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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Almost a month after Sound Team's "Movie Monster" was released, Pitchfork Media finally got around to reviewing it. I'm disappointed. To see why, check out the review here. (Probably better to read it before reading the bulk of this post.)

Pitchfork's reviews are notoriously crappy, which is double trouble because lots of people read it to learn about new music. They're extremely political, absorbed in hype/anti-hype, and keep a staff of, well, hacks.

I wrote the following letter to the reviewer (Marc Hogan, who can be contacted at marc@pitchforkmedia.com) and his editors:
Hi Marc,

I hope you read this e-mail in its entirety, because my intention is to understand more, not to be unnecessarily nasty.

I recently read your review of Sound Team's "Movie Monster" and I was curious about a few things. My main complaints are that you write in a condescending voice (and not just on this review), that you misunderstand the album, and as a result of your misunderstanding, you unfairly rate it.

First, yes the movie is called "Movie Monster," but does that really necessitate 73 words on scary movies that have nothing to do with the album? And what does Snakes on a Plane have to do with anything? This summer thriller subplot is forced through the review, and it doesn't do anything to enhance the it--it's just pedantic. I get that it's being framed, but this introduction just seems empty.

In the second paragraph you continue: "[P]raise for the Austin sextet isn't as ubiquitous as your aforementioned forthcoming herpetological thriller . . . " I agree that it's important to create context for a band in a movie review, but why not just say "Sound Team's been getting a lot of positive blog press, mainly because they pick the right influences" if that's your opinion? This just sounds pretentious.

As far as I understand cultural criticism, the point is to take in the piece, form an opinion based on your understanding, and back up your opinion with facts. Your review for "Movie Monster" (and many of your other reviews) reads like you heard the album once or twice, formed an opinion, selectively chose facts to support what you believed, and left out everything else.

For example, your theory seems to be that ST has a lot of popular influences--you mention U2, Bowie, Stereolab, etc. but that their songs have no substance. In your words, the "adenoidal overemoting and Wall-of-the-Edge guitars can't hide a shortage of, like, actual decent songs."

But then you mention a stream of influences (misguidedly) and offer no, like, connection to your thesis. Ironically, you provide a lot of smoke and mirrors and very few decent ideas. As a reader, I'm dying to know why the songs aren't any good. Instead you give me a bunch of hipster references and allusions to the band's history.

Begrudgingly, you offer something resembling praise ("vague melodies sure to leave you humming the video"), but then return to name-dropping and insults without any reasons why. Add a thumbs-up to pop culture reference ("Extra points for working both Kafka and Trinitrons into the big, desolate 'No More Birthdays'"), and you move on. (By the way, you completely missed that reference. The line "I'm Kafka on the shore" references Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore , not Kafka himself.) That you passed up the opportunity to give "extra points" for "working in" William Vollman's Rising Up and Rising Down means either that you didn't recognize it or didn't think it deserved extra points. I'm betting on the former. Bottom line: if you don't know what you're getting into, stay away from it.

Next, you characterize "Handful of Billions" with another U2 reference and unsubstantiated slam, and finish that paragraph with an oh-so-clever wink.

In the last paragraph, you finally get around to making a quantifiable opinion, but poorly. The album is "like Sasquatch, pretty hard to follow," you say, but you predictably don't follow up. You then characterize Oliver's singing on "Movie Monster" as a "screamo-wail," which is one of the biggest mischaracterizations of the album so far. Finally, you end the review with more self-congratulatory referencing.

Do you honestly believe that "Movie Monster" is nothing but a "rote reiteration" of Sound Team's influences? Do you honestly believe this album deserves a 3.7? What mindset did you have going into hearing this album? Did you Google them and become resentful of the positivity coming from blog reviewers? Do you see how ironic it is that you skewer "Movie Monster" for unoriginality and then present your own Frankenstein's monster of references to stand in for an album review? How can this even be considered professional music journalism?
Pitchfork's album reviews are notoriously bad, and it's this kind of writing that supports that opinion.

I'm interested in hearing your (and your editors) thoughts on this. Please feel free to reply.

Best,

Chris Zane

13 Comments:

Anonymous wckzp said...

This is a phenomenally well reasoned take on the matter.

Hope upon hope that they take this very seriously.

Also...I'm almost positive that Hogan's actually had a nightmare or three over this.

9:47 PM  
Blogger Christopher Zane said...

Thank you, wckzp. It's definitely in their best interest to take it seriously. I hope that I'll hear back from both Hogan and his editors. I'll definitely post any responses.

9:53 PM  
Blogger Katrina said...

you make valid arguments about hogan's review. the writing is atrocious. completely laughable. my first thought was perhaps hogan is on crack. i had no idea why he was even talking about half of the things he mentioned. his review should not be considered music journalism in my opinion.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Christopher Zane said...

Thanks, Katrina. I'm not sure what the real angle was on that review, but I'm hoping to find out more when I hear from him and/or his editors.

What really bothers me about this is that Pitchfork has such a wide sphere of influence, and they've been getting away with these lousy reviews. Here's to responsible journalism.

12:18 AM  
Blogger Eric Grubbs said...

I echo the others' comments. If I wrote a review like Hogan did, I would feel incredibly embarrassed and tacky when I would read it in ten years.

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