Knifed & Spooned

Knifed & Spooned is a publication dedicated to the review of record reviews published on Pitchfork. Pitchfork reviews are each disseminated before being assigned a numerical value on an arbitrary scale, which we prefer not to divulge. Contributions are made by journalists, editors, established artists and readers like you. This site does not review records and should be viewed only as meta-commentary on a singular phenomenon of popular culture.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Review of William Bowers’ Review of Swan Lake Beast Moans 2.9

Over the past few months, bloggers have stroked themselves into a frenzy over Swan Lake, and only validation from the “real media” is going to get the kids to toss their load. For those of you unfamiliar with Swan Lake, it’s a crime-fighting trio from Canada (like Alpha Flight but with better costumes and worse haircuts). Swan Lake is the indie-credible Dan Bejar (New Pornographers/Destroyer), Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes), and Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade/Sunset Rubdown), each pitching in the songs that weren’t up to the standard of their respective projects. Instead, each member contributes a few of these tracks in a somewhat non-collaborative fashion to the project. It’s like any herd animal that travels in numbers to evade predators. But will these three gazelles escape by the grace of indie cred alone?

William Bowers says “sure”. More importantly, he gives his approval with groan-inducing quips like “Beast Moans is no pornographer’s rubdown; it delivers on its tease”. It’s not unusual for Bowers to channel the imaginary or the irrelevant (“In the event that you are an anxious consolidator of stats trying to weed out fluke acts, you might switch "Swan Lake" to "Destroyer" in the artist-blank…”) and make an unintentional insight here and there (“A Venue Called Rubella as the title hints, plays like an outtake from Rubies).

His attempts at drawing from lyrical imagery manifest all of the grace of a morbidly obese ballet dancer with a glass foot. Beginning his lyrical dissection with a line so abysmal, it would graze the low bar set by most high school newspapers- “That great not-American source of American imagery, the Bible, is responsible for a shocking number of lines”, Bowers presses on only to admit defeat after scratching superficial surface.

In Bowers’ own words:

Pretending to discuss the lyrics is a sad surrender, though, because anyone attempting to decode them is going to lose the songwriters' rigged game of "guess which finger I'm holding up behind the tapestry."

One would hope that with a record that borrows so many of its themes from the contributors’ familiar and high-profile work that a little from the material lent it self to interpretation. Like any critic, Bowers has very particular taste, but unlike most critics, his reviews seldom approach or attempt fastidious interpretation. Instead, Bowers favors inane ramblings that occasionally make brief mention of how an album might actually sound. What is more important to a review? And why is that harder to find than a condescending tone toward readers, bloggers and artists in the average Pitchfork review? Where does all of the attitude come from? If you are an anxious consolidator of stats, try writing William Bowers or any other reviewer’s name in the artist blank. Do you know what will come up? Absolutely nothing.

-E. L. Eauface

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Review of Peter Macia’s Review of Jay-Z’s Kingdom Come 7.2

I wasn’t sure if there would be another review. On November 20th, 2006, I retired. But after 9 days, I’ve become tired of retirement. I’ve done everything I’ve ever wanted to do. Granted, I’m a fucking phenomenon in the arena of critiquing critical review. I’m the reviewers’ reviewer- the word after the last word. That can be tiring. Not just for you, but for me too.

If my hyperbole makes your stomach sour like chunky milk and olive loaf, than what do you think of the criticism sandwich Peter Macia serves up on Jay-Z’s Kingdom Come. Everyone knows how to make a criticism sandwich. Pretend the new Jay-Z record is an underwhelming pile of languid productions and lethargic rhymes devoid of any content worth a crumb from anyone’s stinking ass. Just pretend.

Now, saying this could be potentially unfashionable, and incur the slings and arrows of Jay-Z lovers everywhere. Less likely, Jay-Z’s feelings would be sincerely hurt and he’d have no recourse but to dry his eyes on a fistful crisp bills. By piling on some flattering words and grand overstatement for the self-proclaimed Jay-Hova, a hostile rebuttal is effectively sidestepped, even at the expense of scuttling Macia’s most insightful moments.

My personal favorites:

Twice he addresses his recent heavily publicized boycott of Cristal champagne which even he acknowledges is unimportant. But that's Kingdom Come: Jay boringly rapping about boring stuff and being totally comfortable with it

and more notably:

He thinks he's going to save hip-hop and New York City with his triumphant return, and maybe he might. But it won't be because he shouldered their burdens; it'll be because he shrugged and someone else carried the weight.

Macia’s opening paragraphs feel like a misguided attempt to sate fans who are likely as disappointed (if not more) with “dozens of uninspired stretches and misguided rants” instead of the anthems comparable to those that earned him accolades in the first place. If his editors had just axed the first two ball-cupping paragraphs, Macia’s review would retain some ballsy sincerity.


Monday, November 20, 2006

A Review of Stephen Troussé’s review of Jarvis’s Jarvis 4.4

It’s not easy being relevant. It’s probably safe to assume the alternative is no easier. Jarvis Cocker is probably referenced at least once a month in a ‘fork review, which is more than Albarn, Coxon or any of the dudes from Menswear manage. Troussé doesn’t blow any more hot air into Cocker’s inflated status, but finds fault with the following:

1. Opening a record with an instrumental.

Apparently, Cocker should stick to writing 6 minute synth driven lyrically rich ditties about profound subject matter like a song called “Underwear”, written so women will throw their underwear at him.

