Record Reviews, Brevity, and Pitchfork

It’s surprisingly difficult to write short reviews that convey something meaningful. One of my personal constraints is to keep my reviews below 200 words. That’s still a lot of words, but in record review circles, it’s practically a haiku-level of brevity. I don’t always succeed, but I try to help people answer one question: is this an album I want to prioritize?

Pitchfork publishes a weekly column with a similar goal, offering a “run-down of significant new releases available on streaming services.” I’m disappointed by how unhelpful these are. I’m going to dissect a write-up from this week’s 6 New Albums column to explain why these fail so badly.

The ambitious fifth album from Iceage marks the band’s first collaboration with an outside producer. Peter “Sonic Boom” Kember worked with the band on a record that includes the songs “High & Hurt,” “The Holding Hand,” “Vendetta,” “Gold City,” and “Shelter Song.” Read more about the album in Pitchfork’s feature “Iceage’s Ruthless Evolution.”

What do I know from these 53 words?

  • The ambitious fifth album: the first four words are more useful to me than the next 49 combined. I’m always willing to listen to ambitious albums, even if ambition rarely makes me fall in love with a record. It’s good to know they’ve got some experience and there’s a vault I can dig into. So the first four words are helpful, but 4 out of 53 seems like a terrible success rate. I mean, Meat Loaf never told us that 4 out of 53 ain’t bad, right?
  • Marks the band’s first collaboration with an outside producer: If I care about Iceage’s producers, then I already know about this album. This fact doesn’t help me choose which new album to hear this weekend.
  • Peter “Sonic Boom” Kember worked with the band on a record: They burned 20 percent of their words here. Personally, I don’t know Kember, so this is meaningless to me. And telling me the producer worked with the band on a record? THANK YOU! I finally understand how that works! Something like, “Produced by Peter Kember (Sonic Boom, Panda Bear, MGMT)” would have told me infinitely more in fewer words.
  • that includes the songs “High & Hurt,” “The Holding Hand,” “Vendetta,” “Gold City,” and “Shelter Song.”: If they wrote, “that includes High & Hurt, the loveliest thing I’ve encountered since the first time I saw Audrey Hepburn” then I have a reason to click/listen. Even a simple, “Shelter Song? Didn’t they mean Shitter Song?” would give me a reason. But this? This is clickbait without the bait.
  • Read more about the album in Pitchfork’s feature “Iceage’s Ruthless Evolution.”: Thanks for explaining that I can read more by clicking on those fancy blue words.

Interestingly, in all six write-ups, the only meaningful information I find is when Pitchfork quotes the artist or publicist. Knowing that Olive Ardizoni said, “I’m trying to hit that part of the brain that’s affected by the emotional state that you’re in when you perceive something as cute,” tells me I probably won’t love the new Green-House album. That’s helpful information. Too bad it didn’t come from Pitchfork’s writers.

I love what Pitchfork is trying to do with this column, but as it’s currently written, it’s useless. I don’t need a list of albums and a handful of objective facts about each one. Y’all are the experts, so use those 2-3 sentences to give me an idea of which albums might be worth my time every week.

About Chuck

Chuck is a lifelong music lover. He spent his 20s working as a professional musician before discovering he enjoys listening to music more than playing it. He knows a little bit about most genres, though electronic dance music, rock, and hip-hop are his favorites. Eleven albums/shows that transformed how he sees and hears the world (in order he encountered them): Fleetwood Mac Rumours; Van Halen Fair Warning; The Cure Standing on a Beach; John Coltrane Crescent; De La Soul Three Feet High and Rising; Puccini La Boheme (de los Angeles, Bjorling, Beecham); Everything but the Girl Walking Wounded; Carl Cox, Twilo, NYC, May 2000; Godspeed You! Black Emperor Yanqui U.X.O.; Grateful Dead. Fillmore East, NYC, April 1971; Taylor Swift 1989.

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