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.

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.

--Dan

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

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Review of Marc Hogan’s Review of Cold War Kids’ Robbers and Cowards 6.4

Do hipsters hate Jesus? I don’t know, but I see a lot of beards. Maybe the indie kids and groans just hate on social conservatism (while engaging in their own skewed version of it). So, when Wovenhand is singing reverent little ditties about Jesus, it’s just pretty, and when some boys start casting God as the leading social conservative in every district, it's obnoxious.

Hogan’s review of Robbers and Cowards reads like a list of disappointments. One third of the review reaches outside of the content of the record to take a couple of jabs at the bloggers that would give a band recognition that hadn’t been pre-ordained by big media and the curators of cool. Is the blogeratti breaking artists that sound like nothing we’ve heard before? Who is? I don’t see a pile of Tzadic releases getting reviewed anywhere outside of Wire and nobody is touting the brilliance of the Blue Meanies or Burnt Sugar. Instead we get the uniqueness of the Hold Steady (forget the record sounds like the Boss) or Tapes ‘n Tapes (which shouldn’t remind anyone of the Pixies). With 40,000+ releases a year, some familiarity may be unavoidable (if you try taking Lanzaframe out of my stereo, I'll chew your hand into a bloody mass).

But when Hogan delves into the sonic landscape that characterizes the record, the reader ends up entreated to the dreaded shorthand of listing other bands and vocalists. Forgive me, but I sincerely haven’t the slightest idea of what an “edgy Spoon jitterscape” entails. Nevertheless, Hogan touches on plenty of faults from needless tempo shifts to poor mastering, but by linking Robbers and Cowards favor of plodding narratives over more personalized songwriting the review resonates with what makes Cold War Kids' supposedly non-Christian Christian music unpalatable when compared to the more “idiosyncratic hymns of Sufjan Stevens and Jeff Magnum”. Here we have the root of Hogan’s review. The difference between inspired personal songwriting and conservative, preachy narratives are like the difference between being moved and being shoved.

--The Remedial Reader

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Review of Ryan Dombal’s Review of Badly Drawn Boy’s Born in the U.K. 6.8

Is it me, or does the word “penultimate” get misused a lot? I always hear it used to reference the paramount instead of the nearly-best of something. For example, if you were to say that London Calling was the penultimate achievement in the Clash’s catalogue, you’d be lying and I’d have no choice but to shove you ass first down a flight of stairs. Dombal says the following of Born in the U.K.:

”The Time of Times", the penultimate song on Damon Gough's fifth album in six years, recycles the chord progression and guitar melody from "The Shining", the first song on his first album, 2000's justly loved The Hour of Bewilderbeast. The obvious bit of self-reference is a disheartening representation of how much this once-promising Brit has squandered his potential.”

He goes on to lament the lack of progress for Badly Drawn Boy five albums later, lamenting overwrought orchestration and “bumptious piano” (note to self: insert “bumptious” in every conversation). One might wonder how many would complain about the lack innovation if this were the third Badly Drawn Boy album in six years instead of the fifth. Dombal doesn’t seem to hold such productivity suspect, instead fingering a move to a major label and commercial ambition as the culprit responsible for sentimentally retarded songwriting.

If Badly Drawn Boy hasn’t shown much artistic development over six years, I find it hard to believe a label upgrade would spur a radical change in approach. Nah, more likely the canned themes and sentimentality have always lingered in the foreground, only now they’ve become the target of critical backlash. So more to the point, how does an artist create a bulwark (good scrabble word) of past accolades to protect them from an onslaught of changing winds and critical digs? I’m glad I asked.

