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Kevin Barnes, eccentric frontman of indie pop outfit of Montreal (that’s a lowercase ‘o’ mind you!) did something yesterday that not many artists do, for several reasons: he responded to a critic. The main reason, though, is quite simple – you can’t look good. Following his discovery of the 6.7 semi-dismissal from Pitchfork, he took to his blog to give his own snarky, critical response to a snarky, critical review. You can read it here but if you don’t want to, here’s the crux of the issue: Kevin Barnes feels misunderstood. His calls for a “fair and balanced review” amongst the slew of insults and sarcasm did serve a purpose though: it brought an important question back into the spotlight. Just what does a review serve to do?

Let’s put it into a wider context for a moment: the press are a huge part of a musicians life. The influence of a website like Pitchfork alone is enough to rocket the career of an upcoming independent artist into the spotlight or have it crumbling away like a fistful of sand. The evidence is clear enough to see: bands like Vampire Weekend can credit a lot of their current level of success to the hype Pitchfork spun around them (this isn’t a jab at the bands ability, for the record) and Fleet Foxes went from folk minnows to a debut album that charted in seven countries in the space of a year, on the back of a no-holds-barred 9.0 review from the unofficial indie taste barometer. The ‘Best New Music’ tag has become an absolute commercial guarantee, so it’s easy to see why bands would be eager to earn that branding. It subsequently displays, however, just how potentially damaging a bad review can be. Critics, with full knowledge of this, hold some dominion over the livelihood of a working independent musician, particularly rising and low profile artists.

Some artists get less hyped.

What all this about Pitchfork means – Best New Music and the subsequent commercial success – is that people trust them. The independent music listener (consumer) has more faith in Pitchfork than most publications. This can be credited to a lot of things: Pitchfork’s honesty, style, taste, even the sheer magnitude of their fans contributes to legitimizing their opinions into fact. But that’s exactly where the tricky business begins – where is the line drawn between opinion piece and tastemaker? Though it hasn’t come to the point where a Pitchfork review single-handedly determines the commercial viability of an indie band, it’s scarily close. Considering a lot of the low profile music they get to isn’t touched by most other wide scale publications, it’s even scarier. Pitchfork is, in a sense, breeding like-minded acolytes. Is it possible new bands are latching on to trends in order to fit in with whatever is trending at the moment? Very. And who determines what’s currently trending? Pitchfork. In theory, they’re attaching themselves to styles and images that young artists are then encouraged to perpetuate, lest they be ignored. Of Animal Collective’s seven reviewed LPs, only one has received a score lower than 8.6, so is it any wonder every basement-artist and their mother have played their hand at being the next Animal Collective? It’s very circular. It’s not as if this is a profound phenomenon either, it’s pure logic; you just need to replace the characters. What happened when Twilight became the biggest thing with tweens since The Backstreet Boys? You couldn’t blink without some stupid new vampire gimmick trying to cash in on the craze.

What this all brings us back to is Kevin Barnes’ negative reaction to that criticism. First, let’s establish two things: 1) of Montreal are well into a successful career, 2) a 6.7 is not a bad rating (almost our equivalent of a 3.5, which is what Rudy Klapper gave it in his positive review). Secondly, of Montreal are far enough into their careers where a 6.7 from Pitchfork isn’t going to tip the scales on their success more than the actual reception of their music with their already-established fan base will. Now with that in mind, Barnes comes across as a bit of a brat. He’s acting as if his music was never up for interpretation in the first place. He consistently mocks Pitchfork’s take on his sound, even going so far as to suggest they didn’t listen to the full album, and implies that Pitchfork has always had it out for him. Something he might’ve missed though was that Rob Mitchum, the man behind the review, was also responsible for that glowing 8.7 take on 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? Pre-meditated murder? Hardly.

"You big meanies."

