Sunday, August 21, 2011

A peek inside June's new indoor reading yurt.

Flower Buddha happy in the Zinnias and Gomphrena.

new n+1.

Compared to The Believer, n+1, as I understand it, is supposed to be similarly omnivorous and, I don't know, "youthful" or something, but more willing to look critically at its own generation. I think some people believe The Believer and stuff coming out of the Dave Eggers empire in general can be too pleased with itself or too willing to sit back and just be a cheerleader for whatever cleverness their friends have submitted. n+1 is supposed to be more serious, and I do find myself laughing much less frequently than I do when I'm, say, browsing Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

Toward this goal of seriousness, the issue that came yesterday, no. 12, includes an attempted take-down of the taste-setting music site Pitchfork. Richard Beck, the cheeky so and so, gives P4k a "5.4," and tries to explain to us why we should not like it either. But it's an unconvincing piece, and I don't think it is at all honest with itself about its own ambivalence. Anyone who goes to that site is ambivalent about it. Much of the good new music we like we heard about there, but we worry, at the same time, that we are too dependent on it, that it is too popular, as if we can only maintain our indie cred if we know when to jump ship just before it loses its cool.

Beck seems to be arguing that this has already happened, but he can only throw a mish-mash of hand-wringing complaints at it. He accuses the writing of being too sloppily exuberant, but also concedes that that is the nature of the genre. He points out that no critical stars have arisen from the site, but also suggests that this anti-star feel is a conscious strategy on their part, and may be part of the reason for their success. He accuses them of being "king-makers" (as if Pitchfork were more responsible for the success of Arcade Fire than Arcade Fire themselves) and suggests that we are all missing out on more challenging and novel music as a result. Ultimately, he blames the music itself, arguing that we should "pursue a musical culture more worth our time." Go for it, Mr. Beck. But until that happens, you and I both know that we'll still be reading Pitchfork every day and agreeing with much of what they say.

In the end, he sounds just as conflicted and unresolved about this as we all are, but unaware of that ambivalence or even dishonest about it. He also could have acknowledged the Pitchfork spinoff, Altered States, which attempts to fill in some of those eclipsed musical corners he complains of, but maybe he didn't know about it.

Most importantly, though, Beck's single article had me thinking more than any five issues of The Believer put together, and that's why n+1 is worthwhile.

UPDATE: Reading this over, I really sound like a blowhard. "Go for it, Mr. Beck"? What was that about? I still think that this article doesn't quite explain to me my own ambivalence toward its subject like I wanted it to, but the author deserves more credit than I give him here. I guess the snark bug took over when I was writing.

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