"being painfully hip, or at least being a music establishment's favorite pain"

WHY WE LOVE TO HATE PITCHFORK


For some, a Chicago-based website Pitchfork is what Rolling Stone magazine was in the 1960s: a repository of musical knowledge, an arbiter of musical taste. Their seal of approval, an 8.0 or higher rating – or the lack of it – can make or break an artist’s career. Pitchfork defines what’s cool and what’s not, to some.

Others despise it – for the same reason. Too often letting fads and their own biases get in the way, Pitchfork is not exactly known for what could be called “a fair review”, rather its controversial statements and its rating system – What exactly is the difference between a 5.4 and 5.5 rating? And they certainly don’t go easy on albums, and a 0.0 rating is not unheard of. However, an artist could do worse than getting a 0.0 rating from Pitchfork: Jet’s Shine On album was “reviewed” by posting a video of a monkey peeing in its mouth.

You may be wondering who, then, managed to get a 10.0 rating? Do you remember Walt Mink’s El Producto or Amon Tobin’s Bricolage? Don’t worry, very few do, but these got a perfect score back in the day. Today, a 10.0 rating is mainly reserved to reissues – or, to Kanye West, defying the magazine’s avant-garde, indie orientation.

Many would agree that Pitchfork can be pretentious and condescending at times, with some of its readers not exactly mincing the words: “Love/hate relationship with Pitchfork stems from the fact that most of the reviewers are elitist fucking men.” Is that what lead one band to issue an open letter to Pitchfork for “giving (them) a thorough slagging on the site”? And its not surprising that controversy ensues when old reviews gets deleted because it is no longer fitting with todays reviews. Case in point, UNKLE’s Psyence Fiction which received a 9.8 score in 1998, got deleted sometime after and referenced as “one of the most anti-climactic and jaw-dropping disappointments of recent years” in 2003.

“there’s always someone letting us know its the root of all evil”

So, if you too feel ambivalent about Pitchfork, don’t worry – you are certainly not alone: Each time Pitchfork gets mentioned on our Twitter feed or Facebook page, there’s always someone letting us know its the root of all evil. Taste in music is never objective, and Pitchfork has been on the receiving end of adoration as well as disdain from both artists and its readers. For every music fan who says they don’t read it, there seems to be two who does. Even if chances are only one of those two would admit to it.

 

 

Love it or hate it, it is a fact that Pitchfork now reaches a wider audience than Spin or Vibe ever did, at least according to Mark Richardson, Pitchfork’s editor-in-chief. Even if the number of Pitchfork’s readers is not as big as claimed, the influence of this magazine is impossible to underestimate. Would Urban Outfitters, Chillwave, Sky Ferreira and FKA Twigs exist without it?

Besides, however unlikely it might seem, Pitchfork outlives the trends and their own self-generated hype bumps. They have to do something right? In 2008, they launched a video channel Pitchfork.tv. A companion site devoted to film debuted last year. Let us not forget the Pitchfork Music Festival, running for almost ten years now. Their growing enterprise now also includes a digital magazine Pitchfork Weekly for Android and iOS, and a print magazine The Pitchfork Review. Obviously, being painfully hip, or at least being a music establishment’s favorite pain is good for business.

What’s your take on Pitchfork?

 

Written by Anita Slacala with Staffan Ulmert. Published 2014/08/19. More articles.

21 comments
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  • Profile photo of Mojib
    @mojib Level S
    August 18, 2014 at 9:13 am

    I give this article 6.8

    Reply

  • Profile photo of Bente Prebensdottir
    @princeofdk Level 2
    August 18, 2014 at 10:51 am

    I give this article 6.9

    ReplyReport user

  • Profile photo of Ger
    @ger Level 2
    August 18, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    I give this article 6.85

    My two cents: Pitchfork magazine has nothing to do with a bunch of dumbass readers. There are people with own judgment and people who don’t, that’s all. I’m an usual reader, and I disagree with a lot of reviews and stuff, but hey: as you say this is kinda subjective, so I don’t understand why asking excuses to the web and not to some readers. Everyone who reads Pitchfork knows more or less what kind of albums and music they like.

    Pd: about the ratings, what’s the difference between a gadget costing 9’90$ and another whose price is 10’00$?
    Pd2: I still remember (and listen to) “Bricolage”, it’s a fantastic album!
    Pd3: good news everyone, the Jet issue is from 2006, still there? Come on!

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  • Profile photo of Andy Salander
    August 18, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Pitchfork: Great for those who can voice their own opinion, bad for those who are easily persuaded by ratings. Sometimes they get it right, other times they don’t. Often, they are fueled by trends, and that’s annoying. I do hate the “holier than thou” attitude they have, where anything they say is set in stone. But, again, when they’re right, they’re right.
    However, I could always use more Reptar bars®

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    • Profile photo of blck blck
      @blckblck Level 2
      August 22, 2014 at 6:27 am

      I think all music critics like to assert their reviews as the only accurate assessment of an album. If they ended a review by saying “well that’s just my opinion, but you guys may like it–check it out,” nobody would take them seriously, because it’d be obvious that they can’t even take themselves seriously. It’s a critic’s job to analyze an album as objectively as possible and then share their analysis, and that’s exactly what Pitchfork’s writers do. That being said, I think there are certain Pitchfork writers who are more annoying than others, some of whom don’t even focus on music but rather on details surrounding the release, an artist’s image or persona, or past work.