What connects Barnes’ toys being thrown out of the pram and my thoughts on Pitchfork’s status as a publication is that Barnes clearly doesn’t want his music to be read this way by the ‘drones’ that Pitchfork readers have been tagged as by the cynical anti-hype machine and he’s clearly angry about it. Does he have power over that? No. Is he scared people will agree with Pitchfork? Evidently, yes. This brings up something that’s important to realize about music reviews. Critics are prone to suggestions and assumptions – most reviews specifically do so with angles and irrelevant details that they interpret to play into the significance of the record. I do it all the time. It’s central to the idea of being a critic: subjectivity. What a professional critic amounts to is nothing more than an eloquent and excitable music fan. There are a lot of those kinds of people, evidenced by this website alone. What a Pitchfork, or Rolling Stone, or Vice Magazine writer amounts to is the one eloquent, excitable music fan who was eloquent and excitable and entrepreneurial enough to earn themselves that title on their business card. You have to remember that they are no less subjective than the rest of us. There is no algorithm or secret to knowing what good music is; only how we interpret it through our own ears and tastes. It’s just that not everyone’s tastes get plastered across the internet for thousands to read.

Kevin Barnes may not think the “falsetto-funk” of his record was something to be shocked by but Rob Mitchum definitely did. Is Barnes, the man behind the music, correct in saying that’s not how you should interpret it? Absolutely not. Music might be the most visceral of art forms – it is nothing without interpretation. Does this mean Mitchum is right in saying that’s what the album sounds like? No. That’s just how Rob Mitchum described his reaction to it. The 6.7 rating is indicative of nothing but Rob Mitchum’s taste. Music is an experience, not something that can be put into words and descriptions. While Barnes wasn’t wrong to be afraid of Pitchfork selling his work to listeners as something that he never thought it was, he should perhaps be more afraid that this is how it was interpreted in the first place. Furthermore, publications should not be used as a musical compass as much as a reference point and artists like Kevin Barnes should react to negative press with the reassurance that their fanbase isn’t comprised of robots. Is there such a thing as a “fair and balanced review”? Apologies to Mr. Barnes but I’m afraid not. The trick is putting it all into perspective. A music review is a means of promotion; what we should really be concerned about is when publications are treated in a way where marks on a scale of 10 can make or break a commercial career.





Kiran
11.27.10
i felt like offering an opinion - yours are welcome

TMobotron
11.27.10
it was a really interesting read, i pretty much agree with everything you said, and i think most people here will too. this reminds me i want to check out that hissing fauna album

RiversCuomo
11.27.10
Bitchfork***

Realm
11.27.10
awesome article

honestly one of the best posts on the blog.

Athom
11.27.10
I really enjoyed reading that. My brain is too fried to have an opinion right now, but seriously, loved it.

ShadowRemains
11.27.10
terrific write up

GnarlyShillelagh
11.27.10
As much as I hate pitchfork, Kevin Barnes is a little bitch, and that blog was exactly the way you described. He doesn't make any legitimate points against the review, which was actually very well written and coherent.

GnarlyShillelagh
11.27.10
Also, that incessant and puerile correction of the "o" in "of" was unbelievably annoying and unnecessary.

TMobotron
11.27.10
oh wow i tried to read his response and couldnt get past the second paragraph, thats a fucking pathetic response, christ.

illmitch
11.27.10
this was great

i used to love of montreal but now they just piss me off, i tried to listen to a song from the new album and turned it off halfway in

Realm
11.27.10
i read his response. just killed off some brain cells.

TMobotron
11.27.10
okay i lied, i read the rest of it. "Dickhead thing to say" makes me want to fucking puke. The guy interprets every point made by the reviewer as if he doesn't have a job to review the album, and he's just having a one to one convo with this kevin barnes douche bag so any point he makes that isn't positive is a "dickhead thing to say", and not just his honest interpretation of the album.

Also, "lower case!" is retarded as well. Hey guess what dumbass, it was stupid of you to not capitalize that O when you named your band.

"should budget allow? no one talks like that" - i cant even comment. im more angry at his response than he was at the review.

Aids
11.27.10
Great article. My friend and I were just having a conversation about some of the pitfalls of a site like Pitchfork.

It sounds like Barnes overreacted. Considering p4k's average rating is probably a 6, I think he should be pleased it wasn't much worse. Like you said, a 6.7 on pitchfork is close to a 3.5 on sputnik, so it's not a bad rating really.

natey
11.27.10
I love your attitude toward music Kiran (end of second to last paragraph)

and could Barnes come off as a whinier bitch?

