I bought a new bookcase at the Walmart on the other side of town yesterday. I don’t have a car — or even a driver’s license, not since last November — and while the great majority of my day-to-day activity doesn’t require one, on occasion I find myself lending unearned nobility and heroism to routine actions in an attempt to justify their inconvenience. The fossil fuels I’m leaving intact, the bicep muscles I’m building, the sweat leaking from my brow as I haul unassembled hunks of crappy oak and little screws through a mile-long parking lot towards a humble bus stop bench, all given a little extra glory. The bookcase had two seats to itself when we rode home.
We got off the bus around the corner from my apartment, and I found myself struggling with my grip on the box. It slipped, and I stuck my right knee out to slow its fall; it slapped against me just above my kneecap, and fell onto the sidewalk. Justin was there quickly, tending to my blooming wound. An old man was riding down the sidewalk on a tiny bike with handlebar tassels, and he stopped as he rode near us. “I felt that from over there!”
"Yeah, it stings, but it’s no big deal. As long as the stuff inside is alright."
"Well, I hope she kisses it better!" And then he rode away.
It took us a second, but we looked at each other and started to laugh. We began to work backwards, trying to construct the scenario in which that remark could make any sense. Were we two friends doing some hapless lady pal a favour? Did he see Justin caring for me and drop a low-key pronoun-based insult? It didn’t come close to warranting that much thought, of course: it was just an unobservant old guy with a straight brain, making the kind of comment he’s made a thousand times before, pedalling away with a smile and an internal “heh heh heh.” We’re both lucky because we don’t really have to grapple with the realities of a straight world on a regular basis: we live together in a gay bubble, we’re out to all of our co-workers and friends and families, we’re rarely forced into interactions where our sexual orientation is an unknown quality or, even worse, a problem. This was one of those mostly innocuous moments — like friends talking about giving blood, like walking through a pack of bros on a Friday night, like seeing a Kickstarter for a kid who’s been thrown out by his bigoted parents float around Twitter — reminding me that much of the world still sees me, and people like me, as deviations from the accepted norm.
Anonymous said: Do you eventually want to become a full time writer?
A complicated question, but I guess the answer is “no,” at least for now. My contract with the university is up in eight months, and if you offered me the choice of a similarly compensated/equally engaging position at the school or a full-time staff writing gig in Toronto or New York, I would take the former. I think about this every single day. There are a lot of variables. In a vacuum, writing is the thing I like to do most, and it’s probably where I have the greatest depth of skill. But doing it full-time with even a grain of stability would mean settling for less money, leaving my friends and family and loved ones, leaving the only country I’ve ever called home, and coming to terms with a considerable opportunity cost. I have this nightmare filed away in the back of my brain where I’ve leapt ten or twenty years into the future, and I’ve just been let go because almost every cent has been drained from the world of cultural criticism, and I’m 31 or 41 with no experience and no savings and no escape plan. It probably wouldn’t ever get that bad, but I can see 60% and 80% versions of that scenario playing out.
I look at my life now, and things are pretty great: I live in a gorgeous apartment with my boyfriend for relatively cheap, I have a good job that involves a lot of non-music writing while allowing me to develop my management skills, and I get to write for some of my favourite editors and publications in my spare time for beer and pizza money. I know I love writing about music as a hobby, but I have no way of knowing if I would still feel that way if I was stuck on the news grind or was made to churn out pieces about things I’m not totally invested in; I find the clique-y, insider-y social aspects of contemporary music writing suffocating and tiresome, and I only ever taste them on Twitter and Gchat. I’ve actually come to value the perspective I’ve gained from working in a different field and living somewhere other than New York, and I think it’s enriched my writing as I’ve gotten older and better. I add all of this together and it leads me to believe that pursuing a full-time career as a writer is not the best choice for me right now.
(Of course, this could all look silly in a year: my contract runs out, I can’t find another job here in Waterloo, one of my editors has a position free, and next thing you know I’m renting one of four bedrooms in Bushwick and liveblogging the Teen Choice Awards. But this is where I am right now.)
