Rock Group Is Appropriately High Strung About Pitchfork

Jun 20th, 2007 // 28 Comments

strung.jpgPerhaps you’ve heard of the High Strung, a Detroit garage-rock band that’s released three well-received albums over the past few years. Well, apparently no one over at Pitchfork is paying much attention to the group, and that prompted frontman Josh Malerman to post a tongue-in-cheekish rant on the High Strung’s MySpace page:

Dear Pitchfork…

What does a band need to do to get reviewed by you guys? Yes, yes… we all know you are the current fantasy… the big bull goose on the block… the cheese, if you will, right now and for who knows how long. I’m not convinced a bad review hurts a band but we all know what a good one can do. Ok. None of this is what concerns me… what irks me is that by refusing to review our three albums so far you are suggesting we play NO PART in the mass tapestry that is modern music. Now… if you only reviewed acts like, say, Springsteen, I would shrug my shoulders and eschew my lips and move on…. but we all know you don’t. There are thousands of reviews on yr site but none of The High Strung. Really… what does a band need to do?

Is it timing? I hear your review process works something like a round table with a pile of CDs in the center and someone has to say YES I’LL DO IT for it to “pass” into review. Is it timing then? Have our albums crossed the eyes of your brass at the same time that dozens of “bigger” (hate this word) bands? Hmmmm. I don’t buy it. What I think it is is that you guys are simply not aware of what we’ve been up to. It’s ok. We all have gaps. I still haven’t seen Fast Times At Ridgemont High and you don’t know much about the High Strung. We’ll call it even. But I’m also gonna tell you a little about us… maybe show you that we are (on some level) a part of this tapestry you refuse to grant us:
1.) 300 shows a year for 4 years. that’s 1200 shows.
2.) toured with Bob Pollard and Son Volt and Ok Go and the Capitol Years (all bands you review on the spot)
3.) forever entwined with the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame for “donating” our first tour bus to them (leaving it on their doorstep at 2 AM… if that isn’t rock n’ roll then you guys are not doing yr job)
4.) albums have been reviewed by other landmarks: Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Spin, Playboy, Blender, Stuff. If it’s validation yr after… can’t some of it be found there?
5.) A song of ours was named runner up for SONG OF THE YEAR in The Washington Post. NPR named our first album one of the top ten of the year. Even if you totally didn’t agree with this… shouldn’t it warrant a review?
6.) NPR’s THIS AMERICAN LIFE did a feature on us… that’s right boys… for doing a library tour before that Potters band… a band you highlighted as a “show of the year” for how inovative they are a full year after we were standing on our amps and singing about over-acheivers and gravediggers to an all ages crowd.
7.) Our rhythm section is the best rhythm section in the country.
8.) What other band writes about devious museum curators? Neighborhood gentlemen? John Rambo?
Look… fellas… we’ve done the work… we’ve sold out some good sized venues… we’ve put enough work into this that Harp prediciting we’d burn out (this was 2 years ago HA!). But the fact that they predicted it must mean we’re at least in the musical map, right? Well. Do us both a favor… the next time the High Strung album lands on the royal round table in Pitchfork Media’s golden meeting room… remember these few credentials (I can right 100 of them if it’s heart and spirituality you’re looking for) and review a band that a lot of other people already know about. Dig?
Until then… I’ll write another… and another…

JOSH MALERMAN

The High Strung

No one knows just how the grade-giving overlords at Pitchfork function, but our experience is that most record-review sections are guided by a complex formula that works out to about 70 percent personal taste, 20 percent politics and 10 percent ring-toss randomness. So maybe the band was getting the shaft, or maybe their promos just got lost in the pile; no matter what, this missive all but guarantees that the site will review its next record, and we’re betting the words “jangly” and “romp” will be used.

Dear Pitchfork… [The High Strung's MySpace Blog]

  1. Anonymous

    Could be because Pitchfork hates one of their gifted label mates so much.

  2. Mick Kraut

    Clearly these guys dont need Pitchfork to pay any attention to them really, they doing well without an overwrought and self referential review…only if they repeat their review of the last JET record can there be any real effect…

    oh and I think he used the word “eschew” incorrectly…

    /grammar-hammer

  3. jobbotch

    I love the ridiculous assumption that drives this whole rant – that a Pitchfork review is some sort of milestone for a band.

    Last year, my album got an enthusiastic 7.5 from Pitchfork, likely faring far better than a “Detroit garage-rock band” would on that site. A&R people didn’t parachute into my living room. Ultragrrrl didn’t prostrate herself at my doorstep offering her PR services. What happened was, I sold six CDs that day (six more than I do on the average day), got a song played on a college station or two, and saw a light spike in my web stats.

