Sunday, August 26, 2007

pitchfork strikes out again!

since starting mr. mammoth, i've made an effort to keep my public relationship with pitchfork cordial. i mean, they were really important a few years ago, and i know i got introduced to some seriously good artists because of them (even though it took me a little while to take their opinions with more than one grain of salt). however, i really can't stay silent any longer. i think the sluts' practice of referring to them as bitchfork is more than a little puerile, but pitchfork (pitchdork?) has become so unbearably intoxicated with their self-ordained position as preacher of indiedom that the only reason to look at the site nowadays is for news. still, i do get suckered in by their reviews and the best new music section - after all, they are fucking iconic. but as of two days ago, i decided i'd had enough.

pitchfork has always taken a rather odd approach towards classifying what is the "best" of new music, arbitrarily awarding the "best" label to albums that tend to be more controversial than actually outstanding. before i learned better, i bought several albums based on pitchfork's say so, only to feel as if i wasted my money (which i had). this year's best new music list already numbers twenty-five, which doesn't include their "recommended" releases. true, lots of good albums have been released this year, but pitchfork increasingly seems unwilling to cut through their often self-generated hype and call a spade a spade (or a mediocre album a mediocre album). the newest addition to the best new music category has really been the last straw for me. maybe pitchfork is using this category like the oscars, when good actors get the award for bad movies, as a way of apologizing for not giving earlier work appropriate praise. at least, that's the only reason i can guess at for pitchfork's inclusion of caribou's new effort andorra on that list.

the man responsible for andorra's review (and BNM nod) is mark richardson, none other than pitchfork's managing editor! aside from that, i know nothing about him except that he prefers to contextualize the album, as if by namedropping other bands he can cover up the plain and simple fact that he doesn't really know anything about this album (like, for example, that it's not very good). pitchfork's reviewing m.o. seems to be that modern sound can best be described through its similarities to older music: thus, we get richardson's exhaustive list of artists caribou sounds like, in the first paragraph. yet for all of richardson's exhaustive referencing, andorra doesn't really sound like the beach boys, the mamas & papas, or the zombies. it sounds like caribou. ultimately, by opening his article with a deluge of RIYL: caribou artists, richardson proves nothing as much as his own inability to confront andorra's obvious failings, disguising this with a hollow trumpeting of caribou's current "AM radio" sound.

by no means is this richardson's only fault, yet he blunders through the article without bothering to question andorra's innate quality, or his own hypotheses. for example, he casually refers to andorra as the first time that "[caribou] seems to be paying attention to chords and melodic progression first." now, i'm not exhaustively versed in caribou's back catalog, but as a proud lover of two of his previous albums, up in flames and the milk of human kindness, i would consider myself rather familiar with his style, and if there's one thing daniel snaith (the man behind the mammal) doesn't lack for, it's melodies. his previous works have been stuffed full of melodies, from the antsy toe-tapper "lord leopard," to the joyful and climactic "bijoux," and i would go as far to say that andorra actually contains fewer snaith melodies than we've come to expect. perhaps richardson feels that one melody per song is enough - that alone explains his deep affection for the oft-repetitious andorra. but for those of us who have been keeping track of snaith's artistic (and melodic) progression, this effort seems lacking.

as a writer (and a recent college graduate), i've been known to make some fairly substantial diction errors, but the outrageous metaphor that richardson uses to open his fourth paragraph trumps even my worst ones. referencing "desiree," andorra's midpoint, richardson shares this totally arbitrary metaphor: "we know from her name that this girl might trip down the streets with the association's windy, perhaps looking for kicks or waiting for mary to come along." call me a cultural boor, but fuck me if i know what the hell he's trying to say there. come on mark, let's use some english. try this on for size: "'desiree' is, at its heart, the closest snaith comes to a stripped down soulful ballad, the antithesis of the image he has worked so hard to cultivate over his three previous album, a song so devoid of both lyrical and musical content that one usually enjoys andorra more by passing over this track (and the next one) to 'sundialing,' one of the album's best songs." a bit long, i know, but i wanted to get it all in one sentence (and you should see the length of some of the ones richardson spits out). a few sentences later, we see this gem: "then there's 'sandy' and 'irene," also [like desiree] names more likely in 2007 to belong to grandmothers." wow. mark, thank you so much for your input on trends in naming! how valuable this comment has been to my understanding and enjoyment of andorra. (i wikipediad the association; forgive me if they're familiar names in your household, but i think referencing a song that hit #7 in 1966 as common knowledge is is a TAD arrogant.) furthermore, richardson makes the baldly audacious claim that the name "desiree" automatically "dates it perfectly," as if no one named desiree could have been born after 1966 (untrue, as one of my sister's friends is named desiree, just for the record).

one reason richardson finds this album to be so delightful is because of snaith's unprecedented reliance on his own vocal cords. while i need not remind you that both up in flames and the milk of human kindness did include singing, it is true that, in andorra, snaith uses his voice in a new way - as that of a "proper" songwriter, as richardson claims. i fail to understand how caribou could have released three albums without being a songwriter - maybe richardson can only fully understand songs when they are carried by a voice - a severe failure for a music critic.

