Online indie–culture mecca Pitchfork has decidedly expanded its focuses past mere music news and reviews, but with so much of it built around viewpoints of a jaded generation, is this turn really a good thing?
Like so many of the “hip” interweb-idlers of my *ahem* digital generation, Pitchfork (or Pitchfork Media for all you “cool dads [or moms]” present at its mid-2k heyday) has been my go-to site for all things cool this side of an Altamont-sponsored LA showplace since I was a 16 year old wannabe undergrounder. The reasons for my continued loyalty lie in their musical tastes: the glorification of the late 80’s noise rock scene, a soft-spot for D.I.Y punk, and general openness for anything willing to take sonic risks for an evolution in sound and style. For the past two or three years, however, it seems like Pitchfork’s original aims at serving niche audiences have shifted irritatingly toward (dare I even say it… I can practically hear the backlash) trend-setting.
Somewhere between 2009 and 2010, the site started focusing less on music and more on specified scenes, particularly those with mass appeal. One of the main draws, for me at least, had always been Pitchfork’s expansive tastes and relative blindness to music I heard blaring from the ear-buds of my popped-collar, polo-and-Timberland-clad New England high school peers. And yet, almost out of nowhere, Lil Wayne was earning high marks for “well-placed” nasally cackles and an affinity for copious amounts of dank. Vampire Weekend, as contrived a concept band as there’s ever effing been (worshiping Wes Anderson shouldn’t constitute inconceivable amounts of creativity), had the site gushing more ham than a Gap ad running between TRL segments on MTV. By the time Kanye earned his 10.0, I’d come to the overdue conclusion that Pitchfork had decided that the underground was not enough: the idea of the “niche” was slowly evaporating, and soon everything was encompassed by the mere labels of “cool” versus “rated under 6.0”.
Knowing the pop-hungry world (or at least those with their parents money ready to spend on American Apparel) was eating from its digital palm, the staff at Pitchfork set its sights increasingly less on music analyzation and more on scene-making and culture-defining. Pretty soon, everything earning marks higher than 7.0’s were regulated to all of about four places (NY, Chicago, LA, and France) and P4k hardly bothered with anyone who hadn’t made it onto Levi’s “Fader Fort” yet… for all intents and purposes, the site chiseled an “In Memorium” on the underground’s tombstone and became a TMZ for anyone with an avante-garde hairdo and a preoccupation with bleepy-bloops. It was only a matter of time before music as a whole took a backseat to an ever expanding number of “Features” and articles aimed at intellectualizing the growing cult of faux-Brooklyners lined up for the proverbial Cool-Aid (ironic pun intended, geniuses…).
I guess I’ve failed to appreciate these brazen attempts at cultural analysis, if that’s what you can even call them. Reading through the “Kill Screen” (Pitchfork’s unwarranted exploration into the cultural connotations the video-gaming movement) is literally akin to having physics professors write about film-making: what results is completely affect-diluted bullsh*t aimed at breaking down meanings where, quite honestly, there’s NOTHING to break-down to begin with. Let’s take, for example, a review (if you can even call it that) of LA Noire they did a couple months back: where Kirk Hamilton could have focused (noticed my suggestive use of bold there, if you can) on the advantages of semi-linear storytelling as opposed to recent trends against narrative driven gameplay, he chose to dedicate his article to his in-game abandonment of the narrative all together. Considering that LA Noire is a game based entirely on contextual interactions within the confines of the storyline (as the player is literally unable to engage in the game-world in meaningful ways outside of mission-based objectives), his seven-paragraph description of literally running around the digital LA city-scape aimlessly seemed as pointless as his critiques of the constraints the game put upon him to begin with. Instead of summing up his frustrations with the game for refusing to offer him all the facets of real-life freedoms concisely, he chose to meanderingly critique artful direction and a dedication to storytelling simply because it failed to grace him with the option to play pool with the main character’s deadbeat cousin.
Pitchfork’s further “analytical” explorations into online sensationalism with its “Resonant Frequency”-series strikes me as blatantly hypocritical. In its most recent piece, “Taking Pictures of Taking Pictures“, the segment eludes to trends of pop-culture recycling on the internet leading to the creation of buzz-tastic acts like (one of my personal favs) Dirty Beaches and (*shudder*) Lara- I mean, Lana “Angelina Jolie-Wannabe” Del Rey. As writer Mark Richardson points fingers at the Tumblr-ization of popular culture as a regurgitation of faux-art forms (ala “the scene that celebrates itself”), he fails to note that Pitchfork itself has become a textbook example of such unabashed trend-setting. In case he forgot, the only reason why 12 year old Tumblr-addicts post the song “Video Games” on their “blogs” is because Pitchfork posted it on their “Best New Tracks” months ago. If everything works in cycles, isn’t Pitchfork just as guilty of pop-art vomming than these alt-tweens are? As far as I can tell, pop-culture in general seems to operate along the lines of constant recycling anyways: so if “cultural evolution” is a loop, call me crazy but I consider myself an entirely new species.
Rest in Peace, my peers.