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Tom Breihan returns to OpenGrounds for another spirited music talk

Pitchfork, Stereogum writer attempts to educate U.Va about state of the industry in 2014

Acclaimed Pitchfork reviewer and Stereogum editor Tom Breihan visited OpenGrounds last Tuesday for a fireside chat on the current state of the music industry — a topic which traversed Taylor Swift, indie band drama and the future of rap music.

The event was put together by University Programs Council, and marked Breihan’s third visit to the University. Clad in checkered flannel and sporting horn-rimmed glasses, Breihan sauntered into OpenGrounds with whiskey bottle in hand.

Sipping on his whiskey out of a plastic cup, it at times seemed that even Breihan couldn’t make it through his talk sober.

This isn’t to say Breihan didn’t know what he was talking about — he just had no idea how to say it, his speech disjointed and rambling. Even still, though, Breihan at times imparted nuggets of knowledge as only a seasoned music critic could.

“It’s been a weird year in music because there’s no dominant narrative,” Breihan said. “[There’s] no thing you can really ascribe to it.”

For this, Breihan said he expected a young indie artist to rise to national attention — though there has been no sign of this thus far. Except for Taylor Swift.

“[Taylor Swift] is f****** bada**! She’s great!” Breihan exclaimed. Referencing Swift and Beyonce’s recent surprise drop, Breihan said releasing albums has become as much of an art form as the music itself.

From there, discussion moved toward current up-and-coming artists like hip-hop duo Run the Jewels and indie groups Sun Kil Moon and The War on Drugs. He also dropped a few references to more mainstream artists like Kendrick Lamar.

It’s tough to say where Breihan was going with his chat — it’s not clear Breihan knew himself — but his mini-lecture ended abruptly after a brief tirade against Ariel Pink’s latest album.

“It f**** me up. ... It sounds like dogs*** to me,” Breihan said. “That’s all I have to say — that’s this year in music.”




Luckily, the gold of Breihan’s talk was in the question-and-answer section. There, though Breihan’s responses almost always included some form of “What was the question again?” they were nevertheless thoughtful and interesting.

“You don’t have to like things even if it’s something lots of people say is good," Breihan said. "As a critic, that’s one of the first and most important lessons that I learned.”

If students came to the event looking for definitive music recommendations on rising stars, Breihan was little to no help. In response to a question about what rap artists were set to rise to fame, Breihan said, “I have no idea wh[ich are] exciting. … I’m glad I have no idea. … I’m most anticipating the stuff I don’t know about.”

What Breihan lacked in public speaking skills and coherency, though, he made up for in music industry savvy — making his second annual talk ultimately worth hearing, despite spouts of inconsistent rambling.

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