Pitchfork’s Latest Skewed Review Is For The Birds

Jun 14th, 2007 // 36 Comments

morelikepelicANT.jpgWe don’t normally dissect individual Pitchfork record reviews, because such a practice would get unnecessarily nitpicky after a while, and it would require us to actually read Pitchfork record reviews. But we were slightly dumbfounded by this weirdly out-of-whack 4.4 review of Pelican’s City Of Echoes, which is essentially an 800-word referendum on how much the drummer allegedly sucks, and how said suckiness bungled what is otherwise “the best Pelican album yet.” What? We understand the main critical points here (which, by the way, we don’t really agree with), but to base an entire grade on one band member’s performance seems unfair, and the review reads more like an act of finger-wagging showmanship than an honest critical evaluation. Read it and let us know if we’re crazy. Or at least crazier than usual:

Pelican: City of Echoes: Pitchfork Record Review [Pitchfork]

  1. Charlie Kerfelds Jetsons Tee

    Pelican’s from Chicago.

    Pitchfork is based in Chicago.

    My best guess? The drummer fucked Schreiber’s girlfriend.

  2. Nicolars

    Like Schreiber is capable of forming social attachments.

  3. Snowbrigadier

    Nah, they’ve gotten worse with the those kind of reviews lately. Like the 1.6 for Stars Do You Trust Your Friends — which was a barely intelligable rant about how they don’t think rock songs should be remixed or something. Or because they can only support one set of BSS side projects at once (It’s like Team Angelia/Team Jennifer, except maybe even more pointless).

    The review for Wooden Wand was also in the realm of “Huh?”

    (Sidenote: Pitchfork uses the 6.* review just like Rolling Stone’s 3 stars, I swear to god.)

  4. tankboy

    Here’s the thing; I don’t agree with the reviewers overall assessment, but I do have to admire their attempt to give their criticism solid grounding based on band members’ technique and playing. I actually don’t think this review is off the deep end in that regard at all.

  5. DigitalLogic

    I can’t comment on the review itself as I couldn’t get through the first paragraph without my eyes glazing over and the on set of drooling.

    But that’s my standard reaction to reading anything on pitchfork.

  6. Charlie Kerfelds Jetsons Tee

    @Nicolars: Well played.

  7. GeezDatsAnnoying

    @Charlie Kerfelds Jetsons Tee:

    I agree someone certainly fucked someone’s girlfriend.

  8. Lucas Jensen

    Grayson Currin lives in North Carolina. Schreiber lives in Brooklyn. The band is from Chicago. What was your point about Schreiber and girlfriends? Dude’s married, right?

    I actually think he’s a good drummer, if a bit busy. I guess I need to listen harder to catch the mistakes. I DO like a critic talking about the music and musicianship for once. Because they are instrumental, no lyrics to pontificate about, which is nice. I hate reading reviews (Rolling Stone anyone?) that focus solely on lyrics.

    Having said that, I thought it was pretty harsh.

  9. noamjamski

    I have not heard the record.
    It will make me ill to try and defend Pitchfork.

    However I am reminded of an old saying:

    A good band with a bad drummer is a bad band.

  10. pjohn

    its a pretty solid record.

    and a pretty retarded review.

  11. The Lord God

    this record is the opposite of good.

  12. emeryemeryemery

    I listened to the title track on their Myspace, and I have to say I’m just not hearing what he’s talking about. Yes, the drummer is a little herky-jerky, but SO IS THE ENTIRE BAND. There was one section where I counted out a time change every few measures. Not a big time change, like a half-time or anything, but about 20 BPM. They all seem solid, though.

    It reminds me of one time when a guitarist friend of mine wrote a riff that was almost 12/8, but not quite. I think he was missing a 16th note in the figure somewhere, but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, the riff sounded a bit off, so my helpful suggestion was to hold out a note so it slid into a proper time signature. Y’know, one that actual human beings play. He responded by inviting another drummer to our next practice, and then goading me about how I sucked and the new guy could play 23/16, whereas I refused for the good reason of “why make everything about you when it confuses the listener and the rest of the band, not to mention detracting from the flow of the song?”