indeed, it is plain to almost any ears that andorra is a step backwards for caribou, an unwarranted, unnecessary, and unwanted change in what has otherwise been a distinguished career. while retaining some parts of his previous sound (though not as many as some would hope for), caribou has been completely overhauled, generating an album that does not seem to have logically followed the milk of human kindness in the slightest.

ironically (to my ears), what mark richardson praises the most about andorra are its biggest failures. we've already discussed the vapid "desiree," one of richardson's favorite tracks, and while we agree that "melody day" is probably andorra's best song, he feels as if "sundialing" is a misstep by snaith, a tired "return to the repetitious neu!-isms" of his last album, i believe it to be one of the few cuts on this album that actually sounds like caribou.

regardless of andorra's innate quality, mark richardson's review is pathetic. while demonstrating a complete lack of appreciation for the caribou sound, he also takes it upon himself to add illogical, arbitrary, and ridiculous addenda to most of his statements; we've already seen his comments on names like "desiree," "sandy," or "irene;" there are many richardson asides that are superior even to these. for example, here are richardson's thoughts on caribou's buoyant and joyful sound, his very hallmark since start breaking my heart: "a half-decade after the elephant 6 movement first started to fade, snaith's move can be seen as risky, but it succeeds, oddly enough, in part because of the one-man-band nature of his project." where to begin? with richardson's need to say "half-decade" instead of "five years"? or maybe his ability to disregard all of caribou's previous output of high-energy electronic joy (which is six years old, therefore pre-empting the "half-decade" of decline elephant 6 has experienced)? in fact, because richardson puts all of his references to past caribou albums in the first paragraph, it begs the question of whether or not he's listened to more than one song off each. from his glowing endorsement of andorra, it seems unlikely.

caribou - "sundialing." buy andorra here.


Taylor said...

if i had a dog and a cat, i would name them "caribou" and "desiree," respectively, after this masterful dissection of Mr. Richardson. Perhaps I'll listen to the album first.

blend77 said...

im very happy to hear someone else has fallen off the overcrowded pitchfork wagon.

there was certainly a time when pitchfork was a great resource, but it seems a stroke of fame has gotten to their heads, and thus they have missed a number of relevant releases.

despite the subjective opinions i hold concerning the choice of music they choose to review, i feel that they have catered to a more pop sound, as is evidenced by the high ratings and frequent reportings of Lily Allen, The Pippettes and the like. None of which offer much "newness" in the realm of music. At the same time, they do seem to find great things to say about anything that is "out there" or "different". The Liars comes to mind at the moment - a band from my neck of the woods who create absolute tripe, yet pitchfork gets all juicy over.

not to mention, as you said, the seemingly arrogant references to obscure music from the past, which most of us werent around for and, i'm sure, most of the staff wasnt around for either. its become name dropping for name droppings sake and doesnt point anyone in any particular direction.

anyway, rambler that i am, good review of a once great site, and well made points...


Mark Richardson said...

Sounds like you're just bitter that he changed sounds...this album is great. My review was awesome and you know it.

tearknee said...

i'm afraid i agree with mr.mammoth on this one. mr. richardson.. your review was dripping with dire, tedious snobbishness, yet with a retort like that, you sound like a 9 year-old, oh dear.

blend77 said...

since a pitchfork rep is here, i'd like to add that at one point i was very into most of what you guys reviewed, and even though the writing was verbose and often didnt give a clear impression of what you might hear, i was mostly happy with what you guys suggested.

i just cant get into the things you guys review these days... there has been a definite shift in styles, and thats all well and fine, but where as i usually checked pitchfork daily, i now check it maybe once a week and am saddened at the lack of stuff i am interested in.

bentrup said...

mark - your singlemindedness is indicative of all of pitchfork's problems nowadays. i'm not bitter he changed sounds - pitchfork had the courage to give sky blue sky a low rating, because wilco made a bad stylistic shift. so has caribou. that's all i'm saying, regarding andorra. as for your review - yes, it must be awesome, and i carefully and exhaustively delineated all of its faults and farces for no reason at all. instead of acting childish, why don't you prove that you have the maturity to back up those five dollar words that pitchfork writers love and maybe hear where my critique is coming from. pitchfork has sold out to the masses. christ, you let some wackjob from veronica mars write a review after namedropping pitchfork in the show! pitchfork used to be important, but as bloggers are becoming the essential and most informative media in music, you're having trouble coping - which explains why brooklynvegan repeatedly scoops you on news. but that's a bigger problem.

i've been trained as a critic of serious writing, and pitchfork has always aspired to that (and generally succeeds). your review was terrible. it's time to eat some of that bitter root and rethink your critical approach. i've made my reasons clear - if you want to disagree, it is common for serious writers to reply with more than two sentences. i'm sure you can muster a better defense than that.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, not another weak diatrine against Pitchfork. I do tire of the constant whining about Pitchfork simply due to their status in the Indie world. Yes they have the biggest name among publications in the Indie world. Do we really need more whining and complaining simply because Pitchfork gets more press than everybody else? This is so juvenile.

Rolling Stone, Spin and NME have suffered from the same constant attacks simply because of their status in the music world and now it is Pitchfork's turn. Get over it. Pitchfork is number one for a reason and they are not going anywhere.