WHAT HAPPENED TO PITCHFORK?

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I had a conversation recently about the band Hunters. Hunters’ self-titled debut was released in October and, as usual, a contributing writer to the tastemaker music website Pitchfork.com reviewed the album and gave it a rating of 4.9. Pitchfork has a rating system for full length albums which is on a scale of 0.0 to 10.0, up to the decimal point. So, taking that into consideration, Hunter’s latest effort is, for lack of a better phrase, not good. The Brooklyn band has played The Bottletree twice this past year. Their vintage grunge sound has shades of early Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Some of the local Birmingham showgoers have raved about the bands’

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live performance on Twitter and their deep love for the band’s lead singer Izzy. But, Pitchfork didn’t like their album.

Pitchfork started as a web-log in 1995 in Minneapolis by one Ryan Schreiber. He wanted to create a place on the Internet for people to discover and read about independent music. In 1999, Schreiber relocated to Chicago and expanded the site to daily album reviews, interviews, features and columns. The site has expanded even further with a fairly large staff of editors, ad sales people and designers, and now you can attend two different music festival curated by Pitchfork in Chicago and Paris every year. Pitchfork can be considered responsible for boosting the careers of many of today’s most “popular” indie bands like Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire and even Modest Mouse; I think that last statement is what one might call an oxy-moron. Some outlets describe Pitchfork as a “webzine” and, metaphorically speaking, you can think of Pitchfork as the gun that would inevitably fire the bullet that killed traditional music magazines.

A few years back, you could have found yourself in a local dive bar discussing the latest in indie rock with your friends over beers. Maybe you would share a band you discovered on Pitchfork and everyone would agree that’s one of the first sites they pull up on their MacBooks every day. It’s sheer force of habit to type that name into your search bar and see what they have to say about that new Deerhunter release or listen to that song from that band from Ridgewood, New Jersey that you’d never heard before.

Now it seems like if you utter the word “Pitchfork” people cringe and roll their eyes or look at you like you’ve lost your mind because who cares about what some stupid website says about your favorite band? What do they know anyway? That’s the conversation I was referencing in the first paragraph of this post. I mentioned that Pitchfork gave Hunters’ album a very low score and the people I was talking to made inappropriate hand motions whilst scoffing at the idea that those yahoos know anything about this amazing live band. Personally, I never cared about what rating Pitchfork gave an album of one of the bands that I love. I’m going to love that band anyway.

 

I will admit the site lost some credibility for me when they started to review newer and more popular rap and hip-hop music and possibly, erroneously giving higher scores to more popular acts to drive traffic to the site. I think that was a turning point for it and it’s reputation of providing a place for people to discover new and indie music. Kanye West and Rihanna don’t need to be discovered. You don’t have to go too far out of your front door to hear them or read information about their lives. But, from a business standpoint, it’s a smart move. Advertisement sales are one of Pitchfork’s biggest revenue streams. But is that why people don’t like Pitchfork anymore?

One would imagine it would be very difficult to be an up and coming band and feel good about your newly finished album only to see some nerd behind a computer use big words and overused rhetoric in an attempt to describe what you were trying to convey through your art. And, to place the cherry gently on top of the sundae, rate your music using a numbered scoring system with a EFFING DECIMIAL POINT. But, if you are willing to create art you have to be willing to accept criticism, right?

Maybe, it’s not socially acceptable to like Pitchfork. It’s not the “in” thing. The “in” thing is to despise and make fun of it. Kind of like wearing cargo shorts. Everyone knows cargo shorts look ridiculous and are probably very out of fashion. But cargo shorts can be useful. After all, they have like 6 pockets!

You can find countless parodies of Pitchfork all over the World Wide Web. One of my favorites is the Twitter feed @Pitchfork4kidz where they “navigate the sea of bullshit that is children’s entertainment so your kids can grow up with some goddamn dignity”. I’ve even heard people label specific bands as a “Pitchfork Band”. “Yeah, some Pitchfork Band is playing. I’m probably not gonna go.”

So, back to my original question: What happened to Pitchfork? I’m not totally sure. I have actually found several of my current favorite bands on this website over the past few years, so I still like Pitchfork. When a band I like releases an album, I go to Pitchfork to see what rating they gave the album and what they said about it, even if I don’t really care. If I hear about a new band and I want more information I use the search function in Pitchfork to see videos and hear song clips and read reviews, after I’ve Googled the band of course. I subscribe to their YouTube feed, I follow them on Twitter (I’ve even tweeted at Ryan and he favorited my Tweet!), and I’ve contemplated going to the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago for like the past 4 years (I’ve never been, by the way).

To conclude this #longread, I’ll ask some more questions: What is really so bad about Pitchfork? Are we just creating reasons to hate something that we liked early on because now that thing is starting to gain too much popularity? Are we afraid to use a resource for finding music because it’s somehow lost its authenticity and credibility? Are we tired of someone telling us what music to like and, more importantly, dislike? Have we just become a society of people who get annoyed by everything?!

Perhaps those are the questions we should be asking ourselves in order to look inwardly about our musical tastes. But first I’m going to check out that new Arcade Fire record. I heard it got a 9.4 on Pitchfork!

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2 thoughts on “WHAT HAPPENED TO PITCHFORK?

  1. I stopped paying attention to the number ratings a long time ago, really. And their shift in focus on more “maintstream” music works for me, because it’s the reason I discovered a lot of the R&B and hip hop music that I like. People who hate Pitchfork generally dont’ care about music criticism in general, because it’s the Roger Ebert of music criticism. Or, like Spin before it, and Rolling Stone before that, and so forth, maybe it’s that people feel that they’ve peaked and need to find another primary source.

    I still use it to find new music, and while I do feel a little shame, the main reason I’m doomed to read it is because their news is the best, most complete, up-to-date source for a lot of the music that I care about. If someone knows of any other feed, PLEASE let me know!

    Honestly, we should be getting a kickback from Pitchfork for this circlejerk.

    @joshbeechyall

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  2. Above comment got it right about me…kind of. It’s not that I hate Pitchfork: I hate point-system reviews in general (like the Ebert thing: “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”, or like the freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes). I get that, for many folks, the actual review is TL;DR; however, I feel like the point system or 1 to 10 or thumbs up/down isn’t an adequate summary. I can’t help but feel that a 4.9 on a scale of 1 to 10 is like a failing grade, even if it is almost right in the middle of the scale and thus “average”. Telling artists that they have failed isn’t criticism: it’s hyperbole. And they say that brevity is the soul of wit, but too brief suddenly becomes simplistic.

    Although, I could be too sensitive about the whole thing. After all, I have a REALLY hard time giving 1-5 stars to things I watch on Netflix. I know it helps generate better recommendations for me, but I have a lot more to say about “The Innkeepers” than “1 star: Hated it”.

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