THE FORK PITCHES BOTH WAYS

Yesterday Pitchfork mentioned my remix of Architecture in Helsinki (see previous post). The blurb writer, Paul Thompson, goes out of his way to deprofessionalize us. It’s weird. And worth looking at.

pitchfork.jpg

Check it: “The first of many manifestations of ‘Heart It Races’, messed about by DJ /Rupture and yelled over by Mr. Lee*G (who, for his sake, I hope is the same Mr. Lee G who directed Yo’ Mama’s a Freak), is streaming on the band’s MySpace right this instant.”

Let’s unpack this awkward sentence!

I “mess about” on the track, Lee “yells over” it. Thompson’s verb choices position us as a bit barbarian, with no serious relationship to the original tune. The Pitchfork music writer perceives screams instead of what is obviously melodic singing. If that’s what he hears, so be it… We’re interested in what comes next.

Instead of offering any information on Trinidadian vocalist Mr Lee G, Thompson uses his time and hyperlinks to express his hope that Lee is a porn director of the same name. Why associate Lee with someone he clearly is not? Why send traffic to the porn guy’s page? (Note how Thompson excuses his pornographic “hope” with a condescending pat-on-the-head: ‘for Lee’s sake’. His phrasing is semantically unclear and syntactically inelegant. If you give ‘em enough rope… )

The telling thing here is that while Thompson employs a shakily racist subtext to denigrate Lee, he chooses the only film from the director’s output of the past 5 years that DOESN’T explicitly mention race in the title. Nor does he link to the first, obvious Google hit for “Lee G”, the IMDB page that lists all these films. That would have made his racialized joke a few shades too overt. So we witness Thompson performing that familiar liberal judo move — underscore largely imaginary racial differences by conspicuously neglecting to mention race directly. (It’s a shame, because the other ‘racy’ titles are awesome, configuring white desirability in terms of blackness: Juicy White Booty, White Girls Got Azz Too, Phat Azz White Girls, etc. These titles subvert racial tropes.)

Folks complain about how Pitchfork journalists often appear uncomfortable covering music beyond their magazine’s white indie norm, and Thompson’s barely disguised hostility is a particularly squirmy example of this.

If you don’t quite follow my argument it might be easier to embody Thompson’s methodology, redirecting his style:

“Paul Thompson, a data-entry typist (who, for his sake, I hope is not the same Paul Thompson of NYC convicted for murder last Saturday), messes about when trumping-up press releases into Pitchfork news items.”

22 thoughts on “THE FORK PITCHES BOTH WAYS

  1. If there were a ‘taking my hat off to you’ emoticon, I would put it here. Pitchfork is routinely guilty of this kind of stylistic mess, glad you took it apart as elegantly as you did.

  2. I second the hat removal… I’ve always felt that pitchfork reviewed everything based on much kneejerk and little contemplation.

  3. that’s a beautiful remix.

    i was NOT expecting it to sound like this after reading the pfork blurb (?!).

  4. Although the music is clearly of superior quality, clearly, you don’t understand the imprtance of traditional hierarchy within the business. As chief CEO of N-RON, it behooves me to inform you that clarification or any forms of demystification of the tradition of white-as-truth, truth-as-power (aka the white-power paradigm) is in clear violation of code XR-13 and subject to “blacklisting”, “blackballing” and “black plague” and will heretofore relegate your product to the black market.
    Sincerely,
    n-ron hubbard
    ceo, N-RON industries

  5. thank you. as someone who writes about music, that website makes me cringe. it’s a big, digitized one-sheet. nice remix, by the way.

  6. The thing that scares me is I know I’ve farted out a lot of prose that’s every bit as lazy and ill-informed as the paragraph you dissect here. I don’t imagine that Pitchfork Paul gave this bit of text a second thought – if it raised so much as a half-smirk while he was banging it out, it was probably good enough, right…? Thanks for the de/reconstruction, though – very nicely done (and the parody at the end had me in stiches).

    Sweet remix, btw.

  7. Pitchfork’s attempts to cover non-rock music would be kind of amusing if not for the absurd amounts of power they wield over their deep pocketed and impressionable readers.

    Beyond the laziness and soft racism is a consistent ivory-towered cluelessness, a bunch of nerds with a such a shaky and sweaty grasp on coolness that they have to distance themselves from anything that isn’t within their safe little sweaters and synths world via either casual familiarity, or adopting a weird cultural anthropology. It’s not like some kind of Vice / Don Imus attempt to be edgy (or if it is, it’s as poorly executed as the rest of their canon), it’s just like they’re too self-concious to actually listen to anything without running it through several cycles of irony, hype and snootiness, at which point it might as well be a review of the reviewer’s hang-ups. Probably the worst bunch of people to put in charge of subjectively evaluating anything, really.

  8. Poor Paul Thompson. He’s probably just some monkey high school intern that they keep in the office. There’s probably a reason that as hard as I try, I never actually get through the first two or three sentences of anything they write.

  9. To be fair, I think there are writers at Pitchfork who are genuinely good and who don’t treat non-rock as ‘other’. I think it’d be near-sighted to say that everyone on the site writes the same way.

    It’s interesting though, one of Pitchfork’s original strengths was a lack of editorial voice. Now people have a very clear idea of that voice when thinking about Pitchfork – was this thrust upon Pitchfork by virtue of it’s popularity? Or is there a distinctly Pitchforkian way of writing?

    Like I say, the site is regularly guilty of the kind of stylistic mess that Jace has detailed, but that usually emanates from a specific few writers.