1) Don’t ever (EVER!) allude to Springsteen. This year, every record sounds like Springsteen (according to Pitchfork). Certainly there are more respectable ways to embark upon a personal quest to become entirely lame.
2) When you’ve reached the apex of your critical trajectory, do a covers record or a release under a different name entirely. Scoff all you want, but while you were scoffing Spencer Krug just started three new bands and Joanna Newsom’s brushing up on her covers of “Bicycle Race” and “Venus as a Boy”.
3) Fake insanity or instability. Critics give artists all kinds of creative license that they would otherwise deny to fully capable and deserving musicians.
4) Attribute ambitious conceptual conceit to your work (but don’t collaborate with your grandmother)

Dombal gets a mouthful of bile from some atrocious lyrics, but the enjoyment I get from listening to shitty love songs is learning what statements of love are considered universal. Isn’t the real reason some of us find a line like “I’ll be by your side, believe me” or “But how will we carry on when all of these things have gone” is that they’re vacuous and devoid of specifics? How is that more romantic than brushing your teeth while your lover takes a shit?

Rather than imply some grandiose interpretation of Born in the U.K., Dombal safely chooses to point to Badly Drawn Boy’s lack of direction. While the bland compositions warrant mention but little illustration, the reference to underwhelming lyrics and exhuasted themes paints the portrait of an artist either a little lost, a little bored or both.

-- Dan

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Review of Ray Suzuki's Review of Jet's Shine On 2 Blue Mana

Click to enlarge

-- The Dungeon Master

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Review of William Bowers’ Review of What Made Milwaukee Famous’ Trying To Never Catch Up 3.9

What a treat! I get to read a review that’s as unpleasant and mildly obnoxious as the album it’s reviewing. Reviewer William Bowers marvels at the lack of singular vision and consistency on a record penned by three different songwriters. Bower’s might credit the lack of cohesion to “Austin, Texas’ crowded, hyper-self-conscious scene” (I think we’d all be hard-pressed to name a maverick band or songwriter to break out of Austin).

Bowers asks himself some rather searching questions, which he then promptly answers:

Shouldn't bands have "a sound"? Not necessarily, reckon, especially if their talents are all spastic and confidently roaming. Shouldn't albums "cohere"? Not necessarily, reckon, especially if the band presumably feels that certain tracks are better served with vastly different vocal treatments and instrument tones. But check out the ride provided by Trying to Never Catch Up's turbo-jalopy: You get three initial songs of Franz Ferdinstrokes suped up with the synths that the Faint suped up after the Rentals' suping up of the Cars”

Okay, so I may have the puny glazed brain of the average parakeet, but I can’t fathom an album derivative enough to justify writing such a clusterfuck of a sentence. This whole review reads a bit like a blog troll suped up with fatwah against Barsuk suped up with a hard-on for the Strokes suped up after a bandlisting suping up of a rateyourmusic.com post.

Bowers takes a few more stabs at picking apart the missteps, pooh-poohing and drawing more comparisons to the Strokes (never even heard of them). Inevitably, Bowers does his best to flex his mind-reading abilities to presume the intent behind making Trying To Never Catch Up (“By now the listener wonders how much these unabashed capitalists (in interviews) are craving (via Barsuk) some Death Cab for Cutie coattails”) and lets us know his true feelings about Death Cab (“Among my most boorish and indefensible opinions is this stinker: ‘Straight females are the only people who have any reason to listen to Death Cab for Cutie’) as if they were relevant to the review.

--E. L. Eauface

A Review of Grayson Currin’s Review of Wovenhand’s Mosaic 6.1

The words “Christian music” have a very negative connotation with most people (at least the guys in my regular AD&D group). Now, I'd like to think this connotation stems from contempt for bland music that just happens to be Christian, rather than a reactionary dig at the Christian Right. Ex-Sixteen Horsepower frontman David Eugene Edwards solo joint Wovenhand bears the burden of being saddled with the Christian music stigma, and Grayson Currin’s review examines the saddle, ignoring most of the musical horse under it.

Currin makes a distinction between the songwriting of Wovenhand and what one might expect from a Skillet record. Unfortunately, very little of the review delves into the arrangements or sonic atmosphere of the album. Instead, Currin expounds upon the lyricism and metaphors that Edwards uses to explore his faith. Certainly, lyrics are a large part of most records (or at least they should be), but by spending the entire body of his review talking at length about the Christianity of Wovenhand, it makes it seem as though no other element of Mosaic is worthy of mention.

