Do you know anyone who always likes telling you about bands he listens to, but whenever you mention that you’ve heard of the band, they immediately start talking about some other band? Does that person claim to like My Bloody Valentine? Is that person a musician? It you answered yes, yes, no; you know a pitchfork media reviewer or someone who wishes they were.
In a semi-recurring feature, let’s take a look at some of the best in pompous punditry from the folks at Pitchfork Media. For those unfamiliar with Pitchfork, they’re probably the biggest internet source for music praise and criticism, with their arbitrary rating scale determining the fates of numerous up and coming bands. The site shows a strong bias in favor of the weird and the new, and a distaste for anything “derivative”, “mainstream” or “Airborne Toxic Event”. And apparently, they are COMPLETELY over Pearl Jam. As they should be. In the first of a series, we’ll look at Pitchfork’s take on Pearl Jam’s early 2000s disaster of a record, Riot Act.
(eds. note: all Pitchfork take-down reviews are required by law and good taste to follow a similar formula, we’ll outline those requirements in this initial post for those unfamiliar with this genre.)
Rating: Every Pitchfork review starts with a “rating”. This is a highly technical breakdown of an album on a numerical scale of 0 – 100. But, like a overindulgent guitar solo on a Poison record, 0 – 100 is both expected and very 1980s (and not the hip or ironically cool 80s), so Pitchfork has chosen a more appropriate and thoughtful rating system, 0.0 – 10.0. The rating is perhaps the most important aspect of the Pitchfork review because it allows hipsters to determine whether they need to keep reading. If the review is over an 8.0, one should immediately purchase the album. In a time crunch, one can search the review for a song considered “the catchiest” or “imbued with pop sensibilities”. The reader then should then scan the article for a song that “may take a second, or even a third listen before it grabs you”. Purchase and listen to both and then tell people that “song X was the song that really allowed me to get into the album, but after a third listen through, I realized that song Y was deeper/more complex/beautiful/heart wrenching/etc”.
The rest of the review should be read with particular attention paid to key descriptor so that the album can be discussed at the local BYOB or non-Starbucks coffee emporium. Anything below an 8.0 can be quickly ignored, unless one is truly bored or kind of a music freak.
Riot Act Rating: 4.9.
When I was at Swarthmore, I minored in music history with a primary focus on shoegaze inspired rock gospel music in the rural Southwest: If someone happens to read beyond the rating, you have to establish quickly that you know more about music than they do. Best way to do this? Spend a couple paragraphs describing background that doesn’t really have anything to do with the album, but puts the reader in a mindset that they shouldn’t like the music based on cultural albums.
Riot Act: Too many to capture here: “Since the genre-defining Ten, the band has given us occasional glimpses at something more unique– most notably on Vitalogy, a wonderful, reactionary mess of an album, and then with the diverse No Code, and even Yield‘s Eastern-tinged bonus track– but mostly, they’ve settled for traditional rock riffs and general coasting. Riot Act sadly exemplifies this, bringing them ever closer to homogenous bar-band territory.”
Bad-Band references: A good Pitchfork review takedown incorporates references to other bands that Pitchfork has decided are terrible, thus tainting the album under review by association.
Riot Act Bad-Band Reference: Candlebox
Back-Handed Compliment: Even Pitchfork has to acknowledge that something about the album is probably somewhat redeemable. After all, people actually purchase it and a global corporation spent hundreds of thousands of dollars putting it out. But, just in case, any praise should be couched in such a way that the praise can be plausibly denied at a future date.
Riot Act: “The record peaks early on the opener “Can’t Keep”, a three-guitar gallop that immediately strikes as fresh in contrast to the band’s other recent work. Eddie Vedder seldom pens a melody this original, and the song’s gloomy, atmospheric production compensates for the bored musicianship.”
I double majored in English and I will destroy this album and this band in one cutting sentence: Self-explanatory.
Riot Act: “Riot Act, their seventh and most recent album, perpetuates the notion that Pearl Jam is a tremendous rock band, despite their catalog’s evidence to the contrary.”
Update: When asked for comment regarding this blog post, Pitchfork’s Editor-in-Chief declared that “Mr. Stinson’s writing lacked any semblance of humor and is nothing more than a childish rip off of The Onion’s brilliant piece on the topic.”