Thumbnail image for the-head-and-the-heart-lp.jpg
As Chris Kornelis reported yesterday , Pitchfork reviewed the Head and the Heart's self-titled, Sub Pop re-released debut album, resulting in an ugly 3.8.

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Sure, The Head and the Heart Is Unoriginal and Inauthentic, But That Shouldn't Be a Problem

Thumbnail image for the-head-and-the-heart-lp.jpg
As Chris Kornelis reported yesterday, Pitchfork reviewed the Head and the Heart's self-titled, Sub Pop re-released debut album, resulting in an ugly 3.8.

The review's content wasn't too surprising. There are the usual jabs at Dave Matthews and Coldplay (which by now should be inducted into the Pitchfork-review-clich├ęs Hall of Fame), as well as a general sort of critique of overt earnestness as a songwriting method. However, one particular passage caught my attention, not for its entertaining Pitchfork-isms, but for demonstrating very transparently an all-too-common trend in music criticism:

Such nods to history and to hard labor are meant to give this album the sheen of authenticity, but it doesn't take long to see through to the calculation beneath . . . The Head and the Heart sound anonymous, their drama wholly predictable. Conceptually, they're close to Mumford & Sons: opportunistic in their borrowings, yet entirely unimaginative in the execution.

Critiquing a band on the basis of its perceived "authenticity" or sincerity--which is exactly what Pitchfork does here--is more than a little ridiculous.

First, this method assumes that artists have some kind of ulterior motive for making music --"the calculation beneath"--an assumption with absolutely no basis in anything concrete, as if The Head and the Heart sinisterly plot how to eke out maximum emotional effect from each heartfelt melody.

As a counter-example, look at Pitchfork darlings Pains of Being Pure at Heart, proud owners of an 8.4 and 8.2 for their first two LPs. The Pains' reliance on '80s and '90s production and songwriting tropes could be just as easily passed off as insincere or calculated, but they incorporate these ideas in a much more stylized and self-aware fashion than The Head and the Heart do their "vaguely old-time instrumentation." This discrepancy seems unfair, and it places the premium on self-consciousness rather than the music itself.

Ultimately, that's this method's main fault--with its focus on credibility and implied authenticity, it pushes the music to the background. If you think that The Head and the Heart's music is bland, inoffensive, or trite (which, for the record, I do to a certain extent) then so be it. However, in general, music critics could do well to remember that intention is not nearly as important as it's often made out to be.

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