On Pitchfork, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s “Fishing for Fishies,”and the Death of Rock Criticism

Australia’s King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard were last heard from at the very end of 2017 when they just barely got Gumboat Soup , their fifth album of that strenuous year, out the door. It was pretty good, and so were stretches of the previous four recs that year, but I doubt that, ten years hence, any of us will play any of those albums from start to finish.

Yesterday King Gizzard returned with Fishing for Fishies – a fun, occasionally beautiful, sometimes even profound album built around blues forms including a repeating boogie motif. For a ridiculously prolific band to have slowed down and recorded an album constructed upon a foundation of well-considered songs — and not just treat us to their let-the-tapes-roll jams — was cause for celebration.

Those morons at Pitchfork rated it a 4.8 and slagged the entire effort.

There’s a lot to say about this, but let’s start here. We viewed this event — Pitchfork, which has become the online reviewer of record, showing off their faux sophistication by condemning an effort by a cult band to produce a commercially viable, long-lasting album; sneering at a career move that would see the band seeking to be considered as something other than astonishing, amusing freaks whose mark is laid by stunts — as symbolic of the sorry state of rock criticism in Annos Domini 2019.

Time was when rock criticism, as a form of writing, was as exciting as the fiction writing of its day, as important as the non-fiction novel, the New Journalism. When Lester Bangs, R. Meltzer or John Mendelsohn could write a review or a feature with prose every bit as wild and exciting as the Flamin’ Groovies, Little Feat or T. Rex album they were loving or hating. When in the New York Times, John Rockwell or Robert Palmer were expanding our horizons by telling us how the nexus between Philip Glass and Brian Eno heralded a deepening of rock’s importance or how last night’s show at CBGB by Talking Heads was the most exciting development since Television played there the month before. When Byron Coley in New York Rocker or Roy Trakin in the Soho Weekly News, when Tom Carson in the Voice or Charles Shaar Murray in NME alerted us to a band that would change our lives.

We admit that when we wrote for New York Rocker, Soho News, the Village Voice and Rolling Stone, we attempted to combine both critical insight with lively prose, because we knew that rock writing was as much a performance art as the music that gripped our soul.

There are a number of reasons why rock writing these days is an arid landscape. The first is the decline of the New York Times; under Jon Pareles and his editors, they moved away from their essential role in telling us what bands in New York City were contributing to the culture. I mean, Brooklyn as a locus of bands circa 2008-2019 is as worthy a “scene” — to use a word editor Bob Christgau used to strip from my prose — to cover as the Summer of Love in San Francisco or the punk era in Lower Manhattan and London. And yet the Paper of Record has virtually ignored it. (In the breach arose Brooklyn Vegan, but I can’t name a single writer from that site, and I used to know every one of the NYT’s stable of writers.) Instead the Times provides the occasional listicle in its worthless Sunday Arts and Leisure section, usually letting us know about the catholic tastes of its writers, but never actually letting them, you know, write.

For a while there, Spin was an important publication, but its decline under the soap opera that was Bob Guccione Jr. unfortunately limited its tenure. Fortunately, from the consistently excellent, if limited, British magazine Uncut we have learned about dozens of bands we might otherwise never have discovered, and while they tend to grant every album they review a minimum rating of 7 out of 10 — a sort of Lake Woebegone “everyone is special” lack of critical seriousness — at least, over the past decade, they’ve alerted us to, oh, only Kelley Stoltz, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, etc.

Which brings us to Pitchfork. Every album review they publish is as dry as a Mojave declivity. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed at a single sentence contained therein. They review rock’n’roll albums with less passion than Car and Driver forced to compare the latest minivans.

And so: the nadir of rock writing is their punishing King Gizzard & the Lizard for the sin of trying to actually produce a single album that has meaning, rather than simply recording, live-to-tape, their studio all-nighters.

The decline of rock criticism is a little understood portent of the decline of Western Civ, but if you want to know where it has all gone wrong, read Pitchfork and despair.

3 Responses to “On Pitchfork, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s “Fishing for Fishies,”and the Death of Rock Criticism”

  1. Thanks for this and this site in general. I agreed with every word, particularly about Pitchfork. It inspired me to write a review of the record myself along the same lines: http://itstartswithabirthstone.blogspot.com/2019/04/songs-of-day-1925-king-gizzard-lizard.html

  2. […] they released multiple recs) just to spite that numbskull at Pitchfork who sniffed at this record, prompting our editors to weigh in on what a dry fart modern rock criticism, at least as exemplified by that rag, has become. This […]

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