Anonymous said: do you email musicians often to help answer questions for your articles? plan of action if they don't respond?
I don’t, I can only remember doing it once or twice. My thoughts on a record rarely hinge on the clarification of a lyric or the elucidation of some theme by the artist, and if I ever find myself at that sort of junction I usually opt for reshaping my thought or taking a different angle. I have go-to research strategies, of course — spend a lot of time with their discography, read a lot of interviews, read both dated and recent non-review writing and criticism — but directly questioning artists while writing something is not typically one of them.
Anonymous said: Is there any way VFT6 *isn't* the best album of 2015?
my face when I think, even for a second, about a new Drake album
Anonymous said: Any thoughts on the emo revival?!?
Hmm, nothing really noteworthy, to be honest. I like a few of the records that fall under the “emo revival” umbrella, I suppose, particularly this year’s efforts from the Hotelier and Joyce Manor; they have an energy and passion that has helped them stand out at a point in my life where I’m finding it a lot easier to latch onto pop, R&B, and electronic music than rock music. But I think the best way I can use this space is to refer people to what Ian wrote about this particular batch of bands and records for the Pitch a few days ago, especially since he’s the critic who alerted many people to the existence and quality of these records in the first place. He dismantles the flawed concept of the “emo revival” with the same intensity and spirit that makes a song like "End of the Summer" worthwhile.
Anonymous said: How long does it take you to write a typical review?
I think I answered something like this a few months ago, but my work habits might’ve changed, so I’ll just give it another go. I usually spread the composition of any piece, review or essay or whatever, out over two nights, or two distinct sessions. First, I pour out anything and everything I’d like to say about the topic into quick and dirty point form notes, without filtering or focusing on cohesion or structure. This usually takes no more than half an hour. When I come back a day (or a few hours) later, I write the piece in order from beginning to end, building from the notes I took before and editing and rearranging as I go along. The time required depends on my level of focus, interest in the topic, and the length of the piece, but I’d say it usually takes anywhere from one to three hours.
Sometimes I procrastinate and put myself in a bad spot, and I have to skip the notes phase and write the whole thing from scratch in one sitting. This doesn’t add much to the overall time required, but I’m usually less happy with the final product. To be honest, I feel like I’ve done 70% of the work by the time I sit down to spit up notes or actually write the piece. Once I get an assignment or land a pitch, I can’t stop thinking about the subject, and I do a lot of the planning internally: figuring out structure, memorizing little turns of phrase, refining ideas and thoughts, etc.
Anonymous said: how does p4k work? like in the sense, of all the music that is reviewed on the website, is each and every contributor + staff well versed with the music, or are records distributed amongst writers? curious to know. thanks
Well, everyone who contributes to the site has their own little wheelhouse, and both the writers and the editorial team usually have a good feel for where everyone’s expertise lies. For example, I’m something like a centrist, and I’m mostly going to write about music near the twin poles of “rock” and “pop” with occasional forays into electronic music; I’m probably not going to write about rap for the site anytime soon, or really obscure ambient stuff, or metal, those just aren’t fields where I have enough knowledge, experience, or enthusiasm to do the music justice. There are areas where lots of writers have overlapping interests, of course, especially when it comes to popular or influential artists, but for the most part Pitchfork is much less a monolithic identity than a collection of distinct individual voices. I think that’s something many of the site’s critics conveniently forget when they’re ranting about a particular bit of coverage or an artist’s review history. I hope that answered at least part of your question!
jakec said: what is the best part about being canadian besides being from the same country as drake
never being more than 500 m away from either a Tim Hortons or a Shoppers Drug Mart
also the metric system, it’s so easy
(Canadian engineers — and engineers from countries around the world, I’m sure — are trained to achieve fluency in both the metric system and American engineering units. It’s incorporated into all of our tests, we have a first year course that focuses almost entirely on unit conversion, etc. I didn’t appreciate the beauty and simplicity of the metric system until heat and mass transfer professors were writing all of their questions in terms of [BTU/(hr *ft^2*F)] and I had to bust out page-length line calculations just to start problems. Bless the metric system.)