  4. Al Shipley

    The blunt reality is that even a site that reviews 25 albums a week isn’t going to cover everything, or even every halfway notable indie rock release. I notice all the time new albums by fairly well known indie bands not getting reviewed in Pitchfork. And if a band has toured that much and accomplished as much as this one is bragging that they have, then a PF review, good or bad, isn’t a feather in their cap that they actually need.

  5. Emerson Dameron

    These guys promote themselves so relentlessly, they make me want to air-self-promote. My old laundromat had a High Strung sticker in the bathroom.

  6. gregcoff

    jobbotch: Amen. Similar experience here. It can help if you’re ALREADY doing well. But it ain’t gonna make or break you.

  7. nonce

    Maybe the high school marching band uniform calls forth unpleasant memories for Pitchfork staffers. Though marching band + knit cap is a bold look.

    And the half-rant worked because now I’m _almost_ curious to hear this band, more curious than I would be if they were reviewed on P-fork. It took me 3 or 4 months to discover Deerhunter is actually really good, because I instantly dismissed them when they were prominently featured.

  8. gregcoff

    Can I also add that this guy’s rant is extremely precious and annoying? Leaving your busted tour van on the steps of the rock and roll hall of fame = a mildly amusing prank, somewhat rock and roll. Later including that fact in a list of reasons why you should be reviewed by a website = the exact opposite of rock and roll.

    p.s. watch for him to declare this rant a “joke” that was taken out of context in the upcoming days.

  9. Catbirdseat

    jobbotch, gregcoff: OTM. There is a definite skewed perception out there as to what a Pitchfork review will do for you, and the answer is: not much.

    Maybe, *MAYBE*, if you got a 0.0 or 10.0, it MIGHT still do something, but otherwise, it really, quite frankly, doesn’t matter. 6.8, 5.3, 3.2, 8.9… they’re for all intents and purposes the same thing. I mean, I do understand the appeal of getting your release reviewed on there, simply for the ‘cachet,’ but if you don’t get it, don’t sweat it, all I’m saying.

    In the absence of a promo guy/team behind a release, constantly pushing, constantly working the angles, you’re pretty screwed when it comes to maintaining a buzz. So my question would be, “Hey High Strung, who does your promo?”– because in my experience, THAT is how you get Pitchfork reviews– you have a promo guy that has a good relationship with the Fork.

    Personally, I believe the days of “Pitchfork ‘Makes’ band out-of-nowhere” are gone. I don’t think we’ll ever again see another BSS/CYHSY/Arcade Fire type blow-up attributed to Pfork; that window has pretty much closed.

  10. gregcoff

    @Catbirdseat: Not saying I disagree with you, but I’m curious as to why you think the “PFork breaks band” days are over. Do you feel like the site’s influence has waned? Or is it that there’s enough competition to ensure that the band-breaking glory is spread more evenly across a number of sites?

  11. ozacrot

    There’s a lot here that sounds kind of self-aggrandizing, but it is kind-of backed up. I don’t know how any band can play 300 shows a year, let alone four years in a row. And after having played with them, I’d say their bassist is a total badass. This seems less like a rant against Pitchfork than frustration with the relatively limited attention they’ve gotten from the frankly ridiculous number of shows and quality of reviews they’ve had. It seems maybe like sour grapes in general about the difficulty of establishing blog buzz, or perhaps a method of doing so.

  12. Lucas Jensen

    Um, Catbirdseat, you know you’re my brah and all that, but what about…Girl Talk, Dan Deacon, A Sunny Day in Glasgow? Sure, they got other press, but it seems like P4k was way behind those and it helped.

  13. brasstax

    @gregcoff: Yeah, it seems like so many people have got their ears to the ground on so many things now, no band Pitchfork talks about anymore seems like a surprise to anyone. I think it’s in large part because of Pitchfork’s involvement in “discovering” of CYHSY/Arcade Fire/etc. Now everybody’s looking everywhere because they want to be responsible for bringing the next great band to the masses. In the end, Pitchfork gets scooped by a bunch of eager 17 year-olds with OiNK memberships and time to kill.

  14. RepentTokyo

    pitchwhat?

  15. Al Shipley

    My favorite part of this thing is where he trumpets the band’s cutesy lyrical topics. “Dammit, isn’t it enough that we write songs about Rambo and ‘devious museum curators’? How quirky does our subject matter have to be to get some of that Sufjan money!? We’ll do a concept album if that’s what it takes!”

  16. Catbirdseat

    I’m not saying Pitchfork support doesn’t help/doesn’t do anything!

    I’m saying “Band-previously-almost-totally-unheard-of-suddenly-becomes-mega-huge” probably isn’t going to ever happen again. I think it’s partially to do with the glut of blogs, and their unending churn of posting about *everything*, but I think it’s also to do a lot with the general tenor of Pitchfork’s voice sort of changing– just like the blogs used to gatekeep, until they started just gushing about everything, so too with Pitchfork. They used to dole out criticism; but now, like the blogs, they’re most just gushing (Forkcast), shooting fish in a barrel (Forkcast “Delete” feature), or doling out 6.5 – 8.0 reviews.

