Artist: The Districts
Album: A Flourish and a Spoil
Critic: Ian Cohen
Publication: Pitchfork, 2015
Writing Disorders: Infectious Punctuation, Idea Fever
Ian, I can’t fathom why people still ask you to write album reviews. Is it nepotism, fear of bodily harm…some weird equivalent of academic tenure where the professor with dementia gets to keep his job? You tell me.
I don’t think I’m alone in wondering why your style of cramped, farty music writing still exists in 2015. But since you insist on keeping that ugly trend alive, I’ll do my best to repay you in kind. Granted this review you wrote is just a brown drop in a full sewer, but it can help to illustrate why so many Pitchfork reviews are so lousy.
First there’s the terrible introductions. Why are they so terrible? Well, certainly the long streaks of oily jargon play a big role:
“art-damaged, post-punk, Koch-era NYC minus the clear and present danger”
But there’s something else at work, something I hadn’t noticed until recently. And it seems calculated to go beyond the writers’ need to shower the world with music factoids. I don’t know how things really work at the Pitchfork Palace, but here’s how I reckon it might have gone down:
MARK RICHARDSON: Hi, everyone — thanks for being so awful, BUUUT we’ve had a few complaints that our reviews are getting dangerously close to readable. So here’s what I want you to do. Mention at least a dozen other bands and albums in the first two paragraphs, and be sure to hyperlink each one. That way readers will forget the band being reviewed and click further down the Pitchfork toilet hole so we get more page views. Sound good? Great. And…FART — two, three, four — SMELL — two, three, four — WRITE — two, three, four…
Normally I harp on writers for churning out huge reviews without so much as a hyperlink to break up the mess. But Pitchfork critics seem to have the opposite problem, cramming reviews to the brim with red links. Are they links to the reviewed band’s website, Instagram account, musician bios, pool dunk vines? HA! Of course not, you simpleton! They’re links to OTHER bands and OTHER producer projects and OTHER albums by ANOTHER PRODUCER who DIDN’T produce the album being reviewed! Information facial!
Ian, stuffing a review with so many incidental references only smudges it further into incoherence. Lump that in with half a dozen hyphens and the goofiest use of commas I’ve seen in a while, and you’ve got a recipe for dry-roasted suck. But hey, at least you’re not Nate Patrin. That guy mentioned a whopping THIRTY-FOUR other artists and albums in his latest review.
Now a sane person might ask: Why the holy hell would you mention even half that amount? Are PhD students writing dissertations on bands from rural Pennsylvania? Is it THAT important to know that a random song off The Districts’ album sounds like the Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, AND “tight-jeaned American counterparts,” but NOT Catfish and the Bottlemen or Drowners? I mean, don’t they also sound enough like the Jalopy Junipers and Cohen Holes to merit the links? GIMME LINKS.
There’s plenty more to cover, but first I want to show that bit about commas I mentioned. It’s ridiculous:
“Or, maybe, they’re a throwback”
“Or, the main issue”
Hold it, hold it, hold it. Who the F uses a comma after a conjunction like that? That’s like using an apostrophe after the first letter of a contraction. T’hats wrong, and i’ts weird. And here’s a related bit of advice: When you follow an introductory clause with a noun series RIGHT AFTER the first comma, it’s confusing as all get-out:
“But whereas Dylan Baldi uses velocity and distortion to counterbalance his facility with songcraft, plodding tempo, wavering melody, and gritted ambience is all the Districts have.”
That’s a terrible sentence.
I’d like to complain about something other than grammar and punctuation before I run over a thousand words, so let’s move on. From what I gather, your review could condense down to something like this:
IAN COHEN: The guys in this band are under 21, and I’m not, so I don’t think that what they’re expressing through music is genuine because I would have written something else at that age.
Ian, for about the 80th time I’ll say it’s dopey for someone to bash another dude’s lyrics when his own writing leaves something to be desired, even if it’s just a modicum of clarity. For example, let’s say someone asserts that an artist’s “transition from feelings to lyrics lessens the impact of his words”…after that very same writer wrote stuff like this:
“the first half of the past decade in ‘rock bands,’ wadded up and spitballed”
“the chalkdust guitars and laggard tempo”
I’ve played guitar for 13 years, and I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Seriously, WTF is that? You could say “exhaust pipe guitars,” and the meaning would be just as empty. How exactly would I achieve the “chalkdust” effect? Is that where I pound two EBows together in front of a disapproving teacher crammed inside the amp? Or did that hard transition from feelings to words lessen the impact of whatever the hell you were trying to convey?
I’m already tired of rereading your review, so I’ll just end on something that peeves me about most Pitchfork reviews, not just yours:
“the main issue with the Districts is that they just haven’t found a way to channel their energy and ambition into memorable hooks.”
Right, Ian, because “memorable hooks” are a one-way ticket to an 8.1 on Pitchfork. That’s always bothered me about your “profession”: You never clarify what’s acceptable and what’s not. One band can write a catchy song and get praised like Allah, and another can write one and get savaged. Or take your last paragraph, where you finally offer stringy praise to a song where the singer “shows his age” by singing about getting stoned in his basement instead of going to football games. So…you would have bumped the rating from an F to a C+ if the guy sang more about the true high school experience? Yeah, I’m gonna call BS on that too.
Maybe I take this dumb hobby of yours way too seriously, but so long as there’s a number attached to poorly written junk that can make or break a band, I’m going to continue to pee on that poorly written junk until it becomes…
“actually kinda quaint”