My Decade in Music So Far: Jamieson Cox -
And for those of you who were asking about my personal songs/albums ballots, you can find the top 20 of each here, along with little blurbs about two faves that didn’t make the big list (Chris Cohen’s Overgrown Path, Eleanor Friedberger’s “Roosevelt Island”) and a tiny thing about running to my favourite songs. That’s it, that’s all I’ve got. Thank you for reading.
I contributed to Pitchfork's list of the 100 Best Albums of the Decade So Far -
I wrote another four blurbs for this list, which is chock full of incredible, passionate writing. I’m so proud to write alongside all of these people. Going to do a little director’s commentary the same way I did for my track blurbs, please indulge me (especially because as I’m writing them, I’m realizing these ones are a lot more indulgent).
Dirty Projectors, Swing Lo Magellan (#61): This album came out the summer I was living in Toronto and dating a lot, a summer that has really become almost mythical even though it was only two years ago because my life has changed drastically since then. I became something like a man in four months, commuting to a job I didn’t like every day and dancing on the weekends and trying to harden my heart a little and going on adventures when I could spare the time, and even when I couldn’t. Eating egg salad sandwiches hungover in the park on Sentinel while families played around me and I planned trips to the beach, riding the 192 Express to Downsview and taking it all the way downtown, smoking that Captain Black I mentioned a while back on the patio and coughing it back up for the next two days. What an incredible summer! I guess I was searching for a lot of things the same way Longstreth searches throughout this album, and that searching was reflected back onto me, and “Impregnable Question” made me think a lot about love at a time when I was trying so hard not to. Underrated, shockingly human, just as good as the more feted Bitte Orca.
Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream (#59): This one came out a few months later, and of course by that time everything had changed. I hear this album and I think back to one specific night: there was a power outage, and my roommates were out playing board games somewhere. My boyfriend, the one sleeping on the couch ten feet away the way he does on weeknights, had come over; we had only been together for a few weeks. I lit a lot of cheap candles and played this album through my iPad speakers and tried to make it seem like I knew what I was doing. I can still remember that sensuality, however forced, and the shitty candles beside my tiny futon — they should’ve lit the damn thing on fire — and how the music made it easier to feel out the fantasy.
Drake, Nothing Was the Same (#41): The night this album came out I hopped into a Gchat window with a bunch of other nerds and live-chatted through it after midnight, drinking beer when I had a lab in the morning and freaking out over every beat switch and hearing lines for the first time that would become omnipresent memes in a matter of days. It would dominate the last year of my undergrad, nights with the guys where we’d yell out all the lyrics and wander down to 7-11 for late snacks and fall asleep on each other’s floors and couches. Nothing was the same, and now nothing is. It’s only been a few months but everyone is gone. Get us together in a room, pay for the bus tickets and the plane tickets and whatever else you need, and put this on and watch the fireworks. Remember? How could I forget?
Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest (#3): I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that many of the things I value most today — the platforms I have for my writing, the friends I’ve made, the love I have in my life, the self-confidence, you name it — wouldn’t be present in the same form if I hadn’t spent a few months clinging to this album like a life raft, listening to it in my dark second floor bedroom every night as I fell asleep and in pretty much every waking hour too. It kept me afloat when I was at my loneliest and angriest and most depressed. I tried to pour all of that into this blurb, to shape it into a signal to other people who might happen upon our list when they could use a similar lift: this is the kind of album that can get you through. And in many ways it felt like everything I’ve ever written was building to this assignment: turning to Tumblr as an outlet for the feelings the album helped me grapple with, finding friends and readers, making contacts, graduating to real publications, building trust, covering the band in painstaking detail one week, sticking around when this list was in its infancy and being given the chance to do it justice. I tried to give it that gravity, the weight of a life it shaped, and if I came even a little close then I’m happy.