    I feel like, in the recent past, I’ve seen at least a few half-attempts at cracking a new band that just didn’t seem to take (Rock Plaza Central, I’m From Barcelona… I’m sure there have been others)

    I also don’t think that Pitchfork was responsible, per se, for Girl Talk, Dan Deacon, Justice, (and soon No Ag) (and btw Twilight Sad– are they even considered *big*?). Those acts all got decent coverage before their big ‘Fork splashes. I mean, one could argue that some of those earlier acts I mentioned (CYHSY, AF) had lots of blog coverage prior to Pfork, but it was simply another time back then– the blogs didn’t have the reach and influence they seem to have now.

    Just an opinion! We don’t have to fight!

  17. Catbirdseat

    Whoops, forgot about Deerhunter! I’ll give you that, they really broke Deerhunter, true.

    (*also No Ag = No Age)

  18. brasstax

    @Catbirdseat: Did they? I got turned on to Deerhunter by Fluxblog and never even noticed Pitchfork had a boner for them.

  19. gregcoff

    Government Names: So true! It’s like “Maybe you guys didn’t know this, but we wrote a song about a devious museum curator. I mean, do I have to spell it out for you?! We’ve got quirky literary cred coming out of our ears for chrissake.”

    Also love the inclusion of “Neighborhood Gentleman,” in that list. What is that gonna do, exactly? Pfork reviewer: They wrote a song about a “neighborhood gentleman”?!?! Stop the html press!!!

  20. Catbirdseat

    I had only heard of Deerhunter before P4k because they were one of my one billion and nine Myspace friends.

  21. Dan Gibson

    I’ll review the High Strung somewhere if they agree to stop using “yr” in their writing.

  22. Ned Raggett

    Well the AMG has reviewed ‘em so it’s not like nobody’s said anything about them yet.

  23. CloudCarrier

    Deerhunter or Deerhoof?

  24. NickEddy

    Re: the “breaking” of Deerhunter. Someone get that kid some soup or he’s gonna snap in half, the poor dear/deer!

    Retracted if he has some serious illness. Their whole schtick looks too dull to read a profile.

  25. Cam/ron

    I’m a former PFM critic and I understand the High Strung’s frustration but there are a few facts that need to be known.

    In general, critics only write about records that are interesting enough for them to pen a 400-600 word review about. I receive roughly 5-10 promo CDs a week and most of them usually end up in the slush pile. They’re not terrible, but they’re just not interesting enough to be studied for several hours and then get reviewed -maybe they could get a two-sentence, Vice Magainze-style review at best. Artists who have a strong reputation in the media or have work released by labels with high batting averages obviously get quick attention. CD-Rs that come in a zip-lock bag and have the music of Radiohead Clone #2,023 are unlikely to get such attention. Like what was posted before, no single publication can cover the ever-expanding glut of new albums.

  26. niwi

    Eschew his lips? Is he going to cut his lips off if he doesn’t get into Pitchfork?

  27. auk

    taking the anti-pitchfork stance worked for me, cause i checked out their myspace. wasn’t into it tho. but now i know their name!

    i guess i’ll eat up anything anti-pitchfork. i always found them annoying, and i’m glad to see their influence on the wane. as for blogs’ influence in general – i think readers are slower to buy into any gushing review, and advertisers will follow suit (if they haven’t already)

    what it comes down to is blogs are now like brands–the ones that will remain successful are the ones that stay in touch with their readers, the ones that know how to address and identify with the specific group of readers/listeners who visit them. most blogs aren’t credible, well-written, discerning or enjoyable, but even the ones that ARE, will have to rely on branding to maintain ‘customer loyalty’.

    which comes to my next point: unfortunately i think pitchfork will be around for a long time, like a cockroach (like rolling stone), because it established legitimacy early on and there are enough impressionable indie rockers to buy into it.

  28. douglasmartin

    the thing i’ve noticed about pitchfork in the post-blog days is that although their influence is countered by blogs, thus rendering their ability to cut down a band by giving them a bad review unlikely but not impossible. cold war kids is a prime example that pitchfork blasts on a regular basis, but does very well, not only as a band, but as a “credible indie band,” and this is due to the influence of mp3 bloggers and whatnot.

    however, a “recommended” review in pitchfork will get more people interested, and a “best new music” nomination gives a band a much higher profile, given the fact that whenever i read a “best new music” review, there’s at least one blog that says “pitchfork gave it a so-and-so,” and links to their review.

    i do see pitchfork turning a band into a phenomeon as they’ve done in the past, because most indie bands [cold war kids excepted] aren’t really considered breakthrough sensations until pitchfork voices their approval.

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