    My point? Getting to it . . . Here’s my new band. I think I’m doing OK playing in time signatures commonly associated with rock and roll. I view that incident the same way I viewed his love for bizarre alternate tunings-as a way to be impressive without having to make something that actually impresses. He also had a lot of fancy gear, coincidentally.

    The guy from Pitchfork, much like that guitarist, is just a wanker with enough rhythm to be dangerous, blaming the drummer for the whole band’s problems. Why is their time so muddy? It isn’t. The drummer is spot on with everyone else, and stuck making awkward transitions. So, in short, you’re not going crazy, and Schreiber listens to too much Dream Theater. And Pelican needs to pick a tempo and stick with it, because that is the difference between what they’re doing now and what they’ll be doing on the record that gets a 9 or so from the Fork.

    Damn. That was short enough.

  13. Lax Danja House

    ATTN Grayson Currin:

    Say “transcendent” one more time.

  14. coolfer

    If Pitchfork writers are going to start judging albums based in part on the technical prowess of the band members, there are going to be a lot of scores in the 0.0 to 1.9 range. Indie rock is overflowing with mediocre musical skills.

    Requisite drummer joke:

    Q: How many drummers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    A: Five. One to screw it in, four to argue how Neal Peart would have done it better.

  15. romannose

    At first i didn’t care for city of echos, esp. compared to the previous two but after reading a review that awful i’m forced to like it by default.

  16. parrotrunner

    “Chicago-based instrumental four-piece”
    guitar duo
    subtle and complex
    young, passionate band
    otherwise-transcendent moments
    post-rock cadre
    concise and dense album
    “Here Pelican spent more time compacting things, excising prior largesse, and letting each part stand out more by raising the contrast.”
    wider range of dynamics
    diverge and converge
    “angular charges with guitar lines stretching as catapults”
    triumphant, ascending pattern
    aggressive and brimming
    cumbersome and stiff
    negating delicacy
    the exciting, dynamic band
    structural complexity
    “one of the disc’s late-breaking, open-vista tracks”
    textural sweeps
    aural eclipse

  17. noamjamski

    @coolfer: How many guitarists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

    Five. One to screw it in and four to stand around with their arms folded saying they can do it faster.

  18. Josh Mock


    If Pitchfork writers are going to start judging albums based in part on the technical prowess of the band members, there are going to be a lot of scores in the 0.0 to 1.9 range. Indie rock is overflowing with mediocre musical skills.


    Musical talent does not a good band make. A certain amount is important, but skill is only one part of an equation that cannot entirely replace the other parts.

    As for the Pelican review specifically, I’d agree that the drummer stumbles his way through the record. But bad drumming alone should not be enough to drop an otherwise great record below a 5 or a 6. However, maybe the album would’ve only gotten, say, a 7.4 had the drums been good (or ignorable) but it was bad enough to justify subtracting 3 points. In other words, one can’t assume that the album would have gotten a 10 if it hadn’t been for a sub-par drummer when we all know that even the greatest albums only get 7′s or 8′s.

    Furthermore, it’s possible that those criticizing the album are unaware of the band’s intentions. Who’s to say they didn’t mean for the drums to sound exactly as they do?

  19. statolith

    Hasn’t it been said that P4k’s numbers are often assigned by someone other than the writer? which explains the frequent number-review discrepancy?

  20. BillRocksCleveland

    @riverrun: Hmm…all those adjectives, aside from cumbersome and stiff, make it sound like a kick a** album.

  21. catdirt

    what’s “chicago”?

  22. themeparkexperience

    Lest we forget the unwritten rule of Pitchfork reviews: everything, except hip-hop and R&B, gets over-analyzed and scrutinized. As in, Sky Blue Sky sucks because it’s “dad rock” while Timbaland and Lil Wayne can do almost nothing wrong.

  23. brooks

    Having just listened to the album all the way through, I can say that the dude is right about the drummer occasionally throwing things off – especially in the title track – but it’s not bad enough to drop it to a 4.4!

    The album is pretty damn good, imo.

