Critical Backlash: Reviewers Don’t Love You, Boris Yeltsin

It’s no secret I’m a fan of Someone Still Love You Boris Yeltsin’s Pershing — as far as I’m concerned, it’s the pop record of the year and a current top 5 pick in my running year-end list. But stodgy critics who have apparently never enjoyed the Shins or Rogue Wave don’t feel the same way: Pitchfork dropped a 6.2 on it today, and the normally generous Allmusic gave it a paltry 2.5 stars recently.

Ratings aside, the reviews have some interesting similarities: Both only invest serious analysis in two songs, “Dead Right” and “Oceanographer,” which, yes, have shitty lyrics. God forbid. And both mention that the songs aren’t memorable or just aren’t catchy enough. Even if that was true, it’s a cheap criticism for a layered, nuanced album that represents a big musical step forward from their debut, Broom. Pitchfork scribe Ian Cohen even nods to this: “[SSLYBY are] a far more accomplished and confident band, something to be expected from two years of having to prove themselves outside of their homebase [sic].”

Nowhere in the next two paragraphs are these accomplishments mentioned: The band’s incorporation of horns and effects pedals, or the pristine studio sound and harmonic guitar and vocal arrangements that improve on Broom‘s four-track garage pop. And dismissing the “indie-hipster version of the nameless college-guy jam band,” as Allmusic’s Marisa Brown (clearly not an indie-hipster, whatever that means) does, ignores the album’s surprising emo/punk influences — in many ways, Pershing is a sequel to Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity, if one also informed by Oh, Inverted World. [Continue reading…]

While Brown’s review is purely dismissive, a hip-hop writer’s one-paragraph brush-off of yet another indie-hipster promo (ironically, she likes both Destroyer and the Notwist, a band certainly way more boring than SSLYBY), Cohen’s tries to have it both ways, which is made more irksome by his awkward angle: “Yeltsin’s story is familiar– armed with a memorably silly name and all the right blogger friends… But is that enough to cut it when you’re trying desperately to come around on that Fuck Buttons album*?” Essentially he argues that listeners (read: Pitchfork readers) are only into mainstream pop and semi-avant noise these days, which is certainly true for most Hipinion posters, but for the rest of us, indie guitar bands are still our bread and butter. It’s a weird binary to introduce, especially since Pitchfork itself helped spearhead the “wait, are we still listening to this ironically or what” movement when it started covering Jay-Z and Kylie next to Sonic Youth or whoever like six years ago. And one that he only uses to set up his defense of the record before nailing it to a wall! Make up your mind, guy.

Anyway, for those of you who haven’t made up your minds on the record, get familiar:

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – “HEERS”: mp3

*I don’t understand why making a noise record (Fuck Buttons – Clayton Purdom and Dom Sincola’s review of this is tremendous), minimal techno record (The Field) or gay dance record (Hercules and Love Affair) that’s somewhat accessible automatically leads to a Best New Music or even message board relevance. Oh man, bands without guitars! Remember when everybody thought Madvillain was album of the decade material? If I was a conspiracy theorist, I’d say it’s good for Pitchfork to back these kinds of bands because when hipster groupthink uses these bands an entry-point into the weirder, legitimately avant stuff, P4k gets credibility, but I think it’s actually because it’s easy to mistake the sensation of not wanting to vomit after hearing a noise album with thinking it’s really awesome. Not that these albums aren’t good, but a 9+ for Hercules while Justice barely cracked 8.4 last year? Sheesh.