by Claire Stalely
For my media analysis this week, I clicked over, on a whim, to Pitchfork, one of the original bastions of online independent music journalism. I used to read it religiously, but have since abandoned it as largely trite and almost always predictable. I like to play a game, where I guess what Pitchfork is going to rate an album at before I click the review. I’m gauge my estimations based on the buzz surrounding bands, their general acceptance (or not) in the various “indie” circles. I’m usually right on target, although I’m not sure if that’s symptomatic of Pitchfork’s predictability, or their influence… Anyway.
I read this article, part of the website’s end-of-the-decade hoopla that included features, columns and endless countdowns commemorating the first decade of the 2000s. It’s a reflection on the development of “indie” music in the past ten years, and in a way seeks to define the ambiguous term in modern context.
It begins by describing what we perceive as the “indie” aesthetic, citing thins like Justin Long in the PC-vs-Mac commercials, the Shins scene in Garden State, Wes Anderson films, Dave Eggers, Death Cab for Cutie… All the quirky, semi-intellectual, slightly alternative things that we associate with indie-ness.
Naturally, after the first two paragraphs, I was rolling my eyes and preparing my upcoming blog post: scathing and dismissive of this joker’s smug analysis of everything I already know. But then, it seemed, the article is redeemed:
I’m actually not mocking or complaining. I have an ulterior motive. I mention all this because I’m positive that some of you read the above in a neutral, casual way, while others of you, having gotten through it, are right now actively gagging and fuming and experiencing some very visceral squirming, and if you check your reflection in the computer screen you will look approximately like Homer Simpson when he’s choking Bart. Because you hate this stuff. And what I want to tell you today is why that split– the neutral reading versus the visceral tooth-grinding hate-that-stuff feeling– is precisely why I’m really, really excited about what might happen to indie over the next decade.
Ahh, I get it. You’re self-consciously being irritatingly smug. Okay, on with it.
The rest of the article discusses the development of indie as a backlash against the alternative rock that became so popular so quickly in the 1990s. The author provides an interesting theory, presenting bands like Cat Power, Belle and Sebastian and Elliott Smith as quietly but emphatically pervading speakers in bedrooms anywhere, without the forcefulness and commercial quality of Pearl Jam (at least, not at the point).
An umbrella metaphor is used throughout, which I think is actually very astute. Indie is itself an umbrella term that can fall over a wide variety of bands that aren’t sonically connected by much. In the article, those under the umbrella are elbowing a bit, and everyone’s fighting for space. As it is in the music scene.
In fact, the whole article is pretty astute. The analysis of the development of indie rock over the past decade, and the literary methods that the author uses to illustrate his point are salient, entertaining, and make a lot of sense. On it’s face, a well-written article.
But when I said that the author was being self-consciously smug, I didn’t mean that makes it totally okay. The article continues to be condescending, even while namedropping bands like the Flaming Lips (ummm…). What annoyed me that most is that, every so often, the author inserts himself into the narrative. Well, it’s an opinionated column, and it’s meant to be, so sure, if you have an amusing anecdote that adds to your point, go for it. But really, I don’t care how difficult it used to be for you to get music, and that you as a dedicated consumer used to do god-knows-what and nowadays all the kids have to do is a brief search on iTunes and BAM done. Things like that add nothing to the writing, and it’s mostly just annoying. Which is sort of why I don’t read Pitchfork much anymore.
Overall, I give the article a 6.6. Solid writing, but undercut by the painful meta-self-consciousness or whatever it is that’s being conveyed by being self-conscious that you’re self-conscious.