2. It isn’t 1991.

It’s 2006, and Cocker’s still here (kinda). Everybody knows that artists are supposed to go to the shores at thirty and walk into the sea with their mouths open into the salty embrace of death. If Cocker insists on continuing to make records, he should just reprise Separations over and over and over…

Troussé writes “What awaits the disappointed romantic, when he concludes that life isn't elsewhere, is the evil of banality... and maybe the banality of evil.” Cocker in 2006 is a disappointed romantic. Whether Troussé is touting the promise of “Quantum Theory” or “Big Julie”, his hand is revealed as that of the listener looking for the optimistic romantic of 1991. Troussé’s review reveals little more than which romantic he prefers. For my enjoyment of the record, his preference is irrelevant.

-- Dan

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A dialogue between two Neanderthals on an indie messageboard regarding Tom Breihan’s Review of the Evens’ Get Evens 4.7

Grargh: Fugazi loud.

Thok: Evens still quiet.

Grargh: More Fugazi?

Thok: Maybe no more Fugazi… but new Evens.

Grargh: But Evens quiet. Want new Fugazi!

Thok: No!

Grargh: Want the Argument again?

Thok: We argue now.

Grargh: No. Want Fugazi!

Thok: Shhhh! Evens!

--Two Neanderthals (in the employ of the Village Voice and the Chicago Reader respectively)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Review of Dominique Leone’s Review of LCD Soundsystem’s 45:33 7.2

With 1300 reviews on Pitchfork every year and tens of thousands of records released, one might assume that there is plenty to review, but despite the numbers there is something to be said of being selective. Tastemakers build a reputation with what they review and not just how they review it. They can build struggling artists (like LCD Soundsystem) and give a voice to outsiders of popular culture (Nike?).

Dominique Leone is given the unfortunate task of reviewing an iTunes only release of an LCD Soundsystem workout mix commissioned by Nike™. You can even print out your own cover art with the Nike™ swooshtika® on it. Leone structures her review of 45:33 around a workout routine. That probably sounds really tacky, but it frames the review rather nicely, aside from a slightly clumsy attempt at validating Nike™ as a contributor more than a vampire in the landscape of popular culture.

Leone follows the building momentum of amoebic musical structures into an accretion of layers and gradual accelerando that mimic the arc of the run. Her descriptions of the sounds that characterize each stage (“unassuming analog synth line” at start, flowing into “jazzy house piano line” to “mid-tempo disco-funk”) best serves the release as an entity tightly crafted, sequenced, and dynamically designed around a basic concept. Swooshtika® aside, that’s the kind of record reviewers want to review. While a dismissive monologue of more corporate schlock is what most of us would rather read, Leone takes the high road in actually engaging in a review of 45:33. Unfortunately, it also reads like an advert for a Nike™ product, built to assuage the neo-liberal guilt that would drive some LCDS fans away. Like 45:33, whether you take the review for an advertisement or its own statement, the content remains the same.

--E. L. Eauface

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Review of Jason Crock’s Review of the Walkmen’s needless remake 7.9

In 1998, Gus Van Sant directed a shot for shot remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Eight years later, no one but Van Sant is certain why. Was it an exercise? Was it vanity? What drives established artists to attempt reinventing iconic work? Enter the Walkmen, with a white-knuckle grip on their LP of Harry Nilsson’s Pussy Cats. Like any of us, Jason Crock’s review can only ask why.

Crock writes:

It'd be more forgivable if this record were bringing Nilsson's material to a new or wider audience, but despite the Walkmen playing illustrious venues like the Bait Shop, I'd guess the opposite is happening. The Walkmen's Pussy Cats is for the tiny sliver of the Venn diagram where fans of the original LP and long-established Walkmen fans intersect (and where this writer admittedly rests).

Crock has the answer, but not before he gives us an obligatory brief history of Nilsson’s original. Perhaps there’s nothing to discuss about this record except the degree to which it successfully imitates and the magnitude to which it fails to innovate. Crock’s assumption that this record is the product of an identity crisis sounds on the nose.

If the Walkmen came into making this record creatively lost, they finish in the same state. Crock’s review implies very little deviation or exploration of the material. By adhering to nothing more than ground already tread by Nilsson’s original, there doesn’t appear to be any epiphany from the process of remaking Pussy Cats that they wouldn’t have gained from just listening to it.


Monday, October 23, 2006

A Review of Jessica Suarez’s Review of the Curtains Calamity 4.9

A friend once told me, “try skipping the first paragraph of every review you read, and see if you’ve missed the writer’s angle”. 4 out of 5 times it’s just gristle. Jessica Suarez gives us the skinny on what The Curtains’ Chris Cohen looks like in his press photo and why he can’t creatively bare children.

Post gristle, we get a lean review that teeters between well-rendered specifics (“palm-muted bass” and “staccatoed guitar down strokes”) and the inarticulate (“the simplicity does get simplistic at times”). I never get the impression she doesn’t have an ear for detail, but Suarez fails to incorporate her observations into a coherent direction. Her review of the Curtains’ Calamity reads as fragmented and underwritten as the album she’s writing about.

It’s not just unfortunate, but uncharacteristic of her best work. Suarez’s excellent track reviews prove her ability to use her ear in a way that lends to the depth of her writing. She is more than capable of picking up subtle details, but I don’t see her relating them well to a particular context, here. Maybe, the reader could better connect her observations if her thesis wasn’t also the last line of her review.

--Robin Graves