Fluxblog 455: good night to the Pitchfork era
Plus a techo-glam playlist and new songs by The Smile, Faye Webster/Lil Yachty, and Park Hye Jin
This week’s playlist is WHAT WAS SCHAFFEL? TECHNO GLAM 2001-2005, a collection of spiky throbbing dance music with a glam rock shuffle a la "Rock & Roll Pt 2" or "Personal Jesus.” This was a really hot sound around the time I started Fluxblog and something I enthusiastically followed on the I Love Music message board, but I feel like it’s kinda forgotten now. I’m honestly not sure how many people under 40 even know this was a thing! It’s an incredibly cool aesthetic that’s ripe for a comeback. [Spotify | Apple | YouTube]
The Smile’s debut album was full of tight, wrenching grooves that felt like an internal pressure twisting the music into knots. The second Smile record Wall of Eyes goes much looser with music that feels as though it’s responding to outside pressures. “Friend of a Friend” feels very light, often to the point of feeling like it’s helplessly gliding on strong unpredictable winds. I listen to this and I imagine a small, lithe figure pushed by and pushing against outside forces as they attempt to maintain some grace and dignity despite some stumbling. Thom Yorke sounds weary but bemused, Jonny Greenwood lends some cinematic grandeur with a string arrangement that evokes an unstable atmosphere and powerful gusts of wind, and Tom Skinner’s drums convey the feeling of trying to maintain balance. It comes together as one of Yorke and Greenwood’s best compositions in years and a welcome return to the odd gravity and muted majesty of A Moon Shaped Pool.
Buy it from Amazon.
Lil Yachty leans very hard on vocal processing and effects, but in a way that’s less like the sleek aesthetics of AutoTune auteur T-Pain and more like a shoegaze guitarist enamored by pedals. He’s compensating for some technical weaknesses, sure, but the heavy distortion has a way of highlighting his humanity and emotional vulnerability. On “Running Out of Time” he sounded like a guy reaching beyond his natural skills to express himself like a robust soul singer, which made the longing in the song a little more poignant than if it was sung straight.
Yachty is tapping into something a little different on “Lego Ring,” a collaboration with his childhood friend (!!!) Faye Webster. In this context he’s alternately a duet partner and accompaniment, sounding more like a keyboard than a singer. This is a sharp contrast with Webster, a singer who’s always exceptionally good at conveying warmth, humor, and fragility. He sounds like a sad digital ghost haunting her song, and she sounds like she’s dimly aware of his presence, or lack thereof. They both sound lonely and lost, like they’re reaching toward each other but there’s no way to connect.
Buy it from Bandcamp.
Park Hye Jin has a gift for writing keyboard parts that give me extreme deja vu, like I’m hearing something that I half-remember from over 20 years ago and can’t place at all. The keyboard tone and melody of “Bklyn Babe” reminds me of mellow trip-hop and softer EDM from around the time I was in art school in the late 90s/early 00s, or maybe it’s more like the indie rap from the same period. I like that this is just on the edge of my own knowledge, and how any nostalgic value for me is shifted into something more vague by the limits of my memory. I like her vocals on this too – the English parts are mostly just a vulgar approximation of “Brooklyn attitude,” the Korean parts basically incoherent to me but rapped with a sort of petulant confidence.
Buy it from Amazon.
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Condé Nast effectively killed Pitchfork this week by laying off nearly all the publication’s prime movers and notable names and folding what remains of the "brand" into GQ. It is very obvious this happened because the corporation could not tolerate the staff's union and figured it was better to radically downsize than to continue to work with the union. Very sinister, very depressing, and worst of all, very predictable. This is what corporations do.
I feel awful for the people who've been laid off, particularly Amy Phillips, Marc Hogan, and Ryan Dombal who were all there back when I was a regular contributor, which was over a decade ago. I know what it's like to get laid off from something you feel like you had a stake in building and it really stings. It's a brutal reality check to be reminded that despite what you may have felt or what anyone told you, you were ultimately a disposable cog in someone else's machine. It's only just work for hire.
There are a lot of people who have a bleak view of what the devastation of Pitchfork means for music writing. It’s not a great situation for those seeking a full-time job but I am generally optimistic about music writing as a form of expression right now because there are so many excellent and exciting independent blogs, newsletters, magazines, podcasts, YouTubers, and TikTokers. I see a new generation of critics coming up who I think are bolder, cooler, and more individualistic than the cohort that came before them. I see a lot of people like me who've been committed to independent publication and personal expression for a long time. Critical writing about music is better now than it has been for years because of decentralization, less blatant careerism, and more DIY spirit. I do think things are significantly more difficult on the journalism side since that generally requires institutional resources, but I don't think that's a permanent condition.
Media corporations are not our friends. They don't care about writers, they don't care about audiences, and they don't care about subject matter. Working for them is like surfing – you can ride a wave for a while but it will eventually crash. Major media corporations like Condé Nast and the New York Times are attractive to writers because they seem like firm institutions that are less likely to collapse, but that's just an illusion. I think a lot of people thought Pitchfork was more safe for being purchased by Condé Nast, that the brand would become as bulletproof as Condé pillars Vogue, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. But we now know that was definitely not the case.
It would be nice if some other company came along and provided the opportunity for middle class full-time jobs for music critics and journalists, but I can't imagine the cycle would be any different from what we’ve been repeating over and over for decades. It'd be a new wave to surf, sure, but it will crash. We can't keep doing the same thing and expecting it to be different next time. It's time to evolve.
Here are some essays by Pitchfork alumni mourning the loss of the publication.
• Eric Harvey wrote about his early days of music blogging and getting pulled into Pitchfork in the first issue of his new newsletter. Sign up for it, Eric has been reliably one of the smartest music critics for like 20 years now. (Just to be clear, this is NOT the former keybs player for Spoon.)
Here are two essays about the Pitchfork situation from publications who are leading the way as writer-owned collectives.
• Music Journalism Can’t Afford A Hollowed-Out Pitchfork, by Israel Daramola from Defecter.
• People Hated Pitchfork Because It Mattered, by Adlan Jackson from Hell Gate NYC.
And here’s Grace Robins-Somerville on what an insult it is to female writers, artists, and fans for Pitchfork to get stuffed into the carcass of Gentlemen’s Quarterly.