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  • Profile photo of David
    @unheard78 Level 3
    August 18, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    Amon Tobin’s Bricolage is great. Walt Mink’s El Producto sucks now and sucked then. UNKLE’s Psyence Fiction isn’t a 9.8 but it’s quite good. And Pitchfork gets a 2.7. At this point, if they are compared to Rolling Stone, it should be for how inept and unimportant both have become.

    The one thing I’ll generally give Pitchfork is that their news coverage is pretty good. I still don’t think Thom Yorke DJing to 12 people in the middle of the night constitutes a story, at least not outside of Radiohead’s immediate fan base, but yeah, they do a good job on news. I’ll even read their reviews from time to time, but mostly so I can pick them apart as they are generally rancid.

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  • Profile photo of Aaron Nase
    August 19, 2014 at 4:51 am

    This article: sharing pure opinion about a well established, opinion based site.

    I give this article a “monkey pissing into its own mouth” out of 10.

    ReplyReport user

  • Profile photo of Moyetes
    @moyetes Level 5
    August 19, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    BEST NEW ARTICLE
    I didn’t know Pitchfork deleted reviews to avoid specific controversy. That UNKLE discrepancy is shocking! The guy who wrote the 9.8 is Pitchfork founder! The guy who wrote the opposite opinion in another review no longer works at Pitchfork! Should they delete the second review and re-upload Ryan’s?

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  • Profile photo of Tim
    @timbo Level 4
    August 20, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Pitchfork is highly influential, hence why so many people talk about them. I feel that their range has lessened over the years, but I’ll admit that I do read the site often. Where they lack in review quality (Ian Cohen is the worst), they make up for in quantity of new music divulged. Their tracks section is updated daily and is compiled of hours of combing through the internet looking for the next big thing. Granted it’s a selfish act as they try to one up every other publication out there, but the end product is quality.

    Their rating system is terminally flawed of course. Their most recent 2010-2014 albums list essentially redacts all of the praise and adulation for acts like Bon Iver, M83, My Bloody Valentine, and The National – a point which proves that doing a rating system the way they have it, isn’t exactly fair. After awhile it just becomes standard P4K shenanigans. The score itself is meaningless these days, but the BNM accolade holds more weight. Some of the funnier things I recall from reading the site.

    Andrew W.K. – scathing first review, reissue gets BNM and the album lands in the top 200 of the decade.
    Bon Iver – 9.5 and AOTY in 2011. 2010-2014 albums of the half decade list? Like 27, but Destroyer’s Kaputt (no.2 on AOTY list) has an 8.8 and lands a whole 10 spots higher.
    Daft Punk – Discovery = 6.9. #3 album of the decade though.
    M.I.A. – BNM album in 2007, scathing reviews for every subsequent album, including her last one got a 6.4. Still made the AOTY list in 2013 though.
    And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Our Dead – 10.0 for Source Tags, ends up at no. 100 on their top albums list. Reviewer even states that maybe a 10.0 was too hasty.

    I’m not really a fan of their shift towards mainstream music lately though. I enjoyed their features and reviews more when it was independent artists getting the raving reviews. Kanye, Beyonce, and Nikki Minaj, imo, don’t really have any relevancy to P4K readers. I read P4K for new music, not the crap I can hear on the radio. I don’t think the site is closing any time soon, but within the next half decade, I can see it phasing out independent music, and focusing primarily on the mainstream media. They get more endorsements that way.

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  • Profile photo of Austin
    @audiobinge Level 6
    September 23, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    You win Staffan: “Your comment, pure opinion on an article’s opinion on an opinion based site.” ha

    ReplyReport user

  • Profile photo of oldsoul
    @oldsoul Level 5
    November 5, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    I usually feel like the ratings they assign albums are totally arbitrary (Future’s “Pluto” got a 7.8, but Brand New’s “Deja Entendu” only receives a 6.9?), but the content of the review is often interesting. I’ve always felt they were kind of silly, but their role as a trendsetter is undeniable.

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  • Profile photo of WiseKitteh
    @wisekitteh Level 4
    May 7, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    As far as I’m concerned, Pitchfork is a valuable website for all the info provided, and can generally be trusted on factual information.
    And then again, opinions are opinions.

    ReplyReport user

  • Profile photo of Eric
    @shavin_high Level 4
    May 27, 2015 at 4:35 am

    I am proud to say I am one of those few music enthusiasts that does not go to pitchfork to learn about new music. And I dont do it because I want be a hater. I just dont think about it. I enjoy the scavenging. I would rather stumble upon new artist through arbitrary music blogs that are scattered across the world wide web.

    Isn’t music about finding emotional connection? I mean come on. As plenty of people have said about, its all your own damn opinion. I feel that if you like something, then like it. I dont want my personal opinion of music to be tarnished by one insignificant person, behind a computer screen at the offices of pitchfork. When the masses are the truly the ones that matter. This is why I love this site. WE decide whats good. What gets hyped goes to the top and these are the artists that people learn about.

    The only reason ratings matter is for the greedy. Its so record labels take you in and you can get rich. Personally music is about more than money.

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  • yeltommo
    June 14, 2016 at 8:22 am

    “…two who does”?

    Reply

  • WhoahBlackBetyy
    August 19, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    FYI, Mark Richardson is no longer the Editor-In-Chief…. he hasn’t been since they got bought out by Conde Nast.

    Reply

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