about wrestling as WWE delivered its best pay-per-view wrestling card in perhaps 10 years, as CM Punk defeated John Cena to win the WWE Championship on what was (storyline-wise) his last night in the company. A completely nuclear hometown Chicago crowd was hot, hot, hot for their hometown hero Punk as he took the title belt and ran into the crowd to escape the wrath of Vince McMahon. I can't really do the match justice here, but if you at all give a shit about wrestling (and if you've been coming here for music nonsense, you probably don't, i dunno), you can read a summary of the match at Pro Wrestling Torch.

On Monday RAW was in Green Bay so Liz and i got a wild hair up our asses and spontaneously bought tickets and drove north for the show. We got there early enough for me to give Liz a tour of 1996 Green Bay: a stop at Exclusive Company to record shop and say hi to Timebomb Tom, dinner at Jake's Pizza, and a drive past the old Concert Cafe site before heading to the Resch Center across from Lambeau Field itself. There we watched some fun live TV wrestling and laughed our butts off as Triple H relieved Vince McMahon of his duties as WWE chairman. Classic soap opera drama and a perfect capper to a killer birthica weekend.


  1. It was ten years ago, but in my UW-Milwaukee J-School clauses we never discussed editorial voice. Then again, even in the classes that would have been for magazine writing (feature writing, critical and editorial writing) we focused more on info that would be appropriate for newspapers.

    Marquette might have covered it.

  2. i knew buddyhead had risen again because things started showing up in my RSS feed, but then abruptly stopped. thus, i needed to get the new feed. thanks for that. i had no idea that the pitchfork grade and review were not by the same person. i don't really read reviews anymore.