a strange invitation


…songs about songwriting
January 18, 2007, 6:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Now I’m a little loathe to get into any serious Pitchfork baiting, which seems to be de rigueur amongst web loggers with even a passing interest in music. Yet I can’t help noting, with some amusement, that I am able to predict both their tone and rating for new music, often without even hearing the material in question.

If it wasn’t for the fact that my mind recoils in horror whenever I attempt to do anything vaguely mathematical with it, I’m sure I could produce a formula which the recording industry could use to predict critical reception. Given that Pitchfork has reached such an elevated status in the realms of ‘Alternative Music’, it might save many albums being released at all. Of course, given that many users tend to base their musical choices solely on Pitchfork’s ‘Best New Music’ without having to take the trouble to listen to it and make up their own minds, there would be a rapid increase in those albums in your record collection that you find technically brilliant, yet don’t actually enjoy listening to.

An artist critically acclaimed by the a large section of the music press, will score an average score in a Pitchfork review with a one or two point reduction on subsequent releases, if Pitchfork see themselves as initially responsible for breaking an artist on their debut release

A massive reduction in scores will occur, should the album be available in Woolworth’s, or Wal-Mart. Indeed, while this will only apply to artists that have achieved popularity after years of relative obscurity, the fact that a large percentage of the population will actually be able to buy a particular record in the high street, is enough to encourage a particularly scathing and venomous review

Strangely, a mainstream artist that produces a record which, after a consistent and successful career, sinks like a lead balloon as far as both the general public, and the music press are concerned, will be seen favourably by the Pitchfork crew, narrowly missing out on the ‘Best New Music’ listings.

From this standpoint, it would be all to easy to level charges of elitism against Pitchfork Media and music consumption in general, whilst simultaneously deriding the way that most people now listen music in the digital age. As I think about it further, I realise that it would be both naive and unrealistic on my part to call for a separation of musical form and content on the one hand, and the wider ‘narrative’ that gives a deeper significance to listeners on the other. In short, it is impossible to separate the form (i.e. structure, melody etc) from the society which both surrounds, and produces it. I know that this ‘narrative’ gives a certain weight to some of my own most respected artists, both past and present. This narrative history, like all art, is what gives a text both it’s merit, and it’s value. Yet, even from this realisation, it is still the unnamed track hidden at the bottom of my playlist that shocks me to attention as I go about my day. The song that wakes me from a drunken stupor at an after party is usually one that is new to me, that simple melody or unique phrasing that stirs my limbs from atrophy and leads me to ask, in almost breathless disbelief:

‘Jesus, what IS that track?’

…and the response I get in these situations is less the response of the jaded musical aficionado eager to give the entire history of the band in question, but one given with a lop-sided grin, from someone who is genuinely pleased that I am perhaps appreciating in a similar way that they do.

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