Album: PC Music Volume 1
Critic: Jia Tolentino
Publication: Pitchfork, 2015
Writing Disorders: Purple Hemorrhage, Jargon Palsy
Jia, I thought certain reviews went extinct once Pitchfork got big enough to run full-screen Apple ads. Gone are the reviews that reduced a band’s work to a 0.0 or lewd video, so I figured the self-indulgent puff pieces might follow suit and eventually die off for good.
Now I’m not so sure.
I’d file what you wrote under that category, but it wasn’t even a review until the last sixth or so. The other 83 percent was puff — lots of weird, obtuse praise for this…what did you call it…?
“anti-physical music for an anti-physical time”
Right, that was it. Maybe you can help me out, because I still can’t square the number you plastered over Puff Mountain/PC Music. You went this cuckoo over something you rated…a 7.3?:
“You wish you didn’t live in a world that produced PC Music, but you do — and because you do, thank the god in the machine for PC Music.”
Jia, if you were driven to write something that schmaltzy, shouldn’t the rating match the fanfare? How can something be so seismically important to the art world when the one publication relied upon to sniff it out doesn’t even rate it as “Best New Music”?
This is a problem I have with music critics. They ALWAYS find something to ruin their experience. It doesn’t matter what. Maybe the blast on a Minimoog sounded too much like a fart. Maybe the didgeridoo sounded too much like a poot. But there’s always some excuse to temper enjoyment just enough for the appearance of tough judgment on high praise…for music of all things.
And there certainly wasn’t any hard complaining coming from you. Your biggest gripe was that “self perpetuating darkness and denial” of “less joyful” tracks got a “little too clear for comfort.” So apparently 27 percent of this album fell short, but the explanation was far less important than heaving a dire vision of the present at the curious public. You spent so much time scribbling down your trance that any tangible description of this music got lost in the waves:
“zones of inequity, violence, embarrassment and pain”
“databases of altered thoughts, distorted images, the avatars”
“digital life in all its silly, beautiful, desperate triviality”
“A test of the boundaries, possibilities and limitations of this ultra-focused AESTHETIC”
“It’s the sound of whimsy without spontaneity, lightness without joy, longing without knowledge, aggression with no object”
Jia, now’s a good time for a teachable moment. Just for kicks, let’s say I wrote this:
“The Macarena is the plight of mankind, his crawl along the blood-smeared edge of oily tire tracks…made by a car that may never come back.”
“Hobgoblins is cinema for our hollow-eyed present, a groping hand of sad whimsy in the dark, beckoning us to a sweatier time when friends grappled with garden rakes for the prize of manhood.”
See, anyone in the critic business can write intense, creepy stuff to the tune of just about anything, provided they give cursory attention to reality. And you definitely went to town there. I could have been watching an episode of “Ancient Aliens,” where the god Viracocha gives us alien music, and it’s whatever the hell this PC Music album sounds like:
“The label’s sound resembles what aliens would produce if they sunk a jukebox in acid and then tried from the randomized wreckage to communicate some version of love.”
Either you’re riffing on paleontologists in the review of an electronic music album or I’m not following your train of thought. In either case I don’t think it’s the most coherent description of a sound, no matter how avant-7.3 that sound may be. And I really don’t understand how a metaphor about aliens clumsily assembling a human emotion jibes with what you labeled in your next paragraph as:
“This ultra-focused AESTHETIC”
Jia, you’ve got a vivid imagination, and that’s a very good thing. But I don’t think music reviews are the best venue for expressing it. I could see you as a futurist, digital concept artist, or a writer on a Web series. But instead you’re hovering in a sad clan of dysfunctional writers when you’ve got the chops for better things. Trapped inside the goofy format Pitchfork loosed the world, your writing looks like a Mary Kay Cadillac in space: flashy, puzzling, and out of place.