TMobotron
11.27.10
im gonna make a blog post responding to barnes blog post i think

illmitch
11.27.10
wow i just read barnes response

woooooooow

TMobotron
11.27.10
haha its so much worse than i was imagining it to be before reading it. its like... as bad as it possibly could be. Kiran says "you can't look good" responding to a critic, but you can certainly look a hell of a lot better than he does.

natey
11.27.10
reminds me of the time Torq from Stars did the same sort of thing. but he came off a little brighter

Kiran
11.27.10
are you referring to his hulk smash on ben folds, natey? he sounded drunk!

couldwinarabbit
11.27.10
Aside from a borderline retarded review system I really like pitchfork

great staff blog I have yet to get new of Montreal and I will probably avoid it.

TMobotron
11.27.10
yeah i usually kind of like the existence of p4k. i spend more time on here by a longshot but its always nice to be able to pay them a visit and read some reviews there. The hero worship they get is absurd though, and yeah basically what was talked about in this post the whole best new music making or breaking a band is kind of ridiculous but its not really p4ks fault as much as it is the fault of hipsters.

Kiran
11.27.10
dont get me wrong, i agree, i read pitchfork quite often, i just think that even if the magnitude of their influence seems to work against this that a reminder to approach them with perspective wouldn't go amiss.

TMobotron
11.27.10
word, i know what you're saying. How did you feel about Kevin's response Kirgasm? Besides just being snarky and critical?

Kiran
11.27.10
i understand why he'd be upset with his hard work being so casually marked off but every artist in the world gets that. when he said that its not legit because every song wasnt mentioned you start to get the idea hes just throwing a tantrum! the lower case 'o' thing was just childish

couldwinarabbit
11.27.10
forgive me if I am wrong but the success of Arcade Fire has been tributed to Pitchfork almost completely right?

SylentEcho
11.27.10
I hate pitchfork too.

porch
11.27.10
great article

Romulus
11.27.10
yeah this is an awesome read

Yordy
11.27.10
I went to Barnes' blog expecting to see him rip Pitchfork a new one. But he didn't, not even close. He made no point with any of his remarks. My favorite is: "That's an asshole thing to say."

RedSky
11.27.10
This is why I never read a music review here or anywhere else before I try listening to the album myself, I just use it as a reference to find good (high rated) music. I completely agree with what you say about suggestions and assumptions, music is prone to so many different and very specific interpretations, recollections and associations that it's very difficult to un-see or un-know someone's very distinct imagery and definition of it. That then clouds your ability to apply your own perspective.

I think it's partly why Pitchfork is so influential and effective. Few of their reviews read like actual descriptions of the music's melodical and lyrical attributes, so much as the emotions associated with it. In doing so, they're defining the music for people, often before they've had a shot at making up their own mind.

Electric City
11.27.10
pitchfork did with black kids what i kind of wanted to do with raditude

Enotron
11.27.10
i love how he's complaining how the review wasn't a track by rack

Enotron
11.27.10
*track

joshuatree
11.27.10
really good read kiran

SowingSeason
11.27.10
yeah the dude's blog was pretty pathetic

SowingSeason
11.27.10
Barnes', that is

robertsona
11.27.10
good read

AggravatedYeti
11.27.10
"reminds me of the time Torq from Stars did the same sort of thing. but he came off a little brighter"
^this came out a few days later as being fake and Torq apparently had nothing to do with it.

The write-up was classy as usual Kir.
Though while I agree with mostly everything you said, when the question of reviewer's power comes up in passing conversation, I can generally squelch it with a simple mention of Ke$ha or Soulja Boy or Flo-Rida. Artist who are trashed by generally every major & minor publication--interwebs and otherwise--yet still seem to achieve massive sales and airplay in the US.

