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Pitchfork, The New Black 

by Andrew Matson & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & E & lt;/span & verybody has at least one friend who can't let the playlist go untouched. If he's around an iPod, he's shuffling through it, wincing and frown-shrugging at the bad and passable. In his car, he's changing the CD more than he's changing lanes. He's full of unsolicited artistic information that he "offers" to enrich your listening experience, altruistically educating the unenlightened, but always peppering even his best-intentioned rants with unintentional whispers of derision. He's the guy who spends so much time being cool that he is nerdily and arrogantly lost in trendiness, like Jack Black's character from High Fidelity. He's eccentric and funny, and that's why he's your friend, but you understand why other people might not like him: He's a dick. To the kids at John Cusack's record store, Jack Black is a malevolent, blustery God. To his friends, he's transparent.


That said, please allow me to introduce the uninitiated to his Internet equivalent: Pitchforkmedia.com, the indie music news and reviews site that has risen quickly in prominence to achieve a monopoly in the field of Internet indie criticism. It is larger and regenerates faster than any similar site, gets quoted on album stickers, name-dropped on VH1's ready-to-be-cancelled Love Monkey (itself an attempt to prove the channel is still "with it"), generates massive amounts of intangible but very real moneymaking hype, curates a music festival in its native Chicago, and aspires to be the first and last word on tomorrow's sounds today. Music and culture magazines have recognized Pitchfork's audience as a distinct demographic and have switched their coverage to incorporate those names the site makes or breaks. In the world of indie music, Pitchfork stands alone in terms of quantity of material covered in a timely fashion.


The tragicomic charm of Black's funny rudeness was twofold. First, like it or not, he had an informed passion for music that made him a great appreciator of the good and a dark-hearted hater of the bad. Because of this, he earned a license to be funny while ruthlessly trashing bad pop art: He backed up his opinions with archived ammunition. Knowledge is power, but with great power comes great responsibility, and music nerds are knowledge-hungry, power-hungry, responsibility-lacking fascists who love nothing more than to get heated about telling you exactly why Toby Keith's popularity signifies the end of the world.


This quality marks Pitchfork first and foremost as a bastion of the haters. The whole premise of the site, that unpopular music is more relevant than popular music, is itself a hater-ish stance, but its writers go further in their reviews. It is not uncommon for a Pitchfork writer to trash or glorify an artist simply as a counterpoint to whatever hype or anti-hype they might have accrued, seemingly setting the record straight on the topic of coolness or uncoolness. Not only are such reviews not informative, they are reactive, petty, and appear too frequently. The writers possess (and have built part of their reputation on) a manic energy that does not know when to quit and that cannot differentiate between clever and bitter.


The second part of Black's charm was that, for all the knowledge gained living a life dedicated to music, he remained a preening idiot, a self-obsessed idolater of priceless, overlooked information, a constantly underestimated martyr for a world that promises revolution and rarely delivers. He loved music but made its appreciation overly academic. In the process, he often got so absorbed in his research that he lost the initial, crucial love. Redemption came at the end of the movie when he stopped being such a hater and went back to having fun with and enjoying music -- something Pitchfork needs to do more often.


Daily, Pitchforkmedia.com is building an intimidating archive of in-depth album reviews, news clips and features. They are perfecting the first requirement of music nerdery: that one must know everything all the time. They are establishing themselves as the premier Web site for discovering and learning about pop music that's too cool to show up on a mainstream heat sensor, but they're trying to do it with ranting, not insightful journalism. Pitchfork's writers want too much to be right. The writers use cheap shots and grandstanding so often that they have undermined the site's reputation as a trustworthy place for reliable criticism. Made by fans for fans, Pitchfork's tendency to treat the underground as if it were powerful is pretentious, absurd and annoying.


Yet the sad fact remains that as rude, cliquey and shallow as Pitchforkmedia.com may be, I read it everyday. But then I also hang out with people who act like Jack Black from High Fidelity. In fact, I act like that. Like Pitchfork, I'm trying to do the right thing (be honest about music in print) and be inspired by the same thing (music's transcendent power). But I'm still hung up on appearances; I still try to impress people. But the fact that I'm not really proud of those parts of myself makes me squirm every time a Pitchfork writer says something retarded for the sake of, basically, what everyone else will think.


If you want to be "in the know" about current independent music, Pitchforkmedia.com is a good place to go. If you want the same content without the unrestrained half-cocked opining, check out the conscientious taste-making of NPR's All Songs Considered or Seattle's KEXP. But if you don't mind animated overstatements or over-bored blas & eacute; write-offs (because maybe you sometimes indulge your own), Pitchforkmedia.com has enough good information to keep you interested, daily. That's the word, music nerd.
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