Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Open Letter To Pitchfork Media From The Airborne Toxic Event

I'm not normally one to go in for much indie rock drama... I mean, it's usually as compelling and/or relevant to world events as, say, video game message board arguments about GameSpot's perceived anti-PS3 bias. But Pitchfork's review of The Airborne Toxic Event's album (read here) and the band's subsequent detailed response (below) at least makes for an interesting read:

Dear Ian,

Thanks for your review of our record. It's clear that you are a good writer and it's clear that you took a lot of time giving us a thorough slagging on the site. We are fans of Pitchfork. And it's fun to slag off bands. It's like a sport -- kind of part of the deal when you decide to be in a rock band. (That review of Jet where the monkey pees in his own mouth was about the funniest piece of band-slagging we've ever seen.)

We decided a long time ago not to take reviews too seriously. For one, they tend to involve a whole lot of projection, generally saying more about the writer than the band. Sort of a musical Rorschach test. And for another, reading them makes you too damned self-conscious, like the world is looking over your shoulder when the truth is you're not a genius or a moron. You're just a person in a band.

Plus, the variation of opinions on our record has bordered on absurd. 80 percent of what's been said has been positive, a few reviews have remained on the fence and a few (such as yours) have been aggressively harsh. We tend not to put a lot of stock in this stuff, but the sheer disagreement of opinion makes for fascinating (if not a bit narcissistic) reading.

And anyway we have to admit that we found ourselves oddly flattered by your review. I mean, 1.6? That is not faint praise. That is not a humdrum slagging. That is serious fist-pounding, shoe-stomping anger. Many publications said this was among the best records of the year. You seem to think it's among the worst. That is so much better than faint praise.

You compare us to a lot of really great bands (Arcade Fire, the National, Bright Eyes, Bruce Springsteen) and even if your intention was to cut us down, you end up describing us as: "lyrically moody, musically sumptuous and dramatic." One is left only to conclude that you must think those things are bad.

We love indie rock and we know full well that Pitchfork doesn't so much critique bands as critique a band's ability to match a certain indie rock aesthetic. We don't match it. It's true that the events described in these songs really happened. It's true we wrote about them in ways that make us look bad. (Sometimes in life you are the hero, and sometimes, you are the limp-dicked cuckold. Sometimes you're screaming about your worst fears, your most vicious jealousies and failures. Such is life.) It's also true that the record isn't ironic or quirky or fey or disinterested or buried beneath mountains of guitar noodling.

As writers, we admire your tenacity and commitment to your tone (even though you do go too far with your assumptions about us). You're wrong about our intentions, you're wrong about how this band came together, you don't seem to get the storytelling or the catharsis or the humor in the songs, and you clearly have some misconceptions about who we are as a band and who we are as people.

But it also seems to have very little to do with us. Much of your piece reads less like a record review and more like a diatribe against a set of ill-considered and borderline offensive preconceptions about Los Angeles. Los Angeles has an extremely vibrant blogging community, Silver Lake is a very close-knit rock scene. We are just one band among many. (And by the way, L.A. does have a flagship indie rock band: they're called Silversun Pickups). We cut our teeth at Spaceland and the Echo and have nothing to do with whatever wayward ideas you have about the Sunset Strip. That's just bad journalism.

But that is the nature of this sort of thing. It's always based on incomplete information. Pitchfork has slagged many, many bands we admire (Dr. Dog, the Flaming Lips, Silversun Pickups, Cold War Kids, Black Kids, Bright Eyes [ironic, no?] just to name a few), so now we're among them. Great.

This band was borne of some very very dark days and the truth is that there is something exciting about just being part of this kind of thing. There's this long history of dialogue between bands and writers so it's a bit of a thrill that you have such a strong opinion about us.

We hear you live in Los Angeles. We'd love for you to come to a show sometime and see what we're doing with these lyrically moody and dramatic songs. You seem like a true believer when it comes to music and writing so we honestly think we can't be too far apart. In any case, it would make for a good story.

all our best--

Mikel, Steven, Anna, Daren, Noah
The Airborne Toxic Event

4 Comments:

Blogger Claire said...

I love you guys so much! And good for you for writing what I think was too kind of a letter. Such audacity! It does seem like they (pitchfork) were just waiting for an album coming from LA to jump on and rip a whole scene a new one. Can't wait to hear the album.

1:12 AM  
Blogger remotedevice said...

thank god the critic is a dying breed.

3:14 PM  
Blogger drone the polar alert said...

Great record. period. Great response. Not needed. But a fun read. Much more than the review.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Joanna DeVoe said...

Obedient Waves LOVES RFS & LOVES Joe for posting this letter. Highly entertaining & worth getting "out there".

Peace...
Jo/Obedient Waves

10:36 PM  

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