As discussed on my Podcast, over the past year I’ve found myself obsessively watching all of the episodes of “Classic Albums” on Netflix, the documentary series that originally aired on VH1 and BBC chronicling the creation of some of rock’s most influential albums. After viewing around a dozen of these one hour episodes, I came up with the “great” notion to make a list of the episodes, ranking them and discussing each one in a short paragraph. Well, this was easier said that done and remains an unfinished project (maybe this post will get me re-motivated to finish it).
While watching these episodes that most commonly focused on albums of the 60s and 70s, I can’t help thinking about what this show would be like if it focused on newer classics. What would an episode devoted to Paranoid Android teach us about the recording process for such a revolutionary album? Could an episode on Pinkerton help us understand why Rivers Cuomo suddenly turned into such a douche? The most current album to be included on the “Classic Albums” show was Nirvana’s Nevermind, and the only reason this classic was included was probably the added storyline of Cobain’s suicide. While episodes about albums of generations past have been educational and have helped me appreciate bands I hadn’t prior (Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, etc.), I wanted to learn more about albums that had helped shape my youth.
Then, of course, my wish came true a few weeks ago when a friend informed me of Pitchfork.com’s latest webisode series “Classics” where they follow much in the mold of “Classic Albums” by looking at contemporary classic albums within the world of indie music. After talking with my friend, I decided to sit down and check out the episode devoted to the Flaming Lip’s The Soft Bulletin, an album that I would certainly consider a modern classic. I went into my viewing as a skeptic; I feel toward Pitchfork like one my feel towards an ex-girlfriend. A decade ago, I viewed their reviews and “best of” lists as the musical word of God and visited their site daily. With popularity, I’ve felt the site and its opinions have become a bit watered down, attempting to cater to a larger audience and no longer making their sole focus the type of innovative, experimental music I love (and they once loved). It’s no knock on the monolith-music website – they’ve just evolved into something different, much like the way a relationship can go to the wayside.
But my cynicism was all for naught. The 45-minute documentary focused on the Flaming Lips and The Soft Bulletin provided an in-depth look into the songwriting, the production, and the experiences that spawned such an intimately strange album. I’ve seen the Flaming Lips documentary The Fearless Freaks (a must see if you haven’t checked it out), and within the first few minutes of the Pitchfork doc I worried it was just going to be a rehash of what I already culled from the feature-length film. But then, once the background story of the band had been rehashed, the film delves into every nook and cranny of the album, every minute revealing a new detail of the album. It was like someone had taken The Fearless Freaks and put a magnify glass up to the 10-minute section that covers The Soft Bulletin. The production of the film is top-notch, a combination of home video footage and interviews that are patched together in a way that creates a focused narrative.
Check out the film on The Soft Bulletin here:
A few days after viewing the film, I wanted to check out the episode done on Modest Mouse’s Lonesome Crowded West. Rather than watch another episode on my laptop, I attempted to locate the documentary on my Xbox Live YouTube account by searching the Pitchfork.TV YouTube page. What I discovered was not the episode I was searching for. Instead, what came up were hundreds and hundreds of clips from live shows from bands like Animal Collective and Ty Segall, exclusive mini-movie-music videos ala Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” for bands like Beach House, and interviews from some of my favorite artists. I ended up wasting an entire afternoon, watching clip after clip like the junkie for music that I am. I quickly realized that maybe what I once loved about Pitchfork had fallen to the wayside, but that they were still on the forefront of music with their web presence on YouTube. If they end up making an episode on Built to Spill’s Keep It Like A Secret, I may just have to rethink this whole breaking up with Pitchfork thing.