Friday, June 8, 2012

Future of the Left vs Pitchfork

A while back I wrote how Pitchfork had become the new corporate music media, dictating tastes, sales and no doubt, their content is influenced by their commercial concerns. How could they not? (that terrible Bon Iver record got raves and two days later they announced he was curating the Pitchfork Festival - be still, my cynical heart). Anyhow, here's what I wrote back in October. My main concern was that a bad review could literally cost a band sales and this week we've seen the shit hit the illiterate fan when Andy Falkous, lead singer of Future of the Left wrote a rebuttal to a middling review on Pitchfork of their new record The Plot Against Common Sense. It is hilarious and well worth the read.

If you don't know it by now, Andy Falkous is smarter and funnier than 99.99% of people on the planet Earth and as such, I think it'd be wise not to fuck with him. His response positively bristles with anger and I think it is legitimate. I think it speaks to the larger issue that I grapple with writing about music - most musicians put their blood, sweat and meagre finances into releasing a record and some fuckwit on a blog like mine can tear it down with little thought to the consequences (well, there's no consequences on mine because about three people read it). I'm not saying that everyone should stop saying Coldplay are rubbish or Nickelback aren't hideous V-like lizard creatures masquerading as humans trying to destroy the Earth with their shitty grunge, but with the internet all the shouting seems to be in one direction (ha!). Very rarely do you hear musicians speak back and less so against supposed taste makers like Pitchfork.

Being a fervent FOTL fanboy makes me side with them in this and while I think it would be a fruitless exercise to bite back at every shitty review you receive, I was struck by the similarity of the reviewer's  Sigur Ros review a few days apart from the FOTL one (laud past achievements, appear knowledgeable of the entire catalogue and then give back handed compliments of the current work - for an object lesson in this, read my Sun Kil Moon review!). When talking about music, it's very easy to get caught in the middle, repeat yourself and just never commit to anything but the criticism itself.

As I write this, I'm listening to The Plot Against Common Sense and it is excellent - probably not as immediate or propulsive as Travels with myself and another but the more I listen it, the songs gnaw at me until I can't get them out of my head (I'll write a review eventually). It isn't always easy music but when an album features a song called Robocop 4 - Fuck Off Robocop, you probably know whether you're going to like it or not (for the record, that song has a great pay off outro from it's stop/start assault at the beginning).

Sure it is hypocritical to be writing this (I'm part of the problem no doubt) but I know I'm a hypocrite so I don't really care. It's just entertaining to see someone considerably more literate than myself eviscerate their foes. Is there an easy answer to any of this? Art is subjective for sure but you don't have to be a prick about it when you don't like an album.



  1. Such a great blog post JH!! This is a really interesting issue. Andy Falkous is clearly a very sharp and clever guy. I like the sound of him. I don't think he should have called the Pitchfork reviewer a "stupid cunt" though - that kind of agressive name-calling undermines his argument. But like you said, he was cross. I agree with you about people getting caught in the middle and committing only to criticism itself. This was so astute, JH. I've noticed in reviewers and writers, especially the greener ones that their first port of call is to criticise. They must think disagreeing with something makes them sound smarter.

    Your piece made me think about the Oz film industry, which has a similar problem. People work so hard to make a film in this country and on so little money and then a couple of bad reviews mean no-one goes to the movie. Of course, we also make a lot of mediocre pictures so there's that. But no money = less movies = less chance of anything good/remotely interesting being made. This is kind of off-track from the music thing but it did make think...

    The inverse of course is that not every song/album/concert by a band is going to be amazing. They are, after all, human beings. So I guess we are within our rights to point out when something is below par. Some people could just be a bit kinder about it. Good lesson for us all.


  2. I think it's a fine line between being overly effusive and overly critical but I tend to be only critical of things I have high expectations of. There's no point me writing that I think a Nickelback album will be bad - of course I'd think that. The thing about this blog is that I want to communicate my love and passion for music so I tend not to write too much about stuff that doesn't work for me (hence no Shins review - I ended up not really getting into that record). There's a million voices on the interweb ready to tear down, I think it's more interesting to focus on the positive.

    However, I agree, the Australian film industry is a good example of this but I think that can be more a product of inverse parochialism. I think I've only ever seen Margaret and David really sledge on Australian film (You and your stupid mate) but there are some much less forgiving sectors of the press and public who seem to revel in the cultural cringe. Maybe that's changing after Animal Kingdom but there is always that 'it's a bit shit because it's Australian vibe' which is rubbish. BTW when I write my script and get my movie made, you'll be my editor right?

  3. Whoa, wait a second- Are you active on Collapse board?
    If so, hey, cool. If not, you should be.

  4. No, I haven't seen Collapse before. Thanks for the heads up.

  5. "inverse parochialism" - that's a keeper. And true. What will it take for AU to become a cultural producer, like the UK (for tv/docos) and the USA for tv and fancy film. We're a net importer of culture, and that makes us weak. We're insular in all the bad ways, and none of the independent/smart good ways. Has talent, but not the conditions. And not talking about funding here either.... something more fundamental. OK, off topic rant about to crash.