n+1, a weighty arts and culture magazine, has uploaded the full text of a review of Pitchfork, another weighty cultural magazine, from a recent print edition onto their website. The author of the piece, Richard Beck, exhaustively charts the history of the publication and the sprawling indie-rock scene it is now an integral part of.
It’s a lengthy read but Beck is great at articulating things that can often seem commonplace, particularly when he notes how Pitchfork’s gushing review of Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ heralded a new phase of music criticism:
“Of course, the review told you little about Radiohead’s music that you couldn’t have heard on your own, but it told you everything about what kind of cultural company Radiohead was meant to keep. This technique became Pitchfork’s signature style.”
He provides an interesting story too, taking us from the early days in founder Ryan Schreiber’s parent’s house to the professional magazine we see today and the move from an angry mob mentality to king-maker status.
The heart of the review, however, lies in an analysis of contemporary popular music critical of the perceived self-deception of indie-music and indie-music criticism:
“Pitchfork has fully absorbed and adopted indie rock’s ideas about the uses of cultural capital, and the results have been disastrous […] Indie rock is based on the premise that it’s possible to disdain commercial popularity while continuing to make rock and roll, the last half century’s most popular kind of commercial music. Sustaining this premise has almost always involved suppressing or avoiding certain kinds of knowledge”
“This is a kind of music, in other words, that’s very good at avoiding uncomfortable conversations.”
Beck sees the focus on “cultural capital” as a kind of reversed intellectual escapism that often avoids direct conflict with serious issues, citing Pitchfork favourites like Sufjan Stevens, M.I.A and Animal Collective as examples. This may all sound very negative but Beck wraps up the piece with the hope of a break from the indie circle jerk and a new era that responds to the wider world in a more satisfying and complete way. It’s easy to take shots at something as big and successful as Pitchfork but Beck is thoughtful and honest in his account of the dynamics of recent pop culture and the review is well worth a read.