- In framing Tapes 'n Tapes popularity, Pitchfork looms large.
No self-respecting young musician these days dreams of being "On the Cover of Rolling Stone." Indeed, Dr. Hook's famous tune needs an internet makeover, because the torch has passed to blogs and 'zines -- which, in the case of Pitchfork, can change your career overnight.
Ask Josh Grier, a data analyst for a health-benefits company in Minneapolis and proud owner of a window cubicle. An Oregon native, Grier still receives care packages from his parents back home.
One week, his mom sent oranges to him at work, but he left the fruit on his desk after stepping out for the evening. On his way home, he cut back across town to grab the oranges.
"On the way home, for some reason, I like came up with this melody and was just humming it. I got home and set up my Casio keyboard and just recorded it real quick," he says, talking about a song called "My Name Is Not Horatio," which he wrote for his band, Tapes 'n Tapes. "Everybody else hates it. I think it's fun."
Like plenty of other normal dudes his age, Grier has a band. They're pretty good, but not great yet, a playful indie rock band owing debts to the usual suspects -- Modest Mouse, the Pixies, the Beatles, the Beach Boys -- and delivering quirky, somewhat anxious romps about living.
"My Name Is Not Horatio" epitomizes that aesthetic, two minutes of simple keyboard chords and the five-word title shouted over and over again in simple refrain, like detritus from a Frank Black session. Since early March, the seven-track EP on which "Horatio" appears has become an internet collector's item, due to the sudden explosion in Tapes 'n Tapes' popularity. Grier still finds it astounding.
The EP's follow-up, The Loon, is also a hot indie property, nearly selling out of its independent-issue runs and slated for release by a big independent label, XL, later this summer. A big part of that buzz stems from Pitchfork Media -- an 11-year-old Chicago website that has become the touchstone for people Grier's age and for music-industry lackeys worldwide -- which lauded the band for "arriving . . . at a fresh vision through eloquent pastiche."
The hype began with the music blogs, several of which were raving late last year about The Loon. In November, the day after the first blog reviewed it, Capitol Records called, suggesting some interest in the band. On February 28, Pitchfork pushed Tapes 'n Tapes over the top, as it has done with increasing regularity for young bands in the last five years; it added The Loon to its über-elite Best New Music category, and Grier's world blew up.
"My first reaction was 'Holy shit.' I woke up at 7:30 that morning and checked the website, and the review was up. It was an 8.3," says Grier, who has been reading Pitchfork for four years now. "I immediately called in to my boss and took the day off. The whole day was insane. From then on, it's been really busy."
After Pitchfork's props, representatives of at least 25 labels -- from the most ambitious indie upstart to the biggest multinational conglomerate -- were begging Tapes 'n Tapes to sign, flying to Minneapolis to wine and dine Grier and his band. In March, the trio played eight shows in four days at South by Southwest, Austin's big music conference, and since then it has signed with XL, an imprint of the Beggars Banquet family, which includes indie stalwarts Matador and 4AD.
Still, for now, Grier is keeping his cube job, and the band's still happily playing its part in the local Minneapolis scene. In fact, the four recently opened a show for their friends, Bridge Club, at Minneapolis' small 7th Street Entry.
"It sold out a week ahead of time, and there were people wrapped around the club, waiting to get in," says Grier. "It wasn't anything like I'd ever seen before. It was awesome."
Last summer Pitchfork similarly pushed New York's Clap Your Hands Say Yeah from a 50-person local draw to one of the biggest indie bands in America, gracing the cover of Time Out New York and packing every SXSW showcase.
Begun in 1995 by 19-year-old Ryan Schreiber, a record-store clerk with no college aspirations, Pitchfork now has 160,000 visitors each day, a small but growing full-time editorial staff, and a strong team of contributing writers. It's updated daily, with at least five album reviews, three track reviews, and a pool of news stories breaking throughout the afternoon.
Pitchfork's writers don't pull punches: They're as likely to slam a formerly favorable band as they are to embrace an unknown. Reviews can be scathingly or graciously honest: The Arcade Fire took its 9.7 out of 10 and used it to build one of the biggest musical success stories of this decade, while Travis Morrison's 0.0 helped relegate him from the cool guy who used to front the Dismemberment Plan to the butt of scenester jokes.
"You'll see a real spike in sales if Pitchfork gives something Best New Music, but you also see that from good reviews in big outlets, like NPR or The New York Times," says Josh Madell, the co-owner of Other Music, an influential independent music boutique in Manhattan. "Pitchfork has definitely become as important as those outlets."
But Pitchfork-domain bands and Pitchfork readers exercise caution in advocating the site or its opinions: Angus Andrew -- one-third of Liars, a band Pitchfork has been either raving or ranting about since the website awarded its 2001 debut an 8.1 -- warns of people across the world accepting Pitchfork's statements with blind faith.
"It's interesting to be doing an interview with a guy in Norway, and he's basically quoting from Pitchfork," says Andrew, whose latest, Drum's Not Dead, was incorrectly labeled a concept album in a Best New Music Pitchfork wet kiss. "'You said this to Pitchfork, so tell me something else about that.' That's bizarre."
Kevin Neudecker, co-owner of Cleveland's Music Saves, points out that the site is as likely to hit as to miss. He thinks The Loon is mediocre at best, while he agrees enthusiastically with the 9.0 Pitchfork gave to Seattle's Band of Horses.
For his part, Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell is nearly sick of the buzz-band status it's earned him. Band of Horses was on the way to SXSW when its Sub Pop debut, Everything All the Time, landed under Best New Music. His brother in Atlanta sent him a text message -- "Pitchfork just gave you a blow job" -- to tell him, and his life's been dominated by interviews ever since.
"I mean, to me personally, it's just stupid. That stuff just kills me," says Bridwell, a regular dude raised in Irmo, South Carolina, a modest capital-city suburb of 11,000. "The words 'buzz' and 'band' together just make you wanna throw up."