--Dan

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Review of Rob Mitchum’s Review of The Killers’ Sam’s Town 5.7

If I may summarize the opening remarks of Rob Mitchum’s review:

Rock music in the 21st century has been subject to an unprecedented emotional arms race of Cold War proptions, precendented by Bruce Springsteen.

A few things occur to me readings this review. One, wouldn’t the E Street Killers have been a better band name than just the Killers. I like it better, but I would also prefer Duran Shmuran. Two, Why has Springsteen hijacked the review of the Killers record? Is the Springsteen influence that profound, or is the Killers record really that boring to review?

Some vocab from review which I found interesting:

Indie-fluence: the continued abuse of hyphens that makes me vomit-sick in my gut-stomach
Enterlude: How an illiterate or group of illiterates begins their album
Exitlude: How an illiterate or group of illiterates ends their album
Faux-Queen: what the Swedish Chef appears to be saying when he mispronounces the word “fucking”

I could try pulling something out of the actual review, but that would involve more Springsteen references. I prefer to make fun of Springsteen rather than reference him. Whether it’s poking fun at the mumbled verses in the dreadfully static "Glory Days", doubled over laughing during idiotic chorus of “Dancing in the Dark” or wondering if I’m the only person who doesn’t give two shits about Nebraska, a review of a Killers review isn’t any more appropriate of a forum to discuss the Boss than the original review.

Mitchum sells the reader on the shadow of Springsteen over Sam’s Town, but it becomes the singular point of the review. Overusing the Springsteen influence as a touchstone overshadows Mitchum’s original discussion of the emotional arms race and how the Killers transition from Hot Fuss to Sam’s Town is indicative of the shift from rock as the source of party and dance music to rock as the source of insight and emotional cache.

-Robin Graves

Added Note 10/9/06: Just heard a couple of tracks from the new Killers record and the Springsteen influence is overwhelming and entirely gross. If every track is as awful as the one I heard than God save us all! +.5

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Review of Scott Plagenhoef’s Review of the American Jarvis Cocker’s new Hold Steady album 4.1

For Plagenhoef, “America’s #1 bar band” doesn’t hold as a suitable tag for the Hold Steady. Bar bands are the music you talk over and do your very best to ignore. On this front, Plagenhoef and I would have to agree to disagree. His argument that there’s more weight to this “unique and powerful” band is done little justice by vapid lines like “feeling good about their liquor run” and “gonna walk around and drink some more”. It’s like trying to mine profundity from a Donnas record.

I like the line: “the more likely you are to use music as a social lubricant than as a social balm, the more likely you are to enjoy the Hold Steady”. As an assignment, I urge all of you to divide your record collection in two piles. For extra credit, ask Craig Finn if he sees his writing as social Vaseline or social Aloe Vera. When he asks what you mean, tell him you have no fucking idea?

Plagenhoef goes on to suggests Craig Finn is the American Jarvis Cocker. Personally, I enjoy the music critic if-they-made-its. My past favorites have included: “Ani DiFranco is the female Billy Bragg” and “Pavement is the American Radiohead”. It figures that we’d get the Radiohead that can’t sing or tune a fucking guitar. You can make your own if-they-made-its by blogging ridiculous shit like "_____ is the L7 of funk" or "_____ is the female _____" or better yet "_______ is the white Wu-Tang". Greg Graffin is the American Jesus!

Add the Jarvis Cock-up to a growing pile of reaching, overstatement. The close of Plagenhoef’s review attributes the Hold Steady’s lack of arena-sized success to its unwillingness to embrace vague abstraction. Nonetheless, Plagenhoef does take note of a lack of lyrical specifics in favor of a more universal approach, which leaves the reader to wonder if there’s a more conscious push in that direction.

- E. L. Eauface