  24. rockstarjoe

    I like the album. Agree that the drummer isn’t great but mostly I feel like he fades into the background. His parts are not memorable, but they don’t really detract too much from the songs.

  25. Charlie Kerfelds Jetsons Tee

    @Lucas Jensen: It was a joke. I pride myself on knowing as little as I possibly can about Ryan Schreiber’s personal life.

    @coolfer: Too true.

  26. Luciferous

    They throw another diss at the drummer in their review of his other band, Lair Of The Minotaur. Which was a pretty great album, actually…


    Different reviewer. Or same guy under an equally wacky nom de plume. I mean, Grayson Currin… IF that is your REAL name…

  27. gerf

    You know, when I first listened to Pelican (Australasia), being a drummer myself, I noticed the drumming was a little sloppy. But given the style of the music, it wasn’t much of a detractor. In fact, it was mostly fitting– it seemed deliberate.

    But then I saw them live. Herweg was terrible– he came off as being very amateur and unskilled. Like he just picked up the sticks a few months prior…

    Anyhow, here’s my joke contribution (rather fitting, I think):

    Q: What do you call a guy who hangs out with musicians?

    A: A drummer.

  28. any such name

    Schreiber is married.

    And Pelican played the very first Intonation festival which was curated by Pitchfork. Surely if they were good enough to be on the roster in 2005, they couldn’t have fallen so far in two years as to merit a 4.4 rating… or maybe Pitchfork aren’t such good tastemakers after all?

  29. maplebanana

    I know Grayson Currin (and yes, Luciferous, that is his real name). He’s an all-round good dude and an awesome music geek in the best possible sense of the phrase. And he is also the Music Editor of The Indpendent Weekly in Durham, NC (and was long before he started writing for Pitchfork). But that’s not really the point :) What interests me is the attitude towards Pitchfork. If this review had appeared somewhere else would it have incurred the same criticism? And a review is just a review after all – if you listen to a record and one aspect of it , in your opinion, has a substantial effect on the record as a whole, why should you not draw attention to it?

  30. nonce

    I’ve been reading Pitchfork a long time (since the ’90s, which is forever in music magazine years) and there have been two constant trends: the reviews have gotten worse and worse, and everything else has gotten better and better.

    What used to feel like a site run by record geeks inept at things such as interviews now feels like a site run by industry insiders who are inept at doing things such as appreciating or criticizing music outside of all the trappings of a closely-analyzed site (hype, hipsterism, anti-hipsterism, advertising revenue, etc.).

    So now you either get stuff that feels like reviews-by-committee or you get the once-in-a-while “Grayson Currin has gone off his meds” review.

  31. CaptainPeacockSuit

    I was just in a HMV store in Toronto and there’s a “Pitchfork approved” section!

  32. AquaLung

    @maplebanana: You have to know there’s a difference between pointing out a lacking element in a music review and beating a dead horse.

    There’s no need to make the same point paragraph-after paragraph- that is unless you just wanted to tear through writing the review just to get it done.

    A poorly thought-out review is bad no matter where it runs, it just so happens this one comes from P4K.

    It’d be nice if Pitchfork had some sort of comments sections, where people could discuss things like this instead of having to do it elsewhere.

    Something tells me that wouldn’t sit well with the people over there though.

  33. katie_a_princess

    how can you tell a drummer’s at your door?

    the knock keeps getting faster and faster.

  34. capn_guthrie

    Pelican minus their drummer would be Explosions In The Sky.

  35. gorillavsmarykate

    Yes, I suppose the Pelican album would be better if they had a better drummer. Also, the Jet album would be better if they replaced the 4 members of the band, played different music, and were called LCD Soundsystem.

  36. Mr.NoMo

    I just checked out snippets of the tracks on the iTunes store, and honestly, that drumming is really bringing the album down. I mean it’s INSTRUMENTAL for God’s sake.
    The kit is mixed in this really big rock kind of way and is too up front to be ignorable.
    In 7, 30 second chunks, I heard the same not interesting or terribly appropriate sloppy beat at least 5 times (and he wasn’t even on every track).

    That being said, the review was totally dickish.

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