Saturday, March 6, 2010

Contenders Series #13: New Pornographers - "Your Hands (Together)"

Deadspin founder Will Leitch once said that, if you post a picture of a puppy on a web site which allows anonymous commenting, within five comments someone will use the n-word.*

*I'm paraphrasing here because I can't find the original quote, and he may have said "reference Hitler" instead of "use the n-word."  His point is the same, though.

I know I'm not the first person to notice the the internet is a hateful, angry, racist, misogynistic, homophobic place, where people say things they would never say in person,* and I certainly don't have any deeper insights into the human condition, or suggestions on how to make the net a nicer place.  No, I'm here to talk about hating done the right way.

*Or ... maybe they would, I don't know.  I hope not.  I do know that the comments on literally any YouTube video make me weep for humanity.

My favorite website of all time is, was, and always will be  The guys (one of which plays Mose Schrute on The Office, and writes for Parks and Recreation) became sports-blog stars by skewering the worst writing the mainstream media had to offer.  That might not sound like a laugh-till-you-cry proposition for some of you, but just know that, more than a year after the site closed its virtual doors, I still go back and re-read their archives for laughs.  The weekend they spent guest-editing Deadspin was one of the highlights of my summer last year, and read those posts while backpacking in South America, which proves that I would literally rather read FJM than hang out on a Brazilian beach.

Along those same lines comes another website that seems like it may have been written just for me:  As the title suggests, RipFork picks apart the most bloated, self-important, jargon-heavy music reviews on Pitchfork, as well as any other site that needs a little deflating.  The site started in November, and is still in the process of defining itself (Matt, seriously, I could do without the personal attacks on the educational choices of music reviewers, no matter how bad that guy's reviews may be), but for me it's already among a select few must-read sites.  Even if you don't define yourself in terms of your relationship to Pitchfork, as I do, I think anyone would find a few laughs in there, and maybe even learn something about writing.

Okay, so I open with two paragraphs about how all the hate on the internet makes me sad, then I follow that with two paragraphs detailing my love for web sites that could be described as "hate-based."  Let's see if I can put this together in a way that makes sense.  I guess, if you're thinking about unleashing the full force of your hate-fury on the internet, I hope you would ask yourself three questions:

(1)  Is this funny?
(2)  Am I attacking some kind of established authority figure, or just some other helpless Joe Blogspot?
(3)  Do I have anything to say apart from the hating?

Question one will always be subjective.  I think FJM and RipFork are hilarious.  You may not.  But, seriously ... at least have a joke.  That's all I ask ... attempt a joke.  And calling someone a fag or a retard, without more, is not a joke.  Get creative.

Question two might just be a personal thing with me, but I like my hate with just a little bit of a populist bent.  RipFork works because Pitchfork writers really write like their opinions should become law, that they really know more than the proles who read them.  FJM worked because of the intense disdain that big-shot sportswriters like Jay Mariotti and Bill Plaschke felt toward all bloggers.  I'd like your hate to bring an undeservedly big ego back down to earth.  I don't want your hate to be the reason some struggling artist decides to kill himself.

Question three, though, is the important one, and the strongest quality to both FJM and RipFork.  FJM took incredible pleasure in pointing out the absurdity of poorly-executed food metaphors, but they had salient points of their own:  a blog is just a medium ... not a reason to dismiss the opinions of a huge group of writers; these new baseball stats can't be discounted just because they've only been around for a few years and require (gasp) computers to calculate; "scrappiness" is not just as important as talent; just because Darin Erstad used to punt for Nebraska, doesn't mean he isn't a terrible baseball player ... and so on.

The greatness of RipFork can be found mostly in the fact that the site expresses almost no musical opinions of its own.  For the most part, it limits its criticisms to the writing itself, and could probably be summed up in a series of helpful bullet points:

- Stop hiding your opinions by writing in the second or third person.  If you're annoyed by something, don't say "The listener is annoyed ..."  Say "I was annoyed ..."
- Stop over-using quasi- and -esque
- Stop over-hyphenating in general, especially when it leads to you inventing new, impenetrable jargon
- Stop writing 75-word sentences
- Stop pretending you know what a band was thinking
- Stop writing about music like you're dissecting a cadaver
- Stop sucking all the joy out of art ... if you didn't like something, fine ... say so and move on.  No need for 1200 words about it.

That list, written out in this form, sounds kinda boring, I admit.  Some of you probably skimmed it, or skipped over it entirely.  Reading a RipFork review, though, these points hit home.  And they're almost always funny.  I'm still going to read Pitchfork everyday.  They still have a lot of good, smart, important things to say about music.  They're seen as the authority for a reason.  But I'll keep checking RipFork every day, too ... because Pitchfork ain't perfect.

So how do we get from here to the New Pornographers track in the title of this post?  Well ... I was alerted to the existence of RipFork by Pornos frontman AC Newman, on his often-witty Twitter feed.  Artist tweeting about reviewer ... it's the perfect inversion of everything we've come to expect from the internet.  It's a brave new world, people.

I don't have much to say about this song.  It's the New Pornographers, who I've recently called my second-favorite band, so of course it's good.  But, since I love them so much, I hold them to unbelievably high standards.  This one probably won't crack the top ten favorites from them.  But I can't wait for the album, can't wait to see them at Sasquatch, and can't wait for them to add SF tour dates.  Turns out this isn't really a music review blog at all.  It's more just a place where I post a link to a song I like, then I talk about something only barely connected.  I'm cool with that.

Download:  New Pornograhpers - Your Hands (Together)

Official Site
Hype Machine
Pre-Order Together (out May 4)


  1. "But, seriously ... at least have a joke. That's all I ask ... attempt a joke. And calling someone a fag or a retard, without more, is not a joke. Get creative."

    Since when? Retard!

    /Brett Kass

  2. NPs latest makes me want more from them. That's what music should do. I really look forward to this album.

  3. Curt: So ... does this mean we're still friends ... or are you still pissed about Tallest Man on Earth?

  4. We're still friends. This just means I get over being angry about music very quickly.