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Pitchfork, So much To Answer For


American-based music fans who visit this site will surely be aware that Pitchforkmedia has become the NME of the online world. Snarky, sarcastic, frequently vicious, often hilarious, its news items let no super-star (or indeed, indire-rock star) off the hook and, via its refusal to mince words, its reviews section has become among the most important in the United States. If Pitchfork likes you, you’re hip. If they don’t… well, you’re not.

Pitchfork has spawned many imitators these last few years, but only one that has dared declare itself such. At Tuningforkmedia, almost every single post serves as a counter-review to Pitchforkmedia’s original review. Occasionally this means coming to the defense of some hapless artist who is no longer in favor (as here), at other times it means attacking some hip artist that just received a glowing review (as here), but most of the time– and somewhat disappointingly – the Tuning Fork contributors get their kicks from agreeing wholeheartedly with the pitchfork reviewer in question. When Primal Scream’s Riot City Blues got a 3.2 rating in early June (the Pitchfork contributors do not settle for points out of 10; they deals in decimal points like the egg-head indie rocksters they are), Tuning Fork chimed in with this:

“Riot City Blues is a stinker. It makes Give Out But Don’t Give Up look like an honest to Jon classic. Sadly the thing this album most reminded me of was a recent party I attended which featured a horrible band in the back yard, who played the most stilted blues rock you could imagine, and who had the unfortunate name, I shit you not, Whisky Business. Ugh.”

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AllMusic.com outdoes Pitchfork for sheer quantity: it seems like it’s managed to annotate every single album ever made and to have reviewed most of them along the way, too. As a resource site, certainly, nothing can match it. But in its The Whole Note section, AllMusic writers take time out to reflect; a recent obituary of Grant McLellan of the Go Betweens caught me eye, and so did the past week’s three-part retrospective on 40 Early Rough Trade Singles. The reviews of early releases by Stiff Little Fingers, Cabaret Voltaire, Swell Maps, The Raincoats and Scritti Politti brought back all kinds of memories of this former fanzine publisher spending his afternoons and evenings hanging out at the Rough Trade store/label and acquiring the many now classic releases (sadly, mostly sold on over the years); I’d have ensured the audio snippets too if they were not in a Windows-only format.
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Treblezine has just launched an ongoing series on the Best Song Ever. Eclectic barely describes it. The overall Best Song Ever section
finds Mountain Goats, Tom Petty, Afghan Whigs and The Jam in there together; the #1 Summer Jams sections finds Martha and The Vandellas sharing space with Chad & Jeremy, A Tribe Called Quest, Broken Social Scene and The Delays; a Best Song Ever essay finds writer Adrian Ernesto Cepeda singing the praises of The Libertines’ debut album in its entirety. Each to their own.

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Stylus Magazine
also gets in on the Best Of Summer notion, running a massive Summer Jamz fantasy MixTape feature here. Rather than truly mix it up as per Treblezine, the Stylus eds have had Hi Fidelity-like fun by imaging thematic mix tapes for different audiences and genres, with the best mix tape title no doubt being that aimed at the Indie Rock fan, as below.

You talking to me?

Stylus also offers up a short daily Podcast of mostly underground rock music, again aimed thematically at specific genres and subject matter. I just subcribed.
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Seattle’s Three Imaginary Girls copies the Pitchfork trademark of decimal point reviews out of 10. (For Spinal Tap novelty value, however, their top mark is an 11.) But it’s neither as mean nor as pervasively hip as the originator; rather, the ‘Girls’ – all album reviews appear to be by one Erik Gonzalez – offer a relatively playful analysis that lives up to their catchphrase of being “Seattle’s sparkly indie-pop press.” Like many in America, Three Imaginary Girls have (has?) fallen head over heals in love with Art Brut, whose debut album Bang Bang Rock’n’Roll gets a glowing 9.1 rating. In the midst of his/her gushing 1000-word love letter, Gonzalez says,

“Imagine if Billy Bragg had decided to say bollocks to the whole politics thing and instead stuck to his punk-rock roots. Or, better yet, try to imagine what the product of an unfortunate splicing accident between the Monkees and the Sex Pistols.”

(Interestingly, when I was in England last month, one of the national “quality” papers ran a short piece on Art Brut’s enormous popularity in the States, and how this compared to their relative anonymity in the UK, where, if I paraphrase singer Eddie Argos correctly – unfortunately I lost the cutting before I could link to it – he complained that the group are not taken sufficiently “seriously.”) More on Art Brut in America at the iJamming! Pub here.
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Not all American music blogs focus relentlessly on music. The Tripwire, a perfectly good source of indie music news, took time out last week to publish a report from Germany by one supposedly ‘Gray Shades,’ who had joined thousands more of “Uncle Sam’s Army” for the World Cup. His report from the USA-Czech game in Dusseldorf might just help dispel the notion that no one in this country cares passionately enough about the game. I particularly liked this pre-match observation:

“Keller is calling the team together for a last second chat before kick-off and fucking Bobby Convey is late coming to the circle because he’s waving hello to people in the stands. That’s not loose and relaxed, that’s just dumb!”

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Subinev’s robot picture of Takka Takka. Much preferable to the original.

Back in music land, the Brooklyn-based Subinev blog gets points for originality in that almost every featured artist is robotified – their promo picture redrawn to show the act as a bunch of robots. I think this is less a comment on the machinery of the modern music business than it is an outlet for the web host’s drawing skills. But the writing is none too shabby either and enthusiastically devoted to the real underground: the last three posts concern The Secret Life of Sofia, Takka Takka and Unsacred Hearts. You may not have heard of any of them, but you can at laest hear them: Subinev offers up at least one MP3 per featured artist.
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Finally, for now, the best-named Blog I’ve recently run across takes its title from The Slits: Silence Is A Rhythm Too details “One Guy’s Music Collection and Related Obsessions.” That one guy, Michael Minnesota, has good, wide taste: his last few posts include The Replacements, Franz Ferdinand, Wes Montgomery and 80s AOR also-rans David and David. Like Subinev and many an American blogger, he accompanies these reviews with short-stay MP3s. Get that new Replacements song today.

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Discussion

2 Comment(s)

  1. snotty moore

    23 June, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    ‘The NME of the online world’ is about as loaded a description as you can get- what does it mean? – ‘useless branding exercise trading on past glories’? ‘redundant narrowcast indie-rock site’? ‘Oxbridge grads only’? (Actually that’s no longer true of NME). NIce sarcasm Tony. At least I hope you were being sarky.

  2. 23 June, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    What does it mean? All of the above and more… Use your imagination and draw your own comparisons: not everything has to be spelled out. We agree on that much, don’t we??

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