Friday, July 25, 2008

Long winded tirade re: Pitchfork and Jay Babcock

When you sit in front of a computer all day, there’s downtime. Blogs wouldn’t be nearly as popular if there wasn’t so much downtime. This week, friends have pointed me towards a few blogs that really pissed them off. Since they’re LA music related, I’ll weigh in.

Today one angry friend pointed me to Pitchfork’s Dr. Dog review. When I clicked over, the first thing I noticed was the 5.5 rating. No surprise there. We All Belong (one of my favorite albums last year) received an identical rating and Easy Beat got a 4.4. I normally don’t notice bylines on Pitchfork because, in the rare event that I click on a review, I usually spend about three seconds with it. But I noticed this one was written by Ian Cohen, a local writer who I’ve met a few times and who generally seems like a good guy.

Since Cohen started contributing to the LA Weekly and Pitchfork I’ve noticed patterns in his writing. Cohen is so concerned with what other critics, bloggers and Pitchfork itself are saying about the records and bands he reviews, sometimes you wonder what he thinks. To him, bloggers are not critics, and he wants the reader to know that he is a critic. He regularly uses space that could be devoted to writing about music, to critique and offer writing advice to critics. In today’s review he chastises critics for using the term “Beatles-esque”. The writing often lacks clarity, and many of his reviews are so reference packed, I can’t figure out what his point is. Not everybody spends all their free time reading blogs and music critics.

Another pattern I’ve noticed in his writing is his affinity for insulting bands in his reviews that have nothing to do with the band or record he’s reviewing. He’s got a real boner for the Cold War Kids, but I’ve also seen him casually dis Jimmy Eat World, British Sea Power, Filter, Better Than Ezra and Bush in recent reviews. Way to show those hipsters what time it is.

The most problematic sentence in today’s review was: “Besides, far shittier bands have come along since that time with a similar sound and bigger sense of entitlement (file under: Kids, Cold War).” Ah, where to begin. First of all he’s calling Dr. Dog and Cold War Kids “shitty,” which is lazy and petty. And to say that the Cold War Kids and Dr. Dog sound similar, confuses me. I sincerely doubt most people think of the Beatles, the Band or Beach Boys when they listen to Cold War Kids, yet critics universally reference those bands when writing about Dr. Dog. The biggest similarity I see is that both bands occasionally incorporate Christian motifs into their music.

But the “sense of entitlement” knock might be the biggest sucker punch? If he’s trying to say that they’re not the type of bands that pander to critics and kiss Pitchfork’s ass, then I agree. Both bands seem like artists who are passionate about writing and performing music, not getting caught up in the machinations of the industry. Every time I’ve seen the Cold War Kids around town, they’ve always struck me as humble, normal guys. And you can’t get any more regular than the Dr. Dog guys.…

Let me finish by saying that I don’t think Fate’s as good as We All Belong. However, it’s got strong songs and will probably be a stepping stone to more great music from a relatively young band that’s in it for the long haul. There’s a reason other great bands take Dr. Dog on tour with them and frequently name check them in interviews. And I’m a lot more likely to consider the opinion of a musician I respect.

Incidentally, as I was writing this, I stumbled across this line by line response to Cohen’s review. Also, I don’t think Cohen’s writing is all bad, but I just felt like pointing out my observations….

The next article that really pissed people off was Pitchfork’s review of the Black Kids. For those who are too lazy to click, it’s a picture of a white and a black Pug with “sorry” and some emoticon written over it. When I initially saw it, the review didn’t register any response from me. I’d never heard the Black Kids (finally heard them on Letterman last night) and didn’t know anything about them. I figured it was just another cutesy review designed to stir up controversy and get bloggers blogging. Two different writers at the LA Times weighed in on it. Ann Powers puts the review in perspective and makes some interesting points. It really is another smug, self-important expression (review would be too strong of a word).

And the article that really, really pissed people off was August Brown’s interview with Jay Babcock (check out the 138 comments). Babcock’s the guy who ran Arthur Magazine. Anyway, when you move away from home, the dumbest thing you can do is to tell your old hometown paper that the town you just left is a “psychic death hole.” He goes on to insult the LA Times, local radio stations and our restaurants. LA obviously has more than its share of problems (it is the second largest city in the country), but sour fucking grapes from a guy who just raised $20,000 in donations to save his so-called business. I’m sure some of it was taken out of context, but it doesn’t change the fact that he said it. He tried to backtrack by posting things he loves about LA, but I’m guessing when he decides he’s tired of Brooklyn, packs for Warsaw (or wherever disaffected, educated liberals move) and asks people for handouts, he’ll have a slightly harder time finding takers.


Scott said...

Awesome post.

silawe said...

I hope what you are saying is that I can be mean to that midget in public now.

Anonymous said...

The thing about Jay Babcock is that he has always found something to bitch about. For as long as I can remember, he has whined and complained about other music magazines, places he's lived, neighborhood conditions, etc.

I'm glad he has moved so I don't have to read any more of his constant criticisms. It's Brooklyn's turn to tolerate his very vocal complaints, of which I am sure he will find plenty to whine about in NY.

Isn't it sad when the only fuel a man has to live on is his own displeasure in everything else?

Anonymous said...

to the guy above.

not so anonymous.

Hugo G said...

He wrote a 561 word tribute to people, places, and things in L.A he loves, but in light of his interview, it would seem that they are squandered being in a "dump" like L.A. In fact, in his tribute he once again trashes L.A for "squandering" the talents of out-of-work journalists and writers.

Jay should know this better than most, there are plenty of writers and journalists that suck.

I give Jay 3 winters (wait till he gets a North eastern blizzard!) and 2 humid summers. He'll be back at LAX and we will all bury the hatchet. L.A forgives and forgets.