Monday, March 23, 2009

Why I'm Really Starting to Hate Pitchfork

The title of this post should illustrate what I'm writing about. It's not necessarily in my nature to hate on other blogs or sites, (except this one) but sometimes I start to get to annoyed with the musical influence that Pitchfork holds in the music community. Anyone reading this undoubtedly knows who and what Pitchfork is and what they do, so there's no need to really go into detail. Let me get one thing straight, I love the blogosphere. The blogosphere is made up of everyday, normal individuals, most of whom have jobs or go to school, and have not an ounce of pretentiousness about them. They are simply trying to further peoples' knowledge of the music community, and I think that's great. Enter the biggest, baddest music website of them all, and things start to change. First off, the materiality of a numerical review is saddening, and objectifies music in a way that is impossible and completely incorrect. Musical taste and preference cannot be objectified, much like art itself cannot. Obviously music is art, so I'm not exactly sure how they can manage that. Imagine a website that gave paintings a rank from 1 to 10, and seriously impacted the lives of the artists who painted them. The fact is, however, that there are many websites who rank music, and I'm not writing about them. So what separates Pitchfork from them? I'd say two main things single Pitchfork out from the pack and subject them to an amount of criticism. First, the scope of their influence is large, much larger than any other musical website. Second, their ratings involve a level of pigheadedness and pretentiousness absent in other music websites. They consider their ratings to be "fact," in a way that's difficult to explain without reading them. There's a level of separation from the number, the idea that it's not the opinion of the reviewer, but it's a fact as much as it's the year 2009. They are notorious for pandering to a certain audience, they tell people what they want to hear in a way that's hard to explain. I don't think it was their intention, I think they simple grew out of "blog natural selection" to be the one website that seemed to best represent the views of the indie community. I believe, however, as their scope has grown, their feel on the pulse of the indie community has weakened far past the point it once was. The fact is, I find very little correlation with the albums I enjoy and the rating Pitchfork gives it, as it is for every single person I talk about music with. My point is that I don't think it's just me who finds the ranking system perplexing. Also, a lot of music tends to intrinsically possess the quality of not being easily understood. Even artists can have certain albums that possess the "fungal creep," and other albums that don't. To give a quick example, I'm a pretty large Tori Amos fan (although in the world of Tori Amos fans, I'm actually considered quite small). Her second album, Under the Pink, was filled with pop hooks while still being essential Tori Amos material. As such, it's a really fantastic, fluid album. Her next album, Boys for Pele, was filled intensely played harpsichord and insanely crazy and difficult to comprehend lyrics. On first run though of that album I was perplexed and left stunned. I wasn't sure what I thought of it. Being forced to review it at the point and put it on a scale of 1 to 10 would've been completely unfair. And believe it or not, I wasn't particularly fond of Fleet Foxes on my first listen to them. Obviously I love them now, but my point is that first impressions are hardly worth ranking an album on. It just disappoints me to know that a Pitchfork rating is still very important to an artist, not because the artist gives a shit what a group of hipsters thinks about them, but because it will undoubtedly affect sales positively or negatively depending on the review. I guess at the end of the day, I'm asking people to keep their objectivity about music, and to not look at a record review and let it affect your opinion; go out and listen to something off the album. Believe me, our own blog is far from perfect, and our opinions are just those, opinions. There will certainly be music we don't like, such is the curse of this craft: no one person could ever hold the opinions of everybody. Our goal is just to introduce you to something you may never have heard before, and do our best to try and get people supporting artists we feel deserve it. That's all any music website should ever be about, and when one oversteps its fundamental bounds, I feel drawn to speak out against it. Sorry for being terribly boring, but I had to get it out.

-Donovan

8 comments:

paranoid youth said...

I agree! I like how you write too. V.Interesting
alex
ecoutezmusic.blogspot.com

Carolyn said...

amen.

Pat Martucci said...

Its so true

Patrick said...

I can clearly see where you're coming from, but honestly I feel like you may be underestimating the amount of stock other readers of pitchfork put in the reviews. I find it hard to believe that most would be swayed from listening to music that were intrigued by due to a low review from pitchfork.

yes!lillie said...

Didn't you guys give number rankings to your favorite albums last year?

Also, with the whole issue of listeners being turned off because of Pitchfork's review of an album, if the listener is truly a hipster, they'll likely be more encouraged to listen to the music if the review is bad, in an attempt to be as ironic as possible.
Am I right?

Goldaline said...

In response to our number rankings, we gave a few albums a score of 1 to 10, or 1 to 40, I don't really remember, the whole process was uninteresting and poorly done on our part. Consider it the folly of extremely new and inexperienced bloggers. Also, is it the nature of a hipster to betray his fellow hipsters? I must say I don't know either way.

Anonymous said...

What I like about Pitchfork is not so much their reviews but the way it helps me discover new interesting music. I am also annoyed by their attitude though and it is sometimes very paradoxical. For instance, as long as you mentioned Tori Amos, they only reviewed one of her albums, as far as I know, and that was From the choirgirl hotel in 1998. That's it, even though she's one of the most prolific alternative musicians out of the 90s to still make music today. They don't even bother to review her records, but they'll review Madonna's and Rihanna's albums, even giving Rihanna's album a really good rating in fact (not that I care about that). They have sometimes weird judgement.

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