"overnight indie stardom"

I was just over at Small Town Outside of Boston, reading the post about Pitchfork. Some thoughts:

- Colin's right about the effect of the "Best New Music" tag (he calls it "a coronation and an instant catalyst to overnight indie stardom", which is pretty hilarious). But it's not just that achieving "Best New Music" status is the equivalent to fast-lane hipster acceptance/reverance; that alone wouldn't bother me so much. The problem is that EVERY Pitchfork review counts, and not just the totally negative reviews, a la the new Weezer, but especially the middle-of-the-road ratings. If a band gets a 7.3, it seems as though that's an obstacle, not an advantage: you can only get so far with a score like that. I think it's because the rating system itself is totally fucking ARBITRARY and that the words themselves don't really count; I've read plenty of reviews that were very flattering and positive that haven't even made it into the "Recommended" column. So regardless of how flattering the written review itself might be, it all comes down to a stupid, arbitrary (at best) scoring contest.

Instead of giving musicians exposure, anything less than BNM status does zilch for most indie acts, because the majority of Pitchfork's viewers - which I imagine is a substantial portion of the indie scene - won't even read the review unless it's either no-holds-barred scathing or lavishly approbatory. (And why should they have to? It wasn't listed under "Best New Music"! And for the record, I'm certainly guilty of this.)

- Pitchfork is contributing to the inceasing homogeneity of the entire indie scene, or, you might say if you were being more blunt, its increasing BORINGNESS, by which I mean its increasing resemblance to the mainstream. It's not the music that makes this happen - the music's as great as it's ever been - but the attitudes and the cliques that cluster around the music. Unfortunately, you see Pitchfork syndrome wherever you go nowadays - the rigid, self-imposed (but culturally endorsed) confines of liking only the right music, only the right styles, knowing and saying only the right things. Didn't we worry about that enough in high school?

I guess this isn't so much about Pitchfork as the indie scene in general, but I was drawn to underground or "indie" music at least in part by the overall sense of inclusiveness. Now it seems more exclusive and status-driven than ever before, and worst of all, I don't think we really appreciate what we're losing.

- Have you ever actually READ most of their reviews? Maybe it's that there's too much to write too often (I think they should cut down to three reviews a day or less), and at least part of it is because writing about music is pretty fucking hard, you know, but nine times out of ten I can't even skim that shit.

- Since I don't want to be a negative nancy, I'll end on this note: they're doing a ton of cool shit with the whole Pitchfork TV thing so far, and the Forkcast feature is generally pretty great.


What do y'all think?


Colin said...

Wow...great post, man. I think you hit the nail right on the head with the idea of the totality of the Pitchfork review system. Particularly, your observation that ratings around 5.0-7.5 just make one think, "Oh, it's just an average album" and completely relegates it to a "boring" status.

Review systems CAN be very helpful for making album recommendations or making a statement about the supposed lack of quality of an album, particularly for a site that covers such a large scale of different bands and genres as Pitchfork and has given itself a sort of duty to the music scene. However, I think for many people, including myself, the idea of assigning a number to a piece of music is just ridiculous and counterintuitive.

I also agree that Forkcast and Pitchfork.tv are doing awesome jobs in introducing some great new (and old) music to people, and I feel like the site is a top music news aggregator. Even a lot of the columns are very interesting and thought-provoking. But I totally agree with your idea that the review system is deeply flawed, arbitrary, and creating a paradoxical class of homogeneous elitists.

Tyler said...

you did a better job re-stating my post than I did writing it in the first place. yikes!!