  10. well said Roo. i certainly didnt mean for the comments section to burst into a p-fork flame (one-sided) war, i was trying to be verrrry specific with a reading of one sentence. anyhow, off to bang out the next post.. /r

  11. fams – great thread.

    pitchfork is not the only venue guilty of a big dip in writing quality in my opinion. my vantage, i should calrify, is that of an indy label owner of six years. i want to respond on 3 fronts. i’ve read reviews of my recent records in 3 outlets that were less than rigorous for some of the same reasons you explore jace : a) clumsy writing, b) laziness, and c) racism.

    a) the clumsy writing is fucking inexcusable! this is your job so take some fucking pride! those of us who are obsessed enough about music for whatever reason to feel compelled to read about it are probably taking time out from either listening to music or making more of it so make it worth our fucking time! that said, i spoke to one editor recently who admitted he was hiring college students to get the writing he needed done within budget. im not saying that college students cant write well a priori, but there you have it.

    b) i’ve witnessed the laziness of pimping out/ flipping a onesheet many times. the stages of my reaction do, i admit, include flattery due to the fact that i wrote it (!), as well as a degree of satisfcation in knowing that the review is generally bound to be a positive reference – again, since i wrote it – which is good for business, as it were. however, a recent review i read spent half its length discussing the budget nature of the promo package and the amateurish lack of onesheet. the budget nature i can attribute to an actual small budget (!) but the lack of a onesheet is inexplicable. we sure as shit always put one in there. the point of this illustration is to underscore the laziness of the writing. as someone said above, its enough to elicit a chuckle from the casual reader, and thats enough. how is the fact that the writer probably lost the onesheet relevant to a critique of the record on its merits, or, as relevant, otherwise?

    c) check this badboy out for a galling example of the (soft) racism discussed above: http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/record_review/42209-live-at-amoeba-music-ep
    wherein the writer, inter alia, subsumes the contribution made by the individual black musicians to the white producer: “Every member played second banana to their album’s real star: the production. All the jagged guitars and nervous rhythms, even the astonishing reach and depth of singer Tunde Adebimpe’s voice, were pulled back to make way for Dave Sitek’s monolithic sound.” The review also equates discussion of race in the context of music criticism as per se over reaching – as if to say acknowledgement of difference in the context of music writing is always already missing the point. race, as it were, has no place. tell me what that implies… i’m sorry, but this is far more inexcusable. wtf?!

  12. Mr. Rupture. The re-mix is the ills (meaning good). I’m perpetually amazed at the ineptitude of Pitchfork’s attempts to write about anything other than indie-kid guitar wank. Bumpa.

    Hat’s off fo’ sho, dunn. Respekt.

  13. that’s just how paul writes, strange (countr-intuitive?) language choices and all. i’m sure he meant meant no ill will.

  14. paul shouldn’t mess about so.

    lazy, clumsy, and strange language are no excuse for bad writing or bad ideas.

  15. The targeting of a “racist subtext” (whether unwitting or not) is on-point, unfortunately. And lazy? Yes. Also: ignorant and sloppily researched. And I’m being pretty generous with that last allegation. It runs afoul of what any self-possessed, half-conscious writer would know better than to do, and that’s to shoot off one’s mouth about something that you know fuck-all about with bothering to gather background info. Just go with the first Google result. (“Hey, what’s Bert from Sesame Street doing on that placard with Osama bin Laden?”)

  16. Yea Rupture-
    This is quite a shame on a couple different levels. First- to refer to Mr. Lee G’s chatting as “yelling” discredits the art form, and to call your remixing “messed about” discredits the remixing too. And to be so lazy to not research the artists involved in this remix and just rely on some porn producer is just lame. He must have known that a porn producer didn’t suddenly turn into a Reggae vocalist. I’ve searched Mr Lee G myself and didn’t get the porn producer. Geez, will they ever give us Raggamuffin vocalists any true credit? I’ve encountered some similar situations in my collabs. Anyways, just my 2 cents and it’s a wicked remix still and your counteraction on the situation gets nuff gun salute! Bo! Bo! One Love- C

  17. Nice undoing of PF. Undoubtedly that will fly both above the head & below the belt. Having played the other side of the coin I can say it is just as frustrating to try and write anything worthy. The editors crave writing that belittles the artists. Attitude is equated with aesthetic taste. The only way to publish with PF is to act like an ass. The entire endeavour piles shit upon shit. I know too well in trying to fight for subtle and intriguing articles in indieland. Unfortunately the bastions of apparent intelligence in music criticism are often just as lost in other areas. Peace to anyone who makes an effort.

    ps. ALL HAIL TO N_RON.!

  18. I’m just really thrilled to see, for once, this situation explode in the reviewers face. Do not fuck with artists who are better writers then you, you will get humiliated. The terrible thing is that many of the people who are routinely disrespected this way are not willing or packing the verbal firepower or platform to respond in kind.

    This whole generation of ‘clever’ snotty writers can go die as far as I’m concerned. The job of the critic should be to lift up the good, the bad will fall away on its own or be crowded out by better works.

    And the fact that these kind of comments should be leveled at such a nice, melodic piece of music and singing just makes my head spin. Do these people have ears?

  19. damn dude. if pitchfork paul would’ve gone out of his way to make you sound better than you really are, you wouldn’t be complaining. it’s a review–i.e., someone’s opinion. get over it or get out of the business.

  20. yeah, double snaps. Shoddy reviewing demeans the music and the music reviewing craft. Us journalists should remain ever vigilant against such mess(ing about).

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