Yes sometimes critical press can help make (as well break) a career; yet more often than not I find it really all comes down to the listener and generic catchy-ness more often than not. (depends on the genre as well I suppose. "indie" rock is inherently based on experimentation and pushing borders where club-rap obviously isn't)

Pitchfork have been staunch Kings of Leon haters for some time--yet that band fucking sellsellsellls; as well as their scathing review of Mumford & Son's debut doesn't stop the fuckers from selling out shows here in the ol'USofA.

but then again...who's really heard of Black Kids since their debut?

thebhoy
11.27.10
also, Kevin Barnes is a douchebag.

AggravatedYeti
11.27.10
actually he's a very nice man who does a lot for his fans
albeit a bit egotistical ;)

EVedder27
11.27.10
real nice read

starry
11.27.10
I suppose we should expect a music review site to support another music review site, you're all in the same business after all lol. Music reviews can help kill albums just like they can jeopardize other people in other areas of entertainment, it's been happening for years (before the internet as well). While this particular musician may not have such an obvious cause in this case to complain he is helping to bring up and highlight the responsibility that reviewers do have towards those who they are reviewing. It is true that alot of the public do take a reviewer's word for granted too much and can accept the hype around some artists while never giving a hearing to those who never get the publicity. In the internet age where people can often hear things for themselves quite easily there is less excuse for that laziness.

Athom
11.27.10
Pitchfork's review for the 2nd Jet album is the best thing ever.

Hep Kat
11.27.10
too bad. i would've considered myself more of a kevin barnes fan than an of montreal fan. from what i've read the guy just seems really interesting. this is pretty disappointing. good article though.

natey
11.27.10
this is what i was referring to
http://community.livejournal.com/stars___/31532.html
"this came out a few days later as being fake and Torq apparently had nothing to do with it."
my b

AggravatedYeti
11.27.10
^ tbh natey I'm not sure that blog post is the same thing I'm referring to.
Which in turn makes me wrong (my b) and yay thanks for bringing that to my attention because it was a half-way engaging read.

AggravatedYeti
11.27.10
^^ woohoo for google.
apparently that blog post is what I was referring too, albeit slightly abridged.
regardless it's not Torquil and is still somewhat right.
< 3 Natey.

wyankeif1337
11.27.10
awesome post, brings up some really good points.

natey
11.27.10
google's awesome

HallucinogeNick
11.27.10
I've lost any remaining credibility for Kevin Barnes and OF MONTREAL.

Gyromania
11.27.10
I really enjoyed reading this, Kiran. You addressed excellent points and brought light to the fact that none of us are better than others - it's just a title. The irony is that Kevin Barnes' approach is really proving to be counter intuitive; my perspective of him is now somewhat tainted having read that.

Kiran
11.27.10
i know what you mean yeti and i tried to exclusively tag 'independent musicians' when i talked about reviewer power since pop and major label artists are generally marketed very differently (as in they actually have marketing and radio airplay and advertising!). mumford & sons got hyped to hell by NME and some other english publications before pitchfork dropped the bomb on them but as for your other examples i agree that there isnt much to say when artists like kesha sell sell sell.

Kiran
11.27.10
starry, most of what you said was essentially the point i was trying to make. this wasn't a defense of pitchfork whatsoever.

starry
11.27.10
Ok glad we agree.

Obviously hype doesn't just come from critics as well, it can come from major record companies who might have links with the media that help them to hugely promote some singers/groups with big public campaigns.

conradtao
11.27.10
Considering that I pretty much agreed with Pitchfork about False Priest, I can't get behind Barnes on this; his response seemed really petty and obnoxious.

This was a great read, Kiran. Probably one of my favorite blog posts here.

2muchket!
11.28.10
His blog post was amazing, glad someone's finally sticking it to those fucking arseholes at pitchfork.

The same bullshit that goes on over there that's happening here is one of the main reasons the review site is god awful.

pizzamachine
11.28.10
Well, that is your opinion.

bailar14
11.28.10
excellent article

Emim
11.28.10
Great post. Pitchfork just annoys me for the most part. Worth reading now and again, but eh

Kiran
11.28.10
"His point about reviewing every track was bizarre - who apart from a particularly masochistic frontman wants to read that?"

i thought it was even stranger that he would suggest something like that this far into his career - it's like he's either never read a review before or he's just gotten angrier and angrier with every album that didn't get its full treatment on the reviewing table!

astrel
11.28.10
I mean I totally get Keven Barnes statement of "My dude wastes sentence after sentence on the most trivial non album related bullshit before he even dives into the album critique," because a lot of Pitchfork reviews leaving me feeling that way, but by doing the exact same fucking thing in the paragraphs proceeding it, he completely undermines his whole argument. It is getting harder and harder to say I like Of Montreal nowadays.

Enotron
11.28.10
LOWER CASE O ASSHOLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

lol kevin barnes

Emim
11.28.10
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO*

Oceanus
11.28.10
One of the best write-ups yet, man.

Josh D.
11.28.10
Don't know who this is, don't care.

Realm
11.28.10
it's not boring post metal so josh doesnt care

Iai
11.28.10
Great blog, really enjoyed reading it.

DFelon204409
11.28.10
Even more interesting is that Pitchfork decides on the rating and high level critique as a group and then chooses a staff member to write the review based on opinion fit.

DFelon204409
11.28.10
Mudvayniannnnnnnnn

conradtao
11.28.10
...er no. Pitchfork's rating is usually just one writer's opinion.

Enotron
11.28.10
no dfelon's quite right, that's how they operate.

Enotron
11.28.10
http://sputnikmusic.com/blog/?p=3413

joshuatree
11.28.10
also why two albums would get the same score but only one would get bnm status

Electric City
11.28.10
that happens here all the time

joshuatree
11.28.10
yes but this is a much less official joint

DhA
11.28.10
Good writing man. What I lke to see on sputnik.

Minus The Flair
11.28.10
awesome stuff, dude.

conradtao
11.28.10
"also why two albums would get the same score but only one would get bnm status"

oh, i was always under the impression that pitchfork's ratings were somewhat arbitrary but the BNM status was what was discussed as a group..

Fuff24
11.29.10
I feel like barnes made 1 or 2 decent points in that annotation but in general he was a whiny little bitch

somberlain
11.29.10
this guy really comes off as a douche, nothing good can come from going after a critic.
the review wasn't even that critical, for this guy to expect everyone to interpret the album the way he wants to is ridiculous. music is subjective and people are going to see it in different ways

joebass
11.29.10
this guy comes off as a whiny bitch in this. you would think he'd never read a review of one of his albums, or atleast one that was at all critical of it

Spec
11.29.10
Why would he care?

cbmartinez
11.29.10
wow an article on sputnikmusic about pitchfork ratings, how constructive

conradtao
11.29.10
what a painfully indifferent thing to say

WhiteWallStargazers
11.29.10
Yeah Barnes went a little overboard in hating on the review. Sure I don't think it's the best review ever, but I like how he gets angry at how ever song isn't mentioned. Does he not realize that the reviewer doesn't need to mention every song and I'm sure did listen to the entire album ha ha

theacademy
11.29.10
Kiran: u r legend.

NigelH
11.30.10
Good read dude.

instantradical
11.30.10
Pitchfork pisses me off because they're responsible for promulgating the ball-less bearded twee-baroque folk garbage that's been pussifying the indie rock scene for at least the past 5-7 years. Boring pretentious crap. Noisy abrasive angry madness - Sonic Youth, Pixies, Dino Jr., Husker Du, Fugazi - that's what indie rock is really about. One of the things I love about Sputnik is that more aggressive-sounding music is treated more seriously.

That being said, Of Montreal is pretty much the type of indie rock band I can't stand and their frontman seems like a douche-monkey.

GulliKyro
11.30.10
[quote[I think it's partly why Pitchfork is so influential and effective. Few of their reviews read like actual descriptions of the music's melodical and lyrical attributes, so much as the emotions associated with it. In doing so, they're defining the music for people, often before they've had a shot at making up their own mind.
[/quote]

Most intelligent reply in this article.

rainonmyparade
12.03.10
I saw them live once as part of a festival show. Had no idea what was going on, so it's kind of hard judge him as fair and balanced when quite a bit of his music is unapproachable and too weird to appreciate (just like his personality!)

Aids
12.04.10
reading his response has made me never want to listen to his music ever. what a douche

Emim
12.04.10
I keep reading this as